Rattlin the Reefer, by Edward Howard, and edited by Captain Marryat.
Captain Frederick Marryat was born July 10 1792, and died August 8 1848. He retired from the British navy in 1828 in order to devote himself to writing. In the following 20 years he wrote 26 books, many of which are among the very best of English literature, and some of which are still in print.
Marryat had an extraordinary gift for the invention of episodes in his stories. He says somewhere that when he sat down for the day's work, he never knew what he was going to write. He certainly was a literary genius.
"Rattlin The Reefer" was published in 1838, the twelfth book to flow from Marryat's pen. It had been written by Edward Howard, but needed a good deal of polishing before it could be published, which Marryat did. There is distinctly more flowery language than was normal with Marryat, and there are many long and unusual words that are not found elsewhere in Marryat's work. There is also a great use of Latin phrases to describe the action, most of which, fortunately, are little more than dog-Latin (i.e. the meaning can easily be decried).
This e-text was transcribed in 1998 by Nick Hodson, and was reformatted in 2003, and again in 2005.
RATTLIN THE REEFER, BY EDWARD HOWARD, AND EDITED BY CAPTAIN FREDERICK MARRYAT.
I BEGIN A LIFE WITHOUT A SIMILITUDE WITH A SIMILE—START OFF WITH FOUR HORSES—AND, FINALLY, I MAKE MY FIRST APPEARANCE ON ANY STAGE, UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE "CROWN."
In the volume I am going to write, it is my intention to adhere rigidly to the truth—this will be bona fide an autobiography—and, as the public like novelty, an autobiography without an iota of fiction in the whole of it, will be the greatest novelty yet offered to its fastidiousness. As many of the events which will be my province to record, are singular and even startling, I may be permitted to sport a little moral philosophy, drawn from the kennel in Lower Thames Street, which may teach my readers to hesitate ere they condemn as invention mere matters of absolute, though uncommon fact.
Let us stand with that old gentleman under the porch of Saint Magnus's Church, for the rain is thrashing the streets till they actually look white, and the kennel before us is swelled into a formidable, and hardly fordable brook. That kennel is the stream of life—and a dirty and a weary one it is, if we may judge by the old gentleman's looks. All is hurried into that common sewer, the grave! What bubbles float down it! Everything that is fairly in the middle of the stream seems to sail with it, steadily and triumphantly—and many a filthy fragment enters the sewer with a pomp and dignity not unlike the funeral obsequies of a great lord. But my business is with that little chip; by some means it has been thrust out of the principal current, and, now that it is out, see what pranks it is playing. How erratic are its motions!—into what strange holes and corners it is thrust! The same phenomenon will happen in life. Once start a being out of the usual course of existence, and many and strange will be his adventures ere he once more be allowed to regain the common stream, and be permitted to float down, in silent tranquillity, to the grave common to all.
About seven o'clock in the evening of the 20th of February, 17—-, a post-chaise with four horses drove with fiery haste up to the door of the Crown Inn, at Reading. The evening had closed in bitterly. A continuous storm of mingled sleet and rain had driven every being who had a home, to the shelter it afforded. As the vehicle stopped, with a most consequential jerk, and the steps were flung down with that clatter post-boys will make when they can get four horses before their leathern boxes, the solitary inmate seemed to shrink further into its dark corner, instead of coming forward eagerly to exchange the comforts of the blazing hearth for the damp confinement of a hired chaise. Thrice had the obsequious landlord bowed his well-powdered head, and, at each inclination, wiped off; with the palm of his hand, the rain-drops that had settled on the central baldness of his occiput, ere the traveller seemed to be aware that such a man existed as the landlord of the Crown, or that that landlord was standing at the chaise-door. At length a female, closely veiled, and buried in shawls like a sultana, tremblingly took the proffered arm, and tottered into the hotel. Shortly after, mine host returned, attended by porter, waiter, and stable-boy—and giving, by the lady's orders, a handsome gratuity to each of the post-boys, asked for the traveller's luggage. There was none! At this announcement, the landlord, as he afterwards expressed himself was "struck all of a heap," though what he meant by it was never clearly comprehended, as any alteration in his curiously squat figure must have been an improvement. While he remained in perplexity and in the rain, the latter of which might easily have been avoided, another message arrived from the lady, ordering fresh horses to be procured, and those, with the chaise, to be kept in readiness to start at a moment's warning. More mystery and more perplexity! In fact, if these combined causes had been allowed to remain much longer in operation, the worthy landlord, instead of carrying on his business profitably, would have been carried off peremptorily, by a catarrh, his wife's nursing, and a doctor; but, fortunately, it struck one of the post-boys that rain was not necessary to a conversation, and sleet but a bad solvent of a mystery; so the posse adjourned into the tap, in order that the subject might be discussed more at the ease of the gentlemen who fancied themselves concerned in it.
"And you have not seen her face?" said mine host of the Crown.
"Shouldn't know her from Adam's grandmother," said the post-boy who had ridden the wheel-horses. "Howsomedever, I yeerd her sob and moan like a wheel as vants grease."
"You may say that," said the other post-boy, a little shrivelled old man, a good deal past sixty; "we lads see strange soights. I couldn't a-bear to see her siffer in that 'ere manner—I did feel for her almost as much as if she'd been an 'oss."
The landlord gave the two charioteers force de complimens for the tenderness of their feelings, the intensity of which he fully comprehended, as he changed for each his guinea, the bounty of the lady. When he found them in proper cue, that is to say, in the middle of their second glass of brandy-and-water, he proceeded in his cross-examination, and he learned from them that they had been engaged to wait at a certain spot, on an extensive heath some twelve miles distant; that they had hardly waited there an hour when a private carriage, containing the lady in question and a gentleman, arrived; that the lady, closely veiled, had been transferred from the one conveyance to the other, and that the post-boys had been ordered to drive with the utmost speed to the destination where they now found themselves.
This account seemed to satisfy the scruples of the landlord, which, of course, were by no means pecuniary, but merely moral, when in bounced the fiery-visaged landlady. He was forced to stand the small-shot of his wife. Poor man! he had only powder to reply to it, and that, just now, was woefully damp.
"You lazy, loitering, do-little, much-hindering, prateapace sot! here's the lady taken alarmingly ill. The physician has been sent for, and his carriage will be at the door before you blow that ill-looking nose of yours, that my blessed ten commandments are itching to score down—you paltry —- ah!"
With a very little voice, and a very great submission, mine host squeaked out, "Have you seen the lady's face?"
"Face! is it face you want? and ladies' faces too—haven't I got face enough for you—you apology, you!"
What the good woman said was indubitably true. She had face enough for any two moderately-visaged wives, and enough over and above to have supplied anyone who might have lost a portion of theirs. However, I will be more polite than the landlady, and acquaint the reader, that no one yet of the establishment had seen the lady's face, nor was it intended that anyone should.
As this squabble was growing into a quarrel the physician arrived; he had not been long alone with the unknown, before he sent for a surgeon, and the surgeon for a nurse. There was so much bustle, alarm, and secrecy, above-stairs, that the landlord began to consider which of the two undertakers, his friends, he should favour with the anticipated job, and rubbed his hands as he dwelt on the idea of a coroner's inquest, and the attendant dinner. The landlady was nearly raving mad at being excluded from what she supposed was the bed of death. Hot flannels and warm water were now eagerly called for—and these demands were looked upon as a sure sign that dissolution approached.
The stairs approaching the lady's chamber were lined with master, mistress, man-servant and maid-servants, all eagerly listening to the awful bustle within. At length there is a dead silence of some minutes. The listeners shuddered.
"It is all over with her!" ejaculates one tender-hearted manoeuvrer of the warming-pan, with her apron in the corner her eye. "Poor lady! it is all over with her!"
It was exactly two in the morning of the 21st that a shrill cry was heard. Shortly after, the door was flung open by the nurse, and a new edition of an embryo reefer appeared in her arms, and very manfully did the play of his lungs make everyone present aware that somebody had made his appearance. The supposed bed of death turned out to be a bed of life, and another being was born to wail, to sin, and to die, as myriads have wailed, and sinned, and died before him.
I AM DECIDEDLY AN INCUMBRANCE—BEGIN LIFE WITH HALF A DOZEN FRUITLESS JOURNEYS—FIND A HOME AND A FOSTER FATHER—AND TALK LEARNEDLY OF TRIANGLES AND ARCHBISHOPS.
What is to be done with the child? It is a fearful question, and has been often asked under every degree of suffering. Of all possible articles, a child is the most difficult to dispose of; a wife may be dispensed with without much heart-breaking—even a friend and rubbish may be shot out of the way, and the bosom remain tranquil; but a helpless, new-born infant!—O there is a pleading eloquence in its feeble wail that goes to the heart and ear of the stranger—and must act like living fire in the bowels of the mother.
The whole household were immediately sent in quest of a wet-nurse. At length one was found in the very pretty wife of a reprobate sawyer, of the name of Brandon. He had seen many vicissitudes of life—had been a soldier, a gentleman's servant, had been to sea, and was a shrewd, vicious, and hard man, with a most unquenchable passion for strong beer, and a steady addiction to skittles. His wife was a little gentle being, of an extremely compact and prepossessing figure; her face was ruddy with health, and, as said before, extremely pretty; for, had it not been for an air of what fear must call vulgarity, for want of a more gentle term, she would have merited the term of beautiful. Brandon was a top-sawyer, but, as three out of the six working days of the week he was to be found with a pot of porter by his side, pipe in mouth, and the skittle-ball in his hand, it is not surprising that there was much misery in his home, which he often heightened by his brutality. Yet was he a very pleasant fellow when he had money to spend, and actually a witty as well as a jovial dog when spending it. His wife had not long given birth to a fine girl, and the mother's bosom bled over the destitution with which her husband's recklessness had now made her so long familiar.
All this time your humble servant was squalling, and none were found who, under all the strange circumstances would take upon them the charge of an infant, about to be immediately forsaken by its mother. At length, one of the maid-servants at the inn remembered to have heard Mrs Brandon say, that rather than live on among all her squalidness and penury, she would endeavour to suckle another child besides her own; and, as she was then in redundant health, and had two fine breasts of milk,—for a fine breast of milk would not have served my turn, or, rather, Mary and I must have taken it by turns,—she was accordingly sent for. Yet, when she understood that I was to be placed that moment under her care, that no references could be given, and no address left in the case of accident, all her wishes to better herself and babe were not sufficiently strong to make her run the risk. A guinea-and-a-half a week was offered, and the first quarter tendered in advance, but in vain; at length, an additional ten-pound note gave her sufficient courage, and flannel being in request, I was thus launched to struggle with the world. The frantic kiss of the distracted mother was impressed on my lips, the agonised blessing was called down upon me from the God that she then thought not of interceding with for herself, and the solemn objurgation given to my foster-mother to have a religious and motherly care of me, by the love she bore her own child; and then, lest the distress of this scene should become fatal to her who bore me, I and my nurse were hurried away before the day of my birth had fully dawned.
This day happened to be one in which the top-sawyer had been graciously pleased to toss his arms up and down over the pit—not of destruction, but of preservation. He had started early, and, whilst he was setting the teeth on edge of all within hearing, by setting an edge to his saw, some very officious friend ran to him, to tell him that his wife was increasing his family, without even his permission having been asked. Instead, therefore, of making a dust in his own pit, he flung down his file, took up his lanthorn, and hurried along to kick up a dust at home. The brute! may he have to sharpen saws with bad files for half an eternity! He swore—how awfully the fellow swore!—that I should be turned from his inhospitable roof immediately—and my gentle nurse, adding her tears to my squalls, through that dismal, sleety morning, which was then breaking mistily upon so much wretchedness, was compelled to carry me back to my mother.
The most impassioned entreaties, and an additional five pounds, at length prevailed on Mrs Brandon to nestle me again in her bosom, and try to excite the sympathy of her husband. She returned to him, but the fellow had now taken to himself two counsellors, a drunken mate who served under him in the pit, and his own avarice. I am stating mere facts: I may not be believed—I cannot help it—but three times was I carried backwards and forwards, every transit producing to the sawyer five extra pounds, when, at length, my little head found a resting-place. All these events I have had over and over again from my nurse, and they are most faithfully recorded.
Before noon on that memorable morning the chaise-and-four were again at the door, and the veiled and shawl-enveloped lady was lifted in, and the vehicle dashed rapidly through the streets of Reading, in a northerly direction. I pretend not to relate facts of which I have never had an assured knowledge; I cannot state to where that chaise and its desolate occupant proceeded, nor can I give a moving description of feelings that I did not witness. When I afterwards knew that that lady was my mother, I never dared question her upon these points, but, from the strength, the intensity of every good and affectionate feeling that marked her character, I can only conceive, that, if that journey was made in the stupor of weakness and exhaustion, or even in the wanderings of delirium, it must have been, to her, a dispensation of infinite mercy.
She deserted her new-born infant—she flung forth her child from the warmth of her own bosom to the cold, hireling kindness of the stranger. I think I hear some puritanical, world-observing, starched piece of female rigidity exclaim, "And therein she did a great wickedness." The fact I admit, but the wickedness I deny utterly.
That there were misery and much suffering inflicted, I do not deny; but of all guilt, even of all blame, I eagerly acquit one, whose principles of action were as pure, and the whole tenor of whose life was as upright, as even Virtue herself could have dictated. Let the guilt and the misery attendant upon this desertion of myself be attached to the real sinners!
I have before said that Brandon was a top sawyer. We must now call him Mr Brandon—he has purchased a pair of top boots, a swell top coat, and though now frequently top heavy, thinks himself altogether a topping gentleman. He is now to be seen more frequently in the skittle-ground, clasping a half-gallon, instead of a quart of beer. He decides authoritatively upon foul and fair play, and his voice is potential on almost all matters in debate at the Two Jolly Sawyers, near Lambeth Walk, just at the top of Cut-throat Lane.
All this is now altered. We look in vain for the Two Jolly Sawyers. We may ask, where are they? and not Echo, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, must answer where—for he has most sacerdotally put down all the jollity there, by pulling down the house, and has built up a large wharf, where once stood a very pretty tree-besprinkled walk, leading to the said Jolly Sawyers. Cut-throat Lane is no more; yet, though it bore a villainous name, it was very pretty to walk through; and its many turnstiles were as so many godsends to the little boys, as they enjoyed on them, gratis, some blithe rides, that they would have had to pay for at any fair in the kingdom. We can very well understand why the turnstiles were so offensive to the dignitary; in fact, all this building, and leasing of houses, and improvement of property, and destroying of poor people's pleasant walks, is nothing more than an improved reading of the words, "benefit of clergy."
MY FOSTER-FATHER FORSAKES THE RIGHT LINE OF CONDUCT CHALKED OUT FOR HIM—I GROW ILL—FIND POT-LUCK AND BAPTISM—GO TO BATH, AND TAKE MY FIRST LESSONS IN THE ARTS OF PERSUASION.
When I was placed with the Brandons, it was stipulated that they should remove immediately from Reading; and, whilst I was in their family, they should return there no more. For this purpose the necessary expenses were forwarded to them by an unknown hand. To Lambeth they therefore removed, because it abounded in saw-pits; but this advantage was more than destroyed by its abundance of skittle-grounds. Mr Joseph Brandon had satisfied his conscience by coming into the neighbourhood of the said saw-pits: it showed a direction towards the paths of industry; but whilst he had, through his wife, for nursing me, 81 pounds, 18 shillings per annum, he always preferred knocking down, or seeing knocked down, the nine pins, to the being placed upon a narrow plank, toeing a chalked line. This was not a line of conduct that he actually chalked out for himself; only it so happened that, when he was settled at Lambeth, on the third day he went out to look after work, and going down Stangate Street, he turned up Cut-throat Lane, and, after passing all the turnstiles, he arrived at the Two Jolly Sawyers, himself making a third. In his search for employment, he found it impossible, for the space of a whole month, to get any further.
But he was not long permitted to be the ascendant spirit among the top and bottom men. Whether it be that Mrs Brandon overrated her powers of affording sustenance, or that I had suffered through the inclemency of the weather in my three journeys on my natal day, or whether that I was naturally delicate, or perhaps all these causes contributing to it, I fell into a very sickly state, and, before a third month had elapsed, I was forced to another migration.
Though no one appeared, both myself and Mrs Brandon were continually watched, and a very superior sort of surgeon in the neighbourhood of Lambeth, from the second day of my arrival there, found some pretence or another to get introduced to my nurse, and took a violent liking to the little, puny, wailing piece of mortality, myself. I was about this time so exceedingly small, that though at the risk of being puerile, I cannot help recording that Joseph Brandon immersed me, all excepting my head, in a quart pot. No one but a Joe Brandon, or a top sawyer, could have had so filthy an idea. I have never been told whether the pot contained any drainings, but I must attribute to this ill-advised act a most plebeian fondness that I have for strong beer, and which seems to be, even in these days of French manners and French wines, unconquerable.
My health now became so precarious, that a letter arrived, signed simply E.R., ordering that I should be immediately baptised, and five pounds were enclosed for the expenses. The letter stated that two decent persons should be found by Mrs Brandon to be my sponsors, and that a female would appear on such a day, at such an hour, at Lambeth Church, to act as my godmother. That I was to be christened Ralph Rattlin, and, if I survived, I was to pass for their own child till further orders, and Ralph Rattlin Brandon were to be my usual appellations. Two decent persons being required, Joe Brandon, not having done any work for a couple of months, thought, by virtue of idleness, he might surely call himself one, to say nothing of his top-boots. The other godfather was a decayed fishmonger, of the name of Ford, a pensioner in the Fishmonger's Company, in whose alms-houses, at Newington, he afterwards died. A sad reprobate was old Ford—he was wicked from nature, drunken from habit, and full of repentance from methodism. Thus his time was very equally divided between sin, drink, and contrition. His sleep was all sin, for he would keep the house awake all night blaspheming in his unhealthy slumbers. As I was taken to church in a hackney-coach, my very honoured godfather, Ford, remarked, that "it would be a very pleasant thing to get me into hell before him, as he was sure that I was born to sin, a child of wrath, and an inheritor of the kingdom of the devil." This bitter remark roused the passions even of my gentle nurse, and she actually scored down both sides of his face with her nails, in such a manner as to leave deep scars in his ugliness, that nine years after he carried to his grave. All this happened in the coach on our way to church. Ford had already prepared himself for the performance of his sponsorial duties, by getting half drunk upon his favourite beverage, gin, and it was now necessary to make him wholly intoxicated to induce him to go through the ceremony. As yet, my nurse had never properly seen my mother's face; at the interview, on my birth, the agitation of both parties, and the darkened room, though there was no attempt at concealment, prevented Mrs Brandon from noticing her sufficiently to know her again; when, therefore, as our party alighted at the gate of the churchyard, and a lady, deeply veiled, got out of a carriage at some distance, Mrs Brandon knew not if she had ever seen her before.
I have been unfortunate in religious ceremonies. Old Ford was a horrid spectacle, his face streaming with blood, violently drunk, and led by Brandon, who certainly was, on that occasion, both decent in appearance and behaviour. The strange lady hurried up to the font before us. When the clergyman saw the state in which Ford was, he refused to proceed in the ceremony. The sexton then answered for him, whilst the drunkard was led out of the church. The office went on, and the lady seemed studiously to avoid looking upon her intended godson; I was christened simply, Ralph Rattlin. The lady wrote her name in the book the last, and it was instantly removed by the clerk. She thrust a guinea into his hand, and then, for the first time, bent her veiled face over me. I must have been a miserable-looking object, for no sooner had she seen me, than she gave a bitter shriek, and laying hold of the woodwork of the pews, she slowly assisted herself out of the church. Two or three persons who happened to be present, as well as Mr and Mrs Brandon, stepped forward to support her, but the clergyman, who seemed to have had a previous conversation with her, signed them to desist. It was altogether a most melancholy affair. Old Ford, when we left the church, was helped into the coach again, Joe Brandon, being either justly irritated at his conduct, or angry that he could not see my unknown godmother's face, when we were all fairly on our way home, gave the old sot such a tremendous beating, that Mrs Brandon nearly went into fits with alarm, and Ford himself was confined to his bed for a week after. When I reflect upon the manner in which I was christened, though I cannot exactly call it a "maimed rite," I have a great mind to have it done over again, only I am deterred by the expense.
All now was bustle in removing from Felix Street, Lambeth, to Bath, where it was ordered that I should be dipped every morning in some spring, that at that time had much celebrity. Old Ford was left behind. At Bath I remained three years, Joe Brandon doing no work, and persuading himself now, that he actually was a gentleman. In my third year, my foster-sister, little robust, ruddy Mary, died, and the weakly, stunted, and drooping sapling lived on. This death endeared me more and more to my nurse, and Joe himself was, by self-interest, taught an affection for me. He knew that if I went to the grave, he must go to work; and he now used himself to perform the office of dry-nurse to me, taking me to the spring, and allowing no one to dip me but himself. When I grew older, he had many stories to tell me about my pantings, and my implorings, and my offers of unnumbered kisses, and of all my playthings, if he would not put me in that cold water—only this one, one morning. And about a certain Dr Buck, who had taken a wonderful liking to me, after the manner of the Lambeth surgeon, and had prescribed for me, and sent me physic, and port wine, all out of pure philanthropy; and how much I hated this same Dr Buck, and his horrible "Give him t'other dip, Brandon." But all these are as things that had long died from my own recollection.
MY PROXIMITY TO THE CLERGY IMPELS ME TO PREACH—I ADVOCATE THE VULGAR, AND PROVE THAT NEITHER THE HUMBLE NOR THE LOW ARE NECESSARILY THE DEBASED—CONSEQUENTLY THIS CHAPTER NEED NOT BE READ.
What with dipping, port wine, bark, and Dr Buck, at the age of four years my limbs began to expand properly, and my countenance to assume the hue of health. I have recorded the death of my foster-sister Mary; but, about this time, the top-sawyer, wishing to perpetuate the dynasty of the Brandons, began to enact pater familias in a most reckless manner. He was wrong; but this must be said in extenuation of his impiously acting upon the divine command, "to increase and multiply," that at that time, Mr Malthus had not corrected the mistake of the Omniscient, nor had Miss Harriet Martineau begun her pilgrimage after the "preventive check." There was no longer any pretence for my remaining at Bath, or for my worthy foster-father abstaining from work; so we again removed, with a small family, in our search after saw-pits and happiness, to one of the best houses in Felix Street, somewhere near Lambeth Marsh. This place, after the experience of some time, proving not to be sufficiently blissful, we removed to Paradise Row; some furlongs nearer to the Father in God, his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. I have a laudable pride in showing that I had a respectable—I beg pardon, the word is inapplicable—I mean a grand neighbour. "I am not the rose," said the flower in the Persian poem, "but I have lived near the rose." I did not bloom in the archbishop's garden, but I flourished under the wall, though on the outside. The wall is now down, and rows of houses up in its place.
In our location in Paradise Row, the house being larger than we required for our accommodation, we again received old Ford, the only paradise, I am rather afraid, that will ever own him as an inmate. An awful man was old Ford, my godfather. His mingled prayers and blasphemies, hymns and horrid songs, defiance and remorse, groans and laughter, made everyone hate and avoid him. Hell-fire, as he continually asserted, was ever roaring before his eyes; and, as there is a text in the New Testament that says, there is no salvation for him who curses the Holy Ghost, he would, in the frenzy of his despair, swear at that mysterious portion of the Trinity by the hour, and then employ the next in beating his breast in the agony of repentance. Many may think all this sheer madness; but he was not more mad than most of the hot-headed methodists, whose preachers, at that time, held uncontrolled sway over the great mass of people that toiled in the humbler walks of life. Two nights in the week we used to have prayer-meetings at our house; and, though I could not have been five years old at the time, vividly do I remember that our front room used, on those occasions, to be filled to overflow, with kneeling fanatics, old Ford in the centre of the room, and a couple of lank-haired hypocrites, one on each side of the reprobate, praying till the perspiration streamed down their foreheads, to pray the devil out of him. The ohs! and the groanings of the audience were terrible; and the whole scene, though very edifying to the elect, was disgraceful to any sect who lived within the pale of civilisation.
I must now draw upon my own memory. I must describe my own sensations. If I reckon by the toil and turmoil of the mind, I am already an old man. I have lived for ages. I am far, very far, on my voyage. Let me cast my eyes back on the vast sea that I have traversed; there is a mist settled over it, almost as impenetrable as that which glooms before me. Let me pause. Methinks that I see it gradually break, and partial sunbeams struggle through it. Now the distant waves rise, and wanton and play, pure and lucid. 'Tis the day-spring of innocency. How near to the sanctified heavens do those remote waves appear! They meet, and are as one with the far horizon. Those sparkling waves were the hours of my childhood—the blissful feelings of my infancy. As the sea of life rolls on, the waves swell and are turbid; and, as I recede from the horizon of my early recollections, so heaven recedes from me. The thunder-cloud is high above my head, the treacherous waters roar beneath me, before me is the darkness and the night of an unknown futurity. Where can I now turn my eyes for solace, but over the vast space that I have passed? Whilst my bark glides heedlessly forward, I will not anticipate dangers that I cannot see, or tremble at rocks that are benevolently hidden from my view. It is sufficient for me to know that I must be wrecked at last; that my mortal frame must be like a shattered bark upon the beach ere the purer elements that it contains can be wafted through the immensity of immortality. I will commune with my boyish days—I will live in the past only. Memory shall perform the Medean process, shall renovate me to youth. I will again return to marbles and an untroubled breast—to hoop and high spirits—at least, in imagination.
I shall henceforward trust to my own recollections. Should this part of my story seem more like a chronicle of sensations than a series of events, the reader must bear in mind that these sensations are, in early youth, real events, the parents of actions, and the directors of destiny. The circle in which, in boyhood, one may be compelled to move, may be esteemed low; the accidents all round him may be homely, the persons with whom he may be obliged to come in contact may be mean in apparel, and sordid in nature; but his mind, if it remain to him pure as he received it from his Maker, is an unsullied gem of inestimable price, too seldom found, and too little appreciated when found, among the great, or the fortuitously rich. Nothing that is abstractedly mental, is low. The mind that well describes low scenery is not low, nor is the description itself necessarily so. Pride, and contempt for our fellow-creatures, evince a low tone of moral feeling, and is the innate vulgarity of the soul; it is this which but too often makes those who rustle in silks and roll in carriages, lower than the lowest.
I have said this much, because the early, very early part of my life was passed among what are reproachfully termed "low people." If I describe them faithfully, they must still appear low to those who arrogate to themselves the epithet of "high." For myself; I hold that there is nothing low under the sun, except meanness. Where there is utility there ought to be honour. The utility of the humble artisan has never been denied, though too often despised, and too rarely honoured; but I have found among the "vulgar" a horror of meanness, a self-devotion, an unshrinking patience under privation, and the moral courage, that constitute the hero of high life. I can also tell the admirers of the great, that the evil passions of the vulgar are as gigantic, their wickedness upon as grand a scale, and their notions of vice as refined, and as extensive, as those of any fashionable roue that is courted among the first circles, or even as those of the crowned despot. Then, as to the strength of vulgar intellect: True, that intellect is rarely cultivated by the learning which consists of words. The view it takes of science is but a partial glance—that intellect is contracted, but it is strong. It is a dwarf; with the muscle and sinews of a giant; and its grasp, whenever it can lay hold of anything within its circumscribed reach, is tremendous. The general who has conquered armies and subjugated countries—the minister who has ruined them, and the jurist who has justified both, never at the crisis of their labours have displayed a tithe of the ingenuity and the resources of mind that many an artisan is forced to exert to provide daily bread for himself and family; or many a shopkeeper to keep his connection together, and himself out of the workhouse. Why should the exertions of intellect be termed low, in the case of the mechanic, and vast, profound, and glorious, in that of the minister? It is the same precious gift of a beneficent power to all his creatures. As well may the sun be voted as excessively vulgar, because it, like intellect, assists all equally to perform their functions. I repeat, that nothing that has mind is, of necessity, low; and nothing is vulgar but meanness.
I RECEIVE MY FIRST LESSONS IN PUGNACITY—AND IMBIBE THE EVIL SPIRIT— LEARN TO READ BY INTUITION, AND TO FIGHT BY PRACTICE—GO TO SCHOOL TO A SOLDIER—AM A GOOD BOY AND GET WHIPPED.
At six years of age my health had become firmly established, but this establishment caused dismay in that of Joe Brandon. As I was no longer the sickly infant that called for incessant attention and the most careful nurture, it was intimated to my foster-parents that a considerable reduction would be made in the quarterly allowance paid on my account. The indignation of Brandon was excessive. He looked upon himself as one grievously wronged. No sinecurist, with his pension recently reduced, could have been more vehement on the subject of the sanctity of vested rights. But his ire was not to be vented in idle declamation only. He was not a man to rest content with mere words: he declaimed for a full hour upon his wife's folly in procuring him the means of well-fed idleness so long, threatened to take the brat—meaning no less a personage than myself—to the workhouse: and then wound up affairs, indoors, by beating his wife, and himself, out of doors, by getting royally drunk.
This was the first scene that made a deep impression on me. Young as I was, I comprehended that I was the cause of the ill-treatment of my nurse, whom I fondly loved. I interfered—I placed my little body between her and her brutal oppressor. I scratched, I kicked, I screamed—I grew mad with passion. At that hour, the spirit of evil and of hate blew the dark coal in my heart into a flame; and the demon of violent anger has ever since found it too easy to erect there his altar, of which the fire, though, at the time, all-consuming, is never durable. From that moment I commenced my intellectual existence. I looked on the sobbing mother, and knew what it was to love, and my love found its expression in an agony of tears. I looked on the tyrant, I felt what it was to hate, and endeavoured to relieve the burning desire to punish with frantic actions and wild outcries. Old Ford, who had been present and enjoyed the fracas, immediately took me into his especial favour; he declared that I was after his own heart, for I had the devil in me— said that I had the right spirit to bring me to the gallows, and he hoped, old as he was, to live to see it: he then entreated of the Lord that my precious soul might be saved as a burning brand out of the fire—took me by the hand and led me to the next gin-shop—made me taste the nauseating poison—told me I was a little man, and it was glorious to fight—doubled up for me my puny fists, and asserted that cowards only suffered a blow without returning it. A lesson like this never can be forgotten. I ground my teeth whilst I was receiving it—I clenched my hands, and looked wildly round for something to destroy. I was in training to become a little tiger. From what I then experienced, I can easily conceive the feelings that actuate, and can half forgive the crowned monsters who have revelled in blood, and relished the inflicting of torture; as pandering to their worst passions in infancy resolves them into a terrible instrument of cruelty, the control of which rests not with themselves. But this lesson in tiger ferocity had its emollient, though not its antidote, in the tenderness of the love which I bore to my nurse, when, on my return, I flung myself into her arms. Ever since that day I have been subject to terrific fits of passion; but very happily for me they have long ceased to be but of very rare occurrence.
The next morning, Master Joseph came home ill, and if not humbled, at least almost helpless. He had now three children of his own, and the necessity of eschewing skittles, and presiding over the sawpit, became urgent. With all his vices and his roughness, he was surprisingly fond of me. He, too, applauded my spirit in attacking himself. He now rejoiced to take me to the sawpit, to allow me to play about the timber-yards, and share with him his alfresco midday meal and pot of porter. I always passed for his eldest son, my name being told to the neighbours as Ralph Rattlin Brandon. I knew no otherwise, and my foster-parents kept the secret religiously. At seven I began to fight with dirty little urchins in the street, who felt much scandalised at the goodness of my clothes. It is hard work fighting up-hill at seven years of age. Old Ford would wipe the blood from my nose, and clap the vinegar and brown paper on my bruises with words of sweet encouragement; though he always ended by predicting that his hopeful godson would be hung, and that he should live to see it. I have certainly not been drowned yet, though I have had my escapes, and old Ford has been dead these thirty years. As one part of the prophecy will certainly never be fulfilled, I have some faint hopes of avoiding the exaltation hinted at in the other.
About this time, I began to notice that a lady, at long intervals, came to see me. She seemed exceedingly happy in my caresses, though she showed no weakness. She passed for my godmother, and so she certainly was. She was minute in her examination in ascertaining that I was perfectly clean; and always brought me a number of delicacies, which were invariably devoured immediately after her departure, by me and those little cormorants my loving foster-brothers and sister. Moreover, my nurse always received a present, which she very carefully and dutifully concealed from her liege lord of the pits. However, I cannot call to my mind more than four of these "angelic visits" altogether. "Angelic visits," indeed, they might be termed, if the transcendent beauty of the visitor be regarded. At that time, her form and her countenance furnished me with the idea I had of the blessed inhabitants of heaven before man was created, and I have never been able to replace it since by anything more beautiful. The reader shall soon know how, at that very early age, I became so well acquainted with angelic lore.
When eight years old I was sent to school. I could read before I went there. How I picked up this knowledge I never could discover: both my foster-parents were grossly illiterate. Perhaps old Ford taught me—but this is one of the mysteries I could never solve; and it is strange that I should have so totally forgotten all about an affair so important, as not to remember a single lesson, and yet to hold so clear a recollection of many minor events. But so it is. To school I went: my master was a cadaverous, wooden-legged man, a disbanded soldier, and a disciplinarian, as well as an a-b-c-darian.
I well remember old Isaacs, and his tall, handsome, crane-necked daughter. The hussy was as straight as an arrow, yet, for the sake of coquetry, or singularity, she would sit in the Methodist chapel, with her dimpled chin resting upon an iron hoop, and her finely formed shoulders braced back with straps so tightly, as to thrust out in a remarkable manner her swanlike chest, and her almost too exuberant bust. This instrument for the distorted, with its bright crimson leather, thus pressed into the service of the beautiful, had a most singular and exciting effect upon the beholder. I have often thought of this girl in my maturer years, and confess that no dress that I ever beheld gave a more piquant interest to the wearer, than those straps and irons. The jade never wore them at home: perhaps the fancy was her father's, he being an old soldier, and his motto "Eyes right! dress!" Whosever fancy it was, his daughter rejoiced in it. "Eyes right! dress!" is as good a motto for the ladies as for the army—and well do they act up to it.
The most important facts that my mind has preserved concerning this scholastic establishment are—that one evening, for a task, I learned perfectly by heart the two first chapters of the Gospel according to Saint John; that there was an unbaked gooseberry pie put prominently on the shelf in the schoolroom, a fortnight before the vacation at Midsummer, to be partaken of on the happy day of breaking-up, each boy paying fourpence for his share of the mighty feast. There were between forty and fifty of us. I had almost forgotten to mention that I was to be duly punished whenever I deserved it, but the master was, on no account, to hurt me, or make me cry. I deserved it regularly three or four times a day, and was as regularly horsed once. Oh! those floggings, how deceptive they were, and how much I regretted them when I came to understand the thing fundamentally. Old Isaacs could not have performed the operation more delicately, if he were only brushing a fly off the down of a lady's cheek. He never made me cry.
THIS CHAPTER SHOWETH, IN A METHODICAL MANNER, HOW TO FIND A FAITH AND LOSE A RELIGION; ALSO, TO PROCURE A CALL FOR PERSONS OF ALL MANNER OF CALLINGS.
I had, as I have related, been encouraged in fits of passion, and had been taught to be pugnacious; my mind was now to be opened to loftier speculations; and religious dread, with all the phantoms of superstition in its train, came like a band of bravoes, and first chaining down my soul in the awe of stupefaction, ultimately loosened its bonds, and sent it to wander in all its childish wildness in the direful realms of horrible dreams, and of waking visions hardly less so. I was fashioning for a poet.
My nurse was always a little devotional. She went to the nearest chapel or church, and, satisfied that she heard the word of God, without troubling herself with the niceties of any peculiar dogma, which she could not have understood if she had, and finding herself on the threshold of Divine grace, she knelt down in all humility, prayed, and was comforted. Old Ford was a furious Methodist: he owned that he never could reform; and, as he daily drained the cup of sin to the very dregs, he tried, as an antidote, long prayer and superabounding faith. The unction with which he struck his breast, and exclaimed, "Miserable sinner that I am!" could only be exceeded by the veracity of the assertion. Mrs Brandon only joined in the prayer-meetings that he held at our house, when Ford himself was perfectly sober—thus she did not often attend—Brandon never. Whilst he wore the top-boots, he was an optimist, and perfectly epicurean in his philosophy—I use the term in the modern sense. When he had eighty pounds odd a year, with no family of his own, no man was more jovial or happy. He had the most perfect reliance on Providence. He boasted that he belonged to the Established Church, because it was so respectable—and he loved the organ. However, he never went in the forenoon, because he was never shaved in time; in the afternoon he never went, because he could not dispense with his nap after dinner; and, in the evening, none but the serving classes were to be seen there. He ridiculed the humble piety of his wife, and the fanatical fervour of his lodger. He was a High Churchman, and satisfied. But when he was obliged, with an increasing family and a decreased income, to work from morning till night, he grew morose and very unsettled in his faith.
The French Revolution was then at its wildest excess: equality was universally advocated in religious, as well as political establishments. The excitement of the times reached even to the sawpit. Brandon got tipsy one Saturday night with a parcel of demagogues, and when he awoke early next Sunday morning—it was a beautiful summer day—he made the sudden discovery that he had still his faith to seek for. Then began his dominical pilgrimages: with his son Ralph in his hand, he roved from one congregation to another over the vast metropolis, and through its extensive environs: I do not think that we left a single place dedicated to devotion unvisited. I well remember that he was much struck with the Roman Catholic worship. We repeated our visits three or four times to the Catholic chapel, a deference we paid to no other. The result of this may be easily imagined: when an excited mind searches for food, it will be satisfied with the veriest trash, provided only that it intoxicates. We at length stumbled upon a small set of mad Methodists, more dismal and more excluding than even Ford's sect: the congregation were all of the very lowest class, with about twelve or thirteen exceptions, and those were decidedly mad. The pastor was an arch rogue, that fattened upon the delusion of his communicants. They held the doctrine of visible election, which election was made by having a call— that is, a direct visitation of the Holy Ghost, which was testified by falling down in a fit—the testification being the more authentic, if it happened in full congregation. The elected could never again fall: the sins that were afterwards committed in their persons were not theirs—it was the evil spirit within them, that they could cast out when they would, and be equally as pure as before. All the rest of the world, who had not had their call, were in a state of reprobation, and on the highroad to damnation.
All this, of course, I did not understand till long afterwards, but I too unhappily understood, or at least fancied I did, the dreadful images of eternal torments, and the certainty that they would soon be mine. First of all, either from inattention, or from want of comprehension, these denunciations made but a faint impression upon me. But the frightful descriptions took, gradually, a more visible and sterner shape, till they produced effects that proved all but fatal.
The doctrines of these Caterians just suited the intellect and the strong passions of Brandon. The sect was called Caterians, after the Reverend Mr Cate, their minister. My foster-father went home, after the second Sunday, and put his house in order. As far as regarded the household, the regulations would have pleased Sir Andrew Agnew: the hot joint was dismissed—the country walk discontinued—at meeting four times a day. Even Ford did not like it. Brandon was labouring hard for his call: he strove vehemently for the privilege of sinning with impunity. He was told by Mr Cate that he was in a desperate way. Brandon did all he could, but the call would not come for the calling. Mrs Brandon got it very soon, though she strenuously denied the honour. My good nurse was in the family-way, and Mr Cate had frightened her into fits, with a vivid delineation of the agonies of a new-born infant, under the torture of eternal fire, because it had died unelected. However, Brandon began a little to weary of waiting and long prayer, and perhaps of the now too frequent visits of Mr Cate. He commenced to have his fits of alternate intemperate recklessness, and religious despondency. One Sunday morning—well do I recollect it—he called me up early, before seven; and I supposed, as usual, that we were going to early meeting: we walked towards the large room that was used as a chapel. We had nearly reached it, when the half-open door of an adjacent ale-house let out its vile compound of disgusting odours upon the balmy Sabbath air. My conductor hesitated—he moved towards the meeting-house, but his head was turned the other way—he stopped.
"Ralph," said he, "did you not see Mr Ford go into the public-house?"
"No, father," said I; "don't think he's up."
"At all bounds, we had better go and see; for I must not allow him to shame a decent house by tippling, on a Sunday morning, in a dram-shop."
We entered. He found there some of his mates. Pint after pint of purl was called for; at length, a gallon of strong ale was placed upon the table, a quart of gin was dashed into it, and the whole warmed with a red-hot poker. I was instructed to lie. I promised to tell mother that we had gone into a strange chapel; but I made my conditions, that mother should not be any more beaten. It was almost church-time when the landlord put us all out by the back way. The drunken fellows sneaked home—whilst Brandon, taking me by the hand, made violent, and nearly successful, efforts to appear sober.
After a hasty breakfast, we went to meeting. My foster-father looked excessively wild. Mr Cate was raving in the midst of an extempore prayer, when a heavy fall was heard in the chapel. The minister descended from his desk, and came and prayed over the prostrate victim of intoxication, and, perhaps, of epilepsy, and he pronounced that brother Brandon had got his call, and was now indisputably one of the elect. He did not revive so soon as was expected—his groans were looked upon as indications of the workings of the Spirit; and when, at length, he was so far recovered as to be led home by two of the congregation, the conversion of the sawyer was dwelt upon by the preacher, from a text preached upon the chapter that relates to the conversion of Saul, and the cases were cited as parallel. Let the opponents of the Established Church rail at it as they will, scenes of such wickedness and impiety could never have happened within its time-honoured walls.
When we returned to dinner, we found that Brandon had so far recovered as to become very hungry, very proud, and very pharisaically pious. Mr Cate dined with us. He was full of holy congratulations on the miraculous event. The sawyer received all this with a humble self-consequence, as the infallible dicta of truth, and, apparently, with the utter oblivion of any such things existing as purl and red-hot pokers. Was he a deep hypocrite, or only a self-deceiver? Who can know the heart of man? However, "this call" had the effect of making the "called one" a finished sinner, and of filling up the measure of wretchedness to his wife.
I TOO HAVE MY CALL—TO DEATH'S DOOR—A GREAT RISE IN LIFE—BRANDON ALLOWS NEITHER SLUGS NOR SLUGGARDS IN HIS SAWPIT—IS RUINED, AND BEATS THE REVEREND MR. CATE.
All this was preparatory to an event, to me of the utmost importance, which is, perhaps, at this very moment, influencing imperceptibly my mind, and directing my character. Brandon's call, in our humble circle, made a great deal of noise. He had taken care that I should know what drunkenness meant. I thought he ought to have been drunk on the afternoon of his election, yet he so well disguised his intoxication that he appeared not to be so. I listened attentively to the sermon of the preacher that followed. I no longer doubted. I could not believe that a grave man in a pulpit could speak anything but truth, when he spoke so loudly, and spoke for two hours. My mind was a chaos of confusion: I began to be very miserable. The next, or one or two Sundays after, produced the crisis. My dress was always much superior to what could have been expected in the son of a mere operative. I was, at that time, a fair and mild-featured child, and altogether remarkable among the set who frequented the meeting-house. Mr Cate had been very powerful indeed in his description of the infernal regions—of the abiding agonies—the level lake that burneth—the tossing of the waves that glow; and, when he had thrown two or three old women into hysterics, and two or three young ones into fainting-fits, amidst the torrent of his oratory, and the groaning, and the "Lord have mercy upon me's," of his audience, he made a sudden pause. There was a dead silence for half a minute, then suddenly lifting his voice, he pointed to me, and exclaimed, "Behold that beautiful child—observe the pure blood mantling in his delicate countenance—but what is he after all but a mouthful for the devil? All those torments, all those tortures, that I have told you of, will be his; there, look at him, he will burn and writhe in pain, and consume for ever, and ever, and ever, and never be destroyed, unless the original sin be washed out from him by the 'call,' unless he be made, hereafter, one of the 'elect.'"
At this direct address to myself, I neither fainted, shuddered, nor cried—I felt, at the time, a little stupefied: and it was some hours after (the hideous man's words all the time ringing in my ears) before I fully comprehend my hopeless state of perdition. I looked at the fire as I sat by it, and trembled. I went to bed, but not to sleep. No child ever haunted by a ghost-story was more terrified than myself, as I lay panting on my tear-steeped pillow. At length, imagination began its dreadful charms—the room enlarged itself in its gloom to vast space—I began to hear cries from under my bed. Some dark bodies first of all flitted across the gloaming. My bed began to rock. I tried to sing a hymn. I thought that the words came out of my mouth in flames of bright fire. I then called to mind the offerings from the altars of Cain and Abel. I watched to see if my hymns turned into fire, and ascended up to heaven. I felt a cold horror when I discovered them scattered from my mouth exactly in the same manner that I had seen the flames in the engraving in our large Bible on the altar of Cain. Then there came a huge block of wood, and stationed itself in the air above me, about six inches from my eyes. I remember no more—I was in a raging fever.
I was ill for some weeks, and a helpless invalid for many more. When again I enjoyed perception of the things around me, I found myself in a new house in Red Cross Street, near Saint Luke's. My foster-parents had opened a shop—it had the appearance of a most respectable fruiterer's. Mr Brandon had become a small timber-merchant, had sawpits in the premises behind the house, and men of his own actually sawing in them. But the most surprising change of all was, that the reverend Mr Cate was domesticated with us. Brandon, as a master, worked harder than ever he did as a man. My nurse became anxious and careworn, and never seemed happy—for my part, I was so debilitated, that I then took but little notice of anything. However, the beautiful lady never called. I used to spend my time thinking upon angels and cherubs, and in learning hymns by heart. I suppose that I, like my foster-father, had had my call, but I am sure that after it, I was as much weaker in mind as I was in body. When I became strong enough to be again able to run about, I was once more sent to a day-school, and all that I remember about the matter was, that every day about eleven o'clock, I was told to run home and get a wigful of potatoes from Brandon's, the venerable pedagogue coolly taking off his wig, and exchanging it for a red night-cap, until my return with the provender.
Things now wore a dismal aspect at home. At length, one day, the broker sent his men into the shop, who threw all the greengrocery about like peelings of onions. They carted away Mr Brandon's deals and planks, and timber, and, not content with all this, they also took away the best of the household furniture. My nurse called Mr Cate a devil in a white sheet—her husband acted as he always would do when he was offended and found himself strong enough: he gave the reverend gentleman, most irreverently, a tremendous beating. The sheep sadly gored the shepherd. Afterwards, when he had nearly killed his pastor, he seceded from his flock, and gave him, under his own hand, a solemn abjuration of the Caterian tenets. How Brandon came to launch out into this expensive and ill-advised undertaking of green-groceries and sawpits, how he afterwards became involved, and how much the preacher had been guilty in deceiving him, I never clearly understood. However, my nurse never, for a long time after, spoke of the reverend gentleman without applying the corner of her apron to her eyes, or her husband without a hearty malediction. We removed to our old neighbourhood, but, instead of taking a respectable house, we were forced to burrow in mean lodgings.
ANOTHER MIGRATION—FROM THE RURALITIES OF CUT-THROAT LANE TO THE GROVES OF ACADEMUS—I AM FORCED INTO GOOD CLOTHES AND THE PATHS OF LEARNING IN SPITE OF MY TEETH, THOUGH I USE THEM SPITEFULLY.
Misfortunes never come single. I don't know why they should. They are but scarecrow, lean-visaged, miserable associates, and so they arrive in a body to keep each other in countenance. I had been but a few weeks in our present miserable abode, and had fully recovered my health, though I think that I was a little crazed with the prints, and the subjects of them, over which I daily pored in the large Bible, when the greatest misfortune of all came upon the poor Brandons—and that was, to add to their other losses, the loss of my invaluable self.
The misery was unexpected—it was sudden—it was overwhelming. Brandon was toeing a chalked line on a heavy log of mahogany, unconscious of the mischief that was working at home. He afterwards told me, and I believe him, that he would have opposed the proceeding by force, if force had been requisite. A plain private or hired carriage drove up to the door, and, after ascertaining that the Brandons lived at the house, a business-like looking, elderly gentleman stepped out, paid every demand immediately, and ordered my best clothes on. When I was thus equipped, my nurse was told that she was perfectly welcome to the remainder of my effects, and that I must get into the carriage.
The good woman was thunderstruck. There was a scene. She raved, and I cried, and the four little Brandons, at least three of them, joined in the chorus of lamentation, because the naughty man was going to take brother Ralph away. I had been too well taught by old Ford, not to visit my indignation upon the shins and hands of the carrier away of captives, in well-applied kicks, and almost rabid bites. There was a great disturbance. The neighbours thought it very odd that the mother should allow her eldest son to be, carried off by force, by a stranger, before her eyes, in the middle of the day; but then it was suggested that "nothing could be well termed odd that concerned little Ralph Brandon, for hadn't he been bit last year by a mad dog, and, when so and so had all died raving, he had never nothing at all happen to him." When the stranger heard this story of the mad dog (which, by-the-by, was fact, and I have the scars to this day), he shook me off, pale with consternation, and was, no doubt, extremely happy to find that my little teeth had not penetrated the skin. I believe that he heartily repented him of his office. At length he lost all patience. "Woman," said he, "send these people out of the room." When they had departed, marvelling, he resumed: "I cannot lose my time in altercation; I am commissioned to tell you, that if you keep the boy in one sense, you'll have to keep him in all. You may be sure that I would not trouble myself about such a little ill-bred wretch for a moment, if I did not act with authority, and by orders. Give up the child directly (I was now sobbing in her arms), take your last look at him, for you will never see him again. Come, hand the young gentleman into the carriage."
"I won't go," I screamed out.
"We shall soon see that, Master Rattlin," said he, dragging me along, resisting. I bawled out, "My name's not Master Rattlin—you're a liar— and when father comes from the pit he'll wop you."
This threat seemed to have an effect the very reverse of what I had intended. Perhaps he thought that he had already enough to contend with, without the addition of the brawny arm of the sawyer. I was forcibly lifted up, placed in the coach, and, as it drove rapidly away, I heard, amidst the rattling of the wheels, the cries of her whom I loved as a mother, exclaiming, "My Ralph—my dear Ralph!"
Behold me, then, "hot with the fray, and weeping from the fight," confined in a locomotive prison with my sullen captor. I blubbered in one corner of the coach, and he surveyed me with stern indifference from the other. I had now fairly commenced my journey through life, but this beginning was anything but auspicious. At length, the carriage stopped at a place I have since ascertained to be near Hatton Garden, on Holborn Hill. We alighted, and walked into a house, between two motionless pages, excessively well dressed. At first, they startled me, but I soon discovered they were immense waxen dolls. It was a ready-made clothes warehouse into which we had entered. We went upstairs, and I was soon equipped with three excellent suits. My grief had now settled down into a sullen resentment, agreeably relieved, at due intervals, by breath-catching sobs. The violence of the storm had passed, but its gloom still remained. Seeing the little gladness that the possession of clothes, the finest I had yet had, communicated to me, my director could not avoid giving himself the pleasurable relief of saying, "Sulky little brute!" A trunk being sent for, and my wardrobe placed in it, we then drove to three or four other shops, not forgetting a hatter's, and in a very short space of time I had a very tolerable fit-out. During all this time, not a word did my silent companion address to me.
At length, the coach no longer rattled over the stones. It now proceeded on more smoothly, and here and there the cheerful green foliage relieved the long lines of houses. After about a half-hour's ride, we stopped at a large and very old-fashioned house, built in strict conformity with the Elizabethan style of architecture, over the portals of which, upon a deep blue board, in very, very bright gold letters, flashed forth that word so awful to little boys, so big with associations of long tasks and wide-spreading birch, the Greek-derived polysyllable, ACADEMY! Ignorant as I was, I understood it all in a moment. I was struck cold as the dew-damp grave-stone. I almost grew sick with terror. I was kidnapped, entrapped, betrayed. I had before hated school, my horror now was intense of "Academy." I looked piteously into the face of my persecutor, but I found there no sympathy. "I want to go home," I roared out, and then burst into a fresh torrent of tears.
Home! what solace is there in its very sound! Oh, how that blessed asylum for the wounded spirit encloses within its sacred circle all that is comforting, and sweet, and holy! 'Tis there that the soul coils itself up and nestles like the dove in its own downiness, conscious that everything around breathes of peace, security, and love. Home! henceforward, I was to have none, until, through many, many years of toil and misery, I should create one for myself. Henceforth, the word must bring to me only the bitterness of regret—henceforth I was to associate with hundreds who had that temple in which to consecrate their household affections—but was, myself, doomed to be unowned, unloved, and homeless.
"I want to go home," I blubbered forth with the pertinacity of anguish, as I was constrained into the parlour of the truculent, rod-bearing, ferula-wielding Mr Root. I must have been a strange figure. I was taken from my nurse's in a hurry, and, though my clothes were quite new, my face entitled me to rank among the much vituperated unwashed. When a little boy has very dirty hands, with which he rubs his dirty, tearful face, it must be confessed that grief does not, in his person, appear under a very lovely form. The first impression that I made on him who was to hold almost everything that could constitute my happiness in his power, was the very reverse of, favourable. My continued iteration of "I want to go home," was anything but pleasing to the pedagogue. The sentence itself is not music to a man keeping a boarding-school. With the intuitive perception of childhood, through my tears, my heart acknowledged an enemy. What my conductor said to him, did not tend to soften his feelings towards me. I did not understand the details of his communication, but I knew that I was as a captive, bound hand and foot, and delivered over to a foreign bondage. The interview between the contracting parties was short, and when over, my conductor departed without deigning to bestow the smallest notice upon the most important personage of this history. I was then rather twitched by the hand, than led, by Mr Root, into the middle of his capacious school-room, and in the midst of more than two hundred and fifty boys: my name was merely mentioned to one of the junior ushers, and the master left me. Well might I then apply that blundering, Examiner-be-praised line of Keats to myself, for like Ruth:—
"I stood all tears among the alien corn."
A few boys came and stared at me, but I attracted the kindness of none. There can be no doubt but that I was somewhat vulgar in my manners, and my carriage was certainly quite unlike that of my companions. Some of them even jeered me, but I regarded them not. A real grief is armour-proof against ridicule. In a short time, it being six o'clock, the supper was served out, consisting of a round of bread, all the moisture of which had been allowed to evaporate, and an oblong, diaphanous, yellow substance, one inch and a half by three, that I afterwards learned might be known among the initiated as single Gloucester. There was also a pewter mug for each, three-parts filled with small beer. It certainly gave me, it was so small, a very desponding idea of the extent to which littleness might be carried; and it would have been too vapid for the toleration of any palate, had it not been so sour. As I sat regardless before this repast, in abstracted grief, I underwent the first of the thousand practical jokes that were hereafter to familiarise me with manual jocularity. My right-hand neighbour, jerking me by the elbow, exclaimed, "Hollo, you sir, there's Jenkins, on the other side of you, cribbing your bread." I turned towards the supposed culprit, and discovered that my informant had fibbed, but the informed against told me to look round and see where my cheese was. I did; it was between the mandibles of my kind neighbour on my right, and when I turned again to the left for an explanation, the rogue there had stripped my round of bread of all the crust. I cared not then for this double robbery, but having put the liquid before me, incautiously to my lips, sorrowful as I was, I cared for that. Joe Brandon never served me so. I drank that evening as little as I ate.
I PROVE TO BE, NOT ONE IN A THOUSAND, BUT ONE IN A QUARTER OF THAT NUMBER, TO WHOM NO QUARTER WAS SHOWN—IN SPITE OF MY ENTREATIES I AM EVIL ENTREATED, AND AM NOT ONLY PLACED ON THE LOWEST FORM, BUT MADE EXCESSIVELY UNCOMFORTABLE ON MY SEAT OF HONOUR.
Heroes, statesmen, philosophers, must bend to circumstances, and so must little boys at boarding-school. I went to bed with the rest, and, like the rest, had my bed-fellow. Miserable and weary was that night to my infant heart. When I found I could do so unobserved, I buried my face in the pillow, and wept with a perfect passion of wretchedness.
I had a hard, a cruel life at that school. When I lived with my nurse, the boys in the street used to beat me because I was too much of the gentleman, and now the young gentlemen thrashed me for not coming up to their standard of gentility. I saw a tyrant in every urchin that was stronger than myself, and a derider in him that was weaker. The next morning after my arrival, a fellow a little bigger than myself, came up, and standing before me, gave me very deliberately as hard a slap in the face as his strength would permit. Half crying with the pain, and yet not wishing to be thought quarrelsome, I asked, with good-natured humility, whether that was done in jest or in earnest. The little insolent replied, in his school-boy wit, "Betwixt and between." I couldn't stand that; my passion and my fist rose together, and hitting my oppressor midway between the eyes, "There's my betwixt and between," said I. His nose began to bleed, and when I went down into the school-room, the "new boy" had his hands well warmed with the ruler for fighting.
Alas! the first year of my academic life was one of unqualified wretchedness. For the two or three initiatory months, uncouth in speech, and vulgar in mien, with no gilded toy, rich plum-cake, or mint-new shilling to conciliate, I was despised and ridiculed; and when it was ascertained by my own confession that I was the son of a day-labourer, I was shunned by the aristocratic progeny of butchers, linen-drapers, and hatters. It took, at least, a half-dozen floggings to cure me of the belief that Joseph Brandon and his wife were my parents. It was the shortest road to conviction, and Mr Root prided himself upon short cuts in imparting knowledge. I assure my readers they were severe ones.
Mr Root, the pedagogue of this immense school, which was situated in the vicinity of Islington, was a very stout and very handsome man, of about thirty. He had formerly been a subordinate where he now commanded, and his good looks had gained him the hand of the widow of his predecessor. He was very florid, with a cold dark eye; but his face was the most physical that I ever beheld. From the white, low forehead, to the well-formed chin, there was nothing on which the gazer could rest that spoke of intellectuality. There was "speculation in his eye," but it was the calculation of farthings. There was a pure ruddiness in his cheek, but it was the glow of matter, not that of mind. His mouth was well formed, yet pursed up with an expression of mingled vanity and severity. He was very robust, and his arm exceedingly powerful. With all these personal advantages, he had a shrill, girlish voice, that made him, in the execution of his cruelties, actually hideous. I believe, and I make the assertion in all honesty, that he received a sensual enjoyment by the act of inflicting punishment. He attended to no department of the school but the flagellative. He walked in about twelve o'clock, had all on the list placed on a form, his man-servant was called in, the lads horsed, and he, in general, found ample amusement till one. He used to make it his boast that he never allowed any of his ushers to punish. The hypocrite! the epicure! he reserved all that luxury for himself. Add to this, that he was very ignorant out of the Tutor's Assistant, and that he wrote a most abominably good hand (that usual sign of a poor and trifle-occupied mind), and now you have a very fair picture of Mr Root. I have said that he was a most cruel tyrant: yet Nero himself ought not to be blackened; and I must say this for my master's humanity, that I had been at school two days before I was flogged; and then it was for the enormity of not knowing my own name. "Rattlin," said the pedagogue. No reply. "Master Rattlin," in a shriller tone. Answer there was none. "Master Ralph Rattlin." Many started, but "Ralph Brandon" thought it concerned not him. But it did indeed. I believe that I had been told my new name, but I had forgotten it in my grief, and now in grief and in pain I was again taught it. When, for the first time, in reality, I tasted that acid and bitter fruit of the tree of knowledge, old Isaac's (my soldier schoolmaster) mock brushings were remembered with heartfelt regret.
At that time the road to learning was strewed neither with flowers nor palm-leaves, but with the instigating birch. The schoolmaster had not yet gone abroad, but he flogged most diligently at home, and, verily, I partook amply of that diligence. I was flogged full, and I was flogged fasting; when I deserved it, and when I did not; I was flogged for speaking too loudly, and for not speaking loud enough, and for holding my tongue. Moreover, one morning I rode the horse without the saddle, because my face was dirty, and the next, because I pestered the maid-servant to wash it clean. I was flogged because my shoes were dirty, and again because I attempted to wipe them clean with my pocket-handkerchief. I was flogged for playing, and for staying in the school-room and not going out to play. The bigger boys used to beat me, and I was then flogged for fighting. It is hard to say for what I was not flogged. Things, the most contradictory, all tended to one end, and that was my own. At length, he flogged me into serious ill-health, and then he stayed his hand, and I found relief on a bed of sickness. Even now I look back to those days of persecution with horror. Those were the times of large schools, rods steeped in brine (actual fact), intestine insurrections, the bumping of obnoxious ushers, and the "barring out" of tyrannical masters. A school of this description was a complete place of torment for the orphan, the unfriended, and the deserted. Lads then stayed at school till they were eighteen and even twenty, and fagging flourished in all its atrocious oppression.
I GROW EGOTISTICAL, AND BEING PLEASED WITH MYSELF, GIVE GOOD ADVICE—A VISIT; AND A STRANGE JUMBLE OF TIRADES, TEARS, TUTORS, TENDERNESS, AND A TEA-KETTLE.
Let me now describe the child of nine years and a half old, that was forced to undergo this terrible ordeal. We will suppose that, by the aid of the dancing-master and the drill-sergeant, I have been cured of my vulgar gait, and that my cockney accent has disappeared. Children of the age above-mentioned soon assimilate their tone and conversation with those around them. I was tall for my years, with a very light and active frame, and a countenance, the complexion of which was of the most unstained fairness. My hair light, glossy, and naturally, but not universally, curling. To make it appear in ringlets all over my head, would have been the effect of art; yet, without art it was wavy, and at the temples, forehead, and the back of the head, always in full circlets. My face presented a perfect oval, and my features were classically regular. I had a good natural colour, the intensity of which ebbed and flowed with every passing emotion. I was one of those dangerous subjects whom anger always makes pale. My eyes were decidedly blue, everything else that may be said to the contrary notwithstanding. The whole expression of my countenance was very feminine, but not soft. It was always the seat of some sentiment or passion, and in its womanly refinement gave to me an appearance of constitutional delicacy and effeminacy, that I certainly did not possess. I was decidedly a very beautiful child, and a child that seemed formed to kindle and return a mother's love, yet the maternal caress never blessed me; but I was abandoned to the tender mercies of a number of he-beings, by many of whom my vivacity was checked, my spirit humbled, and my flesh cruelly lacerated.
I dwell thus particularly on my school-day life, in order, in the first place, to prepare the reader for the singular events that follow; and in the second (and which forms by far the most important consideration, as I trust I am believed, and if truth deserves credence, believed I am), to caution parents from trusting to the specious representations of any schoolmaster, to induce them to examine carefully and patiently into every detail of the establishment, or they may become a party to a series of cruelties, that may break the spirit, and, perhaps, shorten the life of their children. Unfortunately, the most promising minds are those that soonest yield to the effect of harsh discipline. The phlegmatic, the dull, and the commonplace vegetate easily through this state of probation. The blight that will destroy the rose, passes ever harmlessly over the tough and earth-embracing weed.
I stayed at Mr Root's school for very nearly three years, and I shall divide that memorable period into three distinct epochs—the desponding, the devotional, and the mendacious. After I had been flogged into uncertain health, I was confined, for at least six weeks, to my room, and, when I was convalescent, it was hinted by the surgeon, in not unintelligible terms, to Mr Root, that if I did not experience the gentlest treatment, I might lose my life; which would have been very immaterial to Mr Root, had it not been a mathematical certainty that he would lose a good scholar at the same time. By-the-by, the meaning that a schoolmaster attaches to the words "good scholar," is one for whom he is paid well. Thus I was emphatically a good scholar; no doubt his very best. I was taught everything—at least his bill said so. He provided everything for me, and I stayed with him during the holidays. He, therefore, ceased to confer upon me his cruel attentions; and abandoned me to a neglect hardly less cruel. The boys were strictly enjoined to leave me alone, and they obeyed. I found a solitude in the midst of society.
A loneliness came over my young spirit. I was aweary, and I drooped like the tired bird, that alights on the ship, "far, far at sea." As that poor bird folds its wings, and sinks into peaceful oblivion, I could have folded my arms and have lain down to die with pleasure. My heart exhausted itself with an intense longing for a companion to love. It wasted away all its substance in flinging out fibres to catch hold of that with which it might beat in unison. As turn the tendrils of the vine hither and thither to clasp something to adorn, and to repay support by beauty, so I wore out my young energies in a fruitless search for sympathy. I had nothing to love me, though I would have loved many if I had dared. There were many sweet faces among my school-fellows, to which I turned with a longing look, and a tearful eye. How menial I have been to procure a notice, a glance of kindness! I had nothing to give wherewith to bribe affection but services and labour, and those were either refused, or perhaps accepted with scorn. I was the only pariah among two hundred and fifty. There was a mystery and an obloquy attached to me, and the master had, by his interdiction, completely put me without the pale of society. I now said my lessons to the ushers with indifference—if I acquitted myself ill, I was unpunished—if well, unnoticed. My spirits began to give way fast, and I was beginning to feel the pernicious patronage of the servants. They would call me off the play-ground, on which I moped, send me on some message, or employ me in some light service. All this was winked at by the master, and as for the mistress, she never let me know that it occurred to her that I was in existence. It was evident that Mr Root had no objection to all this, for, in consideration of the money paid to him for my education, he was graciously pleased to permit me to fill the office of his kitchen-boy. But, before I became utterly degraded into the menial of the menials, a fortunate occurrence happened that put an end to my culinary servitude. To the utter surprise of Mr and Mrs Root, who expected nothing of the kind, a lady came to see me. What passed between the parties, before I was ushered into the parlour appropriated to visitors, I know not; it was some time before I was brought in, as preparatory ablutions were made, and my clothes changed. When I entered, I found that it was "the lady." I remember that she was very superbly dressed, and I thought, too, the most beautiful apparition that I had ever beheld. The scene that took place was a little singular, and I shall relate it at full.
As I have rigidly adhered to truth, I have been compelled to state what I have to say in a form almost entirely narrative; and have not imitated those great historians, who put long speeches into the mouths of their kings and generals, very much suited to the occasions undoubtedly, and deficient only in one point—that is, accuracy. I have told only of facts and impressions, and not given speeches that it would have been impossible for me to have remembered. Yet, in this interview there was something so striking to my young imagination, that my memory preserved many sentences, and all the substance of what took place. There was wine and cake upon the table, and the lady looked a little flustered. Mr Root was trying with a forty Chesterfieldean power to look amiable. Mrs Root was very fidgety. As I appeared at the door timorously, the lady said to me, without rising, but extending her delicate white hand, "Come here to me, Ralph; do you not know me?"
I could get no further than the middle of the room, where I stood still, and burst out into a passion of tears. Those sweet tones of tenderness, the first I had heard for nine months, thrilled like fire through my whole frame. It was a feeling so intense, that, had it not been agony, it would have been bliss.
"Good God!" said she, deeply agitated; "my poor boy, why do you cry?"
"Because—because you are so kind," said I, rushing forward to her extended arms; and, falling on my knees at her feet, I buried my face in her lap, and felt all happiness amidst my sobbings. She bent over me, and her tears trickled upon my neck. This did not last long. She placed me upon my feet, and drawing me to her side, kissed my cheeks, and my eyes, and my forehead. Her countenance soon became serene; and turning to my master, she said, quietly, "This, sir, is very singular."
"Yes, ma'am, Master Rattlin is very singular. All clever boys are. He knows already his five declensions, and the four conjugations, active and passive. Come, Master Rattlin, decline for the lady the adjective felix—come, begin, nominative hic et haec et hoc felix."
"I don't know anything about it," said I, doggedly.
"I told you he was a singular child," resumed the pedagogue, with a most awkward attempt at a smile.
"The singularity to which I allude," said the lady, "is his finding kindness so singular."
"Kind! bless you, my dear madam," said they both together; "you can't conceive how much we love the little dear."
"It was but yesterday," said Mrs Root, "that I was telling the lady of Mr Alderman Jenkins—we have the five Jenkinses, ma'am—that Master Rattlin was the sweetest, genteelist, and beautifullest boy in the whole school."
"It was but yesterday," said Mr Root, "that I was saying to Doctor Duncan (our respected rector, madam), that Master Rattlin had evinced such an uncommon talent, that we might, by-and-by, expect the greatest things from him. Not yet ten months with me, madam. Already in Phaedrus—the rule of three—and his French master gives the best account of him. He certainly has not begun to speak it yet, though he has made a vast progress in the French language. But it is Monsieur le Gros's system to make his pupils thoroughly master of the language before they attempt to converse in it. And his dancing, my dear madam— Oh, it would do your heart good to see him dance. Such grace, such elasticity, and such happiness in his manner!"
A pause—and then they exclaimed together, with a long-drawn sentimental sigh, "And we both love him so."
"I am glad to hear so good an account of him," said the lady. "I hope, Ralph, that you love Mr and Mrs Root, for they seem very kind to you."
"No, I don't."
Mr and Mrs Root lifted their hands imploringly to heaven. "Not love me!" they both exclaimed together, with a tone of heartfelt surprise and wounded sensibility, that would have gone far to have made the fortune of a sentimental actor.
"Come here, sir, directly," said Mr Root. "Look me full in the face, sir. You are a singular boy, yet I did think you loved me. Don't be frightened, Ralph, I would not give you pain on any account; and you know I never did. Now tell me, my dear boy," gradually softening from the terrible to the tender, "tell me, my dear boy, why you fancy you do not love me. You see, madam, that I encourage sincerity—and like, at all times, the truth to be spoken out. Why don't you love me, Ralph dear?" pinching my ear with a spiteful violence, that was meant for gracious playfulness in the eyes of the lady, and an intelligible hint for myself. I was silent.
"Come, Ralph, speak your mind freely. No one will do you any harm for it, I am sure. Why don't you love Mr Root?" said the lady.
I was ashamed to speak of my floggings, and I looked upon his late abandonment and negligence as kindness. I knew not what to say, yet I knew I hated him most cordially. I stammered, and at last I brought out this unfortunate sentence, "Because he has got such an ugly, nasty voice."
Mr and Mrs Root burst out into a long and, for the time, apparently uncontrollable laughter. When it had somewhat subsided, the schoolmaster exclaimed, "There, madam, didn't I tell you he was a singular lad? Come here, you little wag, I must give you a kiss for your drollery." And the monster hauled me to him, and when his face was close to mine, I saw a wolfish glare in his eyes, that made me fear that he was going to bite my nose off. The lady did not at all participate in the joviality; and, as it is difficult to keep up mirth entirely upon one's own resources, we were beginning to be a gloomy party. What I had unconsciously said regarding my master's voice, was wormwood to him. He had long been the butt of all his acquaintance respecting it, and what followed was the making that unbearable which was before too bitter. Many questions were put by the visitor, and the answers appeared to grow more and more unsatisfactory as they were elicited. The lady was beginning to look unhappy, when a sudden brightness came over her lovely countenance, and, with the most polished and kindly tone, she asked to see Mr Root's own children. Mr Root looked silly, and Mrs Root distressed. The vapid and worn-out joke that their family was so large, that it boasted of the number of two hundred and fifty, fell spiritless to the ground; and disappointment, and even a slight shade of despondence, came over the lady's features.
"Where were you, Ralph, when I came?" said she; "I waited for you long."
"I was being washed, and putting on my second best."
"But why washed at this time of day—and why put on your second best?"
"Because I had dirtied my hands, and my other clothes, carrying up the tea-kettle to Mr Matthews's room."
Mr and Mrs Root again held up their hands in astonishment.
"And who is Mr Matthews?" continued the lady.
"Second Latin master, and ill abed in the garret."
"From whence did you take the tea-kettle?"
"From the kitchen."
"And who gave it you?"
"Molly, one of the maids."
At this disclosure Mr Root fell into the greatest of all possible rages, and, as we like a figure of speech called a climax, we must say, that Mrs Root fell into a much greater. They would turn the hussey out of the house that instant; they would do that, they would do this, and they would do the other. At length, the lady, with calm severity, requested them to do nothing at all.
"There has been," said she, "some mistake here. There is nothing very wrong, or disgraceful in Ralph attending to the wants of his sick master, though he does lie in the garret. I would rather see in his disposition a sympathy for suffering encouraged. God knows, there is in this world too much of the latter, and too little of the former. Yet I certainly think that there could have been a less degrading method pointed out to him of showing attention. But we will let this pass, as I know it will never happen again. You see, Mr and Mrs Root, that this poor child is rather delicate in appearance; he is much grown certainly; much more than I expected, or wished—but he seems both shy and dejected. I was in hopes that you had been yourselves blessed with a family. A mother can trust to a mother. Though you are not parents, you have known a parent's love. I have no doubt that you are fond of children—('Very,' both in a breath)—from the profession you have chosen. I am the godmother of this boy. Alas! I am afraid no nearer relation will ever appear to claim him. He has no mother, Mrs Root, without you will be to him as one; and I conjure you, sir, to let the fatherless find in the preceptor, a father. Let him only meet for a year or two with kindness, and I will cheerfully trust to Providence for the rest. Though I detest the quackery of getting up a scene, I wish to be as impressive as I can, as I am sorry to say, more than a year will unavoidably pass before I can see this poor youth again. Let me, at that time, I conjure you, see him in health and cheerfulness. Will you permit me now to say farewell? as I wish to say a few words of adieu to my godson, and should I cry over him for his mother's sake, you know that a lady does not like to be seen with red eyes."
The delicacy of this sickly attempt at pleasantry was quite lost upon the scholastic pair. They understood her literally; and Mrs Root began, "My eye-water—" However, leave was taken, and I was left with the lady. She took me on her lap, and a hearty hug we had together. She then rang for Molly. She spoke to the girl kindly, asked no questions of her that might lead her to betray her employers, but, giving her half a guinea not to lose sight of me in the multitude, and, to prove her gratitude, never to suffer me again to enter the kitchen, she promised to double the gratuity when she again saw me, if she attended to her request. The girl, evidently affected as much by her manner as her gift, curtseyed and withdrew. While she remained at the school she complied with my godmother's request most punctually.
CONTAINETH A LECTURE ON LOVE FROM A PERSONIFICATION OF LOVELINESS—AND SHOWETH THAT SUPERSTITION HAS ITS SWEETS AS WELL AS ITS HORRORS—AND ALSO HOW TO AVOID THE INFECTION OF THE EVIL EYE.
When we were alone, she examined me carefully, to ascertain if I were perfectly clean. It would have, perhaps, been for me a happy circumstance, if Mr Root had flogged me this day, or even a fortnight previously. The marks that he left were not very ephemeral. I don't know whether a flogging a month old would not equally well have served my purpose. He certainly wrote a strong bold hand, in red ink, not easily obliterated. However, as he had not noticed me since my illness, I had no marks to show.
When she had readjusted my dress, she lugged me to her side, and we looked, for a long while, in each other's eyes in silence.
"Ralph," said she, at length, forgetting that the fault was mutual, "do you know that it is very rude to look so hard into people's faces; why do you do it, my boy?"
"Because you are so very, very, very pretty, and your voice is so soft: and because I do love you so."
"But you must not love me too much, my sweet child: because I can't be with you to return your love."
"O dear, I'm so sorry; because—because—if you don't love me, nobody will. Master don't love me, nor the ushers, nor the boys; and they keep calling me the—"
"Hush, Ralph! hush, my poor boy," said she, colouring to her very forehead. "Never tell me what they call you. Little boys who call names are wicked boys, and are very false boys too. Hear me, Ralph! You are nearly ten years old. You must be a man, and not love anyone too much—not even me—for it makes people very unhappy to love too much. Do you understand me, Ralph? You must be kind to all, and all will be kind to you: but it is best not to love anything violently— excepting, Ralph, Him who will love you when all hate you—who will care for you, when all desert you—your God!"
"I don't know too much about that," was my answer. "Mr Root tells us once every week to trust in God, and that God will protect the innocent, and all that: and then flogs me for nothing at all, though I trust all I can; and I'm sure that I'm innocent."
My good godmother was a little shocked at this, and endeavoured to convince me that such expressions were impious, by assuring me that everything was suffered for the best; and that, if Mr Foot flogged me unjustly and wickedly, I should be rewarded, and my master punished for it hereafter; which assurance did not much mend my moral feelings, as I silently resolved to put myself in the way of a few extra unjust chastisements, in order that my master might receive the full benefit of them in a future state.
Moral duties should be inculcated in the earliest youth; but the mysteries of religion should be left to a riper age. After many endearments, and much good advice, that I thought most beautiful, from the tenderness of tone in which it was given, I requested the lady, with all my powers of entreaty, and amidst a shower of kisses, to take me home to my mother.
"Alas! my dear boy," was the reply, "Mrs Brandon is not your mother."
"Well, I couldn't believe that before—never mind—I love her just as well. But who is my mother? If you were not so pretty, and so fine, I would ask you to be my mother; all the other boys have got a mother, and a father too."
The lady caught me to her bosom, and kissing me amidst her tears, said, "Ralph, I will be your mother, though you must only look upon me as your godmamma."
"Oh, I'm so glad of that! and what shall I call you?"
"Mamma, my dear child."
"Well, mamma, won't you take me home? I don't mean now, but at the holidays, when all the others go to their mammas? I'll be so good. Won't you, mamma?"
"Come here, Ralph. I was wrong. You must not call me mamma, I can't bear it. I was never a mother to you, my poor boy. I cannot have you home. By-and-by, perhaps. Do not think about me too much, and do not think that you are not loved. Oh! you are loved, very much indeed; but now you must make your schoolfellows love you. I have told Mr Root to allow you sixpence a week, and there are eight shillings for you, and a box of playthings, in the hall, and a large cake in the box; lend the playthings, and share the cake. Now, my dear boy, I must leave you. Do not think that I am your mother, but your very good friend. Now, may God bless you and watch over you. Keep up your spirits, and remember that you are cared for, and loved—O, how fondly loved!"
With a fervent blessing, and an equally fervent embrace, she parted from me; and, when I looked round and found that she had gone from the room, I actually experienced the sensation as if the light of the sun had been suddenly with drawn, and that I walked forth in twilight.