Poor Jack

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My father does what most sailors do—he makes a foolish marriage, one of the consequences of which is brought to light at the end of the chapter.

I have observed at the finale of my first chapter, that at last my mother and father came to a good understanding; but at the same time Madam Araminta (for so my mother insisted upon being called) took good care to let my father understand that she considered that she was lowering herself by surrendering up her charms to a captain's coxswain. She informed him that her father might be said to have been royally connected, being a king's messenger (and so, indeed, he might be considered, having been a twopenny postman), and that her mother had long scores against the first nobles in the land (she was a milk-woman), and that she had dry-nursed a young baronet, and was now not merely a ladies' maid, but a lady's laides' maid. All this important and novel communication sunk deep in my father's mind, and when he heard it he could hardly believe his good fortune in having achieved such a conquest; but, as the sequel will prove, his marriage did not turn out very happily. He used to say to me, "Jack, take my advice, and never marry above your condition as I did; nothing would please me but a lady's ladies' maid; I had no right to look up to even a ladies' maid, and had your mother only been a simple maid, all might have been right." But these were after-reflections when it was too late. I do not wonder at my poor father's senses being dazzled, for, as he said to me, "You see, Jack, after being used to see nothing but Point women, all so slack in stays and their rigging out of order, to fall aboard of a craft like your mother, so trim and neat, ropes all taut, stays well set up, white hammock-cloths spread every day in the week, and when under way, with a shawl streaming out like a silk ensign, and such a rakish gaff topsail bonnet, with pink pennants; why, it was for all the world as if I was keeping company with a tight little frigate after rolling down channel with a fleet of colliers; but, howsomever, fine feathers don't make fine birds, and handsome is as handsome does."

My father's marriage was, however, precipitated by circumstances. One afternoon, after he had been accepted, he had taken his quid out of his cheek, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and was in the act of giving and receiving a chaste salute, when Lady Hercules happened to come down into the kitchen—a most rare occurrence, and wholly unexpected from a lady of her refined and delicate ideas. She caught my father and mother in the very act; and (as my father expressed it) with an exclamation of horror, "She 'bout ship, and sculled upstairs like winkin'." A loud peal of the bell summoned up my mother, leaving my father in a state of no pleasant suspense, for he was calculating how far Sir Hercules could bring in "kissing a lady's ladies' maid" under the article of war as "contempt of superiors," and, if so, how many dozen kisses his back might receive from the cat in return. While he was absorbed in this pleasing speculation, Lady Hercules was pouring out anathemas against my mother's want of delicacy and decency, informing her that it was impossible she could submit the decoration of her person to one who has so contaminated herself with a tobacco-chewing seaman—who was all pigtail within and without; for, as the Scripture says, "Who can touch pitch without being defiled?"

Although my mother had made up her mind that if it was to be a question between a place and a husband, she should decide upon retaining the latter, still she thought it advisable, if it were possible, to conciliate my lady. She therefore pulled out a cambric handkerchief, and while her ladyship scolded, she covered up her face and wept. Lady Hercules continued to scold until she was out of breath, and thereby compelled to stop. My mother then replied, with deep humility and many tears, "that indeed she had been so persuaded (sob) that she at last promised to (sob) marry; but only on one condition—yes, indeed—(sob) that her ladyship gave her consent—positively on no other (sob)—no, indeed, upon her honor! Mr. Saunders was—(sob)—excellent young man—(sob), so attached to Sir Hercules (sob), and had such a great respect for her ladyship, that—(sob—sob—sob)—he had won her heart."

By this time her ladyship had regained her breath, and she interrupted my mother by pointing out to her, that allowing all she said to be correct, yet still that was no reason why she should allow such indecent liberties; that Sir Hercules had never obtained such favors from her until after the ring had been put on her finger. Then, indeed, such things might be—that is, occasionally; but the kitchen of all places!—And, besides, how did she know how many wives the coxswain had already? She shouldn't be surprised, if, with that long pigtail of his, he had five at least—nay, perhaps, six or seven. Here my mother replied that "it was out of gratitude to her (sob) for having consented to permit him to (sob) speak to Sir Hercules (sob), who would plead with her ladyship (sob), which had occasioned Mr. Saunders (sob) to take—such—a—liberty (sob—sob—sob)—which he had never—done before—(sob)—No!—never—upon her honor—never!—" And here my mother's sobs choked her utterance.

This explanation somewhat pacified, and a little subsequent humility and flattery gained the mistress, who consented to settle the matter with Sir Hercules, alleging, as one principal reason for so doing, that after the familiarity which had taken place between them, the sooner they were married the better. The wishes of her ladyship were tantamount to commands. Sir Hercules pronounced my father to be a fool, and they were married.

My mother was a good-looking person, perhaps two or three years older than my father; she was of a very bad temper, very vindictive and revengeful, and in every way she had a pleasure in annoying other people, and when she succeeded she invariably concluded her remarks with, "There—now you're vexed!" Whenever out of humor herself from the observations of others, she attempted to conceal her vexation by singing; and having been so many years of her life in the nursery, her songs were usually those little ditties used to pacify or amuse children in arms. "Saunders," she would cry out, "if you aren't the biggest fool that ever walked on two legs—to look at that long tail of yours you're so proud of, one would think I'd married a monkey—ahourang-howtang, instead of a man. There—now you're vexed! One can't open one's mouth." My mother knew where to strike; and this attack upon his pigtail was certain to provoke my father, who would retort in no measured language, till she, in her turn, lost her temper, and then out she would sing, in a sort of scream—

"Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon," etc.

And thus she continued to sing (or squeal) until her wrath cooled down.

The consequences of forming a matrimonial alliance with a captain's coxswain soon became visible. Six months after they had been married, Lady Hercules pronounced my mother's appearance to be quiet indecent, and declared her no longer fit for the office of lady's maid to a lady of her exquisite delicacy; and my mother, who became less active every day, received notice to quit, which she did, when her month was up, in great wrath, packing up her boxes, and slamming the door as she left the house, singing at the very highest pitch of her voice,

"Dickory, dickory, dock; the mouse ran up the clock," etc.

My father wished her to come and live with him on board the frigate; but to that my mother would not consent, saying that she had, it was true, degraded herself and her family by marrying a coxswain, but she was not going to further contaminate herself by mixing with the vulgar creatures on board. In this resolve I think my mother was right; but her dismissal and disgrace was followed up by my father being disrated and turned into the maintop, for no other reason in the world than such being the will and pleasure of Lady Hercules.

Her ladyship considered that she had lost a good servant through my father's intervention; and having therefore taken a dislike to him, did not choose that he should, as coxswain, come up to the house as usual; and, as he no longer did the duty of coxswain, she asserted that he was not entitled to the rating. Thus, seven months had hardly passed away before my father's marriage became a source of vexation and annoyance; his pay was decreased, and he was no longer a petty officer. My mother's pride was hurt; and if she was resolute in not going on board to remain with him when he was captain's coxswain, she was still more so now that he was reduced to a common seaman. As for my father, he was the picture of misery—he had no consolation except turning his quid and tying his pigtail.

But everything changes in this world, and among other changes was that of the station of the frigate, which was ordered foreign. Sir Hercules took leave of his lady, who retired to Tunbridge Wells. My father took leave of my mother, who retired to Woolwich. She had saved some money in service, and my father handed over to her all the pay which he received, when the ship's company were paid previous to the sailing of the ship. It is but justice to observe that the moment he was out of soundings and away from the influence of her ladyship, Sir Hercules reinstated my father, and gave him back his rating as coxswain. My father was indeed the smartest and best seaman in the ship; he could do his work from stem to stern—mouse a stay, pudding an anchor, and pass a gammoning, as well as he could work a Turk's head, cover a manrope, or point a lashing for the cabin table. Besides which, he had seen service, having fought under Rodney, and served at the siege of Gibraltar.

But I must return to my mother, who, when she first went to Woolwich, which she did in a transport that was ordered round, took lodgings in the outskirts of the town; and not wishing to acknowledge that she had married a common sailor, as she supposed my father still to be, asserted that she was the wife of a captain of a merchant vessel, which had been taken up as a transport to convey troops to the West Indies. On this supposition, being received into a society above her real station, she was compelled to spend more money than she could afford, and her finances rapidly wasted away. In the meantime I was born—a fine baby, but with nothing to look up to but a penniless mother, an absent (if existing) father, the workhouse, and the sky.

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