Peter the Whaler, by W.H.G. Kingston.
Peter's father is a country vicar in Ireland, and Peter is a naughty teenager, who has got in with friends who encourage poaching, at that time a most serious offence. His father confiscates the gun, but one night Peter recovers the gun and has another coaching expedition, during which he is caught by the gamekeepers. The magistrate releases him to his father, who travels with him to Liverpool. For fifteen pounds Captain Swales of the BLACK SWAN agrees to take him and to teach him the rudiments of seamanship on a return voyage to Canada. It turned out she was an ill-managed emigrant ship, and the emigrants were very badly treated. Captain Swales and his officers are as nasty as they come. There is a fire on board, and the people are rescued by the MARY, Captain Dean, who is a very different kind of man than the despicable Captain Swales. At Quebec Peter joins the FOAM, Captain Hawk. There then follows a series of events, some good, and some bad, but all well-written.
It must be remembered that Peter the Whaler was probably the first seafaring book by Kingston, although he had written several books during the previous twenty years or so, The book was very well received by the public, and Kingston took up writing adventure novels for teenagers as a permanent occupation, until his death about thirty years later.
PETER THE WHALER, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
"Peter," said my father, with a stern look, though the tone of his voice had more of sorrow in it than anger, "this conduct, if you persist in it, will bring ruin on you, and grief and shame on my head and to your mother's heart. Look there, boy, and answer me: Are not those presumptive evidences of your guilt? Where did they come from?" He pointed, as he spoke, to several head of game, pheasants, partridges, and hares, which lay on the ground, while I stood before him leaning on my gun, my eyes not daring to meet his, which I knew were fixed on me. My two dogs crouched at my feet, looking as if they also were culprits and fully comprehended the tenor of his words.
My father was a clergyman, the vicar of a large parish in the south of Ireland, where the events I am now narrating took place. He was a tall man, with silvery locks and well-formed features. I think his hair was prematurely grey. The expression of his countenance was grave, and betokened firmness and decision, though his general character was mild in the extreme. He was a kind parent, in some respects too kind; and he was very indulgent towards the faults and errors of those not immediately connected with him. He was on good terms with the Roman Catholics of the neighbourhood, of which faith were the large majority of the population, and even with the priests; so that our family had few enemies, and were never in any way molested by the peasantry.
That, however, we had some foes, I shall have occasion presently to show. But I must return to the scene I was describing. I may be pardoned for first giving a slight sketch of myself. I hope that I may escape being accused of vanity, as I shall not dwell on my personal appearance. I believe that I inherited some of my parents' good looks; but the hardships I have endured have eradicated all traces of them. I was well grown for my age (I was barely fifteen), but, dressed in my loose shooting-costume, my countenance ruddy with fresh air and exercise, I looked much older.
"What do you suppose would be the lot of a poor man's son, if he were to be discovered acting as you are constantly doing in spite of my warnings and commands?" continued my father, his voice growing more serious and his look more grave. "I tell you, boy, that the consequences may and will be lamentable; and do not believe, that because you are the son of a gentleman, you can escape the punishment due to the guilty.
"You are a poacher. You deserve the name; and on some occasion, when engaged in that lawless occupation, you will probably encounter the gamekeepers of the persons on whose estates you are trespassing, and whose property you are robbing. Now hear me out. They, as in duty bound, will attempt to capture you. You and your companions may resist; your weapons may be discharged, and life may be sacrificed. If you escape the fate of a murderer, you may be transported to distant lands, away from friends, home, and country, to work for long years; perhaps in chains among the outcasts of our race, fed on the coarsest food, subject to the tyranny of brutalised overseers, often themselves convicts; your ears forced to listen to the foulest language, your eyes to witness the grossest debauchery, till you yourself become as bad as those with whom you are compelled to herd; so that, when the time of your punishment is expired, you will be unfit for freedom; and if you venture to return home, you will find yourself, wherever you appear, branded with dishonour, and pointed at as the convict.
"Think, Peter, of the grief and anguish it would cause your poor mother and me, to see you suffer so dreadful a disgrace—to feel that you merited it. Think of the shame it would bring on the name of our family. People would point at your sisters, and say, 'Their brother is a convict!' they would shake their heads as I appeared in the pulpit, and whisper, 'The vicar whose son was transported!' But more than all (for men's censure matters not if we are guiltless), think how God will judge you, who have had opportunities of knowing better, who have been repeatedly warned that you are doing wrong, who are well aware that you are doing wrong: think how He will judge and condemn you.
"Human laws, of necessity, are framed only to punish all alike, the rich and educated man as well as the poor and ignorant; but God, who sees what is in the heart of man, and his means of knowing right from wrong, will more severely punish those who sin, as you do, with their eyes open. I am unwilling to employ threats; I would rather appeal to your better feelings, my boy; but I must, in the first place, take away your means of following your favourite pursuit; and should you persist in leading your present wild and idle life, I must adopt such measures as will effectually prevent you. Give me your gun."
I listened to all that was said in dogged silence. I could not refuse to give up my dearly-beloved weapon; but I did so with a very bad grace; and I am sorry to say that my father's words had at that time little or no effect on my heart. I say at the time, for afterwards, when it was too late, I thought of them over and over again, and deeply repented of my wilful obstinacy and folly.
Alas! from how much suffering and grief I should have been saved had I attended to the precepts and warnings of my kind parent—how much of bitter self-reproach. And I must warn my young friends, that although the adventures I went through may be found very interesting to read about, they would discover the reality to be very full of pain and wretchedness were they subjected to it; and yet I may tell them that the physical suffering I endured was as nothing when compared to the anguish of mind I felt, when, left for hours and days to my own bitter thoughts, I remembered that through my own perverseness I had brought it all upon myself.
Often have I envied the light hearts of my fellow-sufferers, whose consciences did not blame them. Let me urge you, then, in your course through life, on all occasions to act rightly, and to take counsel and advice from those on whose judgment you should rely; and then not only in the next world will you have your reward, but, in this, through the severest trials and bodily suffering you will enjoy a peace of mind and a happiness of which no man can deprive you.
My parents had four sons and five daughters. My eldest brother was studying for the bar in Dublin; and, as the family fortune was limited, we were somewhat cramped to afford him the requisite means for his education. I was consequently kept at home, picking up, when I felt disposed, any crumbs of knowledge which came in my way, but seldom going out of my way to find them; nor had I, unfortunately, any plan fixed on for my future career.
My mother, was constantly employed with my sisters, and my father with his clerical duties or his literary pursuits; so that I was forgotten, and allowed to look after myself. I am unable to account for the neglect to which I was subjected, but such was the case; and consequently I ran wild, and contrived, to become acquainted with some scampish youths in the neighbourhood, in every way my inferiors except in age; and they gave me lessons which I was, I own, too willing to learn, in all that was bad.
Sporting was my greatest amusement; and, for my age, I was perhaps one of the best shots in all the country round. While I confined myself to my father's glebe, and to the grounds of two or three friends who had given me leave to shoot, he did not object to my indulging my propensity; but, not content with so narrow a sphere of action, I used frequently, in company of some of the youths I speak of, to wander over property where I not only had no right to kill game, but where I had positively been forbidden to trespass, and where I even knew people were on the look-out to detect me.
I had just returned from one of these lawless expeditions, when I was encountered by my father, laden with game, and the scene I have described took place. As I before said (and I repeat it with shame), I felt the loss of my gun more than I cared for the lecture, or the grief my conduct caused my father. I can scarcely now account for the obstinacy and hardness of heart which made me shut my ears to all remonstrances. I have since then grown wiser, and I hope better; and I feel that I ought at once to have asked my father's forgiveness, and to have cheerfully set to work on some occupation of which he approved. With me, as it will be with every one, idleness was the mother of all mischief.
For two days I sulked, and would speak to no one. On the third I set off to take a walk by myself, across the bogs, and over the hills in the far distance. I had got into a better spirit from the fresh air and exercise; and I truly believe that I was beginning to see my error, and was resolving to do my best to make amends for it, and to give up my bad habits, when who should I encounter but Pat Doolan, one of the wildest of my wild acquaintances!
Before a word of salutation had passed, he asked me why I had not got my gun with me; and after a weak and vain endeavour to avoid answering the question, I confessed all that had occurred. He sneered at my fears and my fathers' warnings, and laughed away all my half-formed good resolutions,—telling me that I might just as well go and borrow one of my sister's petticoats at once, for to that I should come at last if I was going to give up all manly pursuits. Unhappy, indeed, it was for me that I listened to the voice of the tempter, instead of keeping my good resolutions safely locked up in my own breast, and instantly hurrying away from him, as I ought to have done. Or perhaps I might have answered him, "No; I must not, and will not, listen to you. I know that what I have resolved to do is right, and that which you want to persuade me to do is wicked—an instigation of the evil one; so go away and leave me." And if he persisted in remaining near me, I should have set off and run from him as hard as I could go. This is the only way to treat temptation in whatever form it appears. Fly from it as you would from the slippery edge of a precipice.
Instead of acting thus, I sat down on the heather by his side, and, looking foolish and humbled, I began plucking off the crisp flowers and leaves, and throwing them to the winds. He asked me if I knew where the gun was locked up. When I told him that it was not locked up at all, but merely placed on the mantelpiece in my father's dressing-room, he laughed at me for fool because I had not before re-possessed myself of it. Fool I was, in truth; but it was to yield to the bad advice my false and false-hearted friend tendered. I own that I at first was rather shocked at what he said; but still I sat and listened, and made only weak objections, so that he very speedily overcame all my scruples; and I undertook to get back my gun at all cost, and to join him on the following morning on a shooting expedition on the property of a nobleman, some part of which was seen from the hill where we had posted ourselves.
Doolan could make himself very entertaining by narrating a variety of wild adventures in which he or his companions had been engaged, or, I may say, in some of which he pretended to have been engaged; for I since have had reason to believe that he drew considerably more on his imagination than on truth for the subjects of his tales, for the purpose of raising himself in my estimation, thereby hoping to gain a greater influence over me.
I have often since met such characters, who are very boastful and bold in the company of lads younger than themselves, or of persons whom they think will believe them, but cautious and silent in the presence of those whom they have sufficient discernment to perceive at once take them at their true value. Observe one of those fellows the instant an educated gentleman appears in the circle of which he is the attraction,—how his eye will quail and his voice sink, and he will endeavour to sneak away before his true character is exposed. I need scarcely advise my readers not to be misled by such pretenders.
The property on which we had resolved to poach was owned by Lord Fetherston. We knew that he maintained but few keepers, and that those were not very vigilant. He also, we believed, was away from the country, so that we had no fears of being detected.
I said that my father had few enemies. For some reason or other, however, Lord Fetherston was one. I did not know why; and this fact Doolan, who was well aware of it, took care to bring forward in justification of the attack we purposed to make on his property. I should have known that it was no justification whatever; but when people want reasons for committing a bad act, they are obliged to make very bad ones serve their purpose.
Pat Doolan was my senior by three years. He was the son of a man who was nominally a small farmer, but in reality a smuggler, and the owner of an illicit distillery; indeed I do not know what other lawless avocations he carried on.
Very inferior, therefore, as he was in position in life, though Pat Doolan was well supplied with money, he considered it of consequence to be intimate with me, and to gain an ascendency over my mind, which he might turn to account some time or other. He kept me sitting on the heather, and listening to his good stories, and laughing at them, for upwards of two hours, till he felt sure that my good resolutions would not come back. During this time he produced some bread and meat and whisky, of which latter he made me drink no small quantity, and he then accompanied me towards my home, in sight of which he left me, with a promise to meet him on the same spot at daybreak on the following morning.
Even that very evening, as I sat with a book in my hand pretending to read, in the same room the family occupied, and listened to the cheerful voices of my light-hearted innocent sisters, I began to repent of my engagement to Doolan; but the fear of his laughing at me, and talking again about my sisters' petticoats, made me resolve to adhere to it.
That night was far from a happy one, for I knew all the time that I was doing what was very wrong. I waited till I thought that my father and all the household were asleep; and then, with the sensations I should think a thief experiences when about to commit a robbery, I crept along the dark passage towards his dressing-room. I trembled very much, for I was afraid that something would awake him, and that he would discover what I was about. I was aware that he would learn what I had done, the first thing in the morning; but then I should be far off, enjoying my sport, and I thought not of the consequences. I felt my way along the passage, for it was quite dark. I heard a noise—I trembled more and more—I expected every instant to be discovered, and I should have retreated to my room, but that the thought of Pat Doolan's laughter and sneers urged me on. I held my breath while I stopped to listen. There was again a dead silence, and I once more advanced. Presently something brushed against me. I was almost driven to cry out through terror, though I believe it was only the cat, whom I had disturbed from her slumbers on a rug at the door of the room occupied by my sisters. I was, I may say, constitutionally brave, almost to fool-hardiness, and yet on this occasion I felt the veriest coward in existence. Again I went on—the door of the dressing-room was ajar—I was afraid to push it lest it should creak on its hinges—I slowly moved it a little, and crept in. The moonlight was streaming through an opening in the upper part of the shutter on the coveted weapon. I grasped it eagerly, and slinging the shot-belt and powder-horn, which was by it, over my shoulder, I silently beat my retreat.
Now that I had won my prize, I felt much bolder, and without accident I reached my room. Sleep I could not; so, carefully closing the door, I spent the remainder of the night in cleaning my gun and getting ready for my excursion. I got out of the house without being perceived, and, closing the door behind me, even before the time agreed on I reached the spot where I was to meet Doolan. A hoar frost lay on the grass, the air was pure and bracing, my gun was in my hand, and plenty of powder and shot in my belt; and this, with the exercise and excitement, enabled me to cast away all regrets for my conduct, and all fear for the result.
I anxiously watched for my companion as I walked up and down the road to keep myself warm, till at last I began to fancy that some accident must have happened to prevent his coming. It never occurred to me that he could play me false. I had not learned to be suspicious of any one. At last I saw him trudging across a field towards me, and whistling as he came.
I could not have whistled if I had tried; but then, bad as he was, he was not, like me, disobeying a kind parent. When I remember the sort of person Doolan was (for his appearance was coarse and vulgar in the extreme), I wonder he could have gained such an influence over me. I believe that it was the boastful way in which he talked made me fancy him so important. I was very innocent and confiding, in spite of the bad company into which I had fallen; and I used to believe all the accounts he gave me of his own adventures, and those of his own particular friends. I have, fortunately, seldom met a man who could tell a falsehood with such a bold, unblushing front. I had a great horror of a falsehood, notwithstanding my numerous faults; I despised it as a mean, cowardly way of getting out of a difficulty, or of gaining some supposed advantage. I did not believe that a person older than myself could possibly be guilty of telling one. I fancied that only very little miserable children, or mean contemptible people, told stories; and I therefore could not fancy that such a person as Doolan would even condescend to say what was not true. I honestly say that I always adhered to the truth myself; and to this circumstance I ascribe my not having irretrievably sunk into the grade of society to which my too frequent companions belonged. I have mentioned Doolan, whose faults I would rather have forgotten; but I naturally wish to excuse myself as much as I can, and to account for the influence he had gained over me— an influence he never would have obtained had I known him to be what I now know he was.
It would indeed be happy for the young if they always could learn the true characters of their companions; and it is in this point that the advice of their older friends is so valuable. They, by their experience of others, are generally able to judge pretty correctly of persons, and often discern very dangerous qualities which young people cannot perceive. Therefore I say to my young friends, Avoid the acquaintance of those against whom your relations, or those who take an interest in your welfare, warn you, although you may think them, in your blindness, very fine fellows, or even perfect heroes. I wish that I, Peter—your friend, if you will so let me call myself—had thus followed the oft-repeated warnings of my kind father, and kept clear of Pat Doolan.
Doolan's loud cheer, as we met, raised my spirits still more, and away we trudged gaily enough towards the scene of our intended sport. He laughed and talked incessantly without giving me a moment for thought, so that when we reached the ground I was ready for anything. A hare crossed my path. It belonged, I knew, to Lord Fetherston. I fired, knocked it over, and bagged it; and while Doolan was applauding me, a pheasant was put up, and in like manner transferred to my game-bag. Never before had we enjoyed such capital sport, till, weary with our exercise, we sat down to partake of the provisions, not forgetting a whisky bottle which my companion had brought with him. While we were eating, he amused me with an account of an intended run of smuggled goods which was to be made on the coast two nights thence; and without much difficulty I agreed to join the party who were to assist in landing the things, and in carrying them up the country to the places where they were to be concealed.
On these occasions, conflicts between the coastguard officers and the smugglers often take place, and lives are frequently lost. This I well knew, though perhaps I did not think about it. I was pleased with the idea of the danger, and flattered by having so much confidence placed in me. I thought it was a very manly thing to assist the smugglers, while Doolan all the time wished to implicate me, to be able, should we be discovered, to shield himself by means of me. After breakfast we resumed our sport. Our game-bags were full and very heavy, and even we were content. My companion at last proposed to return home. "Home," I remarked unconsciously. "How can I return home? How can I face my father after having thus disobeyed him?" I thought. This feeling had not before occurred to me. I already repented what I had done. "I can't go home now," said I to Doolan aloud.
"Why not?" said he; "you've a mighty fine faste to place before your dad; and, faith, if he's a sinsible man, he'll ax no questions how you came by it." Such were my companion's notions of morality; and in this instance he spoke what he thought was the truth, for he had been taught no better, and he knew that thus his own father would have acted.
"It won't do; I cannot look my father in the face, and must go to your house now; and I will creep home at night, when there's no one to see me."
"Well, Pater, you must do as you like," he said, laughing; "you're mighty welcome to come to our house and to stay there as long as you plase; at the same time that I see no reason at all, at all, why your dad shouldn't be glad to see such an illigant stock of game for his dinner."
"I know my father better than you do, Pat," said I, for the first time in my life asserting a little determination with him. "Home I will not go this day."
So it was settled; and we were bending our steps in the direction of Doolan's house, through Lord Fetherston's property, when another pheasant got up before me. My gun was loaded, and I could not resist the temptation to fire. The bird fell, and I was running forward to pick it up, when three persons appeared suddenly from a path through a copse close to me. Doolan, who was a little in advance, ran off as fast as his legs could carry him, throwing away his game-bag in his fright, and leaving me to take care of myself as I best could. Two of the strangers, whom I guessed to be keepers by their dress—indeed one I knew by sight—rushed forward and seized me roughly by the collar.
"What are you doing here, you young scamp?" exclaimed one of them. "Killing our lord's game, and caught in the act," he added, picking up the still fluttering bird. "Come along, and we'll see what he has to say to you."
The other immediately made chase after my companion; but Doolan ran very fast, and was in good wind, which the keeper was not, so that the former soon distanced him. The keeper gave up the chase, calculating that, having caught one of us, he should be able to lay hands on the other whenever he chose.
On his return, with many a cuff he dragged me along towards the third person I spoke of, and whom I at once recognised as Lord Fetherston himself. He did not remember me; but the keepers did, I suspect, from the first.
"What is your name, youngster?" said his lordship in a severe tone.
I told him, with the shame I felt strongly depicted on my countenance.
"I am sorry to hear it," he replied. "And that of your companion?"
"Pat Doolan, my lord." I said this with no vindictive feeling, or with any idea of excusing myself; but I was asked a question, and without considering what might be the result I answered it.
"A pretty companion for the son of the vicar of —-. Take away his gun, O'Rourke," he said to the keeper, "and the game: to that he has no right. And now, young gentleman, I shall see your father on this matter shortly. If he chooses to let his son commit depredations on my property, he must take the consequences."
"I came out without my father's knowledge, and he is in no way to blame," I answered quickly; for I could not bear to have any reflection cast on my father through my fault.
Lord Fetherston looked at me attentively, and I think I heard him muttering something like, "He is a brave lad, and must be rescued from such companionship;" but I am not quite certain.
"Well, sir, you at all events must not escape punishment," he replied aloud. "For the present, I leave you in the custody of my keepers. You see the condition to which you have reduced yourself."
He then gave some orders to one of the keepers, which I did not hear; and without further noticing me he walked on, while they led me away towards Fetherston Abbey, his lordship's residence. I need scarcely say that my feelings were very wretched, and full of shame; and yet perhaps I would rather it should thus have happened, than that I should have been compelled to go back to my father. It was perhaps somewhat of a consolation to feel that I was being justly punished, and yet not by my father's hand. I don't know that I thought this at the time, but I know that I did afterwards. And then, when days had passed, and many other events had occurred, I felt very grateful that Providence had thus disposed of me, and had preserved me from a fate which in all human probability would have been mine had I this time escaped with impunity.
Lord Fetherston was a magistrate, and consequently in the Abbey there was a strong room, in which, on occasion, prisoners were locked up before they were carried off to jail. Into this room I was led, and with a heavy heart I heard the key turned in the lock, and found myself alone. If I had wished to escape I could not; and there were no books, or other means of amusement, so that I was left to my own reflections. A servant, who would not answer any questions, brought me in some dinner, which I could scarcely taste; and at night a small bed, ready-made, was brought in, and I was again left to myself. Two days thus passed away: my obstinate spirit was completely broken, and I must say that I truly had repented of all my folly and idleness. On the third day the door opened, and my father appeared. He looked very sad, but not angry. He took a chair and sat down, while I stood before him. For more than a minute he could not speak.
"Peter," he at length said, "I do not come to reproach you: the grief I and your mother feel, and what you will have to endure henceforth, will be, I trust, sufficient punishment. We must part with you, my son; we have no choice. You must go to foreign lands, and there retrieve your name, and, I trust, improve and strengthen your character. You have placed yourself and me in Lord Fetherston's power. He insists on it, that you shall forthwith be sent to sea; and on that condition he promises to overlook all that has occurred. He did not even speak harshly of you; and I am fain to believe that what he has decided is for the best. At my earnest solicitation, he consented that you should take only a short voyage first to North America, provided that you sail without delay. Accordingly, I have agreed to set off to-morrow with you for Liverpool, whence many ships sail for that part of the world, and I dare say that I shall find some captain to take charge of you. Do you consent to abide by this arrangement?"
"I think Lord Fetherston is right," I replied. "The life of a sailor, if what I know of it is correct (little in truth did I know of it), will just suit me; and though I regret to go as I am going, and grieve to wound my mother's heart, yet I consider that I am very leniently dealt with, and will gladly accept the conditions." So it was settled, and my father led me out of my prison. Lord Fetherston met us as we left the mansion.
"My son gratefully accepts your conditions, my lord," said my father, colouring. His pride, I fear, was humbled to the dust (alas! through me) when he said so. "I shall fulfil to the letter your lordship's commands."
"I am glad to hear it, Mr Lefroy; depend on it, you act wisely," said Lord Fetherston. "And I trust that we part without malice, young man," addressing me. "You have my well-wishes, I can assure you." He held out his hand, and I shook it, I believe gratefully, though I said nothing; and without another word I jumped into the car which had brought my father, and we drove home.
There was much grief and sorrow when we got there, and many a tear in the eyes of my mother and my sweet, ever kind, sisters as they packed up my little kit; but not a word of reproach. Thus passed the last day for many a long year that I spent at home.
Let me tell those who wish to quit their homes to go roaming round the world in search of what they know not, that though they chance to bring back shiploads of riches, they will find no jewels comparable in price to a another's fond love, a father's protecting affection, the sweet forbearing regard of tender sisters, a brother's hearty interest, or the calm tranquillity of the family roof.
I write for the large and happy majority of my readers: some few are less fortunate, and they in truth deserve the sympathy of the rest. Cherish, I say, while you can, the affections of your home; and depend on it, when far away, the recollection alone will be like a refreshing spot in the weary desert through which your path in life may lead you; for be assured that there is no place like home.
I remember very little of my journey to Dublin, except that it was performed on the top of the mail. My father went outside also, which was not his usual custom; but he did not like to expose me to the inclemency of the weather while he was comfortably ensconced within (another proof of his love), and he could not spare money to pay for my fare inside.
We saw my eldest brother for an instant, just for me to wish him good-bye, and the same afternoon we went on board a steamer bound for Liverpool.
She was very different to the superb vessels which now run twice a day from one place to the other, making the two capitals, for all intents and purposes, not so far off as London and Winchester were not a hundred years ago. She was in every respect inferior; but I thought her, as she was indeed, a very wonderful vessel. I was never tired of examining her machinery, and in wandering through every part of her.
I had never before been on board a steamer; and as I was naturally of an inquiring disposition, I had numberless questions to ask to learn how it was the steam made the engines work, and the engine made the large paddle-wheels go round. This occupation prevented me from thinking of what had occurred, and kept me in good spirits.
Arrived at Liverpool, we went to an inn, and my father immediately set out with me to inquire among the ship-brokers what ships were sailing for British North America.
"You shall go to an English colony, Peter," said my father. "Wherever you wander, my son, remember you are a Briton, and cease not to love your native land."
Liverpool was then, I thought, a very fine city. I was particularly struck by the fine public buildings; the broad streets, full of richly-stocked shops; and more than all, by the docks, crowded with shipping. Since then, several of the streets have been widened, the docks have been increased, and many fine buildings have been added; and as the wealth of Liverpool continues to increase, many more will be added, till it vies with some of the proudest cities in the world. Such is the result of commerce, when guided by a wise and liberal policy.
Had my father known more of the world, I am inclined to think that he would have waited till he could procure an introduction to some respectable ship-owner, who would have selected a good honest captain with whom to place me. Instead of so doing, he walked into several offices by chance, over which he saw written "Shipping Agent and Broker." Some had no ships going to the British North American ports, others did not know of any captains who would take charge of a raw youngster like me. One said if I liked to go to the coast of Africa he could accommodate me, but that he could not say that I might not have to spend two or three months up some of the rivers, waiting for a return cargo of ivory and gold dust. Another said he could secure me a trip to China if I would pay a premium; and three others offered me cruises to the West Indies and North America. The fact was, that the navigation of the mighty river Saint Lawrence was scarcely open, and consequently few ships were ready to sail for Quebec. At last a broker into whose office we entered, informed us that he was agent for one of the first emigrant ships which would sail that year; that her captain was a very superior man, a great friend of his; and that he doubted not for a small premium he would take charge of me. Mr John Cruden, our new friend, insurance broker and general shipping agent, was a very polite man, and extremely soft-spoken; but he was of an extremely inquisitive disposition, I thought, for he asked my father numberless questions about himself and me, to all of which he returned the short monosyllable "H'm," which did not inform us whether he was satisfied or not. I found all the time that he was merely trying to discover what amount of premium my father was likely to be able to pay, that he might ask accordingly.
The office, in which we stood, was very small for the large amount of business Mr Cruden informed us he transacted in it, and very dark; and so dirty, that I thought it could never have been cleaned out since he commenced his avocations there. There were sea-chests, and cases, and small casks of all sorts piled up in all the odd corners. There were also coils of rope, and bottles, and rusty iron implements, the form of which I could not discern, and bundles of old clothes and canvas bags, and compass-boxes in and about the cases, and hanging from the ceiling; while a tarry, fishy, strong shippy odour pervaded the room. I was particularly struck with the model of a ship fully rigged on a shelf over the mantelpiece; but she also was as much covered with dust as the ship in which the ancient mariner went to sea would have been, after he had shot the albatross, could any dust have reached her. I observed all these things while our new friend was talking to my father.
"You will doubtless like to make the acquaintance of Captain Elihu Swales, Mr Lefroy," said Mr Cruden. "I expect him here every instant, and I shall then have the pleasure of introducing him to you, and we can arrange matters forthwith. You will find him, sir, a very amiable, excellent man—indeed you will, sir—a very proper guardian for a young man."
Whether this description was correct or not I had then no means of judging. The subject of this eulogium appeared while it was being uttered; indeed I suspect he heard a portion of it, for, suddenly turning my head after growing weary of looking at the dusty ship, I saw a man, whom I instinctively suspected to be the captain, standing outside the little paddock in which we were enclosed, called by Mr Cruden his counting-house, with a very peculiar smile on his countenance. Had I not turned, I think he would have burst forth outright into laughter. I must remark that my father's back was towards him, and that Mr Cruden, unless he was very near-sighted, could scarcely have helped seeing when he came in.
"Ah, there is at last my excellent friend," observed the agent when he perceived that I had discovered the captain. "Mr Lefroy, allow me to introduce Captain Swales to you. Captain Swales, this gentleman has a son whom he wishes to send to sea. You will take charge of the lad. You will be a second father to him. I can depend on you. Say the word, and all parties will come to terms."
"Day, sir," said Captain Swales, making as if he would take off his hat, which he did not. He was a very respectable man, as far as dress went; that is to say, he was clothed in a suit of black cloth, with a black silk handkerchief—nothing very remarkable, certainly: most masters and mates of merchantmen wear such on shore. His figure was short and square, there was nothing rounded about him; his features were all angular; and though there was a good deal of him, it was all bone and sinew. His countenance was brown, with a deep tinge of red superadded; and as for his features, they were so battered and seamed with winds and weather, that it was difficult to discern their expression. I remember, however, that the first glance I caught of his eye, as it looked inquiringly towards Mr Cruden, I did not like, even though at the time he was smiling.
"You wish to send your son to sea, sir," he continued to my father. "As Mr Cruden says, I'll look after him as if he was my own boy, sir. I'll keep him from mischief, sir. Lads always gets into mischief if they can; but with me, sir, they can't—I don't let 'em. I look after them, sir; and when they knows my eye is on them, they behaves themselves. That's my principle, sir; and now you know me."
He said this in an off-hand, bluff, hearty way, which made my father fully believe that he had fallen in with a prize—indeed, that he was supremely fortunate in having secured so kind a protector for me. It was finally arranged that he was to pay Captain Elihu Swales the sum of fifteen pounds; in consideration of which, in addition to any service I could be of, I was to mess at his table, and to learn what I could of a seaman's duty, till the ship returned to Liverpool.
The Black Swan, the name of Captain Elihu Swales' ship, would not be ready for sea for some days, he informed my father; and till she was so, as he was compelled to return home immediately, Mr Cruden kindly undertook to board and lodge me at the rate of twelve shillings a week. I was to go on board the Black Swan every day, to see if I was wanted; and I was to return to Mr Cruden's in the afternoon, or when I was not wanted. My father considered this a very admirable arrangement, and was perfectly confident that he had done the best circumstances would allow, and that he had left me in safe and honourable hands.
On our way to our inn, we met one of the brokers to whom we had spoken in the morning. He asked if we had found what we wanted. "Oh yes," replied my father, "an excellent man, Captain Swales, a friend of Mr Cruden's—very superior—very superior indeed." The broker, I thought, looked odd at this, and was at first apparently going to speak; but on second thoughts he seemed to consider that it was no business of his, and he passed on with a cold "Oh, really—good-day, sir." It was afterwards only, perhaps, that his manner struck me; at the time I supposed that it was usual to him.
We spent most of the afternoon in purchasing a sea-chest and an outfit for me, according to a list furnished by Mr Cruden, to whose office my traps were transferred forthwith. We did not go down to see the Black Swan, because Captain Swales said she was a long way off, and was not fit to receive visitors, but that she would be in a few days. He then remarked that she was one of the finest and fastest craft out of Liverpool. "Nothing could beat the Black Swan when she had a mind to put her best foot foremost." I was wondering whether ships really had feet. I afterwards found that this was a figurative way of expressing that she sailed fast. These observations were made when we returned with my chest to Mr Cruden's, where we again met my future captain; and when the sum agreed on for my voyage was paid into the hands of the first-named person, my father's heart was softened towards me; and after he had exhausted all the good advice he could think of, and had given me several useful books, and many little articles of his own property, he made me a present of six pounds as pocket-money, and to purchase anything I might wish to bring back from America. He took his watch out of his fob, and would have given me that also, but I persuaded him to keep it, assuring him that I did not require it, and that I should certainly break it, or lose it overboard, as would have been the case probably the first time I went aloft. The next morning my poor father returned by the steamer to Dublin. He felt very much, I am sure, at parting from me, more than he would have done under other circumstances, though by a considerable effort he mastered himself so as not publicly to betray his emotions. He was gone; and I was left alone in the big world to look after myself, with little more experience of its ways than a child.
When my father was gone, I went back to Mr Cruden's office and asked him to tell me where I could find his house, at which I understood I was to lodge.
He looked up from the book in which he was writing, with an air of surprise, and replied, "You are mistaken, my lad, if you suppose that I am about to introduce into the bosom of my family one of whom I know nothing. Your father is a very respectable man, I dare say, and you may be a very estimable youth, for what I know; but it is generally a different sort who are sent to sea as you are being sent; and therefore it is just possible you may be a wild young scamp, whose face his friends may never wish to behold again—hark you."
I blushed as he said this, and looked confused; for my conscience told me that he spoke the truth.
"Ah! I guessed I was right," he continued. "Now, to answer your question. While you remain on shore, which won't be for long, you may swing your hammock in the loft over this office; and for cooking, you won't require much of that. This will break you in by degrees for the life you've to lead, and will do you good, my lad. So I hope you will be grateful."
From the determined manner he had about him, I supposed that all was right; and had it been otherwise, my spirits at that time were too low to allow me to remonstrate. I asked him next if I could not go on board the Black Swan, to make myself useful.
He gave a peculiar smile, the meaning of which I did not comprehend at the time, as he replied, "By all means. You will probably find Captain Swales on board—at all events his first mate; and you may offer your valuable services to them. When they have done with you, you may come back here. By keeping along the quays to the right, you cannot miss the ship if you ask for her."
I had scarcely fancied that there were so many ships in the world as I saw crowded together in the Liverpool docks, as I passed through them for the first time in my life. It gave me a great notion of the wealth and commerce of the place. "And these will all be gone in a few weeks," I thought, "scattered far and wide to all parts of the world, and their places will be filled by others now on their homeward voyage, which will have again to make way for a totally fresh set." I inquired for the Black Swan of the seamen and porters loitering about the quays, but I did not get very satisfactory answers. Some told me that she was drunk last night, and had not got up yet. Others said she had sailed yesterday, for they had seen her dropping down with the tide. The boatmen invariably wanted me to take a boat to look for her, as the only chance I had of finding her; but I saw that they were trying to impose on me, and passed on. At last, when I had got very near to the west end of the docks, I asked a man whom I saw standing in a meditative mood, with his hands in his pockets, if he would tell me where the Black Swan was to be found.
"Why, I calculate, if you look right before your nose, young one, you'll see her as big as life," he answered, pointing to a large ship lying along the quay, on board which a number of men were employed about the rigging; while others, with a peculiar song, were hoisting in the cargo. I found that the first were riggers, and that the others were dock porters, and that neither belonged to the ship; the regular crew, with the exception of two mates and the cook, not being engaged till just before the ship was ready for sea.
I must notice here the very bad system which has long prevailed with regard to British merchant seamen. The moment a ship arrives in harbour, the crew are paid their wages and discharged. On this they are immediately set upon by Jews and harpies of every description. I do them no wrong when I say that they are the very worst of the human race: the fiercest savages have some virtues—these wretches have none.
The poor seamen are cajoled by them with every artful device; nor do the miscreants cease till they have plundered them of all their hard-earned gold. Not content with this, these crimps—for such is the name by which these persons are known—encourage the seamen to get into their debt, chiefly for liquor; and they then go to the masters of merchantmen looking out for crews, and make any arrangements they please. Part of the seamen's wages are paid in advance, and this goes into the pockets of the crimps. I have known men put on board in a state of brutal intoxication, without knowing who were their officers, or where they were going to. Thus the men were kept in a state of absolute slavery, without self-respect or a chance of improvement.
I speak of the system as it was till lately. I trust that a better state of affairs is now being introduced; at the same time, as there is a tendency in most things to let abuses creep in, I must entreat you, my young friends, in your several capacities when you grow up, not to forget the interests of our brave seamen. On those seamen depend greatly the prosperity, the glory, the very existence of England; and, whether as legislators or as private gentlemen, I tell you it is your duty to inquire into their condition, and to endeavour to improve it by every means in your power.
But to return to the Black Swan, and the man who had pointed her out to me. There was something I remarked very peculiar about the said man, so I will speak of him first. He wore a straw hat with a very broad brim, a nankeen jacket, though the weather was still cold, Flushing trousers, which did not near reach to his ankles, and a waistcoat of fur—of beaver, I believe, or of wild cat. He had a very long face, and lantern jaws. His nose was in proportion, and it curled down in a way which gave it a most facetious expression; while a very bright small pair of eyes had also a sort of constant laugh in them, though the rest of his features looked as if they could never smile. His complexion had a very leathery look, and his figure was tall and lanky in the extreme. I could not have said whether he was an old or a young man by his appearance.
"Well, there's the ship," he observed, seeing that I was looking at him instead of going on board. "Do you know me now?" with an emphasis on the do. "That's kind now to acknowledge an old friend. We was raised together, I guess; only you wasn't weaned till last summer, when the grass was dried up."
I saw that he was laughing at me; but as I felt that I had been rude in staring at him, I said I begged his pardon, but that he made a mistake in supposing we were acquainted, unless he had visited the south of Ireland, seeing that I had never been out of that part of the country before. This seemed to amuse him mightily, for he gave way to a quiet and very peculiar laugh, which I heard as I passed on towards the ship.
There was a plank placed from the quay to the deck of the ship, and by means of it I stepped on board the Black Swan. No one took any notice of me, so that I had time to look about me. She was a ship of some eight hundred tons burthen, though she was advertised as of twelve hundred. She had a raised poop aft, which I may describe as an additional house above the deck, the doors of which opened on the deck. There was a similar raised place forward, called the topgallant forecastle. Under the latter the seamen and mate lived, while the captain and passengers inhabited the poop. The space between decks was open fore and aft, and fitted up with standing bed-places. This was for the abode of the poorer class of emigrants. The hold, the remaining portion of the ship below the main deck, was filled with cargo and provisions.
All this I discovered afterwards, for at first everything appeared to my sight an inextricable mass of confusion and disorder. After watching for some time, I observed a man whom I concluded was the first mate, by the way he ordered the other people about and the air of authority which he assumed; so at last I mustered courage to go up to him.
"Please, sir," said I in an unusually humble tone, "are you the first mate of the ship?"
"Well, if I am, and what then?" was his not very courteous answer.
"Why, it's settled that I'm to go in this ship to learn to be a sailor, so I've come on board at once to make myself useful," I replied.
He eyed me curiously from head to foot as if I was some strange animal, and then burst into a loud laugh. "You learn to be a sailor?—you make yourself useful?—you chaw-bacon. Why, the hay-seed is still sticking in your hair, and the dust ain't off your shoes yet. What can you do now?" he asked.
I confessed that I knew nothing about a ship, except the machinery of a steamer, which I had examined in my passage across from Dublin; but that I would learn as fast as I could.
"And so you are a young gentleman, are you?" he continued, without attending to my observations. "Sent to sea to learn manners! Well, we'll soon knock your gentility out of you, let me tell you. Howsomdever, we don't want no help here, so be off on shore again; and when you meet John Smith, just ask him to take you a walk through the town, and not to bring you back to make yourself useful till the ship's ready for sea, d'ye hear, or you'll wish you'd stayed away, that's all."
I must say that even at that time I thought such a man was not fit to be placed in command of others, and yet I am sorry to say that I met many others no better fitted to act as officers. I did not answer him; and though I did not understand what he meant about John Smith, I comprehended enough of his observations to judge that it would be more advantageous for me to keep out of his way; so I walked along the plank again to the quay. There was the man I have described, standing as complacently as ever. As smoking is not allowed in the docks, for fear of fire, he was chewing.
"And so, young 'un, you've done your business on board; and what are you going to do next?" he asked, as he saw me sauntering along. I felt that there was a kind tone in his voice, so I told him that I had nothing to do, as the mate of the Black Swan did not require my services.
One question led on to another, and he very soon wormed my whole history out of me. "And your name is Peter Lefroy, is it? Then mine's Silas Flint, at your service. And now, as neither of us has anything to do, we'll go and help each other; so come along." Saying this, he led the way out of the dock.
I wondered who Mr Silas Flint could be, and yet I had no mistrust in him. From his manner, and the tone of his voice, I thought he was honest, and meant me no harm; and my heart, I must own, yearned for companionship. He did not leave me long in doubt; for after I had told him everything I had to tell about my previous life, he began to be equally communicative about himself. "You see, Peter, I've secured my passage in the Black Swan, so we shall be fellow-voyagers; and as I've taken a sort of liking to you, I hope we shall be friends. I come from 'Merica, over there, though I don't belong to the parts she's going to; but you see I've got some business at Quebec, and so I'm going there first." I cannot pretend to give his peculiar and quaint phraseology.
I soon learned that he was raised, as he called it, in the Western States of America; that he had spent much of his life as a hunter and trapper, though he was a man of some little substance; that having accidentally seen an advertisement in the paper, stating that if the heirs of the late Josiah Flint, of Barnet, in the county of Hertfordshire, England, would apply to Messrs. Grub and Gull, Fleece Court, Chancery Lane, London, they would hear of something to their advantage, he, believing himself to be a descendant of the said Josiah, had come over to hear the welcome news. He remarked, with his peculiar smile, that he had heard a great deal which might be very advantageous to him, and which might or might not be true, but that he had got nothing—that he had established his undoubted claim to be one of the heirs of the said Josiah, but that he had fifty cousins, who had turned up in all directions, and whom he would never otherwise have had the happiness of knowing. The gain in this case did not seem great, as they none of them showed any cousinly affection, but did their best to prove that he was an impostor. Thus all the share of his grandfather's property went in law expenses; and he was going back to the land of his father's adoption considerably poorer than he came, and in no loving humour with England and his English cousins.
Such is the brief outline Silas Flint gave me of his history, as we strolled together through the streets of Liverpool. If, however, I continue describing all the characters I met, and all the strange things I saw, I shall never get on with my history. Silas made a confession which much pleased me: it was, that although he had lived many years in the world, he still felt that he had much to learn, and was constantly doing things he wished to undo: the last was paying his money for his passage, before he had made any inquiries about the ship. He hinted that Mr Cruden was not as honest as he might be; that he suspected Captain Swales was no better; and that the way the poor emigrants who had come to Liverpool from all parts to go by the ship were treated, was most shameful.
He told me that, in the first place, they were attracted there by advertisements long before the ship was ready for sea, partly that the ship-brokers might make certain of having the ship filled, and not a little for the benefit of the inns and lodging-house keepers. As soon as they arrived—most of them absurdly ignorant of what was to be done, and of the necessaries required for the voyage—they were pounced upon by a set of harpies, who misled them in every possible way, and fleeced them without mercy. There existed—and, I am sorry to say, exist to the present day—a regular gang of these wretches, by profession lodging-house keepers, ship-chandlers, outfitters, and provision merchants. So notorious have they become, that they now go by the name of the Forty Thieves, for to that number amount the worthy fraternity.
Silas Flint took me round to a number of our intended fellow-voyagers; and we found them loud in their complaints of the treatment they had received, though, when he had discovered them, he had been able to preserve them from much further expense by describing the character of the country to which they were going, and the things they would most require. Among them were a great many of my countrymen. They were generally the most forlorn and heartbroken, though they had indeed little to leave behind; but then the slightest incident would make them forget their grief, and clap their hands with shouts of laughter.
The sorrow of the English was less loud; but it took much more, I observed, to make them smile. They were better dressed, and seemed to have made more provision for the voyage. They had also been proportionably more fleeced by the Forty Thieves. When so many of our poor countrymen are leaving our shores annually to lands where they can procure work and food, we should have a far better supervision and a more organised system of emigration than now exists. And again I say to my young countrymen, when you grow up, make it your business to inquire into the subject; inquire with your own eyes, remember; do not trust to what is told you; and if you do not find such a system established, strive with heart and hand, and weary not till you have established it; at all events, correct the abuses which too probably by that time will have sprung up. You will all have the power of aiding that or any other good work. If you are not in influential positions, if you have not wealth at command, you at least have tongues to speak with, pens to write with; so talk about it in private, speak in public, write on the subject, and, depend on it, you will ultimately gain your object.
It was very late in the day when I returned to the office. Mr Cruden was about to go away. He told me, that as I had chosen to be absent at the dinner hour, I must be content with what I could get; and he pointed to some musty bread and cheese, and a glass of sour, turbid-looking ale which stood on the desk. I was, however, too hungry to refuse it; so I ate it as soon as he was gone. An old porter had charge of the premises, and he now beckoned me to follow him to a sort of loft or lumber-room over the office, where he had slung a hammock, which he told me I might sleep in, or I might, if I liked, sleep on the bare boards outside. "The hammock's more comfortable than it looks, young 'un, so I'd advise you to try it," he remarked; and I found his remark true. As I was very tired, I was glad to turn in early and forget my sorrows in sleep. The next day I fared no better than the first, and all the time I boarded with Mr Cruden the only variation in my food from bread and cheese was hard biscuits and very doubtful-looking pork and beef. When I told Silas Flint of the treatment I had received, he shrugged his shoulders.
"Can you mend it?" he asked.
I told him that I could complain.
"To whom?" he said. "You have no one to complain to—no friend in the place. Now let me advise you to do as I do. When you can't cure a thing, grin and bear it; but if you see your way out of a fix, then go tooth and nail at it, and don't let anything stop you till you're clear. That's my maxim, youngster; but there's no use kicking against the pricks—it wears out one's shoes, and hurts the feet into the bargain. Now, soon after I took my passage in this here Black Swan, I guessed I had made a mistake; but what would have been the use of my going to law about it? I knowed better. I should only have sent my last dollar to look after the many which have gone to prove I was first cousin to a set of people, who would all rather have heard my father was drowned years ago than have set eyes on me. I tell you, Peter, you must grin and bear it, as you'll have to do many things as you get through life."
I found that my friend practised what he preached; for so completely were his finances exhausted by his law expenses, that he had to husband all his resources to enable him to return home. In board and lodging he was worse off than I was; and, as he said, he was accustomed to camp out at night, to save the expense of a bed. He used to amuse himself in the day by walking about to look out for a snug place to sleep in at night, either in the city or its neighbourhood, and he seldom occupied the same spot two nights running. He assured me, and I believed him, that it was far pleasanter than sleeping in the close atmosphere of a crowded room; and it reminded him faintly of his beloved prairies, on which he had spent the greater part of his life. The chief portion of every day, for a week before the ship was reported ready for sailing, I passed with my new-found friend; and, as may be supposed, I did not again offer my valuable services to the mate of the Black Swan, nor was any inquiry made after me by her worthy captain.
At last I was informed by Mr Cruden that I might transfer my chest and myself on board the Black Swan. Accordingly, the old porter wheeled the former down to the docks, while I walked by its side. I gave the old porter a shilling for his trouble: his eye brightened, and he blessed me, and muttered something about wishing that I had fallen into better hands; but he was afraid, apparently, of saying more, and casting another glance at me, I suspect of commiseration, he tottered off to his daily avocations. My chest, which was a very small one, was stowed away by one of the seamen under a bunk in the forecastle. I thought that I was to have a cabin under the poop, and to mess with the captain; but when I made inquiries, no one could give any information, and the captain was nowhere to be seen. Everything on board appeared in the wildest confusion; and I must own that I got most unaccountably in everybody's way, and accordingly got kicked out of it without the slightest ceremony.
Silas had not arrived, so I could not go to him for information. I therefore climbed up out of the way, to the boat, placed amidships, on the top of the booms. Soon afterwards the emigrants' bag and baggage began to arrive. I was amused by observing the odd and mixed collection of things the poor people brought with them, some of the more bulky articles of which were not admitted on board. The Jew harpies were on the quays ready to snap them up, giving little or nothing in return. I thought that it was a great pity that there were no means to enable these poor people to obtain better information before they left home, to have saved them the expense of dragging so much useless lumber about with them. I pitied them, not because they were going to another land where they could get food and employment, but for their helpless ignorance, and the want of any one fit to lead or direct them, as also for the treatment they were receiving at the hands of the countrymen they were leaving for ever.
Many of them resented bitterly the impositions practised on them; and I saw some of them, with significant gestures, take off their shoes and shake the dust over the ship's side as they stepped on board, while they gave vent to their feelings in oaths not lowly muttered. Henceforth, instead of friends and supporters, they were to be foes to England and the English—aliens of the country which should have cherished and protected them, but did not. Such things were—such things are: when will they cease to be? What a strange mixture of people there were, from all parts of the United Kingdom—aged men and women; young brides and their husbands; mothers with tribes of children, some with their infants still unweaned—talking many different dialects, weeping, laughing, shrieking, and shouting! At last they got their berths allotted to them, and they began to stow away their provisions and baggage between decks. Some kept going backwards and forwards from the ship to the shore, and no notice being given, many of them were left behind when the ship hauled out of dock, and had to come on board in boats, at a considerable expense, after being well frightened at the thoughts that we had sailed without them.
We lay out in the stream for another whole day, with the Blue Peter flying, to show that we were ready for sea, and to summon any passengers who might yet remain on shore. Silas Flint was one of the last to come on board, before we left the dock. He appeared following a porter, who wheeled down his chest, containing all his property. He did not even give me a look of recognition as he passed me; but he at once plunged below with his chest, and he studiously avoided coming near me. This I thought odd and unkind, nor could I comprehend the cause of this behaviour.
I was sitting very disconsolate by myself among the emigrants, and wondering when the captain would come on board, and when I should begin to learn to be a seaman, when I felt the no pleasing sensation of a rope's end laid smartly across my shoulders. I turned quickly round to resent the indignity, when I encountered the stern glance of the first mate, Mr Stovin, fixed on me, while the "colt" in his hand showed that he was the aggressor. "And so you are the youngster who wanted to make himself useful, are you?" he exclaimed in a sneering voice.
"I am," I replied; "and I'll thank you in future not to take such liberties with my back."
He burst into a loud laugh. "O my young cock-a-hoop, you show fight, do you?" he exclaimed. "Well, we'll see what you are made of before long."
"I'm ready to do my duty when you show me the way," I answered in as calm a voice as I could command; and I believe this reply, and the having kept my temper, gave him a more favourable opinion of me than he was before inclined to form, and somewhat softened his savage nature.
"A willing hand will have no want of masters," he observed. "And mind, what I tell you to do you'll do as well as you can, and we shan't fall foul of each other."
I will now describe the Black Swan. She measured nearly eight hundred tons, was ship-rigged, and had been built many years. She carried eighteen hands forward, with two cooks and a steward, besides the captain, four mates, and a doctor.
There were about four hundred and forty steerage passengers, who, I may explain, are the poorer classes; and I think there were ten cabin passengers, who berthed in the cabin and messed with the captain. The steerage passengers brought their own provisions, but the captain was obliged to provide them with water and biscuit, just to keep life in them; indeed, without it many of them would have died. It was, I felt, like severing the last link which bound us to our native shores, when the pilot left us at the mouth of the Mersey, and with a fair wind we stood down the Irish Channel.
I cannot say that before I quitted home I had any very definite idea of the life of a sailor; but I had some notion that his chief occupation was sitting with his messmates round a can of grog, and singing songs about his sweetheart: the reality I found was very different.
The first time I had any practical experience of this was when, the pilot having left us, and the wind having veered round to the north-east, the captain ordered the ship to be kept away before it. His eye happened to fall upon me for the first time, dressed in my sea toggery, and seated, with my hands in my pockets, on the booms.
"Hillo, Jim—what's-your-name—we'll have none of your idling ways here if you belong to this ship, as I've a notion you do," he exclaimed. "Aloft there with you, then, and help furl the mizzen topsail. Be smart about it, or I'll freshen your way with a rope's end, and we'll see if you give me an answer."
By this last observation, I guessed that the mate had told him of the answer I had given him, and I felt that the wisest thing I could do was to obey him without making any reply. What, however, he meant by "furling the mizzen topsail" I had not the slightest notion; but as I saw that he pointed to the mizzen-mast, and that several lads and men were ascending the mizzen rigging, I followed them. I was a good climber, so I had no fear of going aloft; and while I was in the top, luckily one of my new messmates, who was already lying out on the yard, exclaimed, "Hillo, Peter, lend us a hand here, my lad." On hearing this, I immediately threw myself on the yard, and following his directions I made a very fair furl of it. I got no praise certainly for this, but I escaped blame; and I saw by the way the other mizzen-top men treated me, that they considered me a smart lad, and no flincher.
From that moment I was never idle. I followed a piece of advice honest Dick Derrick gave me on this occasion: "Never let go with one hand till you've got a good gripe with the other; and if you cannot hold on with your hands, make use of your teeth and legs; and mind, clutch fast till you've picked out a soft spot to fall on." Dick Derrick taught me to hand, furl, and steer, to knot and splice, to make sinnet and spun-yarn, and the various other parts of a seaman's business. I was ambitious to learn; and I found the work, when taught by him, both easy and pleasant.
I was placed in the second mate's watch, and had to keep my watch regularly. In this I was fortunate. William Bell was his name. He was a quiet, gentlemanly young man, who always kept his temper, however roughly spoken to by the captain. It was through no want of spirit that he did not reply to the abuse thrown at him, as I afterwards discovered, but because it was the wisest and most dignified course to pursue. As I said before, I expected to mess in the cabin, and to be a sort of midshipman; but when I went up to the captain and told him so, he laughed at me, and asked me if I would show him any written agreement on the subject, for that he knew nothing at all about it. All he could say was, that I was entered as a ship's boy; that as such I must be berthed and messed, and do duty. If I did not like it, he would see what Mr Stovin had to say to me. I saw that there was no help for me; so, following Silas Flint's advice, I determined to grin and bear it.
We sighted Cape Clear, the south-westernmost point of Ireland. I longed to be able to swim on shore and return home. I did not the less wish to see the world, but I did not much like the company with whom I was likely to see it; Mr Stovin and his rope's-ending were not agreeable companions. From Cape Clear we took a fresh departure. A ship is said to take her departure from a point, the distance and the bearing of the point being ascertained when her course is marked off from the spot where she then is. At four p.m. Cape Clear bore five miles north-east of us, or rather we were five miles south-west of the Cape. This spot was marked on the chart; and the distance run, and the course by compass, were each day afterwards pricked off in like manner on the charts. The distance run is measured by the log, which is hove every two hours.
The log is a small triangular piece of wood, secured to the end of a long line, on which divisions are marked, bearing the same proportion to a mile which a half-minute bears to an hour. One man holds a half-minute glass in his hand—another a reel on which the line is rolled—a third, the mate, takes the log and heaves it overboard, drawing off the line with his left hand. Thus, as the log remains stationary in the water, according to the number of divisions or knots run off while the sand in the glass is running, will be shown the number of miles the ship is going in the hour. Instead of miles, the word knots is used, evidently from the knots marked on the line.
The mode I have thus briefly described of finding the ship's course is called "dead reckoning." This, of course, is liable to errors, as careless steering, the compasses being out of order, or a current, may carry her far from her supposed position; at the same time, when the sky is obscured, it is the only mode of finding the way across the ocean. It can be correctly ascertained by observation of the sun, moon, and stars, taken with a sextant and a chronometer; but I shall be led to give an epitome of the science of navigation if I attempt to explain the mode of using them.
In shallow waters, where the bottom has been accurately surveyed, a clever pilot will find his way with the lead. At the end of the lead a cavity is made, which is filled with grease; and according to the sort of mud, sand, or shells which adhere to it, he tells his position. This, and many other parts of navigation, Mr Bell, during our night watches, took great pains to explain to me; but it was not till I had been some time at sea that I comprehended them clearly.
Mr Bell never spoke to me in the day-time; for if the captain saw him, he was certain to send me to perform some kind of drudgery or other. I was set to do all the dirty work in the ship, to black down the rigging, to grease the masts, etcetera, etcetera; indeed, my hands were always in the tar-bucket; but it served the useful purpose of teaching me a seaman's duty, and of accustoming me to work. The captain and first mate's abusive language, however, I could not stand; and my feelings resented it even more than the blows they were continually dealing me.
I have said little about the emigrants. If my lot was bad, theirs was much worse. They were looked upon by the officers as so many sheep or pigs, and treated with no more consideration. Crowded together below, allowed to accumulate filth and dirt of every description, their diet bad and scanty, and never encouraged to take the air on deck, disease soon broke out and spread among them. Old and young, married and single of both sexes, were mingled indiscriminately together; and the scenes I witnessed when I was obliged to go below turned me sick with disgust, as they made my heart bleed with sorrow.
The surgeon had little more knowledge of his profession than I had, and had not the slightest notion of what ought to be done to stop the ravages of disease. He physicked indiscriminately, or bled or starved his patients, without paying the slightest regard to their ailments. When they died they were thrown overboard, with scant ceremony; but the men had the greatest difficulty in tearing the bodies of the Irish from their friends, or of children from their wretched parents; and it was heart-rending to listen to the shrieks and howls of grief as this was attempted to be done.
However, I do not wish to dwell on these scenes, or to discourage emigration. I fully believe that by thoroughly cleansing the ship, and by serving out good provisions, disease might then have been arrested. The object is to prevent the occurrence of such disorders for the future, by the introduction of a well-organised system. In spite of all obstacles, emigration will go forward; but it depends on every one of us, whether it will prove a curse or a blessing to those who go forth, whether the emigrants are to be in future friends or deadly foes to the country they quit.
For ten days we had fine weather and light winds; but a southerly gale sprang up, and drove us to the northward, and I then found out what it was to be at sea. Of course I had to do duty, as before, aloft; and following Derrick's advice was of service, or one night, while furling top-sails, and when the ship was pitching tremendously, I should certainly have been killed. On a sudden I found myself jerked right off the yard; but I fortunately had hold of the gasket, which I was passing through the mizzen top-sail, and by it hauled myself up again and finished the work. After the gale had lasted a week, the wind came round from the northward, and bitter cold it was. We then stood on rather farther to the north than the usual track, I believe.
It was night, and blowing fresh. The sky was overcast, and there was no moon, so that darkness was on the face of the deep—not total darkness, it must be understood, for that is seldom known at sea. I was in the middle watch, from midnight to four o'clock, and had been on deck about half-an-hour when the look-out forward sang out, "Ship ahead— starboard—hard a star-board!"
These words made the second mate, who had the watch, jump into the weather rigging. "A ship!" he exclaimed. "An iceberg it is rather, and—All hands wear ship," he shouted in a tone which showed there was not a moment to lose.
The watch sprang to the braces and bowlines, while the rest of the crew tumbled up from below, and the captain and other officers rushed out of their cabins: the helm was kept up, and the yards swung round, and the ships head turned towards the direction whence we had come. The captain glanced his eye round, and then ordered the courses to be brailed up, and the main top-sail to be backed, so as to lay the ship to. I soon discovered the cause of these manoeuvres; for before the ship had quite wore round, I perceived close to us a towering mass with a refulgent appearance, which the look-out man had taken for the white sails of a ship, but which proved in reality to be a vast iceberg; and attached to it and extending a considerable distance to leeward, was a field or very extensive floe of ice, against which the ship would have run had it not been discovered in time, and would in all probability instantly have gone down with every one on board.
In consequence of the extreme darkness it was dangerous to sail either way, for it was impossible to say what other floes or smaller cakes of ice might be in the neighbourhood, and we might probably be on them before they could be seen. We therefore remained hove to. As it was, I could not see the floe till it was pointed out to me by Derrick.
I was on deck, with my eyes trying to pierce the darkness to leeward, and fancying that I saw another iceberg rising close to the ship, and that I heard strange shrieks and cries, when I felt a hand placed on my shoulder: "Well, lad, what do you think of it?" said a voice which I recognised as that of Silas Flint.
"I would rather be in a latitude where icebergs do not exist," I replied. "But how is it, old friend, you seemed to have forgotten me altogether since we sailed?" I added.
"It is because I am your friend, lad, that I do not pretend to be one," he answered in a low tone. "I guessed from the first the sort of chap you've got for a skipper, and that you'd very likely want my aid; so I kept aloof; the better to be able to afford it without being suspected, d'ye see? You lead but a dog's life on board here, Peter, I am afraid."
"It is bad enough, I own," I answered; "but I don't forget your advice to 'grin and bear what can't be cured'; and Mr Bell and some of my messmates seem inclined to be good-natured."
"Maybe; but you, the son of a gentleman, and, for what I see, a gentleman yourself, should be better treated," he observed. "If I was you, I wouldn't stand it a day longer than I could help."
"I would not if I could help it; but I cannot quit the ship," I answered.
"But you may when you get to Quebec," he remarked. "I wouldn't go back in her on any account, for many a reason. There's ill luck attends her, trust to that." What the ill luck was, my friend did not say, nor how he had discovered it.
Flint spent the night on deck, and during it he talked a good deal about America, and the independent wild life he led in the backwoods and prairies. The conversation made a considerable impression on my mind, and I afterwards was constantly asking myself why I should go back in the Black Swan.
When daylight broke the next morning, the dangerous position in which the ship was placed was seen. On every side of us appeared large floes of ice, with several icebergs floating like mountains on a plain among them; while the only opening through which we could escape was a narrow passage to the north-east, through which we must have come. What made our position the more perilous was, that the vast masses of ice were approaching nearer and nearer to each other, so that we had not a moment to lose if we would effect our escape.
As the light increased, we saw, at the distance of three miles to the westward, another ship in a far worse predicament than we were, inasmuch as she was completely surrounded by ice, though she still floated in a sort of basin. The wind held to the northward, so that we could stand clear out of the passage should it remain open long enough. She by this time had discovered her own perilous condition, as we perceived that she had hoisted a signal of distress, and we heard the guns she was firing to call our attention to her; but regard to our own safety compelled us to disregard them till we had ourselves got clear of the ice.
It was very dreadful to watch the stranger, and to feel that we could render her no assistance. All hands were at the braces, ready to trim the sails should the wind head us; for in that case we should have to beat out of the channel, which was every instant growing narrower and narrower. The captain stood at the weather gangway, conning the ship. When he saw the ice closing in on us, he ordered every stitch of canvas the ship could carry to be set on her, in hopes of carrying her out before this could occur. It was a chance whether or not we should be nipped. However, I was not so much occupied with our own danger as not to keep an eye on the stranger, and to feel a deep interest in her fate.
I was in the mizzen-top, and as I possessed a spy-glass, I could see clearly all that occurred. The water on which she floated was nearly smooth, though covered with foam, caused by the masses of ice as they approached each other. I looked; she had but a few fathoms of water on either side of her. As yet she floated unharmed. The peril was great; but the direction of the ice might change, and she might yet be free. Still on it came with terrific force; and I fancied that I could hear the edges grinding and crushing together.
The ice closed on the ill-fated ship. She was probably as totally unprepared to resist its pressure as we were. At first I thought that it lifted her bodily up; but it was not so, I suspect. She was too deep in the water for that. Her sides were crushed in—her stout timbers were rent into a thousand fragments—her tall masts tottered and fell, though still attached to the hull. For an instant I concluded that the ice must have separated, or perhaps the edges broke with the force of the concussion; for, as I gazed, the wrecked mass of hull and spars and canvas seemed drawn suddenly downwards with irresistible force, and a few fragments, which had been hurled by the force of the concussion to a distance, were all that remained of the hapless vessel. Not a soul of her crew could have had time to escape to the ice.
I looked anxiously: not a speck could be seen stirring near the spot. Such, thought I, may be the fate of the four hundred and forty human beings on board this ship ere many minutes are over.
I believe that I was the only person on board who witnessed the catastrophe. Most of the emigrants were below, and the few who were on deck were with the crew watching our own progress.
Still narrower grew the passage. Some of the parts we had passed through were already closed. The wind, fortunately, held fair; and though it contributed to drive the ice faster in on us, it yet favoured our escape. The ship flew through the water at a great rate, heeling over to her ports; but though at times it seemed as if the masts would go over the sides, still the captain held on. A minute's delay might prove our destruction.