Peter Trawl, the Adventures of a Whaler, by W.H.G. Kingston.
Peter is a young teenager in a family that suffers a series of disastrous events. Family money is lost due to the failure of a bank, not at all uncommon in those days, probably about 1830. They lived in Portsmouth, where the father was a wherryman, ferrying people out to the ships. The father meets with an accident, having ferried a passenger to his ship at anchor outside the harbour, is caught up by freak weather, which broke up his boat and drowned him. The mother does what she can, taking commodities out to the ships for the benefit of the sailors, but trade was bad at that time, and she became ill, and dies as well. Thus the family were left without any support, until a Mr Gray, a Quaker, comes on the scene, and takes them under his wing. He is also a shipowner, and he gives Peter a chance on one of his ships. However, there are various mishaps with this ship, and Peter and his friend Jim arrive in Shetland, an archipelago in the far north of Britain, where Peter discovers that he has relatives. He takes a lift in a ship back to Portsmouth, as the ship was due to call in at Plymouth, but due to fair weather passes it by.
The ship is a whaler, and needs to get into the Pacific Ocean, but has a lot of trouble trying to round the Horn. Eventually they succeed. But Peter now has a new ambition, to find his long-lost brother Jack who had gone to sea years before, and never been heard of. By chance he hears that Jack may be alive. In due course they find Jack, and come home again with him to Portsmouth, where Mr Gray has kindly looked after the female members of Peter's family, including his sister Mary.
Of course there are a lot of coincidences in this story, but that's part of the fun.
PETER TRAWL, THE ADVENTURES OF A WHALER, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
MY EARLY DAYS AT HOME.
Brother Jack, a seaman's bag over his shoulders, trudged sturdily ahead; father followed, carrying the oars, spars, sails, and other gear of the wherry, while as I toddled alongside him I held on with one hand to the skirt of his pea-jacket, and griped the boat-hook which had been given to my charge with the other.
From the front of the well-known inn, the "Keppel's Head," the portrait of the brave old admiral, which I always looked at with awe and admiration, thinking what a great man he must have been, gazed sternly down on us as we made our way along the Common Hard of Portsea towards the water's edge.
Father and Jack hauled in the wherry, and having deposited their burdens in her, set to work to mop her out and to put her to rights, while I stood, still grasping the boat-hook, which I held upright with the point in the ground, watching their proceedings, till father, lifting me up in his arms, placed me in the stern-sheets.
"Sit there, Peter, and mind you don't topple overboard, my son," he said, in the kind tone in which he always spoke to me and Jack.
I was too small to be of much use, indeed father had hitherto only taken me with him when he was merely going across to Gosport and back or plying about the harbour.
It was a more eventful day to Jack than to me. When I saw mother packing his bag, I had a sort of idea that he was going to sea, and when the next morning she threw her arms round his neck and burst into tears, and Jack began to cry too, I understood that he would be away for a long time.
Jack had been of great use to father, who grieved as much as mother to part with him, but, as he said, he wouldn't, if he could help it, bring him up as a long-shore lubber, and a few voyages would be the making of him.
"He can't get none of the right sort of eddication on shore," observed father. "He'll learn on board a man-of-war what duty and discipline mean, and to my mind till a lad knows that he isn't worth his salt."
The Lapwing brig-of-war, fitted out at Sheerness, had brought up at Spithead, and her commander, Captain Rogers, with whom father had long served, meeting him on shore, and hearing that he had a son old enough to go to sea, offered to take Jack and look after him.
When Commander Rogers was a midshipman, he fell overboard, and would have been drowned had not father jumped in and saved him. He was very grateful, but had not till now had an opportunity of practically showing his gratitude. Father, therefore, gladly accepted his offer, being sure that he would do his best for Jack; and as Blue Peter was flying from the masthead of the brig, there was no time to be lost in taking him on board.
At the time I was too young, as I was saying, to understand these matters, but I learnt about them afterwards. All I then knew was that brother Jack was going for a sailor aboard of a man-of-war.
Father and Jack were just shoving off, when two persons who had come out of the "Keppel's Head" were seen hurrying down the Hard with cases and packages in their hands and under their arms. One, as his dress and appearance showed, was a seafaring man; the other wore long toggery, as sailors call the costume of landsmen.
"If you are going out to Spithead, my man, we'll go with you," shouted the first.
"Ay, ay, sir! I'll be glad enough to take you," answered father, happy to get a fare, instead of making nothing by the trip.
"We'll give you five shillings apiece," said the officer, for such he seemed to be.
"Thank you, sir; that will do. What ship shall I put you aboard?" asked father.
"The Intrepid, South Sea whaler—she's lying to the eastward of the men-of-war. We shall see her when we get abreast of Southsea Castle," answered the officer.
"Step aboard, then, sir," said father. "The tide will soon have done making out of the harbour, and there's no time to lose."
The strangers took their seats in the stern-sheets, and father and Jack, shoving off, pulled out into the stream.
The officer took the yoke-lines, and by the way he handled them, showed that he knew what he was about. Careful steering is always required where tides run strong and vessels are assembled; but especially was it at that time, when, peace having been just proclaimed, Portsmouth Harbour was crowded with men-of-war lately returned from foreign stations, and with transports and victuallers come in to be discharged; while all the way up towards Porchester Castle lay, now dismantled in vast numbers, those stout old ships with names renowned which had borne the victorious flag of England in many a fierce engagement. Dockyard lighters, man-of-war boats, wherries crowded with passengers, and other craft of various descriptions, were sailing or pulling about in all directions, so that the stranger had to keep his eyes about him to avoid being run down by, or running into, some other boat or vessel.
"We'll step the mast, and make sail while we're in smooth water, sir," said father. "There's a lop of a sea outside, when it wouldn't be pleasant to this gentleman if we were to wait till then," and he gave a look at the landsman, who even now did not seem altogether comfortable.
"The doctor hasn't been used to the sea, but he'll soon get accustomed to it. No fear of that, Cockle, eh?" said the officer, who was, he afterwards told father, second mate of the Intrepid.
"I hope I shall, Mr Griffiths, but I confess I don't much like the thought of going through those foaming waves out there in such a cockleshell of a boat as this," answered the doctor. "No offence to you, my friend," he added, turning to father.
"Ha! Ha! Ha! That's just what the boat is at present," said the mate, laughing. "Do you twig, doctor? Do you twig? She carries you and your fortunes, and if she takes us safe alongside the Intrepid—and I see no reason why she shouldn't—we shall be obliged to her and her owner here. What's your name, my man?"
"Jack Trawl, sir; at your service," answered father. "Many's the time I've been out to Spithead in this here wherry when it's been blowing great guns and small arms, and she's ridden over the seas like a duck. The gentleman needn't be afraid."
The doctor, who did not seem to like the mate's joking, or father's remark about being afraid, sat silent for some time.
"I'll take the helm, sir, if you please," said father, who had stepped the mast and hauled aft the sheets. "My wherry likes me to have hold of her, and maybe she mightn't behave as well as she should if a stranger was steering."
"I understand," answered Mr Griffiths, laughing. "You are wise not to trust any one but yourself. I'll yield to you in handling this style of boat under sail, though I may have been more at sea than you have."
"I doubt that, sir, as I went afloat not long after you were born, if not before, and for well-nigh thirty years seldom set foot on shore," answered father. "All that time I served His Majesty—God bless him— and if there was to come another war I'd be ready to serve him again, as my boy Jack there is just going to do."
"A fine lad he seems, but he'd better by half have joined the merchant service than submitted to the tyranny of a man-of-war," said the mate.
"There are just two opinions, sir, as to that," answered father, dryly. "Haul down the tack, Jack, and get a pull of the foresheet," he sang out.
There was a fresh breeze from the south-east blowing almost up the harbour, but by keeping over on the Portsmouth side, aided by the tide, we stood clear out of it. The wherry soon began to pitch into the seas, which came rolling in round Southsea Castle in a way which made the doctor look very blue. The mate tried to cheer him up, but he evidently didn't like it, especially when the spray came flying over the bows, and quickly wet him and most of us well-nigh through to the skin. Every now and then more than the mere spray came aboard us, and the doctor became more and more uncomfortable.
Father now called Jack aft to bale out the water, and he set to work heaving it overboard as fast as it came in. I laughed, and did not feel a bit afraid, because when I looked up at father's face I saw that there was nothing to be afraid about. At length the mate seemed to think that we were carrying on too long.
"Doctor Cockle is not accustomed to this sort of thing," he observed. "Hadn't we better take in a reef or two?"
"Not if you wish to get aboard your ship, sir, before night," answered father. "I know my boat, and I know what she'll do. Trust me, sir, and in less than half-an-hour you'll be safe alongside the Intrepid."
The mate seemed satisfied, and began talking to me, amused at the way I sat bobbing, as the spray came aboard, under an old pea-jacket which father had thrown over my shoulders, and grinning when I found that I had escaped the shower by which the others got well sprinkled.
"I'll not forget you, my little fellow," he said, laughing. "You'll make a prime seaman one of these days. Will you remember my name?"
"Yes, sir, I think I shall, and your face too," I answered.
"You are a sharp chap, I see," he observed, in the same tone as before.
"Do you intend to make a sailor of him?" he asked, turning to father.
"Not if I can find a better calling for the boy, sir," answered father. "I've heard say, and believe it, that man proposes and God disposes. It mayn't be in my power to choose for him."
"Ay, ay, you're right there, my friend," said the mate. "If he had been as old as his brother I would have given him a berth aboard the Intrepid."
It may seem curious that, young as I was, I should have remembered these remarks, but so it was, and I had reason long afterwards to do so.
Even sooner than father had said we had hooked on to the whaler, a barque of about three hundred tons, her black hull rising high out of the water, and with three boats, sharp at both ends, hoisted up to davits in a line on each side. The good-natured mate having paid the fare and given me a bright shilling in addition, helped the doctor, who wasn't very well able to help himself, up on deck, and we then, shoving off, stood for the man-of-war brig.
Jack almost broke down as we approached her. Not that he was unwilling to go away, but that he was very sorry to part from father and me, and I know that we were very sorry to part with him.
"Jack, my son," said father, and his voice wasn't as firm as usual, "we may never meet again on this side the grave. You may be taken or I may be taken. What I want to say to you is this, and they may be well-nigh the last words you will ever hear me speak. Ever remember that God's eye is upon you, and so live that you may be prepared at any moment to die. I can't say more than that, my boy. Bless you. God bless you."
"I will, father, I will," answered Jack, and he passed the back of his hand across his eyes.
We were soon up to the brig. He gave me a hug and a kiss, and then, having made fast the end of the rope hove to us, he griped father's hand, and sprang up the side of the brig. His bag was hoisted up after him by an old shipmate of father's, who sang out, "All right, Trawl, I'll look after your boy!"
We had at once to shove off, for the brig was rolling considerably, and there was a risk of the wherry being swamped alongside. As we stood away I looked astern. Jack had climbed into the fore-rigging and was waving to us. We soon lost sight of him. When, if ever, should we see him again?
Having the wind and tide with us, we quickly ran back into the harbour. For reasons which will appear by-and-by I ought to say a few words respecting my family, though I don't flatter myself the world in general will be much concerned about the matter. Some people are said to be born with silver spoons in their mouths; if that means, as I suppose it does, that from their earliest days they enjoy all the luxuries of life, then I may say that when I first saw the light I must have had a very rough wooden one between my toothless gums. However, as I've often since thought, it isn't so much what a man is born to which signifies, as what he becomes by his honesty, steadiness, perseverance, and above all by his earnest desire to do right in the sight of God.
My father, Jack Trawl (as he spelt his name, or, rather, as others spelt it for him, he being no great hand with a pen), was an old man-of-war's-man. I well remember hearing him say that his father, who had been mate of a merchantman, and had been lost at sea when he himself was a boy, was a Shetlander; and in an old Testament which had belonged to his mother, and which he had treasured as the only relic of either of his parents, I found the name written Troil. The ink was very faint, but I made out the words clearly, "Margaret Troil, given to her by her husband Angus." This confirmed me in the idea I had formed, that both my father's parents had come from the far off island of Shetland.
My father being a sober, steady man, having saved more of his pay and prize-money than had most of his shipmates, when he left the service bought a wherry, hired and furnished a house, and married my mother, Polly Treherne, the daughter of a bumboat-woman who plied her trade in Portsmouth Harbour.
I have no cause to be ashamed of my grandmother, for every one who knew her said, and I am sure of it, that she was as worthy a woman in her line of life as ever lived. She gave good measure and charged honest prices, whether she was dealing in soft tack, fruit, vegetables, cheese, herrings, or any of the other miscellaneous articles with which she supplied the seamen of His Majesty's ships; and her daughter Polly, who assisted her, was acknowledged by all to be as good and kind-hearted as she was pretty. No wonder, then, that she won the heart of my brave father when she visited the ship in which he had just come home, or that, knowing his worth, although she had many suitors, she consented to marry him.
For some time all went well, but what happened is a proof that honest, industrious persons may be overtaken by misfortunes as well as other people. Father had no intention that his wife should follow her mother's calling, as he could make enough to keep the pot boiling; but after they had been married a few years, and several children had been born, all of whom died in their infancy, except my eldest brother Jack, and me and Mary, the two youngest, bad times came.
HOW A TRUE FRIEND WAS GAINED.
Just before we two entered this world of troubles, the bank in which my father had deposited his savings broke, and all were lost. The sails of his wherry were worn out, and he had been about to buy a new suit, which he now couldn't do; the wherry herself was getting crazy, and required repairs, and he himself met with an accident which laid him up for several weeks. Grandmother also, who had lost nearly her all by the failure of the bank, though she had hitherto been hale and hearty, now began to talk of feeling the approach of old age.
One evening, while father was laid up, she looked in on us. "Polly, my girl, there's no use trying to beat up in the teeth of a gale with a five-knot current against one," she exclaimed, as, dropping down into out big arm-chair and undoing her bonnet-strings and the red handkerchief she wore round her neck, she threw her bonnet over the back of her head. "I'm dead beat with to-day's work, and shall be worse to-morrow. Now, my dear, what I've got to say is this, I want you to help me. You know the trade as well as I do. It will be a good thing for you as well as for me; for look you, my dear, if anything should happen to your Jack, it will help you to keep the wolf from the door."
This last argument, with her desire to help the good old lady, made mother say that if father was agreeable she would do as grandmother wished. She forthwith went upstairs, where father was lying in bed, scarcely able to move for the pain his hurt caused him. They talked the matter over, and he, knowing that something must be done for the support of the family, gave, though unwillingly, his consent. Thus it happened that my mother again took to bum-boating.
Trade, however, wasn't like what it used to be in the war time, I heard grandmother say. Then seamen would have their pockets filled with five-pound notes and golden guineas, which they were eager to spend; now they rarely had more than a few shillings or a handful of coppers jingling in them. Still there was an honest livelihood to be made, and grandmother and mother contrived to make it. Poor grandmother, however, before long fell ill, as she said she should, and then all the work fell on mother. Father got better, and was able sometimes to go out with the wherry, but grandmother got worse and worse, and mother had to attend on her till she died.
When she and father were away from home, Mary and I were left to the care of our brother Jack. He did his best to look after us, but not being skilled as a nursemaid, while he was tending Mary, who, being a girl—she was my twin sister, I should have said—required most of his care, he could not always manage to prevent me from getting into trouble. Fortunately nothing very serious happened.
Dear, kind Jack! I was very fond of him, and generally obeyed him willingly. It would not be true to say that I always did so. He was very fond of Mary and me too, of that I am sure, and he used to show his fondness by spending for our benefit any coppers he picked up by running on errands or doing odd jobs for neighbours. As his purchases were usually brandy-balls, rock, and other sweets, it was perhaps fortunate for us that he had not many to spend. By diligently pursuing her trade, mother, in course of time, saved money enough to enable father to get the wherry repaired, and to buy a new suit of sails, and when he got plenty of employment he bade mother stay at home and look after Mary and me, while Jack went with him. As, however, it would not have been prudent to give up her business altogether, she hired a girl, Nancy Fidget, to take her place, as Jack had done, when she was from home.
I don't remember that anything of importance happened after grandmother's death till Jack went to sea. We missed him very much, and Mary was always asking after him, wondering when he would come back. Still, if I had gone away, she would, I think, have fretted still more. Perhaps it was because we were twins that we were so fond of each other. We were, however, not much alike. She was a fair, blue-eyed little maiden, with flaxen hair and a rosy blush on her cheeks, and I was a broad-shouldered, strongly-built chap, the hue on my cheeks and the colour of my hair soon becoming deepened by my being constantly out of doors, while my eyes were, I fancy, of a far darker tint than my sister's.
After Jack went mother seemed to concentrate all her affections on us two. I don't think, however, that any woman could have a warmer or larger heart than hers, although many may have a wider scope for the exercise of their feelings. She never turned a beggar away from her door without some relief even in the worst of times, and when any of the neighbours were in distress, she always did her best to help them. Often when she had been out bum-boating for the best part of the day, and had been attending to household matters for the remainder, she would sit up the whole night with a sick acquaintance who was too poor to hire a nurse, and had only thanks to give her, and perhaps of that not very liberally.
I have said that my mother had as warm and generous a heart as ever beat in woman's bosom. I repeat it. I might give numerous instances to prove the truth of my assertion, and to show that I have reason to be proud of being her son, whatever the world may think about the matter. One will suffice. It had an important effect on my destinies, although at the time no one would have supposed that such would be the case. One evening, as my mother was returning home off the water after dark, she found a female fallen down close to our door, in what seemed to be a fit. Some of the neighbours had seen the poor creature, but had let her lie there, and gone indoors, and several persons passing showed by their remarks what they thought of her character; but mother, not stopping to consider who she was or what she was, lifting her up in her strong arms, carried her into the house, and placed her on the bed which used to be Jack's.
Mother now saw by the light of the candle that the unhappy being she had taken charge of was still young, and once had been pretty, but the life she had led had marred her beauty and brought her to her present sad state. After mother had undressed her and given her food and a cordial in which she had great confidence, the girl slightly revived, but it became more evident than before that she was fearfully ill. She sobbed and groaned, and sometimes shrieked out in a way terrible to hear, but would give no account of herself. At length, mother, mistrusting her own skill, sent Nancy and me off to call Dr Rolt, the nearest medical man we knew of. He came at once, and shaking his head as soon as he saw the stranger, he advised that she should be removed forthwith to the hospital.
"Not to-night, doctor, surely," said mother. "It might be the death of her, poor young creature!"
"She may rapidly grow worse, and it may be still more dangerous to move her afterwards," remarked Dr Rolt.
"Then, please God, I'll keep charge of her till she recovers, or He thinks fit to take her," said mother, in her determined way.
"She will never recover, I fear," said the doctor; "but I will do the best for her I can."
Telling mother how to act, and promising to send some medicine, he went away. When father, who had been across to Ryde in the wherry, came home, he approved of what mother had done.
"Why, you see, Jack, what I think is this," I heard her say; "I've no right to point a finger at her, for if I hadn't had a good mother to show me right and wrong, I might have been just as she is."
The next morning the doctor came again. He looked grave when he left the stranger's room. "You are still resolved to let this poor outcast remain in your house, Mrs Trawl?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, my good man thinks as I do, that we ought," answered mother, positively.
Dr Rolt returned in the afternoon, accompanied by a gentleman wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a straight-cut broadcloth coat of sombre hue. He smiled pleasantly at mother as he took the seat she offered him without doffing his hat, and beckoning to Mary and me, put his hands on our heads, while he looked into our faces and smiled as he had done to mother.
"I have brought Mr Silas Gray, a member of the Society of Friends, knowing that I should have your leave, Mrs Trawl, as he desires to see the poor girl you have taken care of," said Dr Rolt.
"Verily, sister, thou hast acted the part of the Good Samaritan towards the hapless one of whom friend Rolt has told me, and I would endeavour to minister to her spiritual necessities, the which I fear are great indeed; also with thy leave I will help thee in supplying such creature comforts as she may need," said Mr Gray.
"Thank you kindly, sir," answered mother. "I couldn't say much on the matter of religion, except to tell her that God cares for her as well as He does for the richest lady in the land, and will pardon her sins if she will but turn to Him through Christ; and as to food, kickshaws fit for sick folk are not much in my way, still I'll—"
"Thou knowest the very gist of the matter, sister," observed Mr Gray, interrupting her; "but time is precious. I'll go in with friend Rolt and speak to the wandering child." Saying this, Mr Gray accompanied the doctor into the stranger's room.
He, after this, came again and again—never empty-handed—oftener indeed than the doctor, whose skill failed, as he feared it would, to arrest the poor girl's malady, while Mr Gray's ministrations were successful in giving her the happy assurance that "though her sins were as scarlet, she had become white as snow," so he assured mother.
"Praise the Lord," was her reply.
So the young stranger died—her name, her history, unknown. Mr Gray paid the expenses of her funeral, and frequently after that came to see us, to inquire, as he said, how we were getting on.
We had not heard from brother Jack since he went aboard the Lapwing. Mother thought that he might have got some one to write for him, though he was no great hand with a pen himself. All we knew was that the brig had gone out to the East Indies, which being a long way off would have accounted for our not often getting letters from him; but just one father hoped he would have contrived to send after he had been a year away; now nearly three years had passed since then. Had the Lapwing been fitted out at Portsmouth, we should have got news of him from others, but as none of her crew hailed from our town, there was no one to whom we could go to ask about him. Father had taken lately to talk much about Jack, and sometimes regretted that he had let him go away.
"You acted for the best, and so don't be blaming yourself," observed mother, trying to console him. "There's One aloft looking after him better than we can, and He'll bring our boy back to us if He thinks fit."
Mary and I little knew all the trials father and mother had to go through. Mother's trade was bad, and father was often out all day without bringing a shilling home. Younger men with more gaily-painted boats—he would not acknowledge that they were better—got fares when he could not manage to pick up one. Sometimes also he was laid up with the rheumatics, and was unable to go afloat. One day, while thus suffering, mother fetched Dr Rolt to see him. Father begged the doctor to get him well as soon as he could, seeing that he wanted to be out in the wherry to gain his livelihood.
"All in good time, my man," answered the doctor. "You'll be about again in a few days, never fear. By-the-bye, I saw our friend Mr Gray lately, Mrs Trawl, and he was inquiring for you. He would have come to see your husband had he known that he was ill, but he went away to London yesterday, and may, I fear, be absent for some time. Many will miss him should he be long away."
Sooner than father expected he was about again. I had gone down with father and mother to the Hard, mother to board a ship which had just come in, and father to look out for a fare, while Mary remained at home with Nancy. It was blowing pretty fresh, and there was a good deal of sea running outside, though in the harbour the water was not rough enough to prevent mother from going off. While she was waiting for old Tom Swatridge, who had been with grandmother and her for years to bring along her baskets of vegetables from the market, a gentleman came hurrying down the Hard, and seeing father getting the wherry ready, said:
"I want you to put me aboard my ship, my man. She's lying out at Spithead; we must be off at once."
"It's blowing uncommon fresh, sir," said father. "I don't know how you'll like it when we get outside; still there's not a wherry in the harbour that will take you aboard drier than mine, though there's some risk, sir, you'll understand."
"Will a couple of guineas tempt you?" asked the stranger, thinking that father was doubting about the payment he was to receive.
"I'll take you, sir," answered father. "Step aboard."
I was already in the boat, thinking that I was to go, and was much disappointed when father said, "I am not going to take you, Peter, for your mother wants you to help her; but just run up and tell Ned Dore I want him. He's standing by the sentry-box."
As I always did as father bade me, I ran up and called Ned, who at once came rolling along down the Hard, glad of a job. When he heard what he was wanted for he stepped aboard.
"I hope to be back in a couple of hours, or three at furthest, Polly," father sang out to mother, as he shoved off the wherry. "Good-bye, lass, and see that Peter makes himself useful."
Mother waved her hand.
"Though two guineas are not to be picked up every day, I would as lief he had stayed in the harbour this blowing weather," she said to herself more than to me, as on seeing old Tom coming we stepped into her boat.
When father first went to sea, Tom Swatridge had been his shipmate, and had done him many a kind turn which he had never forgotten. Old Tom had lost a leg at Trafalgar, of which battle he was fond of talking. He might have borne up for Greenwich, but he preferred his liberty, though he had to work for his daily bread, and, I am obliged to say, for his daily quantum of rum, which always kept his pockets empty. He had plenty of intelligence, but he could neither read nor write, and that, with his love of grog, had prevented him from getting on in life as well as his many good qualities would otherwise have enabled him to do. He was a tall gaunt man, with iron-grey hair, and a countenance wrinkled, battered, and bronzed by wind and weather.
When he first came ashore he was almost as sober a man as father, and having plenty of prize-money he managed to purchase a small dwelling for himself, which I shall have by-and-by to describe. Old Tom taking the oars, we pulled aboard the Dartmouth, forty-two gun frigate, just come in from the Mediterranean. Several of the men had been shipmates with father, and all those belonging to Portsmouth knew mother. They were very glad to see her, and she had to answer questions of all sorts about their friends on shore. It is the business of a bumboat-woman to know everything going forward, what ships are likely to be commissioned, the characters of the captains and officers, when they are to sail, and where they are going to. Among so many friends mother drove a brisker trade than usual, and when the men heard that I was Jack Trawl's son they gave me many a bright shilling and sixpence, and kind pats on the head with their broad palms. "He's a chip of the old block, no doubt about that, missus," cried one. "He'll make a smart young topman one of these days," said another. Several gave her commissions to execute, and many sent messages to friends on shore. Altogether, when she left the frigate she was in better spirits than she had been for a long time.
Scarcely had we shoved off, however, when down came the rain in torrents, well-nigh wetting us through.
"It's blowing plaguey hard, missus," observed old Tom, as he tugged away at the oars, I helping him while mother steered. "I hope as how we shall find your good man safe ashore when we gets in."
On reaching the Hard the wherry was not to be seen. After old Tom had made fast the boat, wet as she was mother waited and waited in the hopes that father would come in. Old Tom remained also. He seemed more than usually anxious. We all stood with our hands shielding our eyes as we looked down the harbour to try and make out the wherry, but the driving rain greatly limited our view.
"Hast seen anything of Jack Trawl's wherry?" asked old Tom over and over again of the men in the different boats, as they came in under their mizens and foresails. The same answer was returned by all.
"Maybe he got a fare at Spithead for Gosport and will be coming across soon, or he's gone ashore at the Point with some one's luggage," observed old Tom, trying to keep up mother's spirits; but that was a hard matter to do, for the wind blew stronger and stronger. A few vessels could be seen, under close-reefed canvas, running up the harbour for shelter, but we could nowhere perceive a single boat under sail. Still old Tom continued to suggest all sorts of reasons why father had not come back. Perhaps he had been detained on board the ship at Spithead to which he took the gentleman, and seeing the heavy weather coming on would remain till it moderated. Mother clung to this notion when hour after hour went by and she had given up all expectation of seeing father that evening. Still she could not tear herself from the Hard. Suddenly she remembered me.
"You must be getting wet, Peter," she said. "Run home, my child, and tell Nancy to give you your tea and then to get supper ready. Father and I will be coming soon, I hope."
I lingered, unwilling to leave her.
"Won't you come yourself, mother?" I asked.
"I'll wait a bit longer," she answered. "Go, Peter, go; do as I bid you."
"You'd better go home with Peter, missus," said old Tom. "You'll be getting the rheumatics, I'm afraid. I'll stay and look out for your good man."
I had never seen mother look as she did then, when she turned her face for a moment to reply to the old man. She was as pale as death; her voice sounded hoarse and hollow.
"I can't go just yet, Tom," she said.
I did not hear more, as, according to her bidding, I set off to run home. I found Mary and Nancy wondering what had kept mother so long.
"Can anything have happened to father?" exclaimed Mary, when I told her that mother was waiting for him.
"He has been a long time coming back from Spithead, and it's blowing fearfully hard," I answered.
I saw Nancy clasp her hands and look upwards with an expression of alarm on her countenance which frightened me. Her father and brother had been lost some years before, crossing in a wherry from Ryde, and her widowed mother had found it a hard matter to keep herself and her children out of the workhouse. She said nothing, however, to Mary and me, but I heard her sighing and whispering to herself, "What will poor missus do? What will poor missus do?" She gave Mary and me our suppers, and then persuaded us to go to bed. I was glad to do so to get off my wet clothes, which she hung up to dry, but I could not go to sleep for thinking what had happened to father.
At length mother came in alone. She sat down on a chair without speaking, and her hands dropped by her side. I could watch her as I looked out from the small closet in which my bunk was placed. Even since I had left her her countenance had become fearfully pale and haggard. She shivered all over several times, but did not move from her seat.
"Won't you get those wet duds of yours off, missus, and have some hot tea and supper?" asked Nancy, who had been preparing it.
Mother made no reply.
"Don't take on so, missus," said Nancy, coming up to her and putting her hand affectionately on her shoulder.
"Bless me, you're as wet as muck. I've put Peter and Mary to bed, and you must just go too, or you'll be having the rheumatics and I don't know what. Do go, missus, now do go."
In vain Nancy pleaded, and was still endeavouring to persuade mother to take off her wet garments, when I at last fell asleep. When I awoke in the morning I saw Nancy alone bustling about the room. I soon jumped into my clothes. My first question was for father.
"He's not yet come back, Peter," she answered. "But maybe he will before long, for the wind has fallen, and if he put into Ryde he'd have waited till now to come across."
"Where's mother?" I next asked, not seeing her.
"Hush, Peter, don't speak loud," she said in a low tone. "She's been in a sad taking all night, but she's quiet now, and we mustn't waken her."
On hearing this I crept about as silent as a mouse till Mary got up, and then we sat looking at each other without speaking a word, wondering what was going to happen, while Nancy lit the fire and got breakfast ready. At last we heard mother call to Nancy to come to her, not knowing that Mary and I were on foot.
"I must get up and go and look after my good man," she cried out, in a voice strangely unlike her own. "Just help me, Nancy, will you? What can have come over me? I feel very curious."
She tried to rise, but could not, and after making several attempts, sank back on her bed with a groan. Mary and I now ran into her room.
"What's the matter, mother dear?" asked Mary, in a tone of alarm.
She gazed at us strangely, and groaned again.
"Missus is, I fear, taken very bad," said Nancy. "I must run for a doctor, or she'll be getting worse. I'm sure I don't know what to do; I wish I did. Oh dear! Oh dear!"
"Let me go," I said, eagerly. "I know where he lives and you stay and take care of mother. I can run faster than you can in and out among the people in the streets."
Nancy agreed, and I set off.
A SAD CHAPTER IN MY LIFE.
As I ran for the doctor I felt that I was engaged in a matter of life and death, for I had never seen mother ill before. In my anxiety for her I almost forgot all about father. On I rushed, dodging in and out among the workmen going to their daily toil—there were not many other persons out at that early hour. Two or three times I heard the cry of "Stop thief!" uttered by some small urchins for mischiefs sake, and once an old watchman, who had overslept himself in his box, suddenly starting out attempted to seize hold of me, fancying that he was about to capture a burglar, but I slipped away, leaving him sprawling in the dust and attempting to spring his rattle, and I ran on at redoubled speed, soon getting out of his sight round a corner. At last I reached Dr Rolt's house and rang the surgery bell as hard as I could pull. It was some time before the door was opened by a sleepy maid-servant, who had evidently just hurried on her clothes.
"Mother wants the doctor very badly," I exclaimed. "Ask him, please, to come at once."
"The doctor can't come. He's away from home, in London," answered the girl. "You'd better run on to Dr Hunt's. Maybe he'll attend on your mother."
I asked where Dr Hunt lived. She told me. His house was some way off, but I found it at last. Again I had to wait for the door to be opened, when, greatly to my disappointment, the maid told me that Dr Hunt had been out all night and might not be at home for an hour or more.
"Oh dear! Oh dear! Who then can I get to see poor mother?" I cried out, bursting into tears.
"There's Mr Jones, the apothecary, at the end of the next street. He'll go to your mother, no doubt," said the maid. "Don't cry, my boy. Run on now; the first turning to the left. You'll see the red and green globes in his window."
Without stopping to hear more, off I set again. Mr Jones was in his dispensary, giving directions to his assistant. I told him my errand.
"I'll go presently," he answered. "What's the number?"
Our house had no number, and I could not manage to explain its position clearly enough for his comprehension.
"Then I'll stay, sir, and show you the way," I said.
"Wait a bit, and I'll be ready," he replied.
He kept me waiting, however, a cruel long time, it seemed to me. At last he appeared with his silver-mounted cane in hand, and bade me go on.
"Stop! Stop, boy. I can't move at that rate," he cried out, before we had got far. He was a short stout man, with a bald head and grey hair. I had to restrain my eagerness, and walked slower till we reached our house. Nancy was looking out at the door for me, wondering I had not returned.
"How is mother?" I asked.
"Very bad, Peter; very bad indeed, I'm afeard," she answered, almost ready to cry. Then seeing Mr Jones stop with me, she continued, "Come in, doctor, come in. You'll try and cure missus, won't you?"
"I'll certainly do my best when I know what is the matter with her," answered Mr Jones, as he followed Nancy into the house.
Mary was with mother. I stole in after the doctor, anxious to hear what he would say about her. He made no remark in her presence, however, but when he came out of the room he observed in a low voice to Nancy, "You must keep her quiet. Let there be nothing done to agitate her, tell her husband when he comes in. I'll send some medicine, and pay her another visit in the afternoon."
"But it's about her husband that she's grieving, sir," said Nancy. "He went away to Spithead yesterday morning and has never come back."
"Ah, that's bad," replied Mr Jones. "However, perhaps he will appear before long. If he doesn't, it can't be helped. You must give her the medicines, at all events. I'll write the directions clearly for you."
Poor Nancy had to confess that she could not read. The doctor then tried to impress upon her how and when she was to give the physic.
"You'll remember, and there can be no mistake," he added, as he hurried off.
I fancied that everything now depended on the arrival of the apothecary's stuff, and kept running to the door looking out for the boy who was to bring it. He seemed very long coming. I had gone half-a-dozen times when I caught sight, as I turned my eyes the other way thinking he might have passed by, of Tom Swatridge stumping slowly up the street. He stopped when he saw me, and beckoned. He looked very downcast. I observed that he had a straw hat in his hand, and I knew that it was father's.
"How is mother?" he asked, when I got up to him.
"Very bad," I answered, looking at the hat, but afraid to ask questions.
"The news I bring will make her worse, I'm afeard," he said, in a husky voice, as he took my hand. "Peter, you had as good a father as ever lived, but you haven't got one now. A cutter just come in picked up this hat off Saint Helen's, and afterwards an oar and a sprit which both belonged to the wherry. I went out the first thing this morning to the ship your father was to put the gentleman aboard. He had got alongside all right, for I saw the gentleman himself, and he told me that he had watched the wherry after she shoved off till he lost sight of her in a heavy squall of rain. When it cleared off she was nowhere to be seen. So, Peter, my poor boy, there's no hope, I'm afeard, and we shall never see my old messmate or Ned Dore again."
"Oh, Tom! Tom! You don't mean to say that father's gone!" I cried out.
"I'd sooner have lost another leg than have to say it," answered the old man. "But it must be said notwithstanding, and now how are we to tell mother?"
I could not answer, but kept repeating to myself, "Gone! Gone! Father gone!" as Tom led me on to the house. We met the boy with the physic at the door.
"Let Nancy give her the stuff first," said the old man, thoughtfully; "maybe it will give her strength, and help her to bear the bad news."
Nancy took in the bottles, while Tom and I remained outside. After some time she came out and told Tom that mother wanted to see him. He went in, shaking all over so much that I thought he would have fallen. I followed, when, seeing Mary, I threw my arms round her neck and burst into tears. She guessed what had happened even before I told her. We sat down, holding each other's hands and crying together, while Tom went in to see mother. What he said I do not know, though I am sure he tried to break the news to her as gently as he could. When she saw the hat, which he still held in his hand, she knew that father was lost. She did not go off into fits, as Tom afterwards told me he thought she would, but remained terribly calm, and just bade him describe to her all that he knew.
"I mustn't give in," she said at length, "I have the children to look after, for if I was to go what would become of them?"
"While I'm able to work they shan't want, missus," answered Tom, firmly.
"I know what you'd wish to do, Tom; but there's one thing won't let you: that thing is liquor," said mother.
"Then I'll never touch another drop as long as I live, missus!" exclaimed Tom. "May God help me!"
"He will help you, Tom, if you ask Him," said mother; "and I hope that, whether I live or die, you'll keep to that resolution."
I believe that conversation with Tom did mother much good; it took her off from thinking of father. She was still, however, very ill, and had to keep her bed. The doctor came again and again; generally twice a day. He of course had to be paid, and a good deal too. There was nothing coming in, and poor mother became more and more anxious to get out and attend to her business. The doctor warned her that she would go at great risk—indeed, that she was not fit to leave her bed. "She had no money left to pay for food and rent and the doctor's bill," she answered, and go she must. Though she had no money, she had, however, ample credit to stock her bumboat.
Very unwillingly Nancy assisted her to, dress. Out she would go, taking me with her to lay in a stock of the articles she required. People remarked on her changed looks, and some did not even know her. She acknowledged that she was very tired when we got home, but declared that she should be the better for going on the water.
The next morning old Tom had his boat ready. "I do wish, missus, that you'd stayed at home a few days longer," he remarked, looking at her. "Howsomedever, as you've come, I hopes you'll just take what I say kindly, and not be from home longer than you can help. There's dirty weather coming up from the south-west."
Tom was right. We had two ships to visit. Before we got alongside the second down came the rain. But mother would go on, and consequently got wet through. Tom was very unhappy, but she said that she had done a good trade, and that no harm would come of it. Unhappily she was mistaken; that night she was taken very ill—worse than before. I fetched the doctor; he shook his head and said he wouldn't answer for what might happen. Faithful Nancy was half distracted. Poor mother got worse and worse. At last one day she beckoned with her pale hand to Mary and me to come to her bedside.
"I know that I am going to be taken from you, my dears," she said, in a low voice, for she could not speak loud. "I want you to promise me to be true to each other, to do your duty in God's sight, and always to ask Him to help you."
"I do, mother—I do promise," said Mary, the tears dropping from her eyes.
She could scarcely speak for sobbing.
"I promise, too, mother, that I do!" I exclaimed, in a firmer voice; and I sincerely intended to fulfil my promise.
Mother was holding our hands in hers. She said much more to us, anxious to give us all the advice in her power. Nancy came in with her medicine, after which she rallied, and bade us go to bed.
I was awakened early in the morning by hearing Nancy cry out, "Run for the doctor, Peter! Run for the doctor! Missus is taken worse."
I slipped into my clothes, and was off like a shot, without asking a question, or even looking into mother's room.
I rang the night-bell, for no one was up. At last the servant opened the door, and said she would call her master.
Mr Jones soon appeared. He had been paid regularly, and when he saw me he was the more ready to come. Eager as I was to get back, I did not like to run ahead of him; and, to do him justice, he exerted himself to walk as fast as his breath would allow him.
He asked me several questions; then I told him that mother had been again out bum-boating.
"Bad—very bad. I told her not to go. A relapse is a serious matter," he remarked, panting and puffing between his sentences. "However, we must try what can be done."
Mary met us at the door.
"Mother has been breathing very hard since you went, Peter," she said, "but she is quite quiet now."
The doctor's face looked very serious when he heard this. He hurried into the room.
"I thought so," I heard him remark to Nancy. "I could have done nothing if you had sent for me hours ago. The woman is dead."
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear! What shall I do?" cried Nancy, sobbing bitterly.
"The sooner you let any friends the children may have know what has happened the better, and then send for the undertaker," answered Mr Jones. "The boy is sharp—he'll run your errands. I can do no more than certify the cause of death."
He hurried away without bestowing a look at Mary and me, as we stood holding each other's hands, unable as yet to realise the fact that we were orphans. He had so many poor patients that he could not afford, I suppose, to exercise his compassionate feelings. Even when Nancy afterwards took us in to see mother's body, I would scarcely believe that she herself had been taken from us.
I will not stop to speak of Mary's and my grief.
At last Nancy, her eyes red with crying, sat down, with her hands pressed against her head, to consider what was to be done.
"Why, I ought to have sent for him at once!" she suddenly exclaimed. "Peter, run and find Tom Swatridge, and tell him that poor missus has gone."
I needed no second bidding, and, thankful to have something to do, I started away.
On reaching the Hard, where I expected to find old Tom, I heard from some of the watermen that he had gone off with a fare to Gosport, so I had to wait for his return. Many of the men standing about asked me after mother, and seemed very sorry to hear of her death. I saw them talking earnestly together while I waited for Tom. Others joined them, and then went away, so that the news soon spread about our part of the town. I had to wait a long time, till old Tom came back with several persons in his boat. He pocketed their fares, touching his hat to each before he took any notice of me.
"What cheer, Peter? How's the missus?" he asked, stepping on shore and dropping the kedge to make fast his boat. "I feared she wouldn't be up to bum-boating to-day."
"Mother's dead," I answered.
"Dead! The missus dead!" he exclaimed, clapping his hand to his brow, and looking fixedly at me. "The Lord have mercy on us!"
"Nancy wants you, Tom," I said.
"I'm coming, Peter, I'm coming. I said I'd be a father to you and Mary, and I will, please God," he replied, recovering himself.
He took my hand, and stumped away towards our house.
"Dick Porter, look after my boat, will ye, till I comes back?" he said to one of the men on the Hard as we hurried by.
"Ay, ay," was the cheerful answer—for Dick knew where old Tom was going.
Not a word did the old man speak all the way. When we got to the house, what was my astonishment to find a number of people in the sitting-room, one of whom, with note-book in hand, was making an inventory of the furniture! Mary was sitting in a corner crying, and Nancy was looking as if she had a mind to try and turn them all out. As soon as Mary saw me she jumped up and took my hand.
"What's all this about?" exclaimed old Tom, in an indignant tone. "You might have stopped, whatever right you may have here, till the dead woman was carried to her grave, I'm thinking."
"And others had carried off the goods," answered the man with the note-book. "We are only acting according to law. Mrs Trawl has run into debt on all sides, and when the goods are sold there won't be five shillings in the pound to pay them, that I can see, so her children must take the consequences. There's the workhouse for them."
"The work'us, do ye say? Mrs Trawl's children sent to the work'us!" exclaimed old Tom, and he rapped out an expression which I need not repeat. "Not while this here hand can pull an oar and I've a shiner in my pocket. If you've got the law on your side, do as the law lets you. But all I can say is, that it's got no bowels of compassion in it, to allow the orphans to be turned out of house and home, and the breath scarce out of their mother's body. Nancy, do you pack up the children's clothes, and any school-books or play-things you can find, and then come along to my house. The law can't touch them, I suppose."
"What is that drunken old Swatridge talking about?" said one of the broker's men.
Tom heard him.
"Such I may have been, but I'll be no longer 'drunken old Swatridge' while I have these children to look after," he exclaimed; and giving one hand to Mary and the other to me, he led us out of the house.
A FEARFUL CATASTROPHE.
Leaving Nancy, who could well hold her own, to battle with the broker's men, Tom, holding Mary by the hand, and I walked on till we came to his house, which I knew well, having often been there to call him. It consisted of two small rooms—a parlour, and little inner bedchamber, and was better furnished than might have been expected; yet old Tom had at one time made a good deal of money, and had expended a portion of it in fitting up his dwelling. Had he always been sober he would now have been comfortably off.
"Stay here, my dears, while I go out for a bit," he said, bidding us sit down on an old sea-chest on one side of the fireplace. "I haven't got much to amuse you, but here's the little craft I cut out for you, Peter, and you can go on rigging her as I've been doing. No matter if you don't do it all ship-shape. And here, Mary, is the stuff for the sails; I've shaped them, you see, and if you will hem them you'll help us finely to get the craft ready for sea."
Mary gladly undertook the task allotted to her, and even smiled as Tom handed out a huge housewife full of needles and thread and buttons, and odds and ends of all sorts.
"My thimble won't suit your finger, I've a notion, my little maid," he observed; "but I dare say you've got one of your own in your pocket. Feel for it, will you?"
Mary produced a thimble, six of which would have fitted into Tom's.
"Ay, I thought so," he said, and seeing us both busily employed, he hurried out of the house. He soon, however, returned, bringing a couple of plum buns for Mary, and some bread and cheese for me, with a small jug of milk. "There, my dears, that'll stay your hunger till Nancy comes to cook some supper for you, and to put things to rights," he said, as he placed them before us. "Good-bye. I'll be back again as soon as I can," and off he went once more.
Mary and I, having eaten the provisions he brought in, worked away diligently, thankful to have some employment to occupy our attention. But she stopped every now and then, when her eyes were too full of tears to allow her to see her needle, and sobbed as if her dear heart would break. Then on she went again, sewing as fast as she could, anxious to please old Tom by showing him how much she had done. At length Nancy arrived with a big bundle on her back. "I've brought away all I could," she said, as she deposited her load on the floor. "I'd a hard job to get them, and shouldn't at all, if Tom Swatridge and two other men hadn't come in and said they'd be answerable if everything wasn't all square. He and they were ordering all about the funeral, and I've got two women to stay with the missus till she's put all comfortable into her coffin. Alack! Alack! That I should have to talk about her coffin!" Nancy's feelings overcame her. On recovering, she, without loss of time, began to busy herself with household duties—lighted the fire, put the kettle on to boil, and made up old Tom's bed with some fresh sheets which she had brought. "You and I are to sleep here, Mary," she said, "and Peter is to have a shakedown in the sitting-room."
"And where is Tom going to put up himself?" I asked.
"That's what he didn't say but I fancy he's going to stay at night with an old chum who has a room near here. He said his place isn't big enough for us all, and so he'd made up his mind to turn out."
Such I found to be the case. Nothing would persuade our friend to sleep in his own house, for fear of crowding us. He and several other watermen, old shipmates, and friends of father's, had agreed to defray the expenses of mother's funeral, for otherwise she would have been carried to a pauper's grave. Her furniture and all the property she had possessed were not sufficient to pay her debts contracted during her illness, in spite of all her exertions. We, too, had not Tom taken charge of us, should have been sent to the workhouse, and Nancy would have been turned out into the world to seek her fortune, for her mother was dead, and she had no other relatives. She did talk of trying to get into service, which meant becoming a drudge in a small tradesman's family, that she might help us with her wages; but she could not bring herself to leave Mary; and Tom, indeed, said she must stay to look after her. As father had had no funeral, his old friends wished to show all the respect in their power to his widow, and a score or more attended, some carrying the coffin, and others walking two and two behind, with bits of black crepe round their hats and arms, while Mary and I, and Nancy and Tom, followed as chief mourners all the way to Kingston Cemetery. Nancy, with the help of a friend, a poor seamstress, had managed to make a black frock for Mary and a dress for herself, out of mother's gown, I suspect. They were not very scientifically cut, but she had sat up all night stitching at them, which showed her affection and her desire to do what she considered proper.
Some weeks had passed since mother's death, and we were getting accustomed to our mode of life. Tom sent Mary to a school near at hand every morning, and she used to impart the knowledge she obtained to me in the evening, including sometimes even sewing.
During the time Mary was at school Nancy went out charing, or tending the neighbours' children, or doing any other odd jobs of which she was capable, thus gaining enough to support herself, for she declared that she could not be beholden to the old man for her daily food. I always went out with Tom in his boat, and I was now big enough to make myself very useful. He used to make me take the helm when we were sailing, and by patiently explaining how the wind acted on the canvas, and showing me the reason of every manoeuvre, soon taught me to manage a boat as well as any man could do, so that when the wind was light I could go out by myself without the slightest fear.
"You'll do, Peter; you'll do," said the old man, approvingly, when one day I had taken the boat out to Spithead alongside a vessel and back, he sitting on a thwart with his arms folded, and not touching a rope, though he occasionally peered under the foot of the foresail to see that I was steering right, and used the boat-hook when we were going alongside the vessel, and shoving off, which I should have had to do if he had been steering. "You'll now be able to gain your living, boy, and support Mary till she's old enough to go out to service, if I'm taken from you, and that's what I've been aiming at."
Often when going along the Hard a friend would ask him to step into one of the many publics facing it to take a glass of spirits or beer. "No thank ye, mate," he would reply; "if I get the taste of one I shall be wanting another, and I shouldn't be happy if I didn't treat you in return, and I've got something else to do with my money instead of spending it on liquor."
I never saw him angry except when hard pressed by an ill-judging friend to step into a public-house.
"Would you like to see Jack Trawl's son in a ragged shirt, without shoes to his feet, and his daughter a beggar-girl, or something worse? Then don't be asking me, mate, to take a drop of the poisonous stuff. I know what I used to be, and I know what I should be again if I was to listen to you!" he exclaimed. "Stand out of my way, now! Stand out of my way! Come along, Peter," and, grasping my hand with a grip which made my fingers crack, he stumped along the Hard as fast as he could move his timber toe.
It was a pleasure on getting home to find Mary looking bright and cheerful, with her work or books before her, and Nancy busy preparing supper. The old man and I always took our dinner with us—generally a loaf of bread, with a piece of cheese or bacon or fried fish, and sometimes Irish stew in a basin, done up in a cloth, and a stone bottle of water. I remember saying that I was born with a wooden spoon in my mouth, but when I come to reflect what excellent parents I had, and what true friends I found in Tom Swatridge and Nancy, I may say that, after all, it must have been of silver, though perhaps not quite so polished as those found in the mouths of some infants.
Another change in my life was about to occur. We had taken off a gentleman from Gosport. From his way of speaking, we found that he was a foreigner, and he told us that he wanted to be put on board a foreign ship lying at Spithead.
"Is dere any danger?" he asked, looking out across the Channel, and thinking what a long distance he had to go.
"Not a bit, sir," answered Tom, for the water was as smooth as a mill-pond. There was a light air from the southward, and there was not a cloud in the sky. "We might cross the Channel to France for that matter, with weather like this."
"Oh no, no! I only want to get to dat sheep out dere!" cried the foreigner, fancying that we might carry him across against his will.
"Certainly, mounseer; we'll put you aboard in a jiffy as soon as we gets a breeze to help us along," said Tom.
We pulled round Blockhouse Point, along shore, till we came off Fort Monkton, when opening Stokes Bay, the wind hauling a little to the westward, we made sail and stood for Spithead. A number of vessels were brought up there, and at the Mother-bank, off Ryde, among them a few men-of-war, but mostly merchantmen, outward bound, or lately come in waiting for orders. It was difficult as yet to distinguish the craft the foreigner wanted to be put aboard.
"It won't matter if we have to dodge about a little to find her, mounseer, for one thing's certain: we couldn't have a finer day for a sail," observed old Tom, as we glided smoothly over the blue water, shining brightly in the rays of the unclouded sun.
He gave me the helm while he looked out for the foreign ship.
"That's her, I've a notion," he said at length, pointing to a deep-waisted craft with a raised poop and forecastle, and with much greater beam than our own wall-sided merchantmen. "Keep her away a bit, Peter. Steady! That will do."
The tide was running to the westward, so that we were some time getting up to the ship.
"You'll be aboard presently, if that is your ship, as I suppose, mounseer," said Tom.
"Yes, yes; dat is my sheep," answered the foreigner, fumbling in his pockets, I fancied, for his purse.
He uttered an exclamation of annoyance. "Ma monie gone! Some villain take it, no doubte. You come aboard de sheep, and I vill give it you, my friend," he said. "One half guinea is de charge, eh? I have also letter to write; you take it and I vill give two shillings more."
"All right, mounseer, I will wait your pleasure, and promise to post your letter," answered Tom.
As there were several boats alongside, he told me to keep under weigh till he should hail me to come for him, and as he was as active as any man, in spite of his wooden leg, taking the foreigner by the hand, he helped him up on deck. I then hauled the tacks aboard and stood off to a little distance. I waited and waited, watching the ship, and wondering why Tom was so long on board.
The wind at last began to drop, and afraid of being carried to leeward, I was on the point of running up alongside when I heard a fearful roaring thundering sound. A cloud of black smoke rose above the ship, followed by lurid names, which burst out at all her ports; her tall masts were shot into the air, her deck was cast upwards, her sides were rent asunder; and shattered fragments of planks, and of timbers and spars, and blocks, and all sorts of articles from the hold, came flying round me. I instinctively steered away from the danger, and though huge pieces of burning wreck fell hissing into the water on either side, and far beyond where I was, none of any size touched the wherry. For a minute or more I was so confounded by the awful occurrence that I did not think of my old friend. I scarcely knew where I was or what I was doing. The moment I recovered my presence of mind I put the boat about, getting out an oar to help her along, and stood back towards the burning wreck, which appeared for a moment like a vast pyramid of flame rising above the surface, and then suddenly disappeared as the waters closed over the shattered hull.
I stood up, eagerly gazing towards the spot to ascertain if any human beings had survived the dreadful catastrophe, though it seemed to me impossible that a single person could have escaped. One boat alone was afloat with some people in her, but they were sitting on the thwarts or lying at the bottom, not attempting to exert themselves, all more or less injured. The other boats had been dragged down, as the ship sank. All about were shattered spars and pieces of the deck, and some way off the masts with the yards still fast to them. Here and there was a body floating with the head or a limb torn off. One man was swimming, and I saw another in the distance clinging to a spar, but the former before I could get up to him sank without a cry, and I then steered for the man on the spar, hoping against hope that he might be old Tom. I shouted to him that he might know help was coming, but he did not answer. Meantime boats from the various ships lying around were approaching. I plied my oar with all my might, fearing that the man I have spoken of might let go his hold and be lost like the other before I could reach him. The nearer I got the more I feared that he was not Tom. His face was blackened, his clothes burnt and torn. Then I saw that he had two legs, and knew for certain that he was not my old friend. Still, of course, I continued on till I got up to the spar, when I tried to help the poor man into my boat, for he was too much hurt to get on board by himself. But my strength was insufficient for the purpose, and I was afraid of letting go lest he should sink and be lost. There was no small risk also of my being dragged overboard. Still, I did my best, but could get him no higher than the gunwale.
"Well done, youngster! Hold fast, and we'll help you," I heard a voice sing out, and presently a man-of-war's boat dashing up, two of her crew springing into the wherry quickly hauled the man on board.
"We must take him to our ship, lads, to let the surgeon attend to him," said the officer, a master's mate in charge of the man-of-war's boat.
The man was accordingly lifted into her. It appeared to me, from his sad condition, that the surgeon would be unable to do him any good.
"What, did you come out here all by yourself, youngster?" asked the officer.
"No, sir, I came out with old Tom Swatridge, who went on board the ship which blew up," I answered.
"Then I fear he must have been blown up with her, my lad," said the officer.
"I hope not, sir, I hope not," I cried out, my heart ready to break as I began to realise that such might be the case.
A FRIEND LOST AND A FRIEND GAINED.
It seemed but a moment since the ship blew up. I could not believe that old Tom had perished.
"Some people have been picked up out there, sir, I think," observed the coxswain to the officer, pointing as he spoke to several boats surrounding the one I had before remarked with the injured men in her. "Maybe the old man the lad speaks of is among them."
"Make the wherry fast astern, and we'll pull on and ascertain," said the officer.
"If he is not found, or if found is badly hurt, I'll get leave for a couple of hands to help you back with your boat to Portsmouth."
"I can take her back easily enough by myself if the wind holds as it does now; thank you all the same, sir," I answered.
I felt, indeed, that if my faithful friend really was lost, which I could scarcely yet believe, I would rather be alone; and I had no fear about managing the wherry single-handed.
As may be supposed, my anxiety became intense as we approached the boat. "Is old Tom Swatridge saved?" I shouted out.
No answer came.
"Tom! Tell me, Tom, if you are there!" I again shouted.
"Step aboard the boat and see if your friend is among the injured men," said the good-natured officer, assisting me to get alongside.
I eagerly scanned the blackened faces of the men sitting up, all of whom had been more or less scorched or burnt. A surgeon who had come off from one of the ships was attending to them. They were strangers to me. Two others lay dead in the bottom of the boat, but neither of them was old Tom. He was gone, of that I could no longer have a doubt.
With a sad heart I returned to the wherry. The other boats had not succeeded in saving any of the hapless crew. The ship had been loaded with arms and gunpowder, bound for South America, I heard some one say.
"Cheer up, my lad!" said the officer; "you must come aboard the Lapwing, and we'll then send you into Portsmouth, as we must have this poor fellow looked to by our surgeon before he is taken to the hospital."
The name of the Lapwing aroused me; she was the brig in which my brother Jack had gone to sea. For a moment I forgot my heavy loss with the thoughts that I might presently see dear Jack again. But it was only for a moment. As I sat steering the wherry towed by the man-of-war's boat my eyes filled with tears. What sad news I had to give to Jack! What would become of Mary and Nancy? For myself I did not care, as I knew that I could obtain employment at home, or could go to sea; but then I could not hope for a long time to come to make enough to support them. My chief feeling, however, was grief at the loss of my true-hearted old friend.
Soon after we got alongside the brig of war the master's mate told me to come up on deck, while one of the men took charge of the wherry. He at once led me aft to the commander, who questioned me as to how I came to be in the wherry by myself. I described to him all that had happened.
"You acted a brave part in trying to save the man from the ship which blew up. Indeed, had you not held on to him he would have been lost," he observed. "I must see that you are rewarded. What is your name?"
"Peter Trawl, sir," I answered, and, eager to see Jack, for whom I had been looking out since I got out of the boat, thinking that we should know each other, I added, "I have a brother, sir, who went to sea aboard this brig, and we have been looking out for him ever so long to come home. Please, sir, can I go and find him?"
The commander's countenance assumed a look of concern. "Poor fellow! I wish that he was on board for his sake and yours, my lad," he answered. "I cannot say positively that he is dead, but I have too much reason to believe that he is. While we were cruising among the islands of the East Indian Archipelago he formed one of a boat's crew which was, while at a distance from the ship, attacked by a large body of Malay pirates. When we got up we found only on man, mortally wounded, in the bottom of the boat, who before he died said that, to the best of his belief, the officer in charge and the rest of the men had been killed, as he had seen several dragged on board the proas, and then hacked to pieces and hove overboard.
"We chased and sank some of the pirate fleet, and made every possible search for the missing men, in case any of them should have escaped on shore, to which they were close at the time of the attack, but no traces of them could be discovered. I left an account of the occurrence with the vessel which relieved me on the station, and should any of the poor fellows have been found I should have been informed of it. It was my intention, as soon as I was paid off the Lapwing, to come down to Portsmouth to break the news to his father. Say this from me, and that I yet hope to see him shortly."
Commander Rogers seemed very sorry when I told him that father and mother were both dead. He asked me where I lived. I told him, as well as I could describe the house, forgetting that, too probably, Mary and I and Nancy would not be long allowed to remain there.
"When I commission another ship, would you like to go with me, my lad?" he asked.
"Very much, sir," I answered. "But I have a sister, and I couldn't go away with no one to take care of her; so I must not think of it now Tom Swatridge has gone. All the same, I thank you kindly, sir."
"Well, well, my lad; we will see what can be done," he said, and just then a midshipman came up to report that the boat was ready to carry the rescued man, with the surgeon, to the shore.
I found that the master's mate, Mr Harvey, and one of the men were going in my boat, and of course I did not like to say that I could get into the harbour very well without them. I touched my hat to the commander, who gave me a kind nod—it would not have done for him, I suppose, to shake hands with a poor boy on his quarter-deck even if he had been so disposed—and then I hurried down the side.
I made sail, and took the helm just as if I had been by myself, Mr Harvey sitting by my side, while the seaman had merely to rig out the mainsail with the boat-hook, as we were directly before the wind.
"You are in luck, youngster," observed Mr Harvey; "though you have lost one friend you've gained another, for our commander always means what he says, and, depend on it, he'll not lose sight of you."
He seemed a very free-and-easy gentleman, and made me tell him all about myself, and how we had lost father and mother, and how Tom Swatridge had taken charge of Mary and me. His cheerful way of talking made me dwell less on my grief than I should have done had I sailed into the harbour all alone.
"I should like to go and see your little sister and the faithful Nancy," he said, "but I must return to the brig as soon as that poor man has been carried to the hospital, and I have several things to do on shore. Land me at the Point, you can find your way to the Hard by yourself, I've no doubt."
"The boat would find her way alone, sir, she's so accustomed to it," I answered.
We ran in among a number of wherries with people embarking from the Point or landing at it. The Point, it should be understood by those who do not know Portsmouth, is a hard shingly beach on the east side, at the mouth of the harbour, and there was at that time close to it an old round stone tower, from which an iron chain formerly extended across to Blockhouse Fort, on the Gosport side, to prevent vessels from coming in without leave.
"Here, my lad, is my fare," said Mr Harvey, slipping half a guinea into my hand as he stepped on shore, followed by the seaman; "it will help to keep Nancy's pot boiling till you can look about you and find friends. They will appear, depend on it."
Before I could thank him he was away among the motley crowd of persons thronging the Point. I was thankful that no one asked me for old Tom, and, shoving out from among the other boats, I quickly ran on to the Hard.
When I landed the trial came. A waterman had gained an inkling of what had occurred from one of the crew of the Lapwings boat, and I was soon surrounded by people asking questions of how it happened.
"I can't tell you more," I answered, at length breaking from them. "Tom's gone, and brother Jack's gone, and I must go and look after poor Mary."
It was late by the time I reached home. Nancy had got supper ready on the table, and Mary had placed old Tom's chair for him in a snug corner by the fire. They saw that something was the matter, for I couldn't speak for a minute or more, not knowing how to break the news to them. At last I said, with a choking voice, pointing to the chair, "He'll never sit there more!"
Dear me, I thought Mary's and Nancy's hearts would break outright when they understood what had happened. It was evident how much they loved the rough old man—I loved him too, but in a different way, I suppose, for I could not ease my heart by crying; indeed I was thinking about what Mary and Nancy would do, and of brother Jack's loss. I did not like to tell Mary of that at first, but it had to come out, and, strange as it may seem, it made her think for the time less about what was to us by far the greater loss. Supper remained long untasted, but at last I felt that I must eat, and so I fell to, and after a time Nancy followed my example and made Mary take something.
Nancy then began to talk of what we must do to gain our living, and we sat up till late at night discussing our plans. There was the wherry, and I must get a mate, and I should do very well; then we had the house, for we never dreamed that we should not go on living in it, as we were sure Tom would have wished us to do. Nancy was very sanguine as to how she could manage. Her plain, pock-marked face beamed as she spoke of getting three times as much work as before. Short and awkward as was her figure, Nancy had an heroic soul. Mary must continue to attend school, and in time would be able to do something to help also.
We talked on till we almost fell asleep on our seats. The next morning we were up betimes. Nancy got out some black stuff we had worn for mother, a piece of which she fastened round my arm to show respect to old Tom's memory, and after breakfast I hurried out to try and find a mate, that I might lose no time in doing what I could with the wherry. I had thought of Jim Pulley, a stout strong lad, a year or two older than myself, who, though not very bright, was steady and honest, and I knew that I could trust him; his strength would supply my want of it for certain work we had to do. Jim was the first person I met on the Hard. I made my offer to him; he at once accepted it.
"To tell the truth, Peter, I was a-coming to say, that if thou hadst not got any one to go in the place of Tom Swatridge, I would help thee till thou art suited for nothing, or if thou wilt find me in bread and cheese I'll be thankful."
In a few minutes after this Jim and I were plying for hire in the harbour, and we had not long to wait before we got a fare. The first day we did very well, and I gave Jim a quarter of what we took, with which he was perfectly content.
"I wouldn't ask for more, Peter," he said, "for thou hast three mouths to feed, and I have only one."
The next few days we were equally successful; indeed I went home every evening in good spirits as to my prospects. I made enough for all expenses, and could lay by something for the repairs of the wherry.
Though Jim and I were mere boys, while the weather was fine people took our boat as willingly as they did those of grown men. Sometimes we got parties to go off to the Victory, at others across to the Victualling Yard, and occasionally up the harbour to Porchester Castle.
We worked early and late, and Jim or I was always on the look-out for a fare.
When I got home at night I had generally a good account to give of the day's proceedings. Now and then I asked Jim in to take a cup of tea, and many a hearty laugh we had at what the ladies and gentlemen we had taken out had said and done. Seeing that we were but boys they fancied that they could talk before us in a way they wouldn't have thought of doing if we had been grown men.
It must not be supposed that we were able to save much, but still I put by something every week for the repairs of the boat I had got enough to give her a fresh coat of paint, which she much wanted, and we agreed that we would haul her up on Saturday afternoon for the purpose, so that she would be ready for Monday.
We carried out our intentions, though it took every shilling I had put by, and we lost more than one fare by so doing. But the wherry looked so fresh and gay, that we hoped to make up for it the next week. Jim went to chapel on the Sunday with Mary and Nancy and me, and spent most of the day with us. He was so quiet and unassuming that we all liked him much. As we had put plenty of dryers in the paint, and the sun was hot on Sunday, by Monday forenoon we were able to ply as usual. We had taken a fare across to Gosport, when a person, whom we supposed to be a gentleman from his gay waistcoat and chains, and his top-boots, and hat stuck on one side, came down to the beach and told us to take him over to Portsea. We soon guessed by the way he talked that, in spite of his fine clothes, he was not a gentleman.
"I say, you fellow, do you happen to know whereabouts an old chap, one Tom Swatridge, lives?" he asked of Jim.
"He doesn't live anywhere; he's dead," answered Jim.
"Dead! Dead, do you say?" he exclaimed. "Who's got his property?"
"He had no property that I knows on," answered Jim; "except, maybe—"
"Oh yes, he had; and if the old fellow had lived he would have been the possessor of a good round sum; but, as I am his nephew, that will be mine, and everything else he left behind him, the lawyer, Master Six-and-eightpence, as I call him, tells me."
All this time I had not liked to say anything, but the last remark made me feel very uncomfortable. The speaker presently took a letter out of his pocket, and, reading it, said, "Ah! I see Mr Gull is the man I've got to go to. Can you show me where Mr Gull, the attorney, lives?" he asked of Jim; "he'll settle up this matter."
Jim made no answer, for we were getting near the shore, and had to keep out of the way of two craft coming up the harbour. We soon ran up to the Hard, when the man, stepping out, offered Jim a sixpence.
"A shilling's the fare, sir," said Jim, keeping back his hand.
"No, no, you young rascal! I know better; but I'll give you another sixpence if you will show me the way to Mr Gull's."
"You may find it by yourself," answered Jim, indignantly, as he picked up the sixpence thrown to him by our fare, who walked off.
"Half a loaf is better than no bread, Peter, so it's as well not to lose the sixpence," said Jim, laughing. "But no gentleman would have offered less than a shilling. I wonder whether he really is old Tom's nephew?"
TURNED OUT OF HOUSE AND HOME.
We had just landed the gaily-dressed individual who had announced himself the nephew of old Tom Swatridge. Thinking that he might possibly be the person he said he was, and not knowing what tricks he might play, I was intending to row home, when a gentleman, with two young ladies and a boy, who I knew by their dress to be Quakers, came down, wishing to take a row round the harbour, and afterwards to visit the Victualling Yard.
After we had pulled off some way, I asked if they would like to go aboard the Victory.
"No, thank thee, young friend, we take no pleasure in visiting scenes, afloat or on shore, where the blood of our fellow-creatures has been shed," answered the gentleman.
As he spoke I thought by his look and the tone of his voice that he must be Mr Silas Gray, who had come to our house when the poor girl mother took in was dying, but I did not like to ask him. The young people called him father. At last he began to ask Jim and me questions, and how, young as we were, we came to have a boat by ourselves.
"I suppose thy father is ill on shore?" he said.
Then I told him how he was lost at Spithead, and mother had died, and old Tom had been blown up, and I had taken his wherry, seeing there was no one else to own her; and how Mary and Nancy and I lived on in his house.
"And art thou and this other lad brothers?" he inquired.
"No, sir; but Jim Pulley and I feel very much as if we were," I answered. "My name is Peter Trawl."
"And was thy mother a bumboat-woman, a true, honest soul, one of the excellent of the earth?" he asked.
"Ay, ay, sir! That was my mother," I said, my heart beating with pleasure to hear her so spoken of.
Then he told me that he was Mr Silas Gray, and asked if I remembered the visits he used to pay to our house. Of course I did. The young ladies and his son joined in the conversation, and very pleasant it was to hear them talk.
We were out the whole afternoon, and it was quite late when we got back to Portsea. Mr Gray said that he was going away the next morning with his family to London, but that when he returned he would pay Mary a visit, and hoped before the summer was over to take some more trips in my wherry. He paid us liberally, and he and the young people gave us kind smiles and nods as they stepped on shore.
While we were out I had not thought much about the fare we had brought across from Gosport in the morning, but now, recollecting what he had said, I hurried home, anxious to hear if he had found out the house. I had not to ask, for directly I appeared Nancy told me that while Mary was at school an impudent fellow had walked in and asked if old Tom Swatridge had once lived there, and when she said "Yes," had taken a note of everything, and then sat down and lighted his pipe, and told her to run out and bring him a jug of ale.
"'A likely thing, indeed!' I answered him," said Nancy; "'what! When I come back to find whatever is worth taking carried off, or maybe the door locked and I unable to get in!' The fellow laughed when I said this—a nasty sort of a laugh it was—and said, 'Ay! Just so.' I didn't know exactly what he meant, but presently he sang out, 'What! Are you not gone yet, gal?' 'No, and I shan't,' I answered; 'and when Peter and Jim come in you'll pretty quickly find who has to go.' On this he thundered out, trying to frighten me, 'Do you know that I am old Tom Swatridge's nephew and heir-at-law,' [I think that's what he called himself], 'and that this house and everything in it is mine, and the wherry, and any money the old chap left behind him? I'll soon prove that you and your brother are swindlers, and you'll be sent off to prison, let me tell you.' He took me for Mary, do you see, Peter; and I was not going to undeceive him? I felt somewhat nonplussed when he said this, but without answering I walked to the window, working with my needle as I was doing when he came in, and looked out as if I was expecting you and Jim to be coming. I would give him no food, nor even a drink of water; so at last he grew tired, and, saying I should see him again soon, swinging his cane and whistling, he walked away."
"What do you think, Peter? Can he really be old Tom's nephew?" asked Mary, when Nancy ceased speaking.
"One thing is certain, that if he proves himself to be so we shall be bound to turn out of this house, and to give up the wherry," I answered.
"Oh, Peter! What shall we do, then?" exclaimed Mary.
"The best we can, my sister," I said. "Perhaps the man may not be able to prove that he is what he calls himself. I have heard of impostors playing all sorts of tricks. We'll hope for the best. And now, Nancy, let us have some supper."
Though I tried to keep up the spirits of Mary and Nancy, I felt very anxious, and could scarcely sleep for thinking on the subject. Whatever might happen for myself I did not care, but I was greatly troubled about what Mary and Nancy would do. I naturally thought of Commander Rogers, from whom all this time I had heard nothing, though he had promised to come and see after Mary and me. Mr Gray had said that he was going away again, so that I could not obtain advice from him. "I have God to trust to, that's a comfort," I thought, and I soon dropped off to sleep.