THE LITTLE SAVAGE
THIS IS FAIRY GOLD, BOY; AND 'T WILL PROVE SO.
There is a reference, in The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat by his daughter Florence Marryat, to "The Little Savage, only two chapters of the second volume of which were written by himself."
This sentence may be variously interpreted, but most probably implies that Marryat wrote all Part I (of the first edition) and two chapters of Part II, that is—as far as the end of Chapter xxiv. The remaining pages may be the work of his son Frank S. Marryat, who edited the first edition, supplying a brief preface to Part II:—
"I cannot publish this last work of my late father without some prefatory remarks, as, in justice to the public, as well as to himself, I should state, that his lamented decease prevented his concluding the second volume."
"The present volume has been for some time at press, but the long-protracted illness of the author delayed its publication."
The Little Savage opens well. The picture of a lad, who was born on a desert island—though of English parents—and really deserves to be called a savage, growing up with no other companionship than that of his father's murderer, is boldly conceived and executed with some power. The man Jackson is a thoroughly human ruffian, who naturally detests the boy he has so terribly injured, and bullies him brutally. Under this treatment Frank's animal passions are inevitably aroused, and when the lightning had struck his tyrant blind, he turns upon him with a quiet savagery that is narrated with admirable detachment.
This original situation arrests the reader's attention and secures his interest in Frank Henniker's development towards civilisation and virtue. His experience of absolute solitude after Jackson's death serves to bring out his sympathies with animals and flowers; while, on the arrival of Mrs Reichardt, he proves himself a loyal comrade under kind treatment.
It is much to be regretted that Marryat did not live to finish his work.
R. B. J.
The Little Savage originally appeared in 1848-49. Marryat, who was born in 1792, died at Langham, Norfolk, August 9, 1848.
The following is the list of his published works:—
Suggestions for the Abolition of the Present System of Impressment in the Naval Service, 1822; The Naval Officer, or Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay, 1829; The King's Own, 1830; Newton Forster (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1832; Jacob Faithful (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1834; Peter Simple, 1834; The Pacha of Many Tales, 1835; Midshipman Easy (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1836; Japhet in Search of a Father (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1836; The Pirate and The Three Cutters, 1836; A Code of Signals for the Use of Vessels employed in the Merchant Service, 1837; Snarleyyow, or The Dog Fiend, 1837; A Diary in America, with Remarks on its Institutions, 1839; The Phantom Ship, 1839; Poor Jack, 1840; Olla Podrida (articles from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1840; Joseph Rushbrook, or The Poacher, 1841; Masterman Ready, or The Wreck of the Pacific, 1841; Percival Keene, 1842; Narrative of the Travels and Adventures of Monsieur Violet in California, Sonora, and Western Texas, 1843; The Settlers in Canada, 1844; The Mission, or Scenes in Africa, 1845; The Privateer's Man, 1846; The Children of the New Forest, 1847; The Little Savage (posthumous), 1848-49; Valerie (posthumous), 1849; Life and Letters, Florence Marryat, 1872.
THE LITTLE SAVAGE
I am about to write a very curious history, as the reader will agree with me when he has read this book. We have more than one narrative of people being cast away upon desolate islands, and being left to their own resources, and no works are perhaps read with more interest; but I believe I am the first instance of a boy being left alone upon an uninhabited island. Such was, however, the case; and now I shall tell my own story.
My first recollections are, that I was in company with a man upon this island, and that we walked often along the sea-shore. It was rocky and difficult to climb in many parts, and the man used to drag or pull me over the dangerous places. He was very unkind to me, which may appear strange, as I was the only companion that he had; but he was of a morose and gloomy disposition. He would sit down squatted in the corner of our cabin, and sometimes not speak for hours—or he would remain the whole day looking out at the sea, as if watching for something, but what I never could tell; for if I spoke, he would not reply; and if near to him, I was sure to receive a cuff or a heavy blow. I should imagine that I was about five years old at the time that I first recollect clearly what passed. I may have been younger. I may as well here state what I gathered from him at different times, relative to our being left upon this desolate spot. It was with difficulty that I did so; for, generally speaking, he would throw a stone at me if I asked questions, that is, if I repeatedly asked them after he had refused to answer. It was on one occasion, when he was lying sick, that I gained the information, and that only by refusing to attend him or bring him food and water. He would be very angry, and say, that when he got well again, he would make me smart for it; but I cared not, for I was then getting strong, whilst he was getting weaker every day, and I had no love for him, for he had never shown any to me, but always treated me with great severity.
He told me, that about twelve years before (not that I knew what he meant by a year, for I had never heard the term used by him), an English ship (I did not know what a ship was) had been swamped near the island, in a heavy gale, and that seven men and one woman had been saved, and all the other people lost. That the ship had been broken into pieces, and that they had saved nothing—that they had picked up among the rocks pieces of the wood with which it had been made, and had built the cabin in which we lived. That one had died after another, and had been buried (what death or burial meant, I had no idea at the time), and that I had been born on the island; (How was I born? thought I)—that most of them had died before I was two years old; and that then, he and my mother were the only two left besides me. My mother had died a few months afterwards. I was obliged to ask him many questions to understand all this; indeed, I did not understand it till long afterwards, although I had an idea of what he would say. Had I been left with any other person, I should, of course, by conversation, have learnt much; but he never would converse, still less explain. He called me, Boy, and I called him, Master. His inveterate silence was the occasion of my language being composed of very few words; for, except to order me to do this or that, to procure what was required, he never would converse. He did however mutter to himself, and talk in his sleep, and I used to lie awake and listen, that I might gain information; not at first, but when I grew older. He used to cry out in his sleep constantly.—"A judgment, a judgment on me for my sins, my heavy sins—God be merciful!" But what judgment, or what sin was, or what was God, I did not then know, although I mused on words repeated so often.
I will now describe the island, and the way in which we lived. The island was very small, perhaps not three miles round; it was of rock, and there was no beach nor landing place, the sea washing its sides with deep water. It was, as I afterwards discovered, one of the group of islands to which the Peruvians despatch vessels every year to collect the guano, or refuse of the sea birds which resort to the islands; but the one on which we were was small, and detached some distance from the others, on which the guano was found in great profusion; so that hitherto it had been neglected, and no vessel had ever come near it. Indeed, the other islands were not to be seen from it except on a very clear day, when they appeared like a cloud or mist on the horizon. The shores of the island were, moreover, so precipitous, that there was no landing place, and the eternal wash of the ocean would have made it almost impossible for a vessel to have taken off a cargo. Such was the island upon which I found myself in company with this man. Our cabin was built of ship-plank and timber, under the shelter of a cliff, about fifty yards from the water; there was a flat of about thirty yards square in front of it, and from the cliff there trickled down a rill of water, which fell into a hole dug out to collect it, and then found its way over the flat to the rocks beneath. The cabin itself was large, and capable of holding many more people than had ever lived in it; but it was not too large, as we had to secure in it our provisions for many months. There were several bed-places level with the floor, which were rendered soft enough to lie on, by being filled with the feathers of birds. Furniture there was none, except two or three old axes, blunted with long use, a tin pannikin, a mess kid and some rude vessels to hold water, cut out of wood. On the summit of the island there was a forest of underwood, and the bushes extended some distance down the ravines which led from the summit to the shore. One of my most arduous tasks was to climb these ravines and collect wood, but fortunately a fire was not often required. The climate was warm all the year round, and there seldom was a fall of rain; when it did fall, it was generally expended on the summit of the island, and did not reach us. At a certain period of the year, the birds came to the island in numberless quantities to breed, and their chief resort was some tolerably level ground— indeed, in many places, it was quite level with the accumulation of guano—which ground was divided from the spot where our cabin was built by a deep ravine. On this spot, which might perhaps contain about twenty acres or more, the sea birds would sit upon their eggs, not four inches apart from each other, and the whole surface of this twenty acres would be completely covered with them. There they would remain from the time of the laying of the eggs, until the young ones were able to leave the nests and fly away with them. At the season when the birds were on the island, all was gaiety, bustle, and noise, but after their departure it was quiet and solitude. I used to long for their arrival, and was delighted with the animation which gladdened the island, the male birds diving in every direction after fish, wheeling and soaring in the air, and uttering loud cries, which were responded to by their mates on the nests.
But it was also our harvest time; we seldom touched the old birds, as they were not in flesh, but as soon as the young ones were within a few days of leaving the nests, we were then busy enough. In spite of the screaming and the flapping of their wings in our faces, and the darting their beaks at our eyes, of the old birds, as we robbed them of their progeny, we collected hundreds every day, and bore as heavy a load as we could carry across the ravine to the platform in front of our cabin, where we busied ourselves in skinning them, splitting them, and hanging them out to dry in the sun. The air of the island was so pure that no putrefaction ever took place, and during the last fortnight of the birds coming on the island, we had collected a sufficiency for our support until their return on the following year. As soon as they were quite dry they were packed up in a corner of the cabin for use.
These birds were, it may be said, the only produce of the island, with the exception of fish, and the eggs taken at the time of their first making their nests. Fish were to be taken in large quantities. It was sufficient to put a line over the rocks, and it had hardly time to go down a fathom before anything at the end of it was seized. Indeed, our means of taking them were as simple as their voracity was great. Our lines were composed of the sinews of the legs of the man-of-war birds, as I afterwards heard them named; and, as these were only about a foot long, it required a great many of them knotted together to make a line. At the end of the line was a bait fixed over a strong fish-bone, which was fastened to the line by the middle; a half-hitch of the line round one end kept the bone on a parallel with the line until the bait was seized, when the line being taughtened, the half-hitch slipped off and the bone remained crossways in the gullet of the fish, which was drawn up by it. Simple as this contrivance was, it answered as well as the best hook, of which I had never seen one at that time. The fish were so strong and large, that, when I was young, the man would not allow me to attempt to catch them, lest they should pull me into the water; but, as I grew bigger, I could master them. Such was our food from one year's end to the other; we had no variety, except when occasionally we broiled the dried birds or the fish upon the embers, instead of eating them dried by the sun. Our raiment, such as it was, we were also indebted to the feathered tribe for. The birds were skinned with the feathers on, and their skins sewn together with sinews, and a fish-bone by way of a needle. These garments were not very durable, but the climate was so fine that we did not suffer from the cold at any season of the year. I used to make myself a new dress every year when the birds came; but by the time that they returned, I had little left of my last year's suit, the fragments of which might be found among the rocky and steep parts of the ravine where we used to collect firing.
Living such a life, with so few wants, and those periodically and easily supplied, hardly varied from one year's end to another, it may easily be imagined that I had but few ideas. I might have had more, if my companion had not been of such a taciturn and morose habit; as it was, I looked at the wide ocean, and the sky, and the sun, moon, and stars, wondering, puzzled, afraid to ask questions, and ending all by sleeping away a large portion of my existence. We had no tools except the old ones, which were useless—no employment of any kind. There was a book, and I asked what it was for and what it was, but I got no answer. It remained upon the shelf, for if I looked at it I was ordered away, and at last I regarded it with a sort of fear, as if it were a kind of incomprehensible animal. The day was passed in idleness and almost silence; perhaps not a dozen sentences were exchanged in the twenty-four hours. My companion always the same, brooding over something which appeared ever to occupy his thoughts, and angry if roused up from his reverie.
The reader must understand that the foregoing remarks are to be considered as referring to my position and amount of knowledge when I was seven or eight years old. My master, as I called him, was a short square-built man, about sixty years of age, as I afterwards estimated from recollection and comparison. His hair fell down his back in thick clusters and was still of a dark color, and his beard was full two feet long and very bushy; indeed, he was covered with hair, wherever his person was exposed. He was, I should say, very powerful had he had occasion to exert his strength, but with the exception of the time at which we collected the birds, and occasionally going up the ravine to bring down faggots of wood, he seldom moved out of the cabin unless it was to bathe. There was a pool of salt water of about twenty yards square, near the sea, but separated from it by a low ridge of rocks, over which the waves only beat when the sea was rough and the wind on that side of the island. Every morning almost we went down to bathe in that pool, as it was secure from the sharks, which were very numerous. I could swim like a fish as early as I can recollect, but whether I was taught, or learnt myself, I cannot tell. Thus was my life passed away; my duties were trifling; I had little or nothing to employ myself about, for I had no means of employment. I seldom heard the human voice, and became as taciturn as my companion. My amusements were equally confined—looking down into the depths of the ocean, as I lay over the rocky wall which girded the major portion of the island, and watching the motions of the finny tribes below, wondering at the stars during the night season, eating, and sleeping. Thus did I pass away an existence without pleasure and without pain. As for what my thoughts were I can hardly say, my knowledge and my ideas were too confined for me to have any food for thought. I was little better than a beast of the field, that lies down on the pasture after he is filled. There was one great source of interest however, which was, to listen to the sleeping talk of my companion, and I always looked forward to the time when the night fell and we repaired to our beds. I would lie awake for hours, listening to his ejaculations and murmured speech, trying in vain to find out some meaning in what he would say—but I gained little; he talked of "that woman"—appearing to be constantly with other men, and muttering about something he had hidden away. One night, when the moon was shining bright, he sat up in his bed, which, as I have before said, was on the floor of the cabin, and throwing aside the feathers upon which he had been lying, scratched the mould away below them and lifted up a piece of board. After a minute he replaced everything, and lay down again. He evidently was sleeping during the whole time. Here, at last, was something to feed my thoughts with. I had heard him say in his sleep that he had hidden something—this must be the hiding place. What was it? Perhaps I ought here to observe that my feelings towards this man were those of positive dislike, if not hatred; I never had received one kind word or deed from him, that I could recollect. Harsh and unfeeling towards me, evidently looking upon me with ill-will, and only suffering me because I saved him some trouble, and perhaps because he wished to have a living thing for his companion,—his feelings towards me were reciprocated by mine towards him. What age I was at the time my mother died, I know not, but I had some faint recollection of one who treated me with kindness and caresses, and these recollections became more forcible in my dreams, when I saw a figure very different from that of my companion (a female figure) hanging over me or leading me by the hand. How I used to try to continue those dreams, by closing my eyes again after I had woke up! And yet I knew not that they had been brought about by the dim recollection of my infancy; I knew not that the figure that appeared to me was the shadow of my mother; but I loved the dreams because I was treated kindly in them.
But a change took place by the hand of Providence. One day, after we had just laid in our yearly provision of sea birds, I was busy arranging the skins of the old birds, on the flat rock, for my annual garment, which was joined together something like a sack, with holes for the head and arms to pass through; when, as I looked to seaward, I saw a large white object on the water.
"Look, master," said I, pointing towards it.
"A ship, a ship!" cried my companion.
"Oh," thought I, "that is a ship; I recollect that he said they came here in a ship." I kept my eyes on her, and she rounded to.
"Is she alive?" inquired I.
"You're a fool," said the man; "come and help me to pile up this wood that we may make a signal to her. Go and fetch some water and throw on it, that there may be plenty of smoke. Thank God, I may leave this cursed hole at last!"
I hardly understood him, but I went for the water and brought it in the mess kid.
"I want more wood yet," said he. "Her head is this way, and she will come nearer."
"Then she is alive," said I.
"Away, fool!" said he, giving me a cuff on the head; "get some more water and throw on the wood."
He then went into the cabin to strike a light, which he obtained by a piece of iron and flint, with some fine dry moss for tinder. While he was so employed, my eyes were fixed on the vessel, wondering what it could be. It moved through the water, turned this way and that. "It must be alive," thought I; "is it a fish or a bird?" As I watched the vessel, the sun was going down and there was not more than an hour's daylight. The wind was very light and variable, which accounted for the vessel so often altering her course. My companion came out with his hands full of smoking tinder, and putting it under the wood, was busy blowing it into a flame. The wood was soon set fire to, and the smoke ascended several feet into the air.
"They'll see that," said he.
"What then, it has eyes? it must be alive. Does it mind the wind?" inquired I, having no answer to my first remark, "for look there, the little clouds are coming up fast," and I pointed to the horizon, where some small clouds were rising up and which were, as I knew from experience and constantly watching the sky, a sign of a short but violent gale, or tornado, of which we usually had one, if not two, at this season of the year.
"Yes; confound it," replied my companion, grinding his teeth, "it will blow her off! That's my luck."
In the meantime, the smoke ascended in the air and the vessel approached nearer and nearer, until she was within, I suppose, two miles of the island, and then it fell quite calm. My companion threw more water on to increase the smoke, and the vessel now hauling up her courses, I perceived that there were people on board, and while I was arranging my ideas as to what the vessel might be, my companion cried out—"They see us, they see us! there's hope now. Confound it, I've been here long enough. Hurrah for old England!" and he commenced dancing and capering about like a madman. At last he said,
"Look out and see if she sends a boat, while I go into the cabin."
"What's a boat?" said I.
"Out, you fool! tell me if you see anything,"
"Yes, I do see something," replied I. "Look at the squall coming along the water, it will be here very soon; and see how thick the clouds are getting up: we shall have as much wind and rain as we had the time before last, when the birds came."
"Confound it," replied he, "I wish they'd lower a boat, at all events;" and so saying, he went into the cabin, and I perceived that he was busy at his bed-place.
My eyes were still fixed upon the squall, as I watched it advancing at a furious speed on the surface of the water; at first it was a deep black line on the horizon, but as it approached the vessel, it changed to white; the surface of the water was still smooth. The clouds were not more than ten degrees above the horizon, although they were thick and opaque—but at this season of the year, these tornadoes, as I may call them, visited us; sometimes we had one, sometimes more, and it was only when these gusts came on that we had any rain below. On board of the vessel—I speak now from my after knowledge—they did not appear to be aware of the danger; the sails were all set and flapping against the masts. At last, I perceived a small object close to the vessel; this I presumed was the boat which my companion looked for. It was like a young vessel close to the old one, but I said nothing; as I was watching and wondering what effect the rising wind would have upon her, for the observations of my companion had made me feel that it was important. After a time, I perceived that the white sails were disappearing, and that the forms of men were very busy, and moving on board, and the boat went back to the side of the vessel. The fact is, they had not perceived the squall until it was too late, for in another moment almost, I saw that the vessel bowed down to the fury of the gale, and after that, the mist was so great that I couldn't see her any more.
"Is she sending a boat, boy?" cried my companion.
"I can't see her," replied I; "for she is hidden by the wind."
As I said this, the tornado reached to where we stood, and threw me off my legs to the entrance of the cabin; and with the wind came down a torrent of rain, which drenched us, and the clouds covered the whole of the firmament, which became dark; the lightning darted in every direction, with peals of thunder which were deafening. I crawled into the cabin, into which the rain beat in great fury and flowed out again in a small river.
My companion sat near me, lowering and silent. For two hours the tornado lasted without interruption; the sun had set, and the darkness was opaque. It was impossible to move against the force of the wind and the deluge of water which descended. Speak, we did not, but shut our eyes against the lightning, and held our fingers to our ears to deaden the noise of the thunder, which burst upon us in the most awful manner. My companion groaned at intervals, whether from fear, I know not; I had no fear, for I did not know the danger, or that there was a God to judge the earth.
Gradually the fury of the gale abated, the rain was only heavy at intervals, and we could now hear the beating of the waves, as they dashed against the rocks beneath us. The sky also cleared up a little, and we could dimly discern the white foam of the breakers. I crawled out of the cabin, and stood upon the platform in front, straining my eyes to see the vessel. A flash of lightning, for a second, revealed her to me; she was dismasted, rolling in the awful breakers, which bore her down upon the high rocks, not a quarter of a mile from her.
"There it is," exclaimed I, as the disappearance of the lightning left me in darkness, more opaque than ever.
"She's done for," growled my companion, who, I was not till then aware, stood by my side. "No hopes this time, confound it!" Then he continued for some time to curse and swear awfully, as I afterwards discovered, for I did not then know what was cursing and swearing.
"There she is again," said I, as another flash of lightning revealed the position of the vessel.
"Yes, and she won't be there long; in five minutes she'll be dashed to atoms, and every soul perish."
"What are souls?" inquired I.
My companion gave me no reply.
"I will go down to the rocks," said I, "and see what goes on."
"Go," said he, "and share their fate."
I left him, and commenced a careful descent of the precipices by which we were surrounded, but, before I had gone fifty paces, another flash of lightning was followed up by a loud shriek, which arrested my steps. Where the noise came from, I could not tell, but I heard my companion calling to me to come back. I obeyed him, and found him standing where I had left him.
"You called me, master?"
"Yes, I did; take my hand, and lead me to the cabin."
I obeyed him, wondering why he asked me so to do. He gained his bed-place, and threw himself down on it.
"Bring the kid full of water," said he—"quick!"
I brought it, and he bathed his head and face. After a time, he threw himself back upon the bed-place, and groaned heavily.
"O God! it's all over with me," said he at last. "I shall live and die in this cursed hole."
"What's the matter, master?" said I.
He gave me no answer, but lay groaning and occasionally cursing. After a time, he was still, and then I went out again. The tornado was now over, and the stars were to be seen here and there, but still the wind was strong and the wild clouds flew fast. The shores of the island were one mass of foam, which was dashed high in the air and fell upon the black rocks. I looked for the vessel, and could see nothing—the day was evidently dawning, and I sat down and waited its coming. My companion was apparently asleep, for he lay without motion or noise. That some misfortune had happened, I was convinced, but what, I knew not, and I passed a long time in conjecture, dividing my thoughts between him and the vessel. At last the daylight appeared—the weather was moderating fast, although the waves still beat furiously against the rocky shore. I could see nothing of the vessel, and I descended the path, now slippery and insecure from the heavy fall of rain, and went as near to the edge of the rocks as the breaking billows would permit. I walked along, occasionally drenched by the spray, until I arrived where I had last seen the vessel. The waves were dashing and tossing about, as if in sport, fragments of timber, casks, and spars; but that was all I could see, except a mast and rigging, which lay alongside of the rocks, sometimes appearing above them on the summit of the waves, then descending far out of my sight, for I dared not venture near enough to the edge to look over. "Then the vessel is dashed to pieces, as my companion said," thought I. "I wonder how she was made." I remained about an hour on the rocks, and then turned back to the cabin. I found my companion awake, and groaning heavily.
"There is no ship," said I, "nothing but pieces of wood floating about."
"I know that," replied he; "but what do I care now?"
"I thought by your making a smoke, that you did care."
"Yes, I did then, but now I am blind, I shall never see a ship or anything else again. God help me! I shall die and rot on this cursed island."
"Blind, what is blind?" inquired I.
"The lightning has burned out my eyes, and I can see nothing—I cannot help myself—I cannot walk about—I cannot do anything, and I suppose you will leave me here to die like a dog."
"Can't you see me?"
"No, all is dark, dark as night, and will be as long as I live." And he turned on his bed-place and groaned. "I had hope, I lived in hope —it has kept me alive for many weary years, but now hope is gone, and I care not if I die to-morrow."
And then he started up and turned his face towards me, and I saw that there was no light in his eyes.
"Bring me some more water, do you hear?" said he, angrily. "Be quick, or I'll make you."
But I now fully comprehended his condition, and how powerless he was. My feelings, as I have before said, were anything but cordial towards him, and this renewed violence and threatening manner had its effect. I was now, I suppose, about twelve or thirteen years old— strong and active. I had more than once felt inclined to rebel, and measure my strength against his. Irritated, therefore, at his angry language, I replied—
"Go for the water yourself."
"Ah!" sighed he, after a pause of some seconds, "that I might have expected. But let me once get you into my hands, I'll make you remember it."
"I care not if I were in your hands," replied I; "I am as strong as you." For I had thought so many a day, and meant to prove it.
"Indeed! well, come here, and let us try."
"No, no," replied I; "I'm not such a fool as you say I am—not that I'm afraid of you; for I shall have an axe in my hand always ready, and you will not find another."
"I wish that I had tossed you over the cliffs when you were a child," said he, bitterly, "instead of nursing you and bringing you up."
"Then why have you not been kind to me? As far back as I can remember you have always treated me ill; you have made me work for you; and yet never even spoken kindly to me. I have wanted to know things, and you have never answered my questions, but called me a fool, and told me to hold my tongue. You have made me hate you, and you have often told me how you hated me—you know you have."
"It's true, quite true," replied he, as if talking to himself. "I have done all that he says, and I have hated him. But I have had cause. Come here, boy."
"No," replied I; "do you come here. You have been master, and I have been boy, long enough. Now I am master and you are boy, and you shall find it so."
Having said this, I walked out of the cabin and left him. He cried out, "Don't leave me," but I heeded him not, and sat down at the edge of the fiat ledge of the rock before the cabin. Looking at the white dancing waves, and deep in my own thoughts, I considered a long while how I should behave towards him. I did not wish him to die, as I knew he must if I left him. He could not obtain water from the rill without a great chance of falling over the cliff. In fact, I was now fully aware of his helpless state; to prove it to myself, I rose and shut my own eyes; tried if I could venture to move on such dangerous ground, and I felt sure that I could not. He was then in my power; he could do nothing; he must trust to me for almost everything. I had said, let what would follow, I would be master and he boy; but that could not be, as I must still attend upon him, or he would die. At last the thought came suddenly upon me—I will be master, nevertheless, for now he shall answer me all my questions, tell me all he knows, or he shall starve. He is in my power. He shall now do what I have ever tried to make him do, and he has ever refused. Having thus arranged my plans, I returned to the cabin, and said to him:
"Hear what I say—I will be kind to you, and not leave you to starve, if you will do what I ask."
"And what is that?" replied he.
"For a long while I have asked you many questions, and you have refused to answer them. Instead of telling me what I would know, you have beaten or thrown stones at me, called me names, and threatened me. I now give you your choice—either you shall promise to answer every question that I put to you, or you may live how you can, for I shall leave you to help yourself. If you do as I wish, I will do all I can to help you, but if you will not, thank yourself for what may happen. Recollect, I am master now; so take your choice."
"Well," replied he slowly, "it's a judgment upon me, and I must agree to it. I will do what you wish."
"Well, then, to begin," said I, "I have often asked you what your name was, and what was mine. I must call you something, and Master I will not, for I am master now. What is your name?"
He groaned, ground his teeth, and then said, "Edward Jackson."
"Edward Jackson! very well; and my name?"
"No, I cannot bear the name. I cannot say it," replied he, angrily.
"Be it so," replied I. "Then I leave you."
"Will you bring me some water for my eyes? they burn," said he.
"No, I will not, nor anything else, unless you tell me my name."
"Frank Henniker—and curses on it."
"Frank Henniker. Well, now you shall have the water."
I went out, filled a kid, and put it by his side,
"There is the water, Jackson; if you want anything, call me. I shall be outside."
"I have gained the mastery," thought I,—"it will be my turn now. He don't like to answer, but he shall, or he shall starve. Why does he feel so angry at my name? Henniker! what is the meaning of Henniker, I wonder? I will make him tell me. Yes, he shall tell me everything." I may here observe, that as for pity and compassion, I did not know such feelings. I had been so ill-treated, that I only felt that might was right; and this right I determined upon exercising to the utmost. I felt an inconceivable pleasure at the idea of my being the master, and he the boy. I felt the love of power, the pride of superiority. I then revolved in my mind the daily task which I would set him, before he should receive his daily sustenance. He should talk now as much as I pleased, for I was the master. I had been treated as a slave, and I was now fully prepared to play the tyrant. Mercy and compassion I knew not. I had never seen them called forth, and I felt them not. I sat down on the flat rock for some time, and then it occurred to me that I would turn the course of the water which fell into the hole at the edge of the cliff; so that if he crawled there, he would not be able to obtain any. I did so, and emptied the hole. The water was now only to be obtained by climbing up, and it was out of his power to obtain a drop. Food, of course, he could obtain, as the dried birds were all piled up at the farther end of the cabin, and I could not well remove them; but what was food without water? I was turning in my mind what should be the first question to put to him; and I had decided that I would have a full and particular account of how the vessel had been wrecked on the island, and who were my father and mother, and why I was named Henniker—when I was roused by hearing Jackson (as I shall in future call him) crying out, "Boy, boy!" "Boy, indeed," thought I—"no longer boy," and I gave no reply. Again he called, and at last he cried out, "Henniker," but I had been ruffled by his calling me boy, and I would not answer him. At last he fairly screamed my name, and then was silent. After a moment, I perceived that he crawled out of his bed-place, and feeling by the sides of the cabin, contrived on his hands and knees to crawl in the direction of the hole into which the water had previously been received; and I smiled at what I knew would be his disappointment when he arrived there. He did so at last: put his hand to feel the edge of the hole, and then down into it to feel for the water; and when he found that there was none, he cursed bitterly, and I laughed at his vexation. He then felt all the way down where the water had fallen, and found that the course of it had been stopped, and he dared not attempt anything further. He dashed his clenched hand against the rock. "Oh! that I had him in this grasp—if it were but for one moment. I would not care if I died the next."
"I do not doubt you," replied I to him, above, "but you have not got me in your hands, and you will not. Go in to bed directly—quick," cried I, throwing a piece of rock at him, which hit him on the head. "Crawl back as fast as you can, you fool, or I'll send another at your head directly. I'll tame you, as you used to say to me."
The blow on the head appeared to have confused him; but after a time he crawled back to his bed-place, and threw himself down with a heavy groan.
I then went down to the water's edge to see if I could find anything from the wreck, for the water was smooth, and no longer washed over the rocks of the island. Except fragments of wood, I perceived nothing until I arrived at the pool where we were accustomed to bathe; and I found that the sea had thrown into it two articles of large dimensions—one was a cask of the size of a puncheon, which lay in about a foot of water farthest from the seaward; and the other was a seaman's chest. What these things were I did not then know, and I wish the reader to recollect that a great portion of this narrative is compiled from after knowledge. The cask was firm in the sand, and I could not move it. The chest was floating; I hauled it on the rocks without difficulty, and then proceeded to open it. It was some time before I could discover how, for I had never seen a lock, or a hinge in my life; but at last, finding that the lid was the only portion of the chest which yielded, I contrived, with a piece of rock, to break it open. I found in it a quantity of seamen's clothes, upon which I put no value; but some of the articles I immediately comprehended the use of, and they filled me with delight. There were two new tin pannikins, and those would hold water. There were three empty wine bottles, a hammer, a chisel, gimlet, and some other tools, also three or four fishing-lines many fathoms long. But what pleased me most were two knives, one shutting up, with a lanyard sheath to wear round the waist; and the other an American long knife, in a sheath, which is usually worn by them in the belt. Now, three or four years back, Jackson had the remains of a clasp knife—that is, there was about an inch of the blade remaining—and this, as may be supposed, he valued very much; indeed, miserable as the article was, in our destitute state it was invaluable.
This knife he had laid on the rock when fishing, and it had been dragged into the sea as his line ran out; and he was for many days inconsolable for its loss. We had used it for cutting open the birds when we skinned them, and, indeed this remains of a knife had been always in request. Since the loss of it, we had had hard work to get the skins off the birds; I therefore well knew the value of these knives, which I immediately secured. The remainder of the articles in the chest, which was quite full, I laid upon the rocks, with the clothes, to dry; of most of them I did not know the use, and consequently did not prize them at the time. It was not until afterwards, when I had taken them to my companion, that I learned their value. I may as well here observe, that amongst these articles were two books, and, from the positive commands of my companion, not to touch the book in the cabin, I looked upon them with a degree of awe, and hesitated upon taking them in my hand; but, at last, I put them out to dry on the rocks, with the rest of the contents of the chest.
I felt the knives, the blades were sharp; I put the lanyard of the clasp knife round my neck; the sheath knife, which was a formidable weapon, I made fast round my waist, with a piece of the fishing lines, which I cut off; and I then turned my steps towards the cabin, as night was coming on, though the moon was high in the heavens, and shining brightly. On my return, I found Jackson in his bed-place; he heard me come in, and asked me, in a quiet tone, whether I would bring him some water? I answered,
"No, that I would not, for what he had said about me, and what he would do, if he got me into his power. I'll tame you," cried I. "I'm master now, as you shall find."
"You may be," replied he, quickly, "but still, that is no reason why you should not let me have some water. Did I ever prevent you from having water?"
"You never had to fetch it for me," I rejoined, "or you would not have taken the trouble. What trouble would you take for me, if I were blind now, and not you? I should become of no use to you, and you would leave me to die. You only let me live that you might make me work for you, and beat me cruelly. It's my turn now—you're the boy, and I'm the master."
The reader must remember that I did not know the meaning of the word "boy"; my idea of it was, that it was in opposition to "master," and boy, with me, had the same idea as the word "slave."
"Be it so," replied he, calmly. "I shall not want water long."
There was a quietness about Jackson which made me suspect him, and the consequence was, that although I turned into my bed-place, which was on the ground at the side of the cabin opposite to his, I did not feel inclined to go to sleep, but remained awake, thinking of what had passed. It was towards morning when I heard him move; my face being turned that way, I had no occasion to stir to watch his motions. He crept very softly out of his bed-place towards me, listening, and advancing on his knees, not more than a foot every ten seconds. "You want me in your grasp," thought I, "come along," and I drew my American knife from its sheath, without noise, and awaited his approach, smiling at the surprise he would meet with. I allowed him to come right up to me; he felt the side of my bed, and then passed his right hand over to seize me. I caught his right hand with my left, and passing the knife across his wrist, more than half divided it from his arm. He gave a shriek of surprise and pain, and fell back.
"He has a knife," exclaimed he, with surprise, holding his severed wrist with the other hand.
"Yes, he has a knife, and more than one," replied I, "and you see that he knows how to use it. Will you come again? or will you believe that I'm master?"
"If you have any charity or mercy, kill me at once," said he, as he sat up in the moonlight, in the centre of the floor of the cabin.
"Charity and mercy," said I, "what are they? I never heard of them."
"Alas! no," replied he, "I have shewed none—it's a judgment on me— a judgment on me for my many sins; Lord, forgive me! First my eyes, now my right hand useless. What next, O Lord of Heaven?"
"Why, your other hand next," replied I, "if you try it again."
Jackson made no reply. He attempted to crawl back to his bed, but, faint with loss of blood, he dropped senseless on the floor of the cabin. I looked at him, and satisfied that he would make no more attempts upon me, I turned away, and fell fast asleep. In about two hours, I awoke, and looking round, perceived him lying on the floor, where he had fallen the night before. I went to him and examined him— was he asleep, or was he dead? He lay in a pool of blood. I felt him, and he was quite warm. It was a ghastly cut on his wrist, and I thought, if he is dead, he will never tell me what I want to know. I knew that he bound up cuts to stop the blood. I took some feathers from the bed, and put a handful on the wound. After I had done it, I bound his wrist up with a piece of fishing-line I had taken to secure the sheath knife round my waist, and then I went for some water. I poured some down his throat; this revived him, and he opened his eyes.
"Where am I?" said he faintly.
"Where are you?—why, in the cabin," said I.
"Give me some more water."
I did so, for I did not wish to kill him. I wanted him to live, and to be in my power. After drinking the water he roused himself, and crawled back to his bed-place. I left him then, and went down to bathe.
The reader may exclaim—What a horrid tyrant this boy is—why, he is as bad as his companion. Exactly—I was so—but let the reader reflect that I was made so by education. From the time that I could first remember, I had been tyrannised over; cuffed, kicked, abused and ill-treated. I had never known kindness. Most truly was the question put by me, "Charity and mercy—what are they?" I never heard of them. An American Indian has kind feelings—he is hospitable and generous—yet, educated to inflict, and receive, the severest tortures to and from, his enemies, he does the first with the most savage and vindictive feelings, and submits to the latter with indifference and stoicism. He has, indeed, the kindlier feelings of his nature exercised; still, this changes him not. He has been from earliest infancy brought up to cruelty, and he cannot feel that it is wrong. Now, my position was worse. I had never seen the softer feelings of our nature called into play; I knew nothing but tyranny and oppression, hatred and vengeance. It was therefore not surprising that, when my turn came, I did to others as I had been done by. Jackson had no excuse for his treatment of me, whereas, I had every excuse for retaliation. He did know better, I did not. I followed the ways of the world in the petty microcosm in which I had been placed. I knew not of mercy, of forgiveness, charity, or goodwill. I knew not that there was a God; I only knew that might was right, and the most pleasurable sensation which I felt, was that of anxiety for vengeance, combined with the consciousness of power.
After I had bathed, I again examined the chest and its contents. I looked at the books without touching them. "I must know what these mean," thought I, "and I will know." My thirst for knowledge was certainly most remarkable, in a boy of my age; I presume for the simple reason, that we want most what we cannot obtain; and Jackson having invariably refused to enlighten me on any subject, I became most anxious and impatient to satisfy the longing which increased with my growth.
For three days did Jackson lie on his bed; I supplied him with water, but he did not eat anything. He groaned heavily at times, and talked much to himself, and I heard him ask forgiveness of God, and pardon for his sins. I noted this down for an explanation. On the third day, he said to me,
"Henniker, I am very ill. I have a fever coming on, from the wound you have given me. I do not say that I did not deserve it, for I did, and I know that I have treated you ill, and that you must hate me, but the question is, do you wish me to die?"
"No," replied I; "I want you to live, and answer all my questions, and you shall do so."
"I will do so," replied he. "I have done wrong, and I will make amends. Do you understand me? I mean to say, that I have been very cruel to you, and now I will do all you wish, and answer every question you may put to me, as well as I can."
"That is what I want," replied I.
"I know it is, but my wound is festering and must be washed and dressed. The feathers make it worse. Will you do this for me?"
I thought a little, and recollected that he was still in my power, as he could not obtain water. I replied, "Yes, I will."
"The cord hurts it, you must take it off."
I fetched the kid of water, and untied the cord, and took away the feathers, which had matted together with the flow of blood, and then I washed the wound carefully. Looking into the wound, my desire of information induced me to say, "What are these little white cords, which are cut through?"
"They are the sinews and tendons," replied he, "by which we are enabled to move our hands and fingers; now these are cut through, I shall not have the use of my hand again."
"Stop a moment," said I, rising up, "I have just thought of something." I ran down to the point where the chest lay, took a shirt from the rock, and brought it back with me, and tearing it into strips, I bandaged the wound.
"Where did you get that linen?" said Jackson.
I told him.
"And you got the knife there, too," said he, with a sigh. I replied in the affirmative.
As soon as I had finished, he told me he was much easier, and said,
"I thank you."
"What is I thank you?" replied I.
"It means that I am grateful for what you have done."
"And what is grateful?" inquired I again. "You never said those words to me before."
"Alas, no," replied he; "it had been better if I had. I mean that I feel kindly towards you, for having bound up my wound, and would do anything for you if I had the power. It means, that if I had my eyesight, as I had a week ago, and was master, as I then was, that I would not kick nor beat you, but be kind to you. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," replied I, "I think I do; and if you tell me all I want to know I shall believe you."
"That I will as soon as I am well enough; but now I am too ill—you must wait a day or two, till the fever has left me."
Satisfied with Jackson's promise, I tended him carefully, and washed and dressed his wound for the two following days. He said that he felt himself much better, and his language to me was so kind and conciliatory, that I hardly knew what to make of it; but this is certain, that it had a good effect upon me, and gradually the hatred and ill-will that I bore to him wore off, and I found myself handling him tenderly, and anxious not to give him more pain than was necessary, yet without being aware that I was prompted by better feelings. It was on the third morning that he said,—
"I can talk to you now; what do you want to know?"
"I want to know the whole story of how we came to this island, who my father and mother were, and why you said that you hated me and my name?"
"That," said Jackson, after a silence of a few minutes, "will take some time. I could soon tell it you if it were not for the last question,—why I hated your name? But the history of your father is so mixed up with mine, that I cannot well tell one without the other. I may as well begin with my own history, and that will be telling you both."
"Then tell it me," replied I, "and do not tell me what is not true."
"No; I will tell you exactly what it was," replied Jackson; "you may as well know it as not.—Your father and I were both born in England, which you know is your country by birth, and you also know that the language we talk is English."
"I did not know it. Tell me something about England before you say any more."
I will not trouble the reader with Jackson's description of England, or the many questions which I put to him. It was night-fall before he had finished answering, and before I was satisfied with the information imparted. I believe that he was very glad to hold his tongue, for he complained of being tired, and I dressed his wound and wetted the bandage with cold water for him before he went to sleep.
I can hardly describe to the reader the effect which this uninterrupted flow of language had upon me; I was excited in a very strange way, and for many nights after could not sleep for hours. I may say here, I did not understand a great proportion of the meaning of the words used by Jackson; but I gathered it from the context, as I could not always be interrupting him.
It is astonishing how fast ideas breed ideas, and how a word, the meaning of which I did not understand when it was first used, became by repetition clear and intelligible; not that I always put the right construction on it, but if I did not find it answer when used at another time to my former interpretation of it, I would then ask and obtain an explanation. This did not however occur very often. As for this first night, I was positively almost drunk with words, and remained nearly the whole of it arranging and fixing the new ideas that I had acquired. My feelings towards Jackson also were changed— that is, I no longer felt hatred or ill-will against him. These were swallowed up in the pleasure which he had afforded me, and I looked upon him as a treasure beyond all price,—not but that many old feelings towards him returned at intervals, for they were not so easily disposed of, but still I would not for the world have lost him until I had obtained from him all possible knowledge; and if his wound did not look well when I removed the bandage, I was much more distressed than he was. Indeed, there was every prospect of our ultimately being friends, from our mutual dependence on each other. It was useless on his part, in his present destitute condition, to nourish feelings of animosity against one on whose good offices he was now so wholly dependant, or on my part, against one who was creating for me, I may say, new worlds for imagination and thought to dwell on. On the following morning, Jackson narrated in substance (as near as I can recollect) as follows:—
"I was not intended for a sailor. I was taught at a good school, and when I was ten years old, I was put into a house of business as a clerk, where I remained at the desk all day long, copying into ledgers and day-books, in fact, writing what was required of me. This house was connected with the South American trade."
"Where is South America?" said I.
"You had better let me tell my story," replied Jackson, "and after I have done, you can ask any questions you like, but if you stop me, it will take a week to finish it; yesterday we lost the whole day."
"That's very true," replied I, "then I will do so."
"There were two other clerks in the counting-house—the head clerk, whose name was Manvers, and your father, who was in the counting-house but a few months before me. Our master, whose name was Evelyn, was very particular with both your father and myself, scanning our work daily, and finding fault when we deserved it. This occasioned a rivalry between us, which made us both very active, and I received praise quite as often as he did. On Sunday, Mr Evelyn used to ask your father and me to spend the day. We went to church in the forenoon and dined with him. He had a daughter a little younger than we were. She was your mother. Both of us, as we grew up, were very attentive to her, and anxious to be in her good graces. I cannot say which was preferred at first, but I rather think that if anything I was the favourite, during the first two years of our being acquainted with her. I was more lively and a better companion than your father, who was inclined to be grave and thoughtful. We had been about four years in the counting-house, when my mother died—my father had been dead some time before I went into it—and at her death I found my share of her property to amount to about L2500. But I was not yet twenty-one years of age. I could not receive it for another year. Mr Evelyn, who had till then every reason to be satisfied with my conduct, used to joke with me, and say that as soon as I was of age, he would allow me, if I chose it, to put the money in the business, and thus obtain a small share in it—and such was my intention, and I looked forward to bright prospects and the hope of one day being married to your mother, and I have no doubt but such would have been the case, had I still conducted myself properly. But, before I was of age, I made some very bad acquaintances, and soon ran into expenses which I could not afford—and the worst was, that I contracted a habit of sitting up late at night, and drinking to excess, which I never have since got over, which proved my ruin then, and has proved my ruin through life. This little fortune of mine not only gave me consequence, but was the cause of my thinking very highly of myself. I now was more particular in my attentions to Miss Evelyn, and was graciously received by her father; neither had I any reason to complain of my treatment from the young lady. As for your father, he was quite thrown into the back-ground. He had no property nor hope of any, except what he might hereafter secure by his diligence and good conduct; and the attention I received from Mr Evelyn, and also the head clerk, who had an idea that I was to be a partner and consequently would become his superior, made him very melancholy and unhappy—for I believe that then he was quite as much in love with Miss Evelyn as I was myself; and I must tell you, that my love for her was unbounded, and she well deserved it. But all these happy prospects were overthrown by my own folly. As soon as it was known that I had property left to me, I was surrounded by many others who requested to be introduced to me, and my evenings were passed in what I considered very good company, but which proved the very reverse. By degrees I took to gambling, and after a time, lost more money than I could afford to pay. This caused me to have recourse to a Jew, who advanced me loans at a large interest to be repaid at my coming of age. Trying to win back my money, I at last found myself indebted to the Jew for the sum of nearly L1000. The more that I became involved, the more reckless I became. Mr Evelyn perceived that I kept late hours, and looked haggard, as I well might; indeed, my position had now become very awkward. Mr Evelyn knew well the sum that had been left me, and how was I to account to him for the deficiency, if he proposed that I should put it into the business? I should be ruined in his opinion, and he never, I was convinced, would entrust the happiness of his daughter to a young man who had been guilty of such irregularities. At the same time, my love for her nearly amounted to adoration. Never was there a more miserable being than I was for the last six months previous to my coming of age, and to drown my misery I plunged into every excess, and seldom, if ever, went to bed but in a state of intoxication. Scheme after scheme did I propose to enable me to conceal my fault, but I could hit upon nothing. The time approached; I was within a few days of coming of age, when Mr Evelyn sent for me and then spoke to me seriously, saying, that out of regard to the memory of my father, with whom he had been very intimate, he was willing to allow me to embark my little capital in the business, and that he hoped that by my good conduct and application I might soon become a useful partner. I stammered some reply which surprised him; and he asked me to be more explicit. I stated that I considered my capital too small to be of much use in such a business as his, and that I preferred trying some quick method of doubling it; that as soon as I had so done I would accept his offer with gratitude. 'As you please,' replied he coolly; 'but take care, that in risking all, you do not lose all. Of course, you are your own master,' and so saying, he left me, apparently much displeased and mortified. But circumstances occurred, which exposed the whole affair. When in company with my evening companions, I stated my intentions of trying my fortune in the East Indies, not seriously, but talking at random. This came to the ears of the Jew of whom I had borrowed the money; he thought that I intended to leave the kingdom without taking up my bonds, and immediately repaired to Mr Evelyn's counting-house, to communicate with the head clerk, and ascertain if the report was correct, stating also the sums I was indebted to him. The head clerk informed Mr Evelyn, and on the day upon which I became twenty-one years of age, he sent for me into his private room, and, after some remonstrances, to which I replied very haughtily, it ended in my being dismissed. The fact was, that Mr Evelyn had, since his last interview with me, made inquiries, and finding out I had been living a very riotous life, he had determined upon my leaving his service. As soon as my first burst of indignation was over, I felt what I had lost; my attachment to Miss Evelyn was stronger than ever, and I bitterly deplored my folly, but after a time, as usual, I had recourse to the bottle, and to drowning my cares in intemperance. I tried very hard to obtain an interview with Miss Evelyn previous to my quitting the house, but this Mr Evelyn would not permit, and a few days after, sent his daughter away, to reside, for a time with a relation in the country. I embarked my capital in the wine trade, and, could I have restrained myself from drinking, should have been successful, and in a short time might have doubled my property, as I stated to Mr Evelyn; but now, I had become an irreclaimable drunkard, and when that is the case, all hope is over. My affairs soon became deranged, and, at the request of my partner, they were wound up, and I found myself with my capital of L1500 reduced to L1000. With this, I resolved to try my fortune in shipping; I procured a share in a brig, and sailed in her myself. After a time, I was sufficiently expert to take the command of her, and might have succeeded, had not my habit of drinking been so confirmed. When at Ceylon, I fell sick, and was left behind. The brig was lost, and as I had forgotten to insure my portion of her, I was ruined. I struggled long, but in vain—intemperance was my curse, my bane, the millstone at my neck, which dragged me down: I had education, talents, and energy, and at one time, capital, but all were useless; and thus did I sink down, from captain of a vessel to mate, from mate to second mate, until I at last found myself a drunken sailor before the mast. Such is my general history; to-morrow, I will let you know how, and in what way, your father and I met again, and what occurred, up to this present time."
But I was too much bewildered and confused with what he had told me, to allow him to proceed, as he proposed.
"No, no," replied I. "I now recollect all you have said, although I do not understand. You must first answer my questions, as to the meaning of words I never heard of before. I cannot understand what money is, what gaming is, and a great many more things you have talked about, but I recollect, and can repeat every word that you have said. To-morrow, I will recall it all over, and you shall tell me what I cannot make out; after that, you can go on again."
"Very well," replied he, "I don't care how long it takes me to answer your questions, for I am not very anxious to tell all about your father and myself."
I can hardly describe to the reader the effect which these conversations with Jackson had upon me at first. If a prisoner were removed from a dark cell, and all at once introduced into a garden full of fruit and flowers, which he never before had an idea were in existence, he could not have been more filled with wonder, surprise, and pleasure. All was novelty and excitement, but, at the same time, to a great degree, above my comprehension. I had neither language nor ideas to meet it, and yet, I did, to a certain degree, comprehend. I saw not clearly, but sometimes as through a mist, at others through a dark fog, and I could discern little. Every day, however, my increased knowledge of language and terms gave me an increased knowledge of ideas. I gained more by context than I did by any other means, and as I was by degrees enlightened, so my thirst for information and knowledge became every day more insatiable.
That much that I considered I understood was erroneous, is certain, for mine was a knowledge, as yet, of theory only. I could imagine to myself, as far as the explanation I received, what such an object might be, and, having made up my ideas on the matter, I was content; further knowledge, would however incline me to think, and occasionally to decide, that the idea I had formed was incorrect, and I would alter it. Thus did I flounder about in a sea of uncertainty, but still of exciting interest.
If any one who has been educated, and has used his eyes in a civilised country, reads an account of people and things hitherto unknown to him, he can, from the description and from his own general knowledge, form a very correct idea of what the country contains. But then he has used his eyes—he has seen those objects, between which the parallel or the difference has been pointed out. Now I had not that advantage. I had seen nothing but the sea, rocks, and sea-birds, and had but one companion. Here was my great difficulty, which, I may say, was never surmounted, until I had visited and mixed with civilisation and men. The difficulty, however, only increased my ardour. I was naturally of an ingenious mind, I had a remarkable memory, and every increase of knowledge was to me a source of delight. In fact, I had now something to live for, before I had not; and I verily believe, that if Jackson had been by any chance removed from me at this particular time, I should soon have become a lunatic, from the sudden drying up of the well which supplied my inordinate thirst for knowledge.
Some days passed before I asked Jackson to continue his narrative, during which we lived in great harmony. Whether it was that he was deceiving me, and commanding his temper till he had an opportunity of revenge, or whether it was that his forlorn and helpless condition had softened him down, I could not say, but he appeared gradually to be forming an attachment to me; I was however on my guard at all times. His wounded wrist had now healed up, but his hand was quite useless, as all the tendons had been severed. I had therefore less to fear from him than before. At my request that he would continue his history, Jackson related as follows:—
"After sailing in vessel after vessel, and generally dismissed after the voyage for my failing of intemperance, I embarked on board a ship bound to Chili, and after having been on the coast for nearly a year, we were about to proceed home with a cargo, when we anchored at Valdivia, previous to our homeward voyage, as we had some few articles to ship at that port. We were again ready for sea, when we heard from the captain, that he had agreed to take two passengers, a gentleman and his wife, who wished to proceed to England. The cabin was cleared out, and every preparation made to receive them on board, and in the evening the boat was sent on shore for the luggage. I went in the boat, as I thought it likely that the gentleman would give the boat's crew something to drink; nor was I wrong—he gave us four dollars, which we spent immediately in one of the ventas, and were all more or less intoxicated. It had been arranged that the luggage should first be carried on board, and after that, we were to return for the passengers, as we were to sail early in the morning. We pulled off with the luggage, but on our arrival on board, I was so drunk, that the captain would not allow me to return in the boat, and I knew nothing of what had passed until I was roused up the next morning to assist in getting the ship under weigh. We had been under weigh two or three hours, and were clearing the land fast, when the gentleman passenger came on neck; I was then coiling down a rope on the quarter-deck, and as he passed by me, I looked at him, and I recognised him immediately as your father. Years had passed—from a stripling he had grown a man, but his face was not to be mistaken. There he was, apparently a gentlemen of property and consideration; and I, what was I? a drunken sailor. All I hoped was, that he would not recognise me. Shortly afterwards he went down again, and returned escorting his wife on deck. Again I took a furtive curious glance, and perceived at once that she was that Miss Evelyn whom I had once so loved, and by my folly had lost. This was madness. As they stood on the deck enjoying the cool sea breeze, for the weather was delightfully fine, the captain came up and joined them. I was so confused at my discovery, that I knew not what I was about, and I presume was doing something very awkwardly; for the captain said to me—'Jackson, what are you about, you drunken hound? I suppose you are not sober yet.' At the mention of my name, your father and mother looked at me, and as I lifted up my head to reply to the captain, they eyed me earnestly, and then spoke to each other in a low tone; after which they interrogated the captain. I could not hear what they said, but I was certain they were talking about me, and that they had suspected, if they had not recognised me. I was ready to sink to the deck, and, at the same time, I felt a hatred of your father enter my heart, of which, during his life, I never could divest myself. It was as I supposed; your father had recognised me, and the following morning he came up to me as I was leaning over the gunwale amidships, and addressed me,—'Jackson,' said he, 'I am sorry to find you in this situation. You must have been very unfortunate to have become so reduced. If you will confide your history to me, perhaps I may, when we arrive in England, be able to assist you, and it really will give me great pleasure.' I cannot say that I replied very cordially. 'Mr Henniker,' said I, 'you have been fortunate by all appearances, and can therefore afford compassion to those who have not been so; but, sir, in our positions, I feel as if pity was in reality a sort of triumph, and an offer of assistance an insult. I am content with my present position, and will at all events not change it by your interference. I earn my bread honestly. You can do no more. Times may change yet. It's a long road that has no turning to it. I wish you a good morning.' So saying, I turned from him, and walked away forward, with my heart full of bitterness and anger. From that hour he never spoke to me or noticed me again, but the captain was more severe upon me, and I ascribed his severity most unjustly to your father. We were about to go round Cape Horn, when the gale from the S.E. came on, which ended in the loss of the vessel. For several days we strove up against it, but at last the vessel, which was old, leaked so much from straining, that we were obliged to bear up and run before it, which we did for several days, the wind and sea continuing without intermission. At last we found ourselves among these islands, and were compelled occasionally to haul to the wind to clear them. This made her leak more and more, until at last she became water logged, and we were forced to abandon her in haste during the night, having no time to take anything with us; we left three men on board, who were down below. By the mercy of Heaven we ran the boat into the opening below, which was the only spot where we could have landed. I think I had better stop now, as I have a good deal to tell you yet."
"Do then," replied I; "and now I think of it, I will bring up the chest and all the things which were in it, and you shall tell me what they are."
I went down and returned with the clothes and linen. There were eight pair of trousers, nine shirts, besides the one I had torn up to bandage his wounds with, two pair of blue trousers, and two jackets, four white duck frocks, some shoes, and stockings. Jackson felt them one by one with his hands, and told me what they were, and how worn.
"Why don't you wear some of them?" inquired I.
"If you will give me leave, I will," replied he. "Let me have a duck frock and a pair of trousers."
I handed the articles to him, and then went back for the rest which I had left on the rocks.
When I returned, with my arms full, I found that he had put them on, and his other clothes were beside him. "I feel more like a Christian now," said he.
"A Christian," said I, "what is that?"
"I will tell you by-and-bye. It is what I have not been for a long, long while," replied he. "Now, what have you brought this time?"
"Here," said I, "what is this?"
"This is a roll of duck, to make into frocks and trousers," replied he. "That is bees'-wax." He then explained to me all the tools, sailing-needles, fish-hooks, and fishing-lines, some sheets of writing-paper, and two pens, I had brought up with me. "All these are very valuable," said he, after a pause, "and would have added much to our comfort, if I had not been blind."
"There are more things yet," said I; "I will go and fetch them."
This time I replaced the remaining articles, and brought up the chest. It was a heavy load to carry up the rocks, and I was out of breath when I arrived and set it down on the cabin-floor.
"Now, I have the whole of them," said I. "Now, what is this?"
"That is a spy-glass—but, alas! I am blind—but I will show you how to use it, at all events."
"Here are two books," said I.
"Give them to me," said he, "and let me feel them. This one is a Bible, I am quite sure by its shape, and the other is, I think, a Prayer-book."
"What is a Bible, and what is a Prayer-book?" replied I.
"The Bible is the Word of God, and the Prayer-book teaches us how to pray to him."
"But who is God? I have often heard you say, 'O God!' and 'God damn' —but who is he?"
"I will tell you to-night before we go to sleep," replied Jackson, gravely.
"Very well, I shall remind you. I have found a little box inside the chest, and it is full of all manner of little things—strings and sinews."
"Let me feel them?"
I put a bundle into his hand.
"These are needles and thread for making and mending clothes—they will be useful bye-and-bye."
At last the whole contents of the chest were overhauled and explained: I could not well comprehend the glass bottles, or how they were made, but I put them with the pannikins, and everything else, very carefully into the chest again, and hauled the chest to the farther end of the cabin, out of the way. Before we went to bed that night, Jackson had to explain to me who God was, but as it was only the commencement of several conversations on the subject, I shall not at present trouble the reader with what passed between us. Jackson appeared to be very melancholy after the conversation we had had on religious matters, and was frequently agitated and muttering to himself.
I did not on the following day ask him to resume his narrative relative to my father and mother, as I perceived that he avoided it, and I already had so far changed as to have consideration for his feelings. Another point had now taken possession of my mind, which was, whether it were possible to learn to read those books which I had found in the chest, and this was the first question that I put to Jackson when we arose on that morning.
"How is it possible?" replied he. "Am I not blind—how can I teach you?"
"Is there no way?" replied I, mournfully.
"Let me think.—Yes, perhaps there is a way—at all events we will try. You know which book I told you was the Prayer-book?"
"Oh yes! the small, thin one."
"Yes—fetch it here. Now," said he, when I put it into his hand, "tell me; is there a straight line down the middle of the page of the book, so that the words and letters are on both sides of it?"
"Yes, there is," replied I; "in every page, as you call it, there is a black line down the middle, and words and letters (I suppose they are) on both sides."
"And among the letters, there are some larger than others, especially at the side nearest to the margin."
"I don't know what margin is."
"I mean here," replied he, pointing to the margin of the page.
"Yes, there are."
"Well then, I will open the book as near as I can guess at the Morning service, and you tell me if you can find any part of the writing which appears to begin with a large round letter, like—what shall I say?—the bottom of a pannikin."
"There is one on this leaf, quite round."
"Very well—now get me a small piece of stick, and make a point to it."
I did so, and Jackson swept away a small place on the floor of the cabin.
"Now," said he, "there are many other prayers which begin with a round O, as the letter is called; so I must first ascertain if this one is the one I require. If it is, I know it by heart, and by that shall be able to teach you all the letters of the alphabet."
"What's an alphabet?"
"The alphabet is the number of letters invented to enable us to read and write. There are twenty-six of them. Now look, Frank; is the next letter to O the shape of this?" and he drew with the pointed stick the letter U on the ground.
"Yes, it is," replied I.
"And the next is like this," continued he, drawing the letter R, after he had smoothed the ground and effaced the U.
"Yes," replied I.
"Well then, to make sure, I had better go on. OUR is one word, and then there is a little space between; and next you come to an F."
"Yes," replied I, looking at what he had drawn and comparing it with the letter in the book.
"Then I believe that we are all right, but to make sure, we will go on for a little longer."
Jackson then completed the word "Father," and "which art," that followed it, and then he was satisfied.
"Now," said he, "out of that prayer I can teach you all the letters, and if you pay attention, you will learn to read."
The whole morning was passed in my telling him the different letters, and I very soon knew them all. During the day, the Lord's Prayer was gone through, and as I learnt the words as well as the letters, I could repeat it before night; I read it over to him twenty or thirty times, spelling every word, letter by letter, until I was perfect. This was my first lesson.
"Why is it called the Lord's Prayer?" said I.
"Because, when our Lord Jesus Christ was asked by His followers in what way they ought to address God, He gave them this prayer to repeat, as being the most proper that they could use."
"But who was Jesus Christ?"
"He was the Son of God, as I told you yesterday, and at the same time equal with God."
"How could he be equal with God, if, as you said yesterday, God sent him down to be killed?"
"It was with his own consent that he suffered death; but all this is a mystery which you cannot understand at present."
"What's a mystery?"
"That which you cannot understand."
"Do you understand it yourself?"
"No, I do not; I only know that such is the fact, but it is above not only mine, but all men's comprehension. But I tell you honestly that, on these points, I am but a bad teacher; I have paid little attention to them during my life, and as far as religion is concerned, I can only give you the outlines, for I know no more."
"But I thought you said, that people were to be punished or rewarded when they died, according as they had lived a bad or good life; and that to live a good life, people must be religious, and obey God's commands."
"I did tell you so, and I told you the truth; but I did not tell you that I had led a bad life, as I have done, and that I have neglected to pay obedience to God's word and command."
"Then you will be punished when you die, will you not?"
"Alas! I fear so, child," replied Jackson, putting his hands up to his forehead and hiding his face. "But there is still time," continued he, after a pause, and "O God of mercy!" exclaimed he, "how shall I escape?"
I was about to continue the conversation, but Jackson requested that I would leave him alone for a time. I went out and sat on a rock, watching the stars.
"And those, he says, were all made by God,"—"and God made everything," thought I, "and God lives up beyond those stars." I thought for a long while, and was much perplexed. I had never heard anything of God till the night before, and what Jackson had told me was just enough to make me more anxious and curious; but he evidently did not like to talk on the subject. I tried after a time, if I could repeat the Lord's Prayer, and I found that I could, so I knelt down on the rock, and looking up to a bright star, as if I would imagine it was God, I repeated the Lord's Prayer to it, and then I rose up and went to bed.
This was the first time that I had ever prayed.
I had learnt so much from Jackson, latterly, that I could hardly retain what I had learnt; at all events, I had a very confused recollection in my brain, and my thoughts turned from one subject to another, till there was, for a time, a perfect chaos; by degrees things unravelled themselves, and my ideas became more clear; but still I laboured under that half-comprehension of things, which, in my position, was unavoidable.
But now my mind was occupied with one leading object and wish, which was to learn to read. I thought no more of Jackson's history and the account he might give me of my father and mother, and was as willing as he was that it should be deferred for a time. What I required now was to be able to read the books, and to this object my whole mind and attention were given. Three or four hours in the earlier portion of the day, and the same time in the latter, were dedicated to this pursuit, and my attention never tired or flagged. In the course of, I think, about six weeks, I could read, without hesitation, almost any portion of the Bible or Prayer-Book. I required no more teaching from Jackson, who now became an attentive hearer, as I read to him every morning and evening a portion of the Gospel or Liturgy. But I cannot say that I understood many portions which I read, and the questions which I put to Jackson puzzled him not a little, and very often he acknowledged that he could not answer them. As I afterwards discovered this arose from his own imperfect knowledge of the nature of the Christian religion, which, according to his statement to me, might be considered to have been comprised in the following sentence: "If you do good on earth, you will go to heaven and be happy; if you do ill, you will go to hell and be tormented. Christ came down from heaven to teach us what to do, and how to follow his example; and all that we read in the Bible we must believe." This may be considered as the creed imparted to me at that time. I believe that Jackson, like many others, knew no better, and candidly told me what he himself had been taught to believe.
But the season for the return of the birds arrived, and our stock of provender was getting low. I was therefore soon obliged to leave my books, and work hard for Jackson and myself. As soon as the young birds were old enough, I set to my task. And now I found how valuable were the knives which I had obtained from the seaman's chest; indeed, in many points I could work much faster. By tying the neck and sleeves of a duck frock, I made a bag, which enabled me to carry the birds more conveniently, and in greater quantities at a time, and with the knives I could skin and prepare a bird in one quarter of the time. With my fishing-lines also, I could hang up more to dry at one time, so that, though without assistance, I had more birds cured in the same time than when Jackson and I were both employed in the labour. The whole affair, however, occupied me from morning to evening for more than three weeks, by which time the major portion of my provender was piled up at the back of the cabin. I did not, however, lose what I had gained in reading, as Jackson would not let me go away in the morning, or retire to my bed in the evening, without my reading to him a portion of the Bible. Indeed, he appeared to be uncomfortable if I did not do so.
At last, the work was ended, and then I felt a strong desire return to hear that portion of Jackson's history connected with my father and mother, and I told him so. He did not appear to be pleased with my communication, or at all willing to proceed, but as I pressed him hard and showed some symptoms of resolution and rebellion, he reluctantly resumed his narrative.
"I wish you to understand," said he, "that my unwillingness to go on with my history, proceeds from my being obliged to make known to you the hatred that subsisted between your father and me; but if you will recollect, that we both had, in our early days, been striving to gain the same object—I mean your mother—and also that he had taken, as it were, what I considered to have been my place, in other points— that he had been successful in life, and I had been unfortunate, you must not then be surprised at my hating him as I did."
"I understand nothing about your feelings," replied I; "and why he injured you by marrying my mother, I cannot see."
"Why I loved her."
"Well, suppose you did, I don't know what love is, and therefore cannot understand it, so tell me the story."
"Well then, when I left off, I told you that we had ventured to land upon this island by running the boat into the bathing-pond, but in so doing, the boat was beaten to pieces, and was of no use afterwards. We landed, eight persons in all—that is, the captain, your father, the carpenter, mate, and three seamen, besides your mother. We had literally nothing in the boat except three axes, two kids, and the two pannikins, which we have indeed now, but as for provisions or even water we had none of either. Our first object, therefore, was to search the island to obtain water, and this we soon found at the rill which now runs down by the side of the cabin. It was very fortunate for us that we arrived exactly at the time that the birds had come on the island, and had just laid their eggs; if not, we must have perished with hunger, for we had not a fish-hook with us or even a fathom of line.
"We collected a quantity of eggs, and made a good meal, although we devoured them raw. While we were running about, or rather climbing about, over the rocks, to find out what chance of subsistence we might have on the island, the captain and your father remained with your mother, who sat down in a sheltered spot near to the bathing-pool. On our return in the evening, the captain called us all together that he might speak to us, and he said that if we would do well we must all act in concert; that it also would be necessary that one should have the command and control of the others; that without such was the case, nothing would go on well;—and he asked us if we did not consider that what he said was true. We all agreed, although I, for one, felt little inclination to do so, but as all the rest said so, I raised no objections. The captain then told us that as we were all of one opinion, the next point, was to decide as to who should have the command—he said, that if it had been on ship-board, he of course would have taken it himself, but now we were on shore he thought that Mr Henniker was a much more competent person than he was, and he therefore proposed that the command should be given to him, and he, for one, would willingly be under his orders. To this proposal, the carpenter and mate immediately agreed, and at last two of the seamen. I was left alone, but I resisted, saying, that I was not going to be ordered about by a landsman, and that if I were to obey orders, it must be from a thorough-bred seaman. The other two sailors were of my way of thinking, I was sure, although they had given their consent, and I hoped that they would join me, which they appeared very much inclined to do. Your father spoke very coolly, modestly, and prudently. He pointed out that he had no wish to take the command, and that he would cheerfully serve under the captain of the vessel, if it would be more satisfactory to all parties that such should be the case. But the captain and the others were positive, saying that they would not have their choice disputed by such a drunken vagabond as I was, and that if I did not like to remain with them, I might go to any part of the island that I chose. This conference ended by my getting in a passion, and saying that I would not be under your father's orders; and I was seizing one of the axes to go off with it, when the captain caught my arm and wrested it from me, stating that the axe was his property, and then telling me that I was welcome to go where I pleased.
"I left them, therefore, and went away by myself to where the birds were hatching, as I wished to secure a supply of eggs. When the night closed in, I lay down upon the guano, and felt no cold, for the gale was now over, and the weather was very mild.
"The next morning, when I awoke, I found that the sun had been up some time. I looked for the rest of my companions whom I had quitted, and perceived that they were all busily at work. The sea was quite calm; and, when the vessel went down after we left, many articles had floated, and had been washed to the island. Some of the men were busy collecting spars and planks, which were near the rocks, and pushing them along with the boat-hooks to the direction of the bathing pond, where they hauled them over the ridge, and secured them. Your father and mother, with the carpenter, were on this ledge where we now are, having selected it as a proper place for building a shelter, and were apparently very busy. The captain and one of the seamen were carrying up what spars and timber could be collected to where your father was standing with the carpenter. All appeared to be active, and working into each others hands; and I confess that, as I looked on, I envied them, and wished that I had been along with them; but I could not bear the idea of obeying any orders given by your father; and this alone prevented my joining them, and making my excuses for what I had done and said the previous night. I therefore swallowed some more birds' eggs raw, and sat down in the sun, looking at them as they worked.
"I soon perceived that the carpenter had commenced operations. The frame of this cabin was, with the assistance of your father, before it was noon, quite complete and put up; and then they all went down to the bathing place, where the boat was lying with her bottom beaten out. They commenced taking her to pieces and saving all the nails; the other men carried up the portions of the boat as they were ripped off, to where the frame of the cabin had been raised. I saw your mother go up with a load in her hand, which I believed to be the nails taken from the boat. In a couple of hours the boat was in pieces and carried up, and then your father and most of the men went up to assist the carpenter. I hardly need tell what they did, as you have the cabin before you. The roof, you see, is mostly built out of the timbers of the boat; and the lower part out of heavier wood; and a very good job they made of it. Before the morning closed in, one of the sides of the cabin was finished; and I saw them light a fire with the chips that had been cut off with the axes, and they then dressed the eggs and birds which they had collected the first day.
"There was one thing which I had quite forgotten when I mutinied and left my companions, which was, the necessity of water to drink; and I now perceived that they had taken possession of the spot where the only water had as yet been found. I was suffering very much from thirst towards the close of the day, and I set off up the ravine to ascertain if there was none to be found in that direction. Before night I succeeded in finding some, as you know, for you have often drunk from the spring when you have gone up for firewood. This gave me great encouragement, for I was afraid that the want of water would have driven me to submission. By way of bravado, I tore off, and cut with my knife, as many boughs of the underwood on the ravine as I well could carry, and the next morning I built a sort of wigwam for myself on the guano, to show them that I had a house over my head as well as they had; but I built it farther up to the edge of the cliff, above the guano plain, so that I need not have any communication with those who I knew would come for eggs and birds for their daily sustenance.
"Before the night of the following day set in, the cabin was quite finished.
"The weather became warmer every day, and I found it very fatiguing to have to climb the ravine two or three times a day to procure a drink of water, for I had nothing to hold water in, and I thought that it would be better that I should take up my quarters in the ravine, and build myself a wigwam among the brushwood close to the water, instead of having to make so many journeys for so necessary an article. I knew that I could carry eggs in my hat and pocket-handkerchief sufficient for two or three days at one trip; so I determined that I would do so; and the next morning I went up the ravine, loaded with eggs, to take up my residence there. In a day or two I had built my hut of boughs, and made it very comfortable. I returned for a fresh supply of eggs on the third day, with a basket I had constructed out of young boughs, and which enabled me to carry a whole week's sustenance. Then I felt quite satisfied, and made up my mind that I would live as a hermit during my sojourn on the island, however long it might be; for I preferred anything to obeying the orders of one whom I detested as I did your father.
"It soon was evident, however, how well they had done in selecting your father as their leader. They had fancied that the birds would remain on the island, and that thus they would always be able to procure a supply. Your father, who had lived so long in Chili, knew better, and that in a few weeks they would quit their nesting place. He pointed this out to them, showing them what a mercy it was that they had been cast away just at this time, and how necessary it was to make a provision for the year. But this they could not imagine that it was possible to do without salt to cure the birds with; but he knew how beef was preserved without salt on the continent, and showed them how to dry the birds in the sun. While therefore I was up in the ravine, they were busy collecting and drying them in large quantities, and before the time of the birds leaving they had laid up a sufficient supply. It was he also that invented the fishing lines out of the sinews of the legs of the birds, and your mother who knotted them together. At first, they caught fish with some hooks made of nails, but your father showed them the way to take them without a hook, as you have learnt from me, and which he had been shown by some of the Indians on the continent. Owing to your father, they were well prepared when the birds flew away with their young ones, while I was destitute. Previous to the flight, I had fared but badly, for the eggs contained the young birds half formed, and latterly so completely formed that I could not eat them, and as I had no fire and did not understand drying them, I had no alternative but eating the young birds raw, which was anything but pleasant. I consoled myself, however, with the idea that your father and mother and the rest were faring just as badly as myself, and I looked forward to the time when the birds would begin to lay eggs again, when I resolved to hoard up a much larger supply while they were fresh. But my schemes were all put an end to, for in two days, after a great deal of noise and flying about in circles, all the birds, young and old, took wing, and left me without any means of future subsistence.