Bramble's method of education proves very effective—he also points out a position in which you may prefer your enemies to your friends!
The house of Philip Bramble was situated on the further side of a road which ran along the shore, just above the shingle beach. It was a large cottage on one floor, the street door entering at once into its only sitting-room. It was furnished as such tenements usually are, with a small dresser and shelves for crockery, and a table and chairs of cherry wood; on the broad mantelpiece, for the fireplace was large, were several brass candlesticks, very bright, ranged with foreign curiosities, and a few shells; half a dozen prints in frames ornamented the walls; and on large nails drove into the panels, wherever a space could be found, were hung coats, P-jackets, and other articles of dress, all ready for the pilot to change whenever he came on shore wet to the skin. Everything was neat and clean: the planks of the floor were white as snow, yet the floor itself was sanded with white sand, and there were one or two square wooden boxes, also filled with sand, for the use of those who smoked. When I add that, opposite to the fireplace, there was a set of drawers of walnut wood, with an escritoire at the top, upon the flat part of which were a few books neatly arranged, and over it an old-fashioned looking-glass, divided at the sides near to the frame into sections, I believe that I have given a catalogue of the whole furniture. When I followed Bramble into the room, a little girl of about nine or ten years old ran into his arms, as he stooped down to receive her. She was a pretty child, with a very fair skin and rosy cheeks, her hair and eyes of a very dark brown, almost approaching to black; but she was not, in my opinion, near so pretty as my sister Virginia. As Bramble kissed her, she exclaimed, "Oh, father, I am so glad you are come home! Mrs. Maddox has been in bed ever since you left; her leg is very bad indeed."
"Whew!" whistled Bramble, "I'm sorry to hear that of the old lady; and how have you got on without her assistance?"
"Why, don't you think I'm very tidy, father?" said she, looking round the room.
"Yes, Bessy, you are very tidy; and it's a pleasure to come home to a tidy clean house. Here is a companion for you. I told you he was coming, and you know his name."
"It's Tom Saunders, isn't it, father?"
"Yes, that's his name, for want of a better—so I leave you to make friends, while I go up and see the poor old lady."
"You look cold and pale, are you not well?" was the first question of little Bessy.
"I'm cold, and not very well," replied I; "I have not been used to knocking about on board ship."
"Very true; I forgot you had never been at sea before. Come to the fire, then, and sit in father's big chair."
"I never knew that your father had been married. I thought Peter Anderson said that he was a bachelor."
"And so he is," replied Bessy. "I'm not his daughter, although I call him father."
"Indeed! then whose daughter are you? and who is the old lady upstairs?"
"The old lady upstairs is the widow of the pilot with whom father served his time. Her husband was lost at sea, and she keeps father's house. Father picked me up at sea, and has taken care of me ever since."
"Then you don't remember your own parents?"
"No, I recollect nothing till I found myself in this house. Father says I'm a Dutchman, because it was a Dutch ship or a Dutch boat which I was taken out of."
"And how long was that ago?"
"Nine years ago. I am now, I believe, about ten years old."
Bessy then catechised me relative to my own family, and I had not answered all her questions when Bramble came downstairs.
"Bessy, dear, we must have the doctor to look at that leg again. I'm afeard that it will never get well. Missus is too old to shake it off."
"Shall I go now, father?"
"Yes, child, go now, for she's in great pain with it; and Tom, you go with Bessy and take care of her. But, before you go, give me some 'baccy and the odds and ends."
As soon as Bessy had put the tobacco-pipes, some spirits, a rummer and water on the table, and the spittoon at his feet, she put on her bonnet, and off we set to the doctor's house, about half a mile distant. I was soon on intimate terms with Bessy: there was something so frank and winning about her, such perfect honesty of character, that it was impossible not to like her. We delivered our message, returned home, and, being very tired, I was glad to go to bed. Bessy showed me my room, which was very comfortable, and as soon as I laid my head on the pillow I was fast asleep.
I was awakened the next morning by a knocking at the door by little Bessy; it was broad daylight, and I dressed myself and went downstairs, where I found her very busy putting everything in order.
"It was I knocked," said little Bessy; "I thought you would like to come and help me."
"And so I will," replied I; "what shall I do?"
"Oh, there's plenty to do now that Mrs. Maddox is ill, and you and father are come back—almost too much for a little girl like me. Will you go to the pump and fetch the pails full of water, for they are too heavy for me?"
I did as she wished. "Anything else, Bessy?" said I.
"Oh, yes, plenty. You're very good-natured, Tom, and I'm so glad you're come."
Bessy and I were fully employed for nearly an hour in the front room and kitchen, clearing up and cleaning and preparing for breakfast. All was ready before Bramble came down and took a seat in his big chair, close to the breakfast-table.
"All ready, father," said little Bessy, going up to Bramble to be kissed. "Tom has been helping me."
"All's right," said Bramble; "bring the book, dear." Bessy brought a large Bible, and read a chapter aloud, then closed it and put it away.
"We can't always do this, Tom," observed Bramble, "when we're knocking about in the Channel; all we can do is to read it when we can. Come now to breakfast."
When we had finished I assisted Bessy to put everything away, and then Bramble said to me, "Anderson tells me you're a good scholar, Tom; but you must now learn what will be of use to me as well as to you. The first thing you must learn, and which you can do on shore, are the points of the compass, to know them at sight and tell them quickly; for you see it's of great importance to a pilot to know exactly how a ship's head is; and the men at the helm, although good seamen and steering well, are not so ready at answering as a pilot wishes, and very often stammer at it—sometimes make mistakes. Now, you see, when I'm piloting a vessel, if you stand at the binnacle, watch the compass, and answer me quickly how the ship's head is, you'll be of use to me in a very short time. Go up into my room, and under the bed you will find a compass; bring it down carefully, and I'll give you a lesson at once." I brought the compass to him, and Bramble made me write down the whole thirty-two points at full length upon a piece of paper. When I had done so, he told me I must learn them by heart as fast as I could.
I studied them the whole of that day; and in the evening, finding myself perfect, I went up to Bramble and repeated them without one mistake.
"All's right," said Bramble. "Now, Tom, give me the paper; if you know them to-night you ought to know them to-morrow morning. I'll hear if you do, after breakfast."
I went to bed, was tapped up as before by Bessy, assisted her to clean everything, taking off her hands all the heaviest of the work; indeed, what I have narrated of the first day may be taken as a sample of my life on shore at Deal. After breakfast I repeated the points of the compass correctly.
"Well, Tom, you have a good memory, that's certain; all the better for you, for pilots carry everything in their heads, as you will find out. Now, then, look here." Bramble took the glass off the top of the compass-box, lifted up the card, and then showed me the needle below, which pointed to the north. He then showed me the north point above, and then the other points, making me repeat them as he put his finger on them. As soon as I understood them, he would put the stem of his pipe to one and ask me which it was. When I was perfect with the points, he explained the half points and quarter points. In two days I had gained them all by heart.
"And now," says he, "we must try you. This iron skewer is the ship's head, recollect, and I shall stick it into the table. When I do so, you must tell me what point of the compass stands to it, and then that will be the direction of the ship's head. Do you understand? Practice makes perfect, and you must work at this all the time that you are ashore. When you know the compass well then I'll teach you something else. Now, then, how's her head, Tom?"
"North-half-west," said I, after a little time.
"Yes, very true; but you see, Tom, that wouldn't do aboard ship. That's just the way most of the seamen would puzzle at it. I must have the answer in a moment, and that's why you must practice."
In the evening, when Bramble was smoking his pipe, I was seated by him, and every minute he would change the place of the iron skewer, with "How's her head, Tom?"
"We must get your 'prentice papers signed before we go afloat again," said Bramble, "for they pick up boys as well as men for the King's service, and you're a stout boy for your age."
"Were you ever pressed yourself?" inquired I.
"No, but I had a narrow chance once, and had not our captain been a smart fellow I and many more would have been serving the King at this present moment."
"Tell me how that was," said I.
"Well, as soon as Bessy has done rattling with the cups and saucers, I will."
"I've done now, father," said Bessy, taking her seat on a stool close to Bramble's feet.
"Well, then, before I passed for pilot, just after the breaking out of the war, I took it into my head to try my chance at privateering. There was plenty to pick up at that time, and some of the Deal men had been very fortunate, so I went on board of a twelve-gun lugger, commanded by Captain Shank, fitted out in the river, with a crew of sixty men. The press was very hot at that time, and our men were kept at the crimps' houses until all was ready, when we started, and got off clear into the Channel without being overhauled.
"We had been out a fortnight, keeping well on the French coast, and had picked up two good prizes, when one morning, as the fog was cleared up with a sharp northerly wind, we found ourselves right under the lee of an English frigate, not a mile from us. There was a bubble of a sea, for the wind had been against the tide previous to its changing, and we were then about six or seven miles from the French coast, just between Boulogne and Cape Grisnez, lying to for the fog to clear away. As soon as we saw the frigate we knew that she would board us, and we were all in a terrible fright." Here Bramble shifted the skewer and said, "How's her head, Tom?"
I replied, and he proceeded:
"The frigate hoisted her colors, and of course we did the same. She then fired a gun as a signal for us to remain, hove to, and we perceived her boats lowering down. 'Now, my lads,' said our captain, 'if you don't mind a shot or two, I think I will save you from impressment this time.' We all declared that we would stand a hundred rather than be taken on board of a man-of-war. 'Very well,' says he, 'starboard a little, and keep her a little away, so as to let her go through the water; but keep the foresheet to windward, so that we may appear only to have fallen off.' By this plan we gradually increased our distance from the frigate, and got more on her bow. All this while the boat was pulling toward us, rising and tossing on the sea, but still nearing us fast. As she came nearer to us we let the lugger come up in the wind again for a short time, that we might not appear to be dodging away, and then, when the bowman was almost ready to lay in his oar, away we let her go through the water, so that she was left astern again. They could not well perceive this on board of the frigate, although the officer in the boat was very savage, for at one time he had his bow oar in and his boat-hook out. At last the frigate, perceiving that we were apparently slipping away, put her helm up, and fired a shot across our bows. 'Now's your time, my boys,' said the captain; 'let draw the sheets, the breeze is strong. She must wait to pick up her boat, and that will give us a mile at least.' Up went the helm, and we made all sail right for the French coast. How's her head, Tom?"
I replied, and Bramble resumed:
"The frigate ran down to her boat, and then rounded-to, to hoist it up. The sea was heavy, and she was delayed a minute or two, although, to do them justice, they were very smart on board of her. As soon as the boat was up she made all sail, and came foaming after us, as if she were in as great a rage as the captain and those on board of her. Every now and then she yawed to throw a shot at us from her bow-chasers; but that we didn't mind, as the yawing checked her way, and it's not very easy to hit a low vessel like a lugger in a toppling sea. Well, very soon we were not four miles from the French coast, so we hauled down our English colors and hoisted French. The frigate gained on us very fast, but we continued to steer on, and she in pursuit, until we were within gun-shot of the batteries, What the Frenchmen thought we did not know, at all events they did not fire, and we steered right on as if we were chased, and the frigate followed after us, until we were within a mile and a half of the batteries, when the frigate thought proper to haul her wind. Then the battery opened upon her, and we could see that she was hulled more than once, and, as she kept her wind along the shore, the other batteries opened upon her, and she got a good mauling. We saw her shift her foretopsail yard as soon as she went about again, and we afterward heard that she had several men hurt, which was a pity."
"And did not the batteries fire upon you?"
"No, for we kept the French colors up, and hove to within a mile of the coast. It was a lee shore, and there was too much surf and sea for them to send off a boat and ascertain whether we were a French privateer or not; so there we lay till dusk, and then made sail again, and, being so close into the French shore, we picked up a good prize that very night. When the cruise was over, I was satisfied. I got my prize-money, and then, as I knew our own coast well, I passed for pilot, and have served as one ever since. How's her head, Tom?"
"S.W. almost won't do, Tom. It's not quite S.W., quarter-south; so you must say S.W. southerly. D'ye understand?"
When Bessy knocked at my door the next morning, she cried out, laughing, "How's her head, Tom?" and those words made me jump up like lightning.