A morning concert, in which the opposition is as great as black to white.
Among my father's associates there was a man of about forty years of age, Dick Harness by name. He had received a wound in the hip from a grape-shot, and his leg having in consequence contracted, it occasioned him to limp very much; but he was as strong and hearty in all other respects as a man could be. He was a very merry fellow, full of jokes, and if any one told a story which was at all verging on the marvelous, he was sure to tell another which would be still more incredible. He played the fiddle and sang to his own accompaniments, which were very droll, as he extracted very strange noises from his instrument. Sometimes his bow would be on the wrong side of the bridge, sometimes down at the keys; besides which he produced sounds by thumping the fiddle as well as by touching its strings as a guitar; indeed, he could imitate in a certain way almost every instrument and most of the noises made by animals. He had one fault, for which he used to be occasionally punished, which was, he was too fond of the bottle; but he was a great favorite, and therefore screened by the men, and as much as possible overlooked by the officers. The punishment for a pensioner getting drunk was, at that time, being made to wear a yellow instead of a blue coat, which made a man look very conspicuous.
I recollect one day he had the yellow coat on, when a party of ladies and gentlemen came to see the hospital. Perceiving that he was dressed so differently from the other pensioners, one of the ladies' curiosity was excited, and at last she called him to her and said, "Pray, my good man, why do you wear a yellow coat when the other pensioners have blue ones?"
"Bless your handsome face, ma'am!" replied Dick, "don't you really know?"
"No, indeed," replied she.
"Well, then, ma'am, perhaps you may have heard of the glorious battle of the Nile, in which Nelson gave the French such a drubbing?"
"Oh, yes," cried all the ladies and gentlemen, who had now crowded about him.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, I had the good fortune to be in that great victory, and all we Nilers, as we are called, are permitted to wear a yellow coat as a mark of distinction, while the common pensioners wear nothing but blue."
"Dear me!" said the lady, "and do I really speak to one of those brave fellows who fought at the battle of the Nile?" and she put her hand into her pocket and pulled out five shillings. "There," said she, "I hope you'll not be affronted, but accept this from me."
"Not at all, ma'am," replied Dick, pocketing the money.
Then the whole party made a subscription for him, and Dick went off with a handful of silver.
There was, however, another man who contributed much to the fun created by Dick Harness. He was an American black, who had served as cook in the "Majestic," and had been wounded in the battle of the Nile, He had received a bullet in the knee, which had occasioned a stiff joint; and, as his leg was bent, he wore a short wooden stump. He also could play his fiddle and sing his songs, but in neither case so well as Dick Harness, although he thought otherwise himself. We used to call him Opposition Bill, but his name was Bill White; at least that was the purser's name that he went by when on board of a man-of-war. His pleasure was to follow Dick Harness everywhere; and if Dick sung he would sing, if Dick played he would play also—not at the same time, but if Dick stopped Bill would strike up. Dick used to call him his black shadow; and sometimes he would execute a flourish on his fiddle which would be quite a puzzler to Opposition Bill, who would attempt something of the kind, which invariably set every one laughing. At last Dick Harness's performances were not considered to be complete if Opposition Bill was not in his company; and, as they were both very good-tempered, funny fellows, they were a great amusement, especially in the fine weather, when they would sit on the benches upon the terrace about six or eight yards apart, for they seldom came nearer, and play and sing alternately. The songs sung by Dick Harness were chiefly old sea songs; those of Opposition Bill were picked up from every part of the world, principally, however, those sung by the negroes who worked on the plantations in Virginia and Carolina.
Peter Anderson, my father, Ben, and many others were sitting on the benches, basking in the morning's sun, when Dick Harness made his appearance, limping along with his fiddle under his arm.
"Come along, Dick," said Ben the Whaler, "we'll stow close, and make room for you here."
"You must make elbow-room, too, my hearty, or I shan't be able to fiddle. Come, what will you have this fine morning?" said Harness, tuning his instrument. As soon as it was in tune he flourished a prelude from the top of the scale to the bottom, ending with an "Eh-haw! eh-haw!" in imitation of the braying of a donkey.
"Give us the Spanish Ladies, Dick," said my father. As this song was very popular at that time among the seamen, and is now almost forgotten, I shall by inserting it here for a short time rescue it from oblivion.
"Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies, Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain; For we have received orders For to sail to old England, But we hope in a short time to see you again."
"Stop a moment, lads. I must screw him up a little more."
Dick regulated his first string, and then continued.
"We'll rant and we'll roar, like true British sailors, We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas; Until we strike soundings In the Channel of old England (From Ushant to Scilly 'tis thirty-five leagues). "Then we hove our ship to, with the wind at sou'west, my boys, Then we hove our ship to, for to strike soundings clear; Then we filled the maintopsail And bore right away, my boys, And straight up the Channel of old England did steer. "So the first land we made, it is called the Deadman, Next Ram Head, off Plymouth, Start, Portland, and the Wight; We sail-ed by Beachy, By Fairly and Dungeness, And then bore away for the South Foreland light. "Now the signal it was made for the grand fleet to anchor, All in the Downs that night for to meet; Then stand by your stoppers, See clear your shank painters, Haul all your clew garnets, stick out tacks and sheets."
Here Dick was interrupted by another fiddle, which went "turn, turn—scrape—turn, turn."
"There's Opposition Bill, Dick," said my father; "I thought you would bring him out."
"All's right," replied Dick; "hope he aren't affronted; but he looks very black this morning."
"Now let every man lake off his full bumper, Let every man take off his full bowl; For we will be jolly And drown melancholy, With a health to each jovial and true-hearted soul."
"Now, then, Billy, fire away."
"You tink I 'bey your order, you Dick? No, sar, suppose I fire away, I go off. I not go off, I stay here."
"Well, but if you play, you'll get in trouble, Billy."
"How I get in trouble?"
"Why, you'll get in a scrape, won't you?"
"Ho! you just got out of one, anyhow."
Dick Harness then said to those who sat by him, "I'll make him sing the Negro General."
"Well, if you will howl, Mr. Billy," cried out Harness, "at all events don't give us that abominable Nigger General. It always gives me the toothache."
"Now I tink dat very fine song; so you may have whole jaw-ache for all I care. I sing dat, Mr. Dick; you jealous of dat song, I know."
Opposition Billy flourished a little, and then commenced—
"Listen, my boys, and I will tell you Tell you a leetle 'bout Gin'ral Gabriel. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "Dey advertise de Nigger Gin'ral, A dousand pounds dey advertise him. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "And who betrayed de Nigger Gin'ral? A leetle boy betrayed de Gin'ral. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "A leetle boy by de name of Daniel, Betrayed him down at Norfolk Landing. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "He says, how do, my uncle Gabriel? But dis is not your uncle Gabriel. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "Yes, it is my uncle Gabriel; For I do know you, uncle Gabriel. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "De man belonged to Major Prosser, So cum and hang de Nigger Gin'ral. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "For he's ruined old Virginny! Hard times in old Virginny. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "Dey wrote a letter to de tailor, To cut out de Gin'ral's ruffles. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "Dey cut de ruffles out o' iron! So they handcuff and chained him. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "Dey went and called a troop of light horse To come and guard de Nigger Gin'ral! Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "To guard him all to de city of Richmond, To guard him up unto de justice. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "De justice tuk him to de gobnor— (Monroe he set up for gobnor). Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "Command him to de Penetenshy; On Thursday week come on his trial. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "Dey went and called all de country For to come and see de Nigger Gin'ral. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "Some dey call him Archy Mullen—'My right name is John Decullen.' Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "I'm here to-day and gone to-morrow; I did not come for to stay for eber.' Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "So den dey tuk him to de gallows, Drive him down dere in a wagon. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "Dey drive him down unto de gallows, Dey drive him down with four gray horses. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "(Price's Ben, he drive de wagon) Very sad loss to Major Prosser. Oh, my boys, I'm most done! "Dey drove him right beneath de gallows, And den dey hang him and dey swing him. Oh-e-oh! Oh-e-oh! "And dat de fate of de Nigger Gin'ral, Who almost ruined old Virginny! Now, my boys, I'm quite done!"
"You've quite done, have you, Billy?" said Harness; "take my advice and never begin again."
"Eh, Mister Dick, you no ab song like dat in your budget, and I neber give you de tune."
"I hope you won't; but now I'll play you a tune which will beat you hollow." Hereupon Dick Harness imitated the squeaking of pigs and caterwauling of cats upon his fiddle, so as to set everybody laughing, except Opposition Bill, who pretended to be very sulky.
"Come, Dick, it's your turn now. Give us a regular forecastle song," said Ben the Whaler.
"Well, then, here's one that's been sung ever since the days of old Queen Anne:
"It was one November—the second day— The admiral he bore away, Intending for his native shore. The wind at sou'sou'west did roar; There was likewise a terrible sky, Which made the sea to run mountains high. "The tide of ebb it was not done, But fiercely to the west did run; Which put us all in terrible fear, Because there was not room for to veer. The wind and weather increased sore, And drove ten sail of us on shore. "Ashore went the 'Northumberland,' The 'Harwich,' and the 'Cumberland,' The 'Lion' and the 'Warwick' too; But the 'Elizabeth' had the most to rue— She came stem on—her fore-foot broke, And she sunk the 'Gloucester' at one stroke. "But now remains what is worse to tell, The greatest ships had the greatest knell; The brave 'C'ronation' and all her men Was lost and drowned every one, Except the mate and eighteen more What in the longboat com'd ashore. "And thus they lost their precious lives; But the greatest loss was to their wives, Who, with their children left on shore, Their husbands' watery death deplore, And wept their loss with many tears— (But grief endureth not for years). "Now you who've a mind to go to sea, Pray take a useful hint from me, And live at home, and be content With what kind Providence has sent; For they were punish'd for their misdeeds, In grumbling when they had no needs. "Now God preserve our noble Queen, Likewise her Ministers serene; And may they ever steer a course To make things better 'stead of worse, And England's flag triumphant fly, The dread of hevery he-ne-my."
"You call dat singing! Stop now! I sing a song you nebber hear in all your life," cried Opposition Bill, tuning his fiddle.
"And never wish to hear again, most likely," replied Dick. "Out with it, Bill; your face shines beautifully this morning."
"I take de shine out of you, Massa Dick; now you listen:
"Now your fader is asleep, maid, listen unto me; Will you follow in my trail to Ken-tuck-y? For cross de Alleghany to-morrow I must go, To chase de bounding deer on'de O-hi-o. "And will you lub me truly, and kind to me will be, If I quit my fader's roof for Ken-tuck-y? And will you nebber leave me, if I consent to go To your shanty by de stream of de O-hi-o? "Her fader's not asleep, and he will not agree, Dat you take away his dater to Ken-tuck-y. So alone by yourself, good hunter, you must go, Where the Ingin's rifle cracks on de O-hi-o. "Your moder, too, is near, aldough you did not see, And wid her leave you nebber go to Ken-tuck-y. He hab a wife already, as I do surely know, Who weeps for his return to de O-hi-o. "Man, I have dis purse of gold, half of it for ye; Woman, I hab ne'er a wife in Ken-tuck-y; Your dater is my only lub, so pridee let us go To where my corn is ripening on de O-hi-o. "De fader weighed de purse, he took his half wid glee, De moder said her child might go to Ken-tuck-y. So de hunter and de maid, arm-in-arm dey go, Across de Alleghany to de O-hi-o."
"Bravo, Billy, that's not so bad," said some of the pensioners.
"I tell you, Dick, I take de shine out of you. You nebber believe till I make you fall in my wake, and den you soon be where de little boat was—long way astarn."
"I'll tell you what, Billy," said Dick Harness, "you do improve, and we'll allow you to sing that song once more before you die, just by way of encouragement."
Dick then played several flourishes on his fiddle. Opposition Bill tried to imitate him, but made sad work of it. It was near dinner-time, and the pensioners rose and proceeded to the Painted Hall, for at that time they dined there, and not below in the crypts as they do now.