WHEN LONDON BURNED
BY G. A. HENTY
We are accustomed to regard the Reign of Charles II. as one of the most inglorious periods of English History; but this was far from being the case. It is true that the extravagance and profligacy of the Court were carried to a point unknown before or since, forming,—by the indignation they excited among the people at large,—the main cause of the overthrow of the House of Stuart. But, on the other hand, the nation made extraordinary advances in commerce and wealth, while the valour of our sailors was as conspicuous under the Dukes of York and Albemarle, Prince Rupert and the Earl of Sandwich, as it had been under Blake himself, and their victories resulted in transferring the commercial as well as the naval supremacy of Holland to this country. In spite of the cruel blows inflicted on the well-being of the country, alike by the extravagance of the Court, the badness of the Government, the Great Plague, and the destruction of London by fire, an extraordinary extension of our trade occurred during the reign of Charles II. Such a period, therefore, although its brilliancy was marred by dark shadows, cannot be considered as an inglorious epoch. It was ennobled by the bravery of our sailors, by the fearlessness with which the coalition of France with Holland was faced, and by the spirit of enterprise with which our merchants and traders seized the opportunity, and, in spite of national misfortunes, raised England in the course of a few years to the rank of the greatest commercial power in the world.
G. A. HENTY.
II. A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
III. A THIEF SOMEWHERE
VI. A NARROW ESCAPE
VII. SAVED FROM A VILLAIN
VIII. THE CAPTAIN'S YARN
IX. THE FIRE IN THE SAVOY
X. HOW JOHN WILKES FOUGHT THE DUTCH
XI. PRINCE RUPERT
XII. NEW FRIENDS
XIII. THE BATTLE OF LOWESTOFT
XIV. HONOURABLE SCARS
XV. THE PLAGUE
XVI. FATHER AND SON
XVII. SMITTEN DOWN
XVIII. A STROKE OF GOOD FORTUNE
XIX. TAKING POSSESSION
XX. THE FIGHT OFF DUNKIRK
XXI. LONDON IN FLAMES
XXII. AFTER THE FIRE
"WITH GREAT RAPIDITY THE FLAMES SPREAD FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE"
"DON'T CRY, LAD; YOU WILL GET ON BETTER WITHOUT ME"
"THIS IS MY PRINCE OF SCRIVENERS, MARY"
"ROBERT ASHFORD, KNIFE IN HAND, ATTACKED JOHN WILKES WITH FURY"
"CYRIL SAT UP AND DRANK OFF THE CONTENTS OF THE PANNIKIN"
"FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, SIR, DO NOT CAUSE TROUBLE"
"TAKE HER DOWN QUICK, JOHN, THERE ARE THREE OTHERS"
"CYRIL RAISED THE KING'S HAND TO HIS LIPS"
"A DUTCH MAN-OF-WAR RAN ALONGSIDE AND FIRED A BROADSIDE"
"FOR THE LAST TIME: WILL YOU SIGN THE DEED?"
"WELCOME BACK TO YOUR OWN AGAIN, SIR CYRIL!"
"WHAT NEWS, JAMES?" THE KING ASKED EAGERLY
WHEN LONDON BURNED
Lad stood looking out of the dormer window in a scantily furnished attic in the high-pitched roof of a house in Holborn, in September 1664. Numbers of persons were traversing the street below, many of them going out through the bars, fifty yards away, into the fields beyond, where some sports were being held that morning, while country people were coming in with their baskets from the villages of Highgate and Hampstead, Tyburn and Bayswater. But the lad noted nothing that was going on; his eyes were filled with tears, and his thoughts were in the little room behind him; for here, coffined in readiness for burial, lay the body of his father.
Sir Aubrey Shenstone had not been a good father in any sense of the word. He had not been harsh or cruel, but he had altogether neglected his son. Beyond the virtues of loyalty and courage, he possessed few others. He had fought, as a young man, for Charles, and even among the Cavaliers who rode behind Prince Rupert was noted for reckless bravery. When, on the fatal field of Worcester, the last hopes of the Royalists were crushed, he had effected his escape to France and taken up his abode at Dunkirk. His estates had been forfeited; and after spending the proceeds of his wife's jewels and those he had carried about with him in case fortune went against the cause for which he fought, he sank lower and lower, and had for years lived on the scanty pension allowed by Louis to the King and his adherents.
Sir Aubrey had been one of the wild, reckless spirits whose conduct did much towards setting the people of England against the cause of Charles. He gambled and drank, interlarded his conversation with oaths, and despised as well as hated the Puritans against whom he fought. Misfortune did not improve him; he still drank when he had money to do so, gambled for small sums in low taverns with men of his own kind, and quarrelled and fought on the smallest provocation. Had it not been for his son he would have taken service in the army of some foreign Power; but he could not take the child about with him, nor could he leave it behind.
Sir Aubrey was not altogether without good points. He would divide his last crown with a comrade poorer than himself. In the worst of times he was as cheerful as when money was plentiful, making a joke of his necessities and keeping a brave face to the world.
Wholly neglected by his father, who spent the greater portion of his time abroad, Cyril would have fared badly indeed had it not been for the kindness of Lady Parton, the wife of a Cavalier of very different type to Sir Aubrey. He had been an intimate friend of Lord Falkland, and, like that nobleman, had drawn his sword with the greatest reluctance, and only when he saw that Parliament was bent upon overthrowing the other two estates in the realm and constituting itself the sole authority in England. After the execution of Charles he had retired to France, and did not take part in the later risings, but lived a secluded life with his wife and children. The eldest of these was of the same age as Cyril; and as the latter's mother had been a neighbour of hers before marriage, Lady Parton promised her, on her death-bed, to look after the child, a promise that she faithfully kept.
Sir John Parton had always been adverse to the association of his boy with the son of Sir Aubrey Shenstone; but he had reluctantly yielded to his wife's wishes, and Cyril passed the greater portion of his time at their house, sharing the lessons Harry received from an English clergyman who had been expelled from his living by the fanatics of Parliament. He was a good and pious man, as well as an excellent scholar, and under his teaching, aided by the gentle precepts of Lady Parton, and the strict but kindly rule of her husband, Cyril received a training of a far better kind than he would ever have been likely to obtain had he been brought up in his father's house near Norfolk. Sir Aubrey exclaimed sometimes that the boy was growing up a little Puritan, and had he taken more interest in his welfare would undoubtedly have withdrawn him from the healthy influences that were benefiting him so greatly; but, with the usual acuteness of children, Cyril soon learnt that any allusion to his studies or his life at Sir John Parton's was disagreeable to his father, and therefore seldom spoke of them.
Sir Aubrey was never, even when under the influence of his potations, unkind to Cyril. The boy bore a strong likeness to his mother, whom his father had, in his rough way, really loved passionately. He seldom spoke even a harsh word to him, and although he occasionally expressed his disapproval of the teaching he was receiving, was at heart not sorry to see the boy growing up so different from himself; and Cyril, in spite of his father's faults, loved him. When Sir Aubrey came back with unsteady step, late at night, and threw himself on his pallet, Cyril would say to himself, "Poor father! How different he would have been had it not been for his misfortunes! He is to be pitied rather than blamed!" And so, as years went on, in spite of the difference between their natures, there had grown up a sort of fellowship between the two; and of an evening sometimes, when his father's purse was so low that he could not indulge in his usual stoup of wine at the tavern, they would sit together while Sir Aubrey talked of his fights and adventures.
"As to the estates, Cyril," he said one day, "I don't know that Cromwell and his Roundheads have done you much harm. I should have run through them, lad—I should have diced them away years ago—and I am not sure but that their forfeiture has been a benefit to you. If the King ever gets his own, you may come to the estates; while, if I had had the handling of them, the usurers would have had such a grip on them that you would never have had a penny of the income."
"It doesn't matter, father," the boy replied. "I mean to be a soldier some day, as you have been, and I shall take service with some of the Protestant Princes of Germany; or, if I can't do that, I shall be able to work my way somehow."
"What can you work at, lad?" his father said, contemptuously.
"I don't know yet, father; but I shall find some work to do."
Sir Aubrey was about to burst into a tirade against work, but he checked himself. If Cyril never came into the estates he would have to earn his living somehow.
"All right, my boy. But do you stick to your idea of earning your living by your sword; it is a gentleman's profession, and I would rather see you eating dry bread as a soldier of fortune than prospering in some vile trading business."
Cyril never argued with his father, and he simply nodded an assent and then asked some question that turned Sir Aubrey's thoughts on other matters.
The news that Monk had declared for the King, and that Charles would speedily return to take his place on his father's throne, caused great excitement among the Cavaliers scattered over the Continent; and as soon as the matter was settled, all prepared to return to England, in the full belief that their evil days were over, and that they would speedily be restored to their former estates, with honours and rewards for their many sacrifices.
"I must leave you behind for a short time, Cyril," his father said to the boy, when he came in one afternoon. "I must be in London before the King arrives there, to join in his welcome home, and for the moment I cannot take you; I shall be busy from morning till night. Of course, in the pressure of things at first it will be impossible for the King to do everything at once, and it may be a few weeks before all these Roundheads can be turned out of the snug nests they have made for themselves, and the rightful owners come to their own again. As I have no friends in London, I should have nowhere to bestow you, until I can take you down with me to Norfolk to present you to our tenants, and you would be grievously in my way; but as soon as things are settled I will write to you or come over myself to fetch you. In the meantime I must think over where I had best place you. It will not matter for so short a time, but I would that you should be as comfortable as possible. Think it over yourself, and let me know if you have any wishes in the matter. Sir John Parton leaves at the end of the week, and ere another fortnight there will be scarce another Englishman left at Dunkirk."
"Don't you think you can take me with you, father?"
"Impossible," Sir Aubrey said shortly. "Lodgings will be at a great price in London, for the city will be full of people from all parts coming up to welcome the King home. I can bestow myself in a garret anywhere, but I could not leave you there all day. Besides, I shall have to get more fitting clothes, and shall have many expenses. You are at home here, and will not feel it dull for the short time you have to remain behind."
Cyril said no more, but went up, with a heavy heart, for his last day's lessons at the Partons'. Young as he was, he was accustomed to think for himself, for it was but little guidance he received from his father; and after his studies were over he laid the case before his master, Mr. Felton, and asked if he could advise him. Mr. Felton was himself in high spirits, and was hoping to be speedily reinstated in his living. He looked grave when Cyril told his story.
"I think it is a pity that your father, Sir Aubrey, does not take you over with him, for it will assuredly take longer to bring all these matters into order than he seems to think. However, that is his affair. I should think he could not do better for you than place you with the people where I lodge. You know them, and they are a worthy couple; the husband is, as you know, a fisherman, and you and Harry Parton have often been out with him in his boat, so it would not be like going among strangers. Continue your studies. I should be sorry to think that you were forgetting all that you have learnt. I will take you this afternoon, if you like, to my friend, the Cure of St. Ursula. Although we differ on religion we are good friends, and should you need advice on any matters he will give it to you, and may be of use in arranging for a passage for you to England, should your father not be able himself to come and fetch you."
Sir Aubrey at once assented to the plan when Cyril mentioned it to him, and a week later sailed for England; Cyril moving, with his few belongings, to the house of Jean Baudoin, who was the owner and master of one of the largest fishing-boats in Dunkirk. Sir Aubrey had paid for his board and lodgings for two months.
"I expect to be over to fetch you long before that, Cyril," he had said, "but it is as well to be on the safe side. Here are four crowns, which will furnish you with ample pocket-money. And I have arranged with your fencing-master for you to have lessons regularly, as before; it will not do for you to neglect so important an accomplishment, for which, as he tells me, you show great aptitude."
The two months passed. Cyril had received but one letter from his father. Although it expressed hopes of his speedy restoration to his estates, Cyril could see, by its tone, that his father was far from satisfied with the progress he had made in the matter. Madame Baudoin was a good and pious woman, and was very kind to the forlorn English boy; but when a fortnight over the two months had passed, Cyril could see that the fisherman was becoming anxious. Regularly, on his return from the fishing, he inquired if letters had arrived, and seemed much put out when he heard that there was no news. One day, when Cyril was in the garden that surrounded the cottage, he heard him say to his wife,—
"Well, I will say nothing about it until after the next voyage, and then if we don't hear, the boy must do something for his living. I can take him in the boat with me; he can earn his victuals in that way. If he won't do that, I shall wash my hands of him altogether, and he must shift for himself. I believe his father has left him with us for good. We were wrong in taking him only on the recommendation of Mr. Felton. I have been inquiring about his father, and hear little good of him."
Cyril, as soon as the fisherman had gone, stole up to his little room. He was but twelve years old, and he threw himself down on his bed and cried bitterly. Then a thought struck him; he went to his box, and took out from it a sealed parcel; on it was written, "To my son. This parcel is only to be opened should you find yourself in great need, Your Loving Mother." He remembered how she had placed it in his hands a few hours before her death, and had said to him,—
"Put this away, Cyril. I charge you let no one see it. Do not speak of it to anyone—not even to your father. Keep it as a sacred gift, and do not open it unless you are in sore need. It is for you, and you alone. It is the sole thing that I have to leave you; use it with discretion. I fear that hard times will come upon you."
Cyril felt that his need could hardly be sorer than it was now, and without hesitation he broke the seals, and opened the packet. He found first a letter directed to himself. It began,—
"MY DARLING CYRIL,—I trust that it will be many years before you open this parcel and read these words. I have left the enclosed as a parting gift to you. I know not how long this exile may last, or whether you will ever be able to return to England. But whether you do or not, it may well be that the time will arrive when you may find yourself in sore need. Your father has been a loving husband to me, and will, I am sure, do what he can for you; but he is not provident in his habits, and may not, after he is left alone, be as careful in his expenditure as I have tried to be. I fear then that the time will come when you will be in need of money, possibly even in want of the necessaries of life. All my other trinkets I have given to him; but the one enclosed, which belonged to my mother, I leave to you. It is worth a good deal of money, and this it is my desire that you shall spend upon yourself. Use it wisely, my son. If, when you open this, you are of age to enter the service of a foreign Prince, as is, I know, the intention of your father, it will provide you with a suitable outfit. If, as is possible, you may lose your father by death or otherwise while you are still young, spend it on your education, which is the best of all heritages. Should your father be alive when you open this, I pray you not to inform him of it. The money, in his hands, would last but a short time, and might, I fear, be wasted. Think not that I am speaking or thinking hardly of him. All men, even the best, have their faults, and his is a carelessness as to money matters, and a certain recklessness concerning them; therefore, I pray you to keep it secret from him, though I do not say that you should not use the money for your common good, if it be needful; only, in that case, I beg you will not inform him as to what money you have in your possession, but use it carefully and prudently for the household wants, and make it last as long as may be. My good friend, Lady Parton, if still near you, will doubtless aid you in disposing of the jewels to the best advantage. God bless you, my son! This is the only secret I ever had from your father, but for your good I have hidden this one thing from him, and I pray that this deceit, which is practised for your advantage, may be forgiven me. YOUR LOVING MOTHER."
It was some time before Cyril opened the parcel; it contained a jewel-box in which was a necklace of pearls. After some consideration he took this to the Cure of St. Ursula, and, giving him his mother's letter to read, asked him for his advice as to its disposal.
"Your mother was a thoughtful and pious woman," the good priest said, after he had read the letter, "and has acted wisely in your behalf. The need she foresaw might come, has arisen, and you are surely justified in using her gift. I will dispose of this trinket for you; it is doubtless of considerable value. If it should be that your father speedily sends for you, you ought to lay aside the money for some future necessity. If he does not come for some time, as may well be—for, from the news that comes from England, it is like to be many months before affairs are settled—then draw from it only such amounts as are needed for your living and education. Study hard, my son, for so will you best be fulfilling the intentions of your mother. If you like, I will keep the money in my hands, serving it out to you as you need it; and in order that you may keep the matter a secret, I will myself go to Baudoin, and tell him that he need not be disquieted as to the cost of your maintenance, for that I have money in hand with which to discharge your expenses, so long as you may remain with him."
The next day the Cure informed Cyril that he had disposed of the necklace for fifty louis. Upon this sum Cyril lived for two years.
Things had gone very hardly with Sir Aubrey Shenstone. The King had a difficult course to steer. To have evicted all those who had obtained possession of the forfeited estates of the Cavaliers would have been to excite a deep feeling of resentment among the Nonconformists. In vain Sir Aubrey pressed his claims, in season and out of season. He had no powerful friends to aid him; his conduct had alienated the men who could have assisted him, and, like so many other Cavaliers who had fought and suffered for Charles I., Sir Aubrey Shenstone found himself left altogether in the cold. For a time he was able to keep up a fair appearance, as he obtained loans from Prince Rupert and other Royalists whom he had known in the old days, and who had been more fortunate than himself; but the money so obtained lasted but a short time, and it was not long before he was again in dire straits.
Cyril had from the first but little hope that his father would recover his estates. He had, shortly before his father left France, heard a conversation between Sir John Parton and a gentleman who was in the inner circle of Charles's advisers. The latter had said,—
"One of the King's great difficulties will be to satisfy the exiles. Undoubtedly, could he consult his own inclinations only, he would on his return at once reinstate all those who have suffered in their estates from their loyalty to his father and himself. But this will be impossible. It was absolutely necessary for him, in his proclamation at Breda, to promise an amnesty for all offences, liberty of conscience and an oblivion as to the past, and he specially says that all questions of grants, sales and purchases of land, and titles, shall be referred to Parliament. The Nonconformists are at present in a majority, and although it seems that all parties are willing to welcome the King back, you may be sure that no Parliament will consent to anything like a general disturbance of the possessors of estates formerly owned by Royalists. In a vast number of cases, the persons to whom such grants were made disposed of them by sale to others, and it would be as hard on them to be ousted as it is upon the original proprietors to be kept out of their possession. Truly it is a most difficult position, and one that will have to be approached with great judgment, the more so since most of those to whom the lands were granted were generals, officers, and soldiers of the Parliament, and Monk would naturally oppose any steps to the detriment of his old comrades.
"I fear there will be much bitter disappointment among the exiles, and that the King will be charged with ingratitude by those who think that he has only to sign an order for their reinstatement, whereas Charles will have himself a most difficult course to steer, and will have to govern himself most circumspectly, so as to give offence to none of the governing parties. As to his granting estates, or dispossessing their holders, he will have no more power to do so than you or I. Doubtless some of the exiles will be restored to their estates; but I fear that the great bulk are doomed to disappointment. At any rate, for a time no extensive changes can be made, though it may be that in the distance, when the temper of the nation at large is better understood, the King will be able to do something for those who suffered in the cause.
"It was all very well for Cromwell, who leant solely on the Army, to dispense with a Parliament, and to govern far more autocratically than James or Charles even dreamt of doing; but the Army that supported Cromwell would certainly not support Charles. It is composed for the most part of stern fanatics, and will be the first to oppose any attempt of the King to override the law. No doubt it will erelong be disbanded; but you will see that Parliament will then recover the authority of which Cromwell deprived it; and Charles is a far wiser man than his father, and will never set himself against the feeling of the country. Certainly, anything like a general reinstatement of the men who have been for the last ten years haunting the taverns of the Continent is out of the question; they would speedily create such a revulsion of public opinion as might bring about another rebellion. Hyde, staunch Royalist as he is, would never suffer the King to make so grievous an error; nor do I think for a moment that Charles, who is shrewd and politic, and above all things a lover of ease and quiet, would think of bringing such a nest of hornets about his ears."
When, after his return to England, it became evident that Sir Aubrey had but small chance of reinstatement in his lands, his former friends began to close their purses and to refuse to grant further loans, and he was presently reduced to straits as severe as those he had suffered during his exile. The good spirits that had borne him up so long failed now, and he grew morose and petulant. His loyalty to the King was unshaken; Charles had several times granted him audiences, and had assured him that, did it rest with him, justice should be at once dealt to him, but that he was practically powerless in the matter, and the knight's resentment was concentrated upon Hyde, now Lord Clarendon, and the rest of the King's advisers. He wrote but seldom to Cyril; he had no wish to have the boy with him until he could take him down with him in triumph to Norfolk, and show him to the tenants as his heir. Living from hand to mouth as he did, he worried but little as to how Cyril was getting on.
"The lad has fallen on his feet somehow," he said, "and he is better where he is than he would be with me. I suppose when he wants money he will write and say so, though where I should get any to send to him I know not. Anyhow, I need not worry about him at present."
Cyril, indeed, had written to him soon after the sale of the necklace, telling him that he need not distress himself about his condition, for that he had obtained sufficient money for his present necessities from the sale of a small trinket his mother had given him before her death, and that when this was spent he should doubtless find some means of earning his living until he could rejoin him. His father never inquired into the matter, though he made a casual reference to it in his next letter, saying that he was glad Cyril had obtained some money, as it would, at the moment, have been inconvenient to him to send any over.
Cyril worked assiduously at the school that had been recommended to him by the Cure, and at the end of two years he had still twenty louis left. He had several conversations with his adviser as to the best way of earning his living.
"I do not wish to spend any more, Father," he said, "and would fain keep this for some future necessity."
The Cure agreed with him as to this, and, learning from his master that he was extremely quick at figures and wrote an excellent hand, he obtained a place for him with one of the principal traders of the town. He was to receive no salary for a year, but was to learn book-keeping and accounts. Although but fourteen, the boy was so intelligent and zealous that his employer told the Cure that he found him of real service, and that he was able to entrust some of his books entirely to his charge.
Six months after entering his service, however, Cyril received a letter from his father, saying that he believed his affairs were on the point of settlement, and therefore wished him to come over in the first ship sailing. He enclosed an order on a house at Dunkirk for fifty francs, to pay his passage. His employer parted with him with regret, and the kind Cure bade him farewell in terms of real affection, for he had come to take a great interest in him.
"At any rate, Cyril," he said, "your time here has not been wasted, and your mother's gift has been turned to as much advantage as even she can have hoped that it would be. Should your father's hopes be again disappointed, and fresh delays arise, you may, with the practice you have had, be able to earn your living in London. There must be there, as in France, many persons in trade who have had but little education, and you may be able to obtain employment in keeping the books of such people, who are, I believe, more common in England than here. Here are the sixteen louis that still remain; put them aside, Cyril, and use them only for urgent necessity."
Cyril, on arriving in London, was heartily welcomed by his father, who had, for the moment, high hopes of recovering his estates. These, however, soon faded, and although Sir Aubrey would not allow it, even to himself, no chance remained of those Royalists, who had, like him, parted with their estates for trifling sums, to be spent in the King's service, ever regaining possession of them.
It was not long before Cyril perceived that unless he himself obtained work of some sort they would soon be face to face with actual starvation. He said nothing to his father, but started out one morning on a round of visits among the smaller class of shopkeepers, offering to make up their books and write out their bills and accounts for a small remuneration. As he had a frank and pleasant face, and his foreign bringing up had given him an ease and politeness of manner rare among English lads of the day, it was not long before he obtained several clients. To some of the smaller class of traders he went only for an hour or two, once a week, while others required their bills and accounts to be made out daily. The pay was very small, but it sufficed to keep absolute want from the door. When he told his father of the arrangements he had made, Sir Aubrey at first raged and stormed; but he had come, during the last year or two, to recognise the good sense and strong will of his son, and although he never verbally acquiesced in what he considered a degradation, he offered no actual opposition to a plan that at least enabled them to live, and furnished him occasionally with a few groats with which he could visit a tavern.
So things had gone on for more than a year. Cyril was now sixteen, and his punctuality, and the neatness of his work, had been so appreciated by the tradesmen who first employed him, that his time was now fully occupied, and that at rates more remunerative than those he had at first obtained. He kept the state of his resources to himself, and had no difficulty in doing this, as his father never alluded to the subject of his work. Cyril knew that, did he hand over to him all the money he made, it would be wasted in drink or at cards; consequently, he kept the table furnished as modestly as at first, and regularly placed after dinner on the corner of the mantel a few coins, which his father as regularly dropped into his pocket.
A few days before the story opens, Sir Aubrey had, late one evening, been carried upstairs, mortally wounded in a brawl; he only recovered consciousness a few minutes before his death.
"You have been a good lad, Cyril," he said faintly, as he feebly pressed the boy's hand; "far better than I deserve to have had. Don't cry, lad; you will get on better without me, and things are just as well as they are. I hope you will come to your estates some day; you will make a better master than I should ever have done. I hope that in time you will carry out your plan of entering some foreign service; there is no chance here. I don't want you to settle down as a city scrivener. Still, do as you like, lad, and unless your wishes go with mine, think no further of service."
"I would rather be a soldier, father. I only undertook this work because I could see nothing else."
"That is right, my boy, that is right. I know you won't forget that you come of a race of gentlemen."
He spoke but little after that. A few broken words came from his lips that showed that his thoughts had gone back to old times. "Boot and saddle," he murmured. "That is right. Now we are ready for them. Down with the prick-eared knaves! God and King Charles!" These were the last words he spoke.
Cyril had done all that was necessary. He had laid by more than half his earnings for the last eight or nine months. One of his clients, an undertaker, had made all the necessary preparations for the funeral, and in a few hours his father would be borne to his last resting-place. As he stood at the open window he thought sadly over the past, and of his father's wasted life. Had it not been for the war he might have lived and died a country gentleman. It was the war, with its wild excitements, that had ruined him. What was there for him to do in a foreign country, without resource or employment, having no love for reading, but to waste his life as he had done? Had his wife lived it might have been different. Cyril had still a vivid remembrance of his mother, and, though his father had but seldom spoken to him of her, he knew that he had loved her, and that, had she lived, he would never have given way to drink as he had done of late years.
To his father's faults he could not be blind; but they stood for nothing now. He had been his only friend, and of late they had been drawn closer to each other in their loneliness; and although scarce a word of endearment had passed between them, he knew that his father had cared for him more than was apparent in his manner.
A few hours later, Sir Aubrey Shenstone was laid to rest in a little graveyard outside the city walls. Cyril was the only mourner; and when it was over, instead of going back to his lonely room, he turned away and wandered far out through the fields towards Hampstead, and then sat himself down to think what he had best do. Another three or four years must pass before he could try to get service abroad. When the time came he should find Sir John Parton, and beg him to procure for him some letter of introduction to the many British gentlemen serving abroad. He had not seen him since he came to England. His father had met him, but had quarrelled with him upon Sir John declining to interest himself actively to push his claims, and had forbidden Cyril to go near those who had been so kind to him.
The boy had felt it greatly at first, but he came, after a time, to see that it was best so. It seemed to him that he had fallen altogether out of their station in life when the hope of his father's recovering his estates vanished, and although he was sure of a kindly reception from Lady Parton, he shrank from going there in his present position. They had done so much for him already, that the thought that his visit might seem to them a sort of petition for further benefits was intolerable to him.
For the present, the question in his mind was whether he should continue at his present work, which at any rate sufficed to keep him, or should seek other employment. He would greatly have preferred some life of action,—something that would fit him better to bear the fatigues and hardships of war,—but he saw no prospect of obtaining any such position.
"I should be a fool to throw up what I have," he said to himself at last. "I will stick to it anyhow until some opportunity offers; but the sooner I leave it the better. It was bad enough before; it will be worse now. If I had but a friend or two it would not be so hard; but to have no one to speak to, and no one to think about, when work is done, will be lonely indeed."
At any rate, he determined to change his room as soon as possible. It mattered little where he went so that it was a change. He thought over various tradesmen for whom he worked. Some of them might have an attic, he cared not how small, that they might let him have in lieu of paying him for his work. Even if they never spoke to him, it would be better to be in a house where he knew something of those downstairs, than to lodge in one where he was an utter stranger to all. He had gone round to the shops where he worked, on the day after his father's death, to explain that he could not come again until after the funeral, and he resolved that next morning he would ask each in turn whether he could obtain a lodging with them.
The sun was already setting when he rose from the bank on which he had seated himself, and returned to the city. The room did not feel so lonely to him as it would have done had he not been accustomed to spending the evenings alone. He took out his little hoard and counted it. After paying the expenses of the funeral there would still remain sufficient to keep him for three or four months should he fall ill, or, from any cause, lose his work. He had one good suit of clothes that had been bought on his return to England,—when his father thought that they would assuredly be going down almost immediately to take possession of the old Hall,—and the rest were all in fair condition.
The next day he began his work again; he had two visits to pay of an hour each, and one of two hours, and the spare time between these he filled up by calling at two or three other shops to make up for the arrears of work during the last few days.
The last place he had to visit was that at which he had the longest task to perform. It was at a ship-chandler's in Tower Street, a large and dingy house, the lower portion being filled with canvas, cordage, barrels of pitch and tar, candles, oil, and matters of all sorts needed by ship-masters, including many cannon of different sizes, piles of balls, anchors, and other heavy work, all of which were stowed away in a yard behind it. The owner of this store was a one-armed man. His father had kept it before him, but he himself, after working there long enough to become a citizen and a member of the Ironmongers' Guild, had quarrelled with his father and had taken to the sea. For twenty years he had voyaged to many lands, principally in ships trading in the Levant, and had passed through a great many adventures, including several fights with the Moorish corsairs. In the last voyage he took, he had had his arm shot off by a ball from a Greek pirate among the Islands. He had long before made up his differences with his father, but had resisted the latter's entreaties that he should give up the sea and settle down at the shop; on his return after this unfortunate voyage he told him that he had come home to stay.
"I shall be able to help about the stores after a while," he said, "but I shall never be the man I was on board ship. It will be hard work to take to measuring out canvas and to weighing iron, after a free life on the sea, but I don't so much mind now I have had my share of adventures; though I dare say I should have gone on for a few more years if that rascally ball had not carried away my arm. I don't know but that it is best as it is, for the older I got the harder I should find it to fall into new ways and to settle down here."
"Anyhow, I am glad you are back, David," his father said.
"You are forty-five, and though I don't say it would not have been better if you had remained here from the first, you have learnt many things you would not have learnt here. You know just the sort of things that masters of ships require, and what canvas and cables and cordage will suit their wants. Besides, customers like to talk with men of their own way of thinking, and sailors more, I think, than other men. You know, too, most of the captains who sail up the Mediterranean, and may be able to bring fresh custom into the shop. Therefore, do not think that you will be of no use to me. As to your wife and child, there is plenty of room for them as well as for you, and it will be better for them here, with you always at hand, than it would be for them to remain over at Rotherhithe and only to see you after the shutters are up."
Eight years later Captain Dave, as he was always called, became sole owner of the house and business. A year after he did so he was lamenting to a friend the trouble that he had with his accounts.
"My father always kept that part of the business in his own hands," he said, "and I find it a mighty heavy burden. Beyond checking a bill of lading, or reading the marks on the bales and boxes, I never had occasion to read or write for twenty years, and there has not been much more of it for the last fifteen; and although I was a smart scholar enough in my young days, my fingers are stiff with hauling at ropes and using the marling-spike, and my eyes are not so clear as they used to be, and it is no slight toil and labour to me to make up an account for goods sold. John Wilkes, my head shopman, is a handy fellow; he was my boatswain in the Kate, and I took him on when we found that the man who had been my father's right hand for twenty years had been cheating him all along. We got on well enough as long as I could give all my time in the shop; but he is no good with the pen—all he can do is to enter receipts and sales.
"He has a man under him, who helps him in measuring out the right length of canvas and cables or for weighing a chain or an anchor, and knows enough to put down the figures; but that is all. Then there are the two smiths and the two apprentices; they don't count in the matter. Robert Ashford, the eldest apprentice, could do the work, but I have no fancy for him; he does not look one straight in the face as one who is honest and above board should do. I shall have to keep a clerk, and I know what it will be—he will be setting me right, and I shall not feel my own master; he will be out of place in my crew altogether. I never liked pursers; most of them are rogues. Still, I suppose it must come to that."
"I have a boy come in to write my bills and to make up my accounts, who would be just the lad for you, Captain Dave. He is the son of a broken-down Cavalier, but he is a steady, honest young fellow, and I fancy his pen keeps his father, who is a roystering blade, and spends most of his time at the taverns. The boy comes to me for an hour, twice a week; he writes as good a hand as any clerk and can reckon as quickly, and I pay him but a groat a week, which was all he asked."
"Tell him to come to me, then. I should want him every day, if he could manage it, and it would be the very thing for me."
"I am sure you would like him," the other said; "he is a good-looking young fellow, and his face speaks for him without any recommendation. I was afraid at first that he would not do for me; I thought there was too much of the gentleman about him. He has good manners, and a gentle sort of way. He has been living in France all his life, and though he has never said anything about his family—indeed he talks but little, he just comes in and does his work and goes away—I fancy his father was one of King Charles's men and of good blood."
"Well, that doesn't sound so well," the sailor said, "but anyhow I should like to have a look at him."
"He comes to me to-morrow at eleven and goes at twelve," the man said, "and I will send him round to you when he has done."
Cyril had gone round the next morning to the ships' store.
"So you are the lad that works for my neighbour Anderson?" Captain Dave said, as he surveyed him closely. "I like your looks, lad, but I doubt whether we shall get on together. I am an old sailor, you know, and I am quick of speech and don't stop to choose my words, so if you are quick to take offence it would be of no use your coming to me."
"I don't think I am likely to take offence," Cyril said quietly; "and if we don't get on well together, sir, you will only have to tell me that you don't want me any longer; but I trust you will not have often the occasion to use hard words, for at any rate I will do my best to please you."
"You can't say more, lad. Well, let us have a taste of your quality. Come in here," and he led him into a little room partitioned off from the shop. "There, you see," and he opened a book, "is the account of the sales and orders yesterday; the ready-money sales have got to be entered in that ledger with the red cover; the sales where no money passed have to be entered to the various customers or ships in the ledger. I have made out a list—here it is—of twelve accounts that have to be drawn out from that ledger and sent in to customers. You will find some of them are of somewhat long standing, for I have been putting off that job. Sit you down here. When you have done one or two of them I will have a look at your work, and if that is satisfactory we will have a talk as to what hours you have got disengaged, and what days in the week will suit you best."
It was two hours before Captain Dave came in again. Cyril had just finished the work; some of the accounts were long ones, and the writing was so crabbed that it took him some time to decipher it.
"Well, how are you getting on, lad?" the Captain asked.
"I have this moment finished the last account."
"What! Do you mean to say that you have done them all! Why, it would have taken me all my evenings for a week. Now, hand me the books; it is best to do things ship-shape."
He first compared the list of the sales with the entries, and then Cyril handed him the twelve accounts he had drawn up. Captain David did not speak until he had finished looking through them.
"I would not have believed all that work could have been done in two hours," he said, getting up from his chair. "Orderly and well written, and without a blot. The King's secretary could not have done better! Well, now you have seen the list of sales for a day, and I take it that be about the average, so if you come three times a week you will always have two days' sales to enter in the ledger. There are a lot of other books my father used to keep, but I have never had time to bother myself about them, and as I have got on very well so far, I do not see any occasion for you to do so, for my part it seems to me that all these books are only invented by clerks to give themselves something to do to fill up their time. Of course, there won't be accounts to send out every day. Do you think with two hours, three times a week, you could keep things straight?"
"I should certainly think so, sir, but I can hardly say until I try, because it seems to me that there must be a great many items, and I can't say how long it will take entering all the goods received under their proper headings; but if the books are thoroughly made up now, I should think I could keep them all going."
"That they are not," Captain David said ruefully; "they are all horribly in arrears. I took charge of them myself three years ago, and though I spend three hours every evening worrying over them, they get further and further in arrears. Look at those files over there," and he pointed to three long wires, on each of which was strung a large bundle of papers; "I am afraid you will have to enter them all up before you can get matters into ship-shape order. The daily sale book is the only one that has been kept up regularly."
"But these accounts I have made up, sir? Probably in those files there are many other goods supplied to the same people."
"Of course there are, lad, though I did not think of it before. Well, we must wait, then, until you can make up the arrears a bit, though I really want to get some money in."
"Well, sir, I might write at the bottom of each bill 'Account made up to,' and then put in the date of the latest entry charged."
"That would do capitally, lad—I did not think of that. I see you will be of great use to me. I can buy and sell, for I know the value of the goods I deal in; but as to accounts, they are altogether out of my way. And now, lad, what do you charge?"
"I charge a groat for two hours' work, sir; but if I came to you three times a week, I would do it for a little less."
"No, lad, I don't want to beat you down; indeed, I don't think you charge enough. However, let us say, to begin with, three groats a week."
This had been six weeks before Sir Aubrey Shenstone's death; and in the interval Cyril had gradually wiped off all the arrears, and had all the books in order up to date, to the astonishment of his employer.
A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
"I am glad to see you again, lad," Captain David said, when Cyril entered his shop. "I have been thinking of the news you gave me last week, and the mistress and I have been talking it over. Where are you lodging?"
"I have been lodging until now in Holborn," Cyril replied; "but I am going to move."
"Yes; that is what we thought you would be doing. It is always better to make a change after a loss. I don't want to interfere in your business, lad, but have you any friends you are thinking of going to?"
"No, sir; I do not know a soul in London save those I work for."
"That is bad, lad—very bad. I was talking it over with my wife, and I said that maybe you were lonely. I am sure, lad, you are one of the right sort. I don't mean only in your work, for as for that I would back you against any scrivener in London, but I mean about yourself. It don't need half an eye to see that you have not been brought up to this sort of thing, though you have taken to it so kindly, but there is not one in a thousand boys of your age who would have settled down to work and made their way without a friend to help them as you have done; it shows that there is right good stuff in you. There, I am so long getting under weigh that I shall never get into port if I don't steer a straight course. Now, my ideas and my wife's come to this: if you have got no friends you will have to take a lodging somewhere among strangers, and then it would be one of two things—you would either stop at home and mope by yourself, or you would go out, and maybe get into bad company. If I had not come across you I should have had to employ a clerk, and he would either have lived here with us or I should have had to pay him enough to keep house for himself. Now in fact you are a clerk; for though you are only here for six hours a week—you do all the work there is to do, and no clerk could do more. Well, we have got an attic upstairs which is not used, and if you like to come here and live with us, my wife and I will make you heartily welcome."
"Thank you, indeed," Cyril said warmly. "It is of all things what I should like; but of course I should wish to pay you for my board. I can afford to do so if you will employ me for the same hours as at present."
"No, I would not have that, lad; but if you like we can reckon your board against what I now pay you. We feed John Wilkes and the two apprentices, and one mouth extra will make but little difference. I don't want it to be a matter of obligation, so we will put your board against the work you do for me. I shall consider that we are making a good bargain."
"It is your pleasure to say so, sir, but I cannot tell you what a load your kind offer takes off my mind. The future has seemed very dark to me."
"Very well. That matter is settled, then. Come upstairs with me and I will present you to my wife and daughter; they have heard me speak of you so often that they will be glad to see you. In the first place, though, I must ask you your name. Since you first signed articles and entered the crew I have never thought of asking you."
"My name is Cyril, sir—Cyril Shenstone."
His employer nodded and at once led the way upstairs. A motherly looking woman rose from the seat where she was sitting at work, as they entered the living-room.
"This is my Prince of Scriveners, Mary, the lad I have often spoken to you about. His name is Cyril; he has accepted the proposal we talked over last night, and is going to become one of the crew on board our ship."
"I am glad to see you," she said to Cyril, holding out her hand to him. "I have not met you before, but I feel very grateful to you. Till you came, my husband was bothered nearly out of his wits; he used to sit here worrying over his books, and writing from the time the shop closed till the hour for bed, and Nellie and I dared not to say as much as a word. Now we see no more of his books, and he is able to go out for a walk in the fields with us as he used to do before."
"It is very kind of you to say so, Mistress," Cyril said earnestly; "but it is I, on the contrary, who am deeply grateful to you for the offer Captain Dave has been good enough to make me. You cannot tell the pleasure it has given me, for you cannot understand how lonely and friendless I have been feeling. Believe me, I will strive to give you as little trouble as possible, and to conform myself in all ways to your wishes."
At this moment Nellie Dowsett came into the room. She was a pretty girl some eighteen years of age.
"This is Cyril, your father's assistant, Nellie," her mother said.
"You are welcome, Master Cyril. I have been wanting to see you. Father has been praising you up to the skies so often that I have had quite a curiosity to see what you could be like."
"Your father is altogether too good, Mistress Nellie, and makes far more of my poor ability than it deserves."
"And is he going to live with us, mother?" Nellie asked.
"Yes, child; he has accepted your father's offer."
Nellie clapped her hands.
"That is good," she said. "I shall expect you to escort me out sometimes, Cyril. Father always wants me to go down to the wharf to look at the ships or to go into the fields; but I want to go sometimes to see the fashions, and there is no one to take me, for John Wilkes always goes off to smoke a pipe with some sailor or other, and the apprentices are stupid and have nothing to say for themselves; and besides, one can't walk alongside a boy in an apprentice cap."
"I shall be very happy to, Mistress, when my work is done, though I fear that I shall make but a poor escort, for indeed I have had no practice whatever in the esquiring of dames."
"I am sure you will do very well," Nellie said, nodding approvingly. "Is it true that you have been in France? Father said he was told so."
"Yes; I have lived almost all my life in France."
"And do you speak French?"
"Yes; I speak it as well as English."
"It must have been very hard to learn?"
"Not at all. It came to me naturally, just as English did."
"You must not keep him any longer now, Nellie; he has other appointments to keep, and when he has done that, to go and pack up his things and see that they are brought here by a porter. He can answer some more of your questions when he comes here this evening."
Cyril returned to Holborn with a lighter heart than he had felt for a long time. His preparations for the move took him but a short time, and two hours later he was installed in a little attic in the ship-chandler's house. He spent half-an-hour in unpacking his things, and then heard a stentorian shout from below,—
"Masthead, ahoy! Supper's waiting."
Supposing that this hail was intended for himself, he at once went downstairs. The table was laid. Mistress Dowsett took her seat at the head; her husband sat on one side of her, and Nellie on the other. John Wilkes sat next to his master, and beyond him the elder of the two apprentices. A seat was left between Nellie and the other apprentice for Cyril.
"Now our crew is complete, John," Captain Dave said. "We have been wanting a supercargo badly."
"Ay, ay, Captain Dave, there is no doubt we have been short-handed in that respect; but things have been more ship-shape lately."
"That is so, John. I can make a shift to keep the vessel on her course, but when it comes to writing up the log, and keeping the reckoning, I make but a poor hand at it. It was getting to be as bad as that voyage of the Jane in the Levant, when the supercargo had got himself stabbed at Lemnos."
"I mind it, Captain—I mind it well. And what a trouble there was with the owners when we got back again!"
"Yes, yes," the Captain said; "it was worse work than having a brush with a Barbary corsair. I shall never forget that day. When I went to the office to report, the three owners were all in.
"'Well, Captain Dave, back from your voyage?' said the littlest of the three. 'Made a good voyage, I hope?'
"First-rate, says I, except that the supercargo got killed at Lemnos by one of them rascally Greeks.
"'Dear, dear,' said another of them—he was a prim, sanctimonious sort—'Has our brother Jenkins left us?'
"I don't know about his leaving us, says I, but we left him sure enough in a burying-place there.
"'And how did you manage without him?'
"I made as good a shift as I could, I said. I have sold all the cargo, and I have brought back a freight of six tons of Turkey figs, and four hundred boxes of currants. And these two bags hold the difference.
"'Have you brought the books with you, Captain?'
"Never a book, said I. I have had to navigate the ship and to look after the crew, and do the best I could at each port. The books are on board, made out up to the day before the supercargo was killed, three months ago; but I have never had time to make an entry since.
"They looked at each other like owls for a minute or two, and then they all began to talk at once. How had I sold the goods? had I charged the prices mentioned in the invoice? what percentage had I put on for profit? and a lot of other things. I waited until they were all out of breath, and then I said I had not bothered about invoices. I knew pretty well the prices such things cost in England. I clapped on so much more for the expenses of the voyage and a fair profit. I could tell them what I had paid for the figs and the currants, and for some bags of Smyrna sponges I had bought, but as to the prices I had charged, it was too much to expect that I could carry them in my head. All I knew was I had paid for the things I had bought, I had paid all the port dues and other charges, I had advanced the men one-fourth of their wages each month, and I had brought them back the balance.
"Such a hubbub you never heard. One would have thought they would have gone raving mad. The sanctimonious partner was the worst of the lot. He threatened me with the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen, and went on till I thought he would have had a fit.
"Look here, says I, at last, I'll tell you what I will do. You tell me what the cargo cost you altogether, and put on so much for the hire of the ship. I will pay you for them and settle up with the crew, and take the cargo and sell it. That is a fair offer. And I advise you to keep civil tongues in your heads, or I will knock them off and take my chance before the Lord Mayor for assault and battery.
"With that I took off my coat and laid it on a bench. I reckon they saw that I was in earnest, and they just sat as mum as mice. Then the little man said, in a quieter sort of voice,—
"'You are too hasty, Captain Dowsett. We know you to be an honest man and a good sailor, and had no suspicion that you would wrong us; but no merchant in the City of London could hear that his business had been conducted in such a way as you have carried it through without for a time losing countenance. Let us talk the matter over reasonably and quietly.'
"That is just what I am wanting, I said; and if there hasn't been reason and quiet it is from no fault of mine.
"'Well, please to put your coat on again, Captain, and let us see how matters stand!'
"Then they took their ink-horns and pens, and, on finding out what I had paid for the figs and other matters, they reckoned them up; then they put down what I said was due to the sailors and the mate and myself; then they got out some books, and for an hour they were busy reckoning up figures; then they opened the bags and counted up the gold we had brought home. Well, when they had done, you would hardly have known them for the same men. First of all, they went through all their calculations again to be sure they had made no mistake about them; then they laid down their pens, and the sanctimonious man mopped the perspiration from his face, and the others smiled at each other. Then the biggest of the three, who had scarcely spoken before, said,—
"'Well, Captain Dowsett, I must own that my partners were a little hasty. The result of our calculations is that the voyage has been a satisfactory one, I may almost say very satisfactory, and that you must have disposed of the goods to much advantage. It has been a new and somewhat extraordinary way of doing business, but I am bound to say that the result has exceeded our expectations, and we trust that you will command the Jane for many more voyages.'
"Not for me, says I. You can hand me over the wages due to me, and you will find the Jane moored in the stream just above the Tower. You will find her in order and shipshape; but never again do I set my foot on board her or on any other vessel belonging to men who have doubted my honesty.
"Nor did I. I had a pretty good name among traders, and ten days later I started for the Levant again in command of a far smarter vessel than the Jane had ever been."
"And we all went with you, Captain," John Wilkes said, "every man jack of us. And on her very next voyage the Jane was captured by the Algerines, and I reckon there are some of the poor fellows working as slaves there now; for though Blake did blow the place pretty nigh out of water a few years afterwards, it is certain that the Christian slaves handed over to him were not half those the Moors had in their hands."
"It would seem, Captain Dowsett, from your story, that you can manage very well without a supercargo?" Cyril said quietly.
"Ay, lad; but you see that was a ready-money business. I handed over the goods and took the cash; there was no accounts to be kept. It was all clear and above board. But it is a different thing in this ship altogether, when, instead of paying down on the nail for what they get, you have got to keep an account of everything and send in all their items jotted down in order. Why, Nellie, your tongue seems quieter than usual."
"You have not given me a chance, father. You have been talking ever since we sat down to table."
Supper was now over. The two apprentices at once retired. Cyril would have done the same, but Mistress Dowsett said,—
"Sit you still, Cyril. The Captain says that you are to be considered as one of the officers of the ship, and we shall be always glad to have you here, though of course you can always go up to your own room, or go out, when you feel inclined."
"I have to go out three times a week to work," Cyril said; "but all the other evenings I shall be glad indeed to sit here, Mistress Dowsett. You cannot tell what a pleasure it is to me to be in an English home like this."
It was not long before John Wilkes went out.
"He is off to smoke his pipe," the Captain said. "I never light mine till he goes. I can't persuade him to take his with me; he insists it would not be manners to smoke in the cabin."
"He is quite right, father," Nellie said. "It is bad enough having you smoke here. When mother's friends or mine come in they are well-nigh choked; they are not accustomed to it as we are, for a respectable London citizen does not think of taking tobacco."
"I am a London citizen, Nellie, but I don't set up any special claim to respectability. I am a sea-captain, though that rascally Greek cannon-ball and other circumstances have made a trader of me, sorely against my will; and if I could not have my pipe and my glass of grog here I would go and sit with John Wilkes in the tavern at the corner of the street, and I suppose that would not be even as respectable as smoking here."
"Nellie doesn't mean, David, that she wants you to give up smoking; only she thinks that John is quite right to go out to take his pipe. And I must say I think so too. You know that when you have sea-captains of your acquaintance here, you always send the maid off to bed and smoke in the kitchen."
"Ay, ay, my dear, I don't want to turn your room into a fo'castle. There is reason in all things. I suppose you don't smoke, Master Cyril?"
"No, Captain Dave, I have never so much as thought of such a thing. In France it is the fashion to take snuff, but the habit seemed to me a useless one, and I don't think that I should ever have taken to it."
"I wonder," Captain Dave said, after they had talked for some time, "that after living in sight of the sea for so long your thoughts never turned that way."
"I cannot say that I have never thought of it," Cyril said. "I have thought that I should greatly like to take foreign voyages, but I should not have cared to go as a ship's boy, and to live with men so ignorant that they could not even write their own names. My thoughts have turned rather to the Army; and when I get older I think of entering some foreign service, either that of Sweden or of one of the Protestant German princes. I could obtain introductions through which I might enter as a cadet, or gentleman volunteer. I have learnt German, and though I cannot speak it as I can French or English, I know enough to make my way in it."
"Can you use your sword, Cyril?" Nellie Dowsett asked.
"I have had very good teaching," Cyril replied, "and hope to be able to hold my own."
"Then you are not satisfied with this mode of life?" Mistress Dowsett said.
"I am satisfied with it, Mistress, inasmuch as I can earn money sufficient to keep me. But rather than settle down for life as a city scrivener, I would go down to the river and ship on board the first vessel that would take me, no matter where she sailed for."
"I think you are wrong," Mistress Dowsett said gravely. "My husband tells me how clever you are at figures, and you might some day get a good post in the house of one of our great merchants."
"Maybe it would be so," Cyril said; "but such a life would ill suit me. I have truly a great desire to earn money: but it must be in some way to suit my taste."
"And why do you want to earn a great deal of money, Cyril?" Nellie laughed, while her mother shook her head disapprovingly.
"I wish to have enough to buy my father's estate back again," he said, "and though I know well enough that it is not likely I shall ever do it, I shall fight none the worse that I have such a hope in my mind."
"Bravo, lad!" Captain Dave said. "I knew not that there was an estate in the case, though I did hear that you were the son of a Royalist. It is a worthy ambition, boy, though if it is a large one 'tis scarce like that you will get enough to buy it back again."
"It is not a very large one," Cyril said. "'Tis down in Norfolk, but it was a grand old house—at least, so I have heard my father say, though I have but little remembrance of it, as I was but three years old when I left it. My father, who was Sir Aubrey Shenstone, had hoped to recover it; but he was one of the many who sold their estates for far less than their value in order to raise money in the King's service, and, as you are aware, none of those who did so have been reinstated, but only those who, having had their land taken from them by Parliament, recovered them because their owners had no title-deeds to show, save the grant of Parliament that was of no effect in the Courts. Thus the most loyal men—those who sold their estates to aid the King—have lost all, while those that did not so dispossess themselves in his service are now replaced on their land."
"It seems very unfair," Nellie said indignantly.
"It is unfair to them, assuredly, Mistress Nellie. And yet it would be unfair to the men who bought, though often they gave but a tenth of their value, to be turned out again unless they received their money back. It is not easy to see where that money could come from, for assuredly the King's privy purse would not suffice to pay all the money, and equally certain is it that Parliament would not vote a great sum for that purpose."
"It is a hard case, lad—a hard case," Captain Dave said, as he puffed the smoke from his pipe. "Now I know how you stand, I blame, you in no way that you long more for a life of adventure than to settle down as a city scrivener. I don't think even my wife, much as she thinks of the city, could say otherwise."
"It alters the case much," Mistress Dowsett said. "I did not know that Cyril was the son of a Knight, though it was easy enough to see that his manners accord not with his present position. Still there are fortunes made in the city, and no honest work is dishonouring even to a gentleman's son."
"Not at all, Mistress," Cyril said warmly. "'Tis assuredly not on that account that I would fain seek more stirring employment; but it was always my father's wish and intention that, should there be no chance of his ever regaining the estate, I should enter foreign service, and I have always looked forward to that career."
"Well, I will wager that you will do credit to it, lad," Captain Dave said. "You have proved that you are ready to turn your hand to any work that may come to you. You have shown a manly spirit, my boy, and I honour you for it; and by St. Anthony I believe that some day, unless a musket-ball or a pike-thrust brings you up with a round turn, you will live to get your own back again."
Cyril remained talking for another two hours, and then betook himself to bed. After he had gone, Mistress Dowsett said, after a pause,—
"Do you not think, David, that, seeing that Cyril is the son of a Knight, it would be more becoming to give him the room downstairs instead of the attic where he is now lodged?"
The old sailor laughed.
"That is woman-kind all over," he said. "It was good enough for him before, and now forsooth, because the lad mentioned, and assuredly in no boasting way, that his father had been a Knight, he is to be treated differently. He would not thank you himself for making the change, dame. In the first place, it would make him uncomfortable, and he might make an excuse to leave us altogether; and in the second, you may be sure that he has been used to no better quarters than those he has got. The Royalists in France were put to sore shifts to live, and I fancy that he has fared no better since he came home. His father would never have consented to his going out to earn money by keeping the accounts of little city traders like myself had it not been that he was driven to it by want. No, no, wife; let the boy go on as he is, and make no difference in any way. I liked him before, and I like him all the better now, for putting his gentlemanship in his pocket and setting manfully to work instead of hanging on the skirts of some Royalist who has fared better than his father did. He is grateful as it is—that is easy to see—for our taking him in here. We did that partly because he proved a good worker and has taken a lot of care off my shoulders, partly because he was fatherless and alone. I would not have him think that we are ready to do more because he is a Knight's son. Let the boy be, and suffer him to steer his ship his own course. If, when the time comes, we can further his objects in any way we will do it with right good will. What do you think of him, Nellie?" he asked, changing the subject.
"He is a proper young fellow, father, and I shall be well content to go abroad escorted by him instead of having your apprentice, Robert Ashford, in attendance on me. He has not a word to say for himself, and truly I like him not in anyway."
"He is not a bad apprentice, Nellie, and John Wilkes has but seldom cause to find fault with him, though I own that I have no great liking myself for him; he never seems to look one well in the face, which, I take it, is always a bad sign. I know no harm of him; but when his apprenticeship is out, which it will be in another year, I shall let him go his own way, for I should not care to have him on the premises."
"Methinks you are very unjust, David. The lad is quiet and regular in his ways; he goes twice every Sunday to the Church of St. Alphage, and always tells me the texts of the sermons."
The Captain grunted.
"Maybe so, wife; but it is easy to get hold of the text of a sermon without having heard it. I have my doubts whether he goes as regularly to St. Alphage's as he says he does. Why could he not go with us to St. Bennet's?"
"He says he likes the administrations of Mr. Catlin better, David. And, in truth, our parson is not one of the stirring kind."
"So much the better," Captain Dave said bluntly. "I like not these men that thump the pulpit and make as if they were about to jump out head foremost. However, I don't suppose there is much harm in the lad, and it may be that his failure to look one in the face is not so much his fault as that of nature, which endowed him with a villainous squint. Well, let us turn in; it is past nine o'clock, and high time to be a-bed."
Cyril seemed to himself to have entered upon a new life when he stepped across the threshold of David Dowsett's store. All his cares and anxieties had dropped from him. For the past two years he had lived the life of an automaton, starting early to his work, returning in the middle of the day to his dinner,—to which as often as not he sat down alone,—and spending his evenings in utter loneliness in the bare garret, where he was generally in bed long before his father returned. He blamed himself sometimes during the first fortnight of his stay here for the feeling of light-heartedness that at times came over him. He had loved his father in spite of his faults, and should, he told himself, have felt deeply depressed at his loss; but nature was too strong for him. The pleasant evenings with Captain Dave and his family were to him delightful; he was like a traveller who, after a cold and cheerless journey, comes in to the warmth of a fire, and feels a glow of comfort as the blood circulates briskly through his veins. Sometimes, when he had no other engagements, he went out with Nellie Dowsett, whose lively chatter was new and very amusing to him. Sometimes they went up into Cheapside, and into St. Paul's, but more often sallied out of the city at Aldgate, and walked into the fields. On these occasions he carried a stout cane that had been his father's, for Nellie tried in vain to persuade him to gird on a sword.
"You are a gentleman, Cyril," she would argue, "and have a right to carry one."
"I am for the present a sober citizen, Mistress Nellie, and do not wish to assume to be of any other condition. Those one sees with swords are either gentlemen of the Court, or common bullies, or maybe highwaymen. After nightfall it is different; for then many citizens carry their swords, which indeed are necessary to protect them from the ruffians who, in spite of the city watch, oftentimes attack quiet passers-by; and if at any time I escort you to the house of one of your friends, I shall be ready to take my sword with me. But in the daytime there is no occasion for a weapon, and, moreover, I am full young to carry one, and this stout cane would, were it necessary, do me good service, for I learned in France the exercise that they call the baton, which differs little from our English singlestick."
While Cyril was received almost as a member of the family by Captain Dave and his wife, and found himself on excellent terms with John Wilkes, he saw that he was viewed with dislike by the two apprentices. He was scarcely surprised at this. Before his coming, Robert Ashford had been in the habit of escorting his young mistress when she went out, and had no doubt liked these expeditions, as a change from the measuring out of ropes and weighing of iron in the store. Then, again, the apprentices did not join in the conversation at table unless a remark was specially addressed to them; and as Captain Dave was by no means fond of his elder apprentice, it was but seldom that he spoke to him. Robert Ashford was between eighteen and nineteen. He was no taller than Cyril, but it would have been difficult to judge his age by his face, which had a wizened look; and, as Nellie said one day, in his absence, he might pass very well for sixty.
It was easy enough for Cyril to see that Robert Ashford heartily disliked him; the covert scowls that he threw across the table at meal-time, and the way in which he turned his head and feigned to be too busy to notice him as he passed through the shop, were sufficient indications of ill-will. The younger apprentice, Tom Frost, was but a boy of fifteen; he gave Cyril the idea of being a timid lad. He did not appear to share his comrade's hostility to him, but once or twice, when Cyril came out from the office after making up the accounts of the day, he fancied that the boy glanced at him with an expression of anxiety, if not of terror.
"If it were not," Cyril said to himself, "that Tom is clearly too nervous and timid to venture upon an act of dishonesty, I should say that he had been pilfering something; but I feel sure that he would not attempt such a thing as that, though I am by no means certain that Robert Ashford, with his foxy face and cross eyes, would not steal his master's goods or any one else's did he get the chance. Unless he were caught in the act, he could do it with impunity, for everything here is carried on in such a free-and-easy fashion that any amount of goods might be carried off without their being missed."
After thinking the matter over, he said, one afternoon when his employer came in while he was occupied at the accounts,—
"I have not seen anything of a stock-book, Captain Dave. Everything else is now straight, and balanced up to to-day. Here is the book of goods sold, the book of goods received, and the ledger with the accounts; but there is no stock-book such as I find in almost all the other places where I work."
"What do I want with a stock-book?" Captain Dave asked.
"You cannot know how you stand without it," Cyril replied. "You know how much you have paid, and how much you have received during the year; but unless you have a stock-book you do not know whether the difference between the receipts and expenditure represents profit, for the stock may have so fallen in value during the year that you may really have made a loss while seeming to make a profit."
"How can that be?" Captain Dave asked. "I get a fair profit on every article."
"There ought to be a profit, of course," Cyril said; "but sometimes it is found not to be so. Moreover, if there is a stock-book you can tell at any time, without the trouble of opening bins and weighing metal, how much stock you have of each article you sell, and can order your goods accordingly."
"How would you do that?"
"It is very simple, Captain Dave," Cyril said. "After taking stock of the whole of the goods, I should have a ledger in which each article would have a page or more to itself, and every day I should enter from John Wilkes's sales-book a list of the goods that have gone out, each under its own heading. Thus, at any moment, if you were to ask how much chain you had got in stock I could tell you within a fathom. When did you take stock last?"
"I should say it was about fifteen months since. It was only yesterday John Wilkes was saying we had better have a thorough overhauling."
"Quite time, too, I should think, Captain Dave. I suppose you have got the account of your last stock-taking, with the date of it?"
"Oh, yes, I have got that;" and the Captain unlocked his desk and took out an account-book. "It has been lying there ever since. It took a wonderful lot of trouble to do, and I had a clerk and two men in for a fortnight, for of course John and the boys were attending to their usual duties. I have often wondered since why I should have had all that trouble over a matter that has never been of the slightest use to me."
"Well, I hope you will take it again, sir; it is a trouble, no doubt, but you will find it a great advantage."
"Are you sure you think it needful, Cyril?"
"Most needful, Captain Dave. You will see the advantage of it afterwards."
"Well, if you think so, I suppose it must be done," the Captain said, with a sigh; "but it will be giving you a lot of trouble to keep this new book of yours."
"That is nothing, sir. Now that I have got all the back work up it will be a simple matter to keep the daily work straight. I shall find ample time to do it without any need of lengthening my hours."
Cyril now set to work in earnest, and telling Mrs. Dowsett he had some books that he wanted to make up in his room before going to bed, he asked her to allow him to keep his light burning.
Mrs. Dowsett consented, but shook her head and said he would assuredly injure his health if he worked by candle light.
Fortunately, John Wilkes had just opened a fresh sales-book, and Cyril told him that he wished to refer to some particulars in the back books. He first opened the ledger by inscribing under their different heads the amount of each description of goods kept in stock at the last stock-taking, and then entered under their respective heads all the sales that had been made, while on an opposite page he entered the amount purchased. It took him a month's hard work, and he finished it on the very day that the new stock-taking concluded.
A THIEF SOMEWHERE
Two days after the conclusion of the stock-taking, Cyril said, after breakfast was over,—
"Would it trouble you, Captain Dave, to give me an hour up here before you go downstairs to the counting-house. I am free for two hours now, and there is a matter upon which I should like to speak to you privately."
"Certainly, lad," the old sailor said, somewhat surprised. "We shall be quiet enough here, as soon as the table is cleared. My dame and Nellie will be helping the maid do up the cabins, and will then be sallying out marketing."
When the maid had cleared the table, Cyril went up to his room and returned with a large ledger and several smaller books.
"I have, for the last month, Captain Dave, been making up this stock-book for my own satisfaction."
"Bless me, lad, why have you taken all that trouble? This accounts, then, for your writing so long at night, for which my dame has been quarrelling with you!"
"It was interesting work," Cyril said quietly. "Now, you see, sir," he went on, opening the big ledger, "here are the separate accounts under each head. These pages, you see, are for heavy cables for hawsers; of these, at the date of the last stock-taking, there were, according to the book you handed to me, five hundred fathoms in stock. These are the amounts you have purchased since. Now, upon the other side are all the sales of this cable entered in the sales-book. Adding them together, and deducting them from the other side, you will see there should remain in stock four hundred and fifty fathoms. According to the new stock-taking there are four hundred and thirty-eight. That is, I take it, as near as you could expect to get, for, in the measuring out of so many thousand fathoms of cable during the fifteen months between the two stock-takings, there may well have been a loss of the twelve fathoms in giving good measurement."
"That is so," Captain Dave said. "I always say to John Wilkes, 'Give good measurement, John—better a little over than a little under.' Nothing can be clearer or more satisfactory."
Cyril closed the book.
"I am sorry to say, Captain Dave, all the items are not so satisfactory, and that I greatly fear that you have been robbed to a considerable amount."
"Robbed, lad!" the Captain said, starting up from his chair. "Who should rob me? Not John Wilkes, I can be sworn! Not the two apprentices for a surety, for they never go out during the day, and John keeps a sharp look-out upon them, and the entrance to the shop is always locked and barred after work is over, so that none can enter without getting the key, which, as you know, John always brings up and hands to me as soon as he has fastened the door! You are mistaken, lad, and although I know that your intentions are good, you should be careful how you make a charge that might bring ruin to innocent men. Carelessness there may be; but robbery! No; assuredly not."
"I have not brought the charge without warrant, Captain Dave," Cyril said gravely, "and if you will bear with me for a few minutes, I think you will see that there is at least something that wants looking into."
"Well, it is only fair after the trouble you have taken, lad, that I should hear what you have to say; but it will need strong evidence indeed to make me believe that there has been foul play."
"Well, sir," Cyril said, opening the ledger again, "in the first place, I would point out that in all the heavy articles, such as could not conveniently be carried away, the tally of the stock-takers corresponds closely with the figures in this book. In best bower anchors the figures are absolutely the same and, as you have seen, in heavy cables they closely correspond. In the large ship's compasses, the ship's boilers, and ship's galleys, the numbers tally exactly. So it is with all the heavy articles; the main blocks are correct, and all other heavy gear. This shows that John Wilkes's book is carefully kept, and it would be strange indeed if heavy goods had all been properly entered, and light ones omitted; but yet when we turn to small articles, we find that there is a great discrepancy between the figures. Here is the account, for instance, of the half-inch rope. According to my ledger, there should be eighteen hundred fathoms in stock, whereas the stock-takers found but three hundred and eighty. In two-inch rope there is a deficiency of two hundred and thirty fathoms, in one-inch rope of six hundred and twenty. These sizes, as you know, are always in requisition, and a thief would find ready purchasers for a coil of any of them. But, as might be expected, it is in copper that the deficiency is most serious. Of fourteen-inch bolts, eighty-two are short, of twelve-inch bolts a hundred and thirty, of eight-inch three hundred and nine; and so on throughout almost all the copper stores. According to your expenditure and receipt-book, Captain Dave, you have made, in the last fifteen months, twelve hundred and thirty pounds; but according to this book your stock is less in value, by two thousand and thirty-four pounds, than it should have been. You are, therefore, a poorer man than you were at the beginning of this fifteen months' trading, by eight hundred and four pounds."
Captain Dave sat down in his chair, breathing hard. He took out his handkerchief and wiped the drops of perspiration from his forehead.
"Are you sure of this, boy?" he said hoarsely. "Are you sure that you have made no mistake in your figures?"
"Quite sure," Cyril said firmly. "In all cases in which I have found deficiencies I have gone through the books three times and compared the figures, and I am sure that if you put the books into the hands of any city accountant, he will bear out my figures."
For a time Captain Dave sat silent.
"Hast any idea," he said at last, "how this has come about?"
"I have none," Cyril replied. "That John Wilkes is not concerned in it I am as sure as you are; and, thinking the matter over, I see not how the apprentices could have carried off so many articles, some heavy and some bulky, when they left the shop in the evening, without John Wilkes noticing them. So sure am I, that my advice would be that you should take John Wilkes into your confidence, and tell him how matters stand. My only objection to that is that he is a hasty man, and that I fear he would not be able to keep his countenance, so that the apprentices would remark that something was wrong. I am far from saying that they have any hand in it; it would be a grievous wrong to them to have suspicions when there is no shadow of evidence against them; but at any rate, if this matter is to be stopped and the thieves detected, it is most important that they should have, if they are guilty, no suspicion that they are in any way being watched, or that these deficiencies have been discovered. If they have had a hand in the matter they most assuredly had accomplices, for such goods could not be disposed of by an apprentice to any dealer without his being sure that they must have been stolen."
"You are right there, lad—quite right. Did John Wilkes know that I had been robbed in this way he would get into a fury, and no words could restrain him from falling upon the apprentices and beating them till he got some of the truth out of them."
"They may be quite innocent," Cyril said. "It may be that the thieves have discovered some mode of entry into the store either by opening the shutters at the back, or by loosening a board, or even by delving up under the ground. It is surely easier to believe this than that the boys can have contrived to carry off so large a quantity of goods under John Wilkes's eye."
"That is so, lad. I have never liked Robert Ashford, but God forbid that I should suspect him of such crime only because his forehead is as wrinkled as an ape's, and Providence has set his eyes crossways in his head. You cannot always judge a ship by her upper works; she may be ugly to the eye and yet have a clear run under water. Still, you can't help going by what you see. I agree with you that if we tell John Wilkes about this, those boys will know five minutes afterwards that the ship is on fire; but if we don't tell him, how are we to get to the bottom of what is going on?"
"That is a difficult question, but a few days will not make much difference, when we know that it has been going on for over a year, and may, for aught we know, have been going on much longer. The first thing, Captain Dave, is to send these books to an accountant, for him to go through them and check my figures."
"There is no need for that, lad. I know how careful you are, and you cannot have gone so far wrong as all this."
"No, sir, I am sure that there is no mistake; but, for your own sake as well as mine, it were well that you should have the signature of an accountant to the correctness of the books. If you have to lay the matter before the magistrates, they would not take my testimony as to your losses, and might even say that you were rash in acting upon the word of a boy like myself, and you might then be obliged to have the accounts made up anew, which would cost you more, and cause much delay in the process; whereas, if you put in your books and say that their correctness is vouched for by an accountant, no question would arise on it; nor would there be any delay now, for while the books are being gone into, we can be trying to get to the bottom of the matter here."
"Ay, ay, it shall be done, Master Cyril, as you say. But for the life of me I don't see how we are to get at the bottom of the ship to find out where she is leaking!"
"It seems to me that the first thing, Captain Dave, is to see to the warehouse. As we agreed that the apprentices cannot have carried out all these goods under John Wilkes's eye, and cannot have come down night after night through the house, the warehouse must have been entered from without. As I never go in there, it would be best that you should see to this matter yourself. There are the fastenings of the shutters in the first place, then the boardings all round. As for me, I will look round outside. The window of my room looks into the street, but if you will take me to one of the rooms at the back we can look at the surroundings of the yard, and may gather some idea whether the goods can have been passed over into any of the houses abutting on it, or, as is more likely, into the lane that runs up by its side."
The Captain led the way into one of the rooms at the back of the house, and opening the casement, he and Cyril leaned out. The store occupied fully half the yard, the rest being occupied by anchors, piles of iron, ballast, etc. There were two or three score of guns of various sizes piled on each other. A large store of cannon-ball was ranged in a great pyramid close by. A wall some ten feet high separated the yard from the lane Cyril had spoken of. On the left, adjoining the warehouse, was the yard of the next shop, which belonged to a wool-stapler. Behind were the backs of a number of small houses crowded in between Tower Street and Leadenhall Street.
"I suppose you do not know who lives in those houses, Captain Dave?"
"No, indeed. The land is not like the sea. Afloat, when one sees a sail, one wonders what is her nationality, and whither she is bound, and still more whether she is an honest trader or a rascally pirate; but here on land, one scarcely gives a thought as to who may dwell in the houses round."
"I will walk round presently," Cyril said, "and gather, as far as I can, who they are that live there; but, as I have said, I fancy it is over that wall and into the alley that your goods have departed. The apprentices' room is this side of the house, is it not?"
"Yes; John Wilkes sleeps in the room next to yours, and the door opposite to his is that of the lads' room."
"Do the windows of any of the rooms look into that lane?"
"No; it is a blank wall on that side."
"There is the clock striking nine," Cyril said, starting. "It is time for me to be off. Then you will take the books to-day, Captain Dave?"
"I will carry them off at once, and when I return will look narrowly into the fastenings of the two windows and door from the warehouse into the yard; and will take care to do so when the boys are engaged in the front shop."
When his work was done, Cyril went round to the houses behind the yard, and he found that they stood in a small court, with three or four trees growing in the centre, and were evidently inhabited by respectable citizens. Over the door of one was painted, "Joshua Heddings, Attorney"; next to him was Gilbert Gushing, who dealt in jewels, silks, and other precious commodities from the East; next to him was a doctor, and beyond a dealer in spices. This was enough to assure him that it was not through such houses as these that the goods had been carried.
Cyril had not been back at the mid-day meal, for his work that day lay up by Holborn Bar, where he had two customers whom he attended with but half an hour's interval between the visits, and on the days on which he went there he was accustomed to get something to eat at a tavern hard by.
Supper was an unusually quiet meal. Captain Dave now and then asked John Wilkes a question as to the business matters of the day, but evidently spoke with an effort. Nellie rattled on as usual; but the burden of keeping up the conversation lay entirely on her shoulders and those of Cyril. After the apprentices had left, and John Wilkes had started for his usual resort, the Captain lit his pipe. Nellie signed to Cyril to come and seat himself by her in the window that projected out over the street, and enabled the occupants of the seats at either side to have a view up and down it.
"What have you been doing to father, Cyril?" she asked, in low tones; "he has been quite unlike himself all day. Generally when he is out of temper he rates everyone heartily, as if we were a mutinous crew, but to-day he has gone about scarcely speaking; he hasn't said a cross word to any of us, but several times when I spoke to him I got no answer, and it is easy to see that he is terribly put out about something. He was in his usual spirits at breakfast; then, you know, he was talking with you for an hour, and it does not take much guessing to see that it must have been something that passed between you that has put him out. Now what was it?"