A most important present is made to me; and, as it will eventually appear, the generosity of the giver is rewarded.
Sir Hercules and Lady Hawkingtrefylyan quitted Greenwich the day after the interview narrated in the preceding chapter; and by that day's post Anderson received a letter, in reply to the one he had written, from his friend Philip Bramble, channel and river pilot, who had, as he said in his letter, put on shore at Deal, where he resided, but the day before, after knocking about in the Channel for three weeks. Bramble stated his willingness to receive and take charge of me, desiring that I would hold myself in readiness to be picked up at a minute's warning, and he would call for me the first time that he took a vessel up the river. A letter communicating this intelligence was forthwith dispatched by my mother to Sir Hercules, who sent a short reply, stating that if I conducted myself properly he would not lose sight of me. This letter, however, very much increased the family consequence in Fisher's Alley, for my mother did not fail to show it to everybody, and everybody was anxious to see the handwriting of a real baronet.
About a week afterward I went to the shop of the widow St. Felix to purchase some tobacco for my father, when she said to me, "So, Jack—or Tom—as I hear you request to be called now—you are going to leave us?"
"Yes," replied I, "and I shall be sorry to leave you, you have been so kind to me."
"A little kindness goes a great way with some people, Tom, and that's the case with you, for you've a grateful heart. You're to be a pilot, I hear; well, Tom, I've a present to make you, which you will find very useful in your profession, and which will make you think of me sometimes. Stop a moment till I come down again."
The widow went upstairs, and when she came down held in her hand a telescope, or spy-glass, as sailors generally call them. It was about two feet long, covered with white leather, and apparently had been well preserved.
"Now, Tom, this is what a pilot ought not to be without, and if what was said by the person to whom it belonged is true, it is an excellent spy-glass; so now accept it from your loving friend, and long may you live to peep through it."
"Thank you, thank you," replied I, delighted, as Mrs. St. Felix put it into my hands. I surveyed it all over, pulled out the tube, and then said to her, "Who did it belong to?"
"Tom," replied the widow, "that's a sad trick you have of asking questions; it's quite sufficient that it is mine, and that I give it to you—is it not?"
"Yes," replied I, "but you're the only person who says that I ask too many questions. Why, here's a name, F.I."
The widow stretched herself over the counter with a sudden spring, and snatched the telescope out of my hand. When I looked at her she stood pale and trembling.
"Why, what is the matter?" inquired I.
She put her hand to her side, as if in great pain, and for some seconds could not speak.
"Tom, I never knew that there was a name on the telescope; the name must not be known, that's the truth; you shall have it this evening, but you must go away now—do, that's a dear good boy."
The widow turned to walk into the back parlor, with the telescope in her hand, and I obeyed her injunctions in silence and wondering. That there was a mystery about her was certain, and I felt very sorrowful, not that I did not know the secret, but that I could not be of service to her. That evening the telescope was brought to my mother's house by fat Jane. I percieved that the portion of the brass rim upon which the name had been cut with a knife, for it had not been engraved, as I thought, had been carefully filed down, so that not a vestige of the letters appeared.
The next morning I was down at the steps long before breakfast, that I might try my new present. Bill Freeman was there, and he showed me how to adjust the focus. I amused myself looking at the vessels which were working up and down the Reach, and so much was I delighted that I quite forgot how time passed, and lost my breakfast. Every one asked to have a peep through the telescope, and every one declared that it was an excellent glass; at last Spicer came up to where I stood.
"Well, Jack," said he, "what have you there—a spy-glass? Let's have a look; I'm a good judge of one, I can tell you."
I handed the telescope over to him; he looked through it for some time.
"A first-rate glass, Jack" (I was oftener called Jack than Tom at that time); "I never knew but one equal to it. Where did you get it?"
I don't exactly know why, but perhaps the mystery evident in the widow, and the cautions I had received against Spicer, combined together, induced me not to answer the question.
"It's odd," observed Spicer, who was now examining the outside of the telescope; "I could almost swear to it." He then looked at the small brass rim where the name had been, and perceived that it had been erased. "Now I'm positive! Jack, where did you get this glass?"
"It was made a present to me," replied I.
"Come here," said Spicer, leading me apart from the others standing by. "Now tell me directly," and Spicer spoke in an authoritative tone, "who gave you this glass?"
I really was somewhat afraid of Spicer, who had gained much power over me. I dared not say that I would not tell him, and I did not like to tell a lie. I thought that if I told the truth I might somehow or another injure Mrs. St. Felix, and I therefore answered evasively, "It was sent to me as a present by a lady."
"Oh!" replied Spicer, who had heard of Sir Hercules and his lady, "so the lady sent it to you? It's very odd," continued he; "I could take my oath that I've had that glass in my hand a hundred times."
"Indeed!" replied I. "Where?"
But Spicer did not answer me; he had fallen into one of his dark moods, and appeared as if recalling former events to his mind. He still kept possession of the glass, and I was afraid that he would not return it, for I tried to take it softly out of his hand, and he would not let go. He remained in this way about a minute, when I perceived my father and Ben the Whaler coming up, at which I was delighted.
"Father," said I, as they came near, "come and try my new spy-glass."
Spicer started, and released the telescope, when I laid hold of it and put it into my father's hands. As neither my father nor Ben would ever speak to him, Spicer, with a lowering brow, walked away. After my father had examined the glass and praised it, he very naturally asked me where I obtained it. After what had passed with Spicer I was so fearful of his discovering, by other people, by whom the glass had been given to me, that I replied again, in the hearing of everybody, "A lady, father; you may easily guess who."
"Well," replied my father, "I never thought that her ladyship could have been so generous. I take it very kindly of her."
I was delighted at my father falling so easily into the mistake. As for my mother and Virginia, they were neither of them present when Jane brought the telescope to me, or I certainly should have stated, without reservation, to whom I had been indebted. I hardly could decide whether I would go to the widow and tell her what had occurred; but, upon some reflection, as she had accused me of asking too many questions, and might suppose that I wished to obtain her secrets, I determined upon saying nothing about it.
For a week I occupied myself wholly with my telescope, and I became perfectly master of it, or rather quite used to it, which is of some importance. I avoided Spicer, always leaving the steps when I perceived him approaching, although once or twice he beckoned to me. At the expiration of the week a message was brought by a waterman from Philip Bramble, stating that he should pass Greenwich in a day or two, being about to take down a West Indiaman then lying below London Bridge. My clothes were therefore then packed up in readiness, and I went to bid farewell to my limited acquaintance.
I called upon old Nanny, who was now quite strong again. I had before acquainted her with my future prospects.
"Well, Jack," says she, "and so you're going away? I don't think you were quite right to give up a situation where you gained so many halfpence every day, and only for touching your cap; however, you know best. I shall have no more bargains after you are gone, that's certain. But, Jack, you'll be on board of vessels coming from the East and West Indies, and all other parts of the world, and they have plenty of pretty things on board, such as shells, and empty bottles, and hard biscuit, and bags of oakum; and, Jack, they will give them to you for nothing, for sailors don't care what they give away when they come from a long voyage; and so mind you beg for me as much as you can, that's a good boy; but don't take live monkeys or those things, they eat so much. You may bring me a parrot, I think I could sell one, and that don't cost much to feed. Do you understand, Jack? Will you do this for me?"
"I don't know whether I can do all you wish, but depend upon it, mother, I won't forget you."
"That's enough, Jack, you'll keep your word; and now, is there any nice thing that I can give you out of my shop, as a keepsake, Jack?"
"Why, no, mother, I thank you—nothing."
"Think of something, Jack," replied old Nanny; "you must have something."
"Well, then, mother, you know I like reading; will you give me the old book that I was reading when I sat up with you one night?"
"Yes, Jack, and welcome; what book is it? I don't know—I can't see to read large print without spectacles, and I broke mine many years ago."
"Why do you not buy another pair?"
"Another pair, Jack? Spectacles cost money. I've no money; and as I never read, I don't want spectacles. Go in and fetch the book; it's yours and welcome."
I went in and brought out the Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" which I before mentioned. "This is it, mother."
"Yes, yes, I recollect now, it's a very pretty book. What's it about, Jack? I can't see myself: never mind, take it, Jack, and don't forget your promise."
I wished old Nanny good-by, and took the book home, which I gave into Virginia's care, as I wished her to read it. The next morning, at daybreak, I was summoned; the ship was dropping down the river. I bade farewell to my little sister, who wept on my shoulder; to my mother, who hardly condescended to answer me. My father helped me down with my luggage, which was not very heavy; and Anderson and old Ben accompanied us to the landing-steps; and having bid them all farewell, besides many others of my friends who were there, I stepped into the boat sent for me, and quitted Greenwich for my new avocation on the 6th of October, 1799, being then, as Anderson had calculated, precisely thirteen years and seven months old.