Poor Jack

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Some little difference in the proceeds of this chapter, and my former "copper for poor jack, your honor".

On our arrival at my mother's, I found a letter from Bramble, stating that he would be at Greenwich in two days, and, further, informing me that the honorable company had been pleased, in consequence of the report made of our good behavior, to award to him the sum of two hundred pounds, and to me the sum of one hundred pounds, as a remuneration for our assistance in the capture of the privateer.

This was news indeed. One hundred pounds! I never thought that I should possess such a sum in my life. One hundred pounds! what should I do with it? My mother was astonished, and then fell into a very grave mood. Virginia was pleased, but appeared to care less about it than I thought she would have done. My father came in as usual with Ben the Whaler, and I read the letter.

"Why, Tom, that's about as much prize-money as I have made in all my sarvice," said my father, "and you've been afloat only four months. Come, missis, send for some beer, and let us drink Tom's health and success to him. God bless you, my boy! the papers say you deserved it, and that's better than your getting it. I'm proud of you; I am, indeed, my boy. Your father's proud of you, Tom"—and here my father showed more emotion than ever I witnessed in him before; however, he put his lips to the porter-pot, and when he had drained it nearly to the bottom, he had quite recovered himself.

"Well, Tom," said Ben, after he had finished the small modicum of beer left him by my father, "and what do you mean to do with all that money?"

"I'm sure I don't know—I have no want of it—I have everything I wish for."

"Come, missis," said my father, "we must have another pot, for I drank deep, and Ben has been shared out." My mother very graciously sent for another pot of porter, which, with the newspaper, occupied Ben and my father till it was time for us to break up and go to bed.

The next morning when I went down I found Virginia alone, my mother having returned to her room.

"Tom," said she, "what do you think my mother said to me when we were going to bed last night?"

"Tell me."

"She said, 'Tom says he don't know what to do with his money. I only wish I had it; I would turn it into three times the sum in three years, and have a better home for you, my dear.'"

"Did she say how?"

"Yes, I asked her how; she said that she should take a new house with a shop up the town, and set up as a milliner, with apprentices; that, as soon as she was fairly employed, she should give up getting up fine linen, and only take in laces to wash and mend, which was a very profitable business."

"Well," says I, "Virginia, my mother is a hard-working woman, and a clever woman, and I dare say she would do very well, and, as she says she would have a better home for you, I think I shall let her have the money; but I won't say so yet. I must talk about it to Peter Anderson, and if he don't say no, she shall have it with pleasure."

"That will be very kind of you, Tom; and I hope mother will feel it, for you don't owe her much."

"Never mind that; after breakfast I'll see Peter Anderson. Don't say a word about it till I come back."

At breakfast-time my mother still appeared to be very thoughtful. The fact was, that the idea of what advantage the money would be had taken possession of her mind; and perhaps she thought that there was no chance of obtaining it. Perhaps she felt that, had she treated me better, she would have had it without difficulty—it was impossible to say exactly.

After breakfast I walked with Virginia to her school, and then set off to Anderson, to whom I immediately imparted what had taken place. His answer was decided:

"I think, Jack, you can't do better; but, at the same time, let us go to your father and hear his opinion."

My father coincided with Anderson and me; and he added, "I tell you what, your mother is not parfect exactly—though I say it, as shouldn't say it—but still she does work hard, and she will work hard; she has paid my little girl's schooling out of her own arnings, and, moreover, she has found me one pot of porter at least every night, which has made me very comfortable. Now, I've still a matter of forty pounds in the lieutenant's hands. I'll add it to Tom's hundred pounds, and then she will have a fair start. What d'ye think, Peter?"

"I think you are both right; and, Tom, you are doing your duty."

I knew what Anderson meant. I thanked him for his advice, and my father and I went to my mother's house. I requested my father to stand spokesman, which he did, ending by telling my mother that my hundred pounds and his forty pounds were very much at her sarvice, and good luck to her. Virginia's eyes glistened as she took me by the hand. My mother replied, "Very well, if we pleased, she would do her best for us all."

The answer was hardly gracious, but I watched her countenance and saw she was moved. Her thin lips quivered as she turned away and went upstairs, which she did immediately after her reply. In about half-an-hour, during which I was laughing with Virginia, my mother came downstairs in her shawl and bonnet.

"Tom," said she, in a kind manner, "will you walk with Virginia to school this afternoon, as I am going to have some conversation with Mr. Wilson?"

The alteration in her tone of voice to me was immediately perceived by Virginia.

"You are a dear good Tom," said she, kissing me, as soon as my mother had left the house.

As soon as I had left Virginia at school, I went to call upon old Nanny, whom I found quite brisk and lively, sorting old keys and rusty hinges.

"Well, Jack," said she, "so you are come at last! I thought you would have been here yesterday, but nobody cares about an old woman like me. I heard all about you, and how you took the privateer, and how the Company have given you a hundred pounds; and when I heard that I said, Jack (Poor Jack that was, who came begging to old Nanny to lend him money) will not come to see me, he'll be too proud. Besides,' I said, 'his family is getting up in the world: there's a baronet and his lady who have taken them under their protection, and there's lawyer Wilson calls at the house. Oh, dear me! it's the way of us all.'"

"And so you said all that to yourself, did you?" replied I.

"Yes, and a great deal more, too."

"Then, mother, you did me injustice. I could not well come before; I had to see my father and mother and my sister, and I had business to transact."

"Mercy on us! business to transact! Poor Jack had business to transact! Here's a change from the time that his whole business was to touch his hat for coppers and dip his head in the mud for a penny."

"Nevertheless, what I say is true, and you are very unjust to accuse me as you have done. I have always thought of you, and have now with me several things that I have collected for you."

"Yes, you promised me. Jack, you do keep your promises; I will say that for you. Well, what have you got?"

I opened my handkerchief and pulled out several little articles, such as fine worked baskets, shells, etc., and, among the rest, a pound of tea in a leaden canister.

"There, mother, I have brought you them as a present, and I hope you will take them."

Old Nanny turned them over one by one, rather contemptuously, as I thought, until she came to the tea. "That may do," said she. "Why, Jack, those are all very pretty things, but they are too pretty for my shop. Why didn't you bring me some empty ginger beer bottles? I could have sold them this very morning."

"Why, mother, I really did not like to ask for such things."

"No, there it is; you've grown so fine all of a sudden. These are no use, for nobody will come to my shop to buy them."

"I thought you would like to keep them yourself, mother."

"Keep them? Oh, they are keepsakes, are they? Look you, Jack, if they are to be kept you had better take them away at once, and give them to the young girls. Girls like keepsakes, old women like money."

"Well, mother, sell them if you please; they are your own."

"Sell them? let me see—yes, I think I know where there is a sort of curiosity-shop, in Church Street; but it's a long way to walk, Jack, and that—let me see," continued she, counting the different articles, "one, two, three—seven times, Jack."

"But why not take them all at once?"

"All at once, you stupid boy! I should get no more for two than for one. No, no; one at a time, and I may make a few shillings. Well, Jack, it's very kind of you, after all, so don't mind my being a little cross. It was not on account of the things, but because you did not come to see me, and I've been looking out for you."

"If I had thought that, I would have come sooner, mother, although it would not have been convenient."

"I believe you, Jack, I believe you; but you young people can't feel as an old woman like I do. There is but one thing I love in the world, Jack, now, and that's you; and when I get weary of waiting for that one thing, and it don't come, Jack, it does make a poor old woman like me a little cross for the time."

I was touched with this last speech of old Nanny's, who had never shown me any such a decided mark of kindness before. "Mother," said I, "depend upon it, whenever I return to Greenwich, you shall be the first person that I come to see after I have been to my mother's."

"That's kind, Jack, and you keep your promise always. Now sit down; you don't want to go away already, do you?"

"No, mother, I came to spend the whole morning with you."

"Well, then, sit down—take care, Jack, you'll knock down that bottle. Now tell me, what do you intend to do with your hundred pounds?"

"I have settled that already, mother. I have given it away."

"Already! Why, the boy has one hundred pounds given him on the morning, and he gives it away before night, Mercy on us! who would ever think of leaving you any money?"

"No one, mother; and I never expect any except what I earn."

"Why, Jack, do you know how much one hundred pounds is?"

"I think so."

"Now, Jack, tell me the truth, who did you give it to, your father, or your little sister, or who? for I can't understand how a person could give away one hundred pounds in any way or to anybody."

"Well, then, I gave it to my mother."

"Your mother! your mother, who has hated you, wished you dead, half-starved you! Jack, is that possible?"

"My mother has not been fond of me, but she has worked hard for my sister. This hundred pounds will enable her to do much better than she does now, and it's of no use to me. Mother may love me yet, Nanny."

"She ought to," replied old Nanny, gravely; and then she covered her face up with her hands. "Oh, what a difference!" ejaculated she at last.

"Difference, mother, difference? in what?"

"Oh, Jack, between you and—somebody else. Don't talk about it any more, Jack," said Nanny, casting her eyes down to the presents I had brought her. "I recollect the time," continued she, evidently talking to herself, "that I had plenty of presents; ay, and when it was thought a great favor. I would accept them. That was when I was young and beautiful; yes, people would laugh if they heard me—young and very beautiful, or men's smiles and women's hate were thrown away—

"'Why so pale and wan, fond lover; Prithee, why so pale?'

"Yes, yes, bygones are bygones."

I was much surprised to hear old Nanny attempt to sing, and could hardly help laughing; but I restrained myself. She didn't speak again, but continued bent over one of the baskets, as if thinking about former days. I broke the silence by saying:

"What part of the country did you live in when you were young, mother?"

"In the north part. But never ask questions."

"Yes, but, mother, I wish to ask questions. I wish you to tell me your whole history. I will not tell it again to any one, I promise you."

"But why should you wish to know the history of a poor old thing like me?"

"Because, mother, I am sure you must have seen better days."

"And if I have, Jack, is it kind to ask me to bring up to memory the days when I was fair and rich, when the world smiled upon me, and I was fool enough to think that it would always smile? Is it kind to recall what was to an old, miserable, deserted wretch like me, struggling to keep out of the workhouse? Look at me now, Jack, and see what I now am. Is it not cruel to bring to my mind what I once was? Go to, Jack, you're a selfish boy, and I don't love you."

"Indeed, mother, if I thought it would have given you pain, I never would have asked you; but you cannot wonder at me. Recollect that you have ever been my best friend; you trusted me when nobody else would; and can you be surprised at my feeling an interest about you? Why, mother, I don't even know your name."

"Well, Jack, you have put things in a better light. I do believe that you care for me, and who else does? But, Jack, my name you never shall know, even if I am to tell you all the rest."

"Were you ever married, mother?"

"Yes, child, I was married. Now, what's the next question?" continued she, impatiently.

"Had you any children?"

"Yes, boy, I had one—one that was a source of misery and shame to his doting mother." Old Nanny pressed her eyeballs with her knuckles as if in agony.

"I won't ask you any more questions," said I mournfully.

"Not now, Jack, that's a good boy; some other day, perhaps, I'll tell you all. There's a lesson in every life, and a warning in too many. You'll come again, Jack—yes, I know you'll come to hear my story, so I shall see you once more before you leave. Go now." Old Nanny rose and went indoors, taking her stool in her hand, and leaving the presents where they lay, outside—a proof that she was in great agitation. I put them inside the threshold, and then went homeward.

I could riot help remarking, as I walked home, that old Nanny's language and manner appeared very superior when she broke out in these reminiscences of the past, and I felt more interest in her than I ever had before. On my return, I found Bramble, who had come down sooner than he was expected, sitting in the parlor with Peter Anderson and my father, all smoking, with porter on the table.

"Well, Tom," said Bramble, "here I am two days before my time, but that's better than being two days after it, and, what's more, I've got the money, both yours and mine. They told me I should not get it for three months at least; but I sent up my name to the Board, and explained to them that a pilot could not wait like a purser while they were passing accounts, so the gentlemen laughed, and gave me an order for it; and I've got all my pilotage, too, so I'm a rich man just now. Come, I'll give you yours at once, and I hope it may not be the last hundred pounds that you'll pick up."

Bramble pulled his leathern case out of his pilot jacket, and counted out ten ten-pound notes. "There, Jack, you ought to give me a receipt, for I signed for you at the India House."

"Oh, you've plenty of witnesses," replied I, as I collected the notes, and, giving them to Virginia, told her to take them to my mother, who was upstairs in her room.

"To tell you the truth, Jack, this two hundred pounds, which I earned so easily, has just come in the right time, and with it and my pilotage I shall now be able to do what I have long wished."

"And what's that?" inquired I. "Something for Bessy, I suppose."

"Exactly, Tom, it is something for Bessy; that is, it will be by-and-by. I've a good matter of money, which I've laid by year after year, and worked hard for it, too, and I never have known what to do with it. I can't understand the Funds and those sort of things, so I have kept some here and some there. Now, you know the grass land at the back of the cottage: it forms part of a tidy little farm, which is rented for seventy pounds a year, by a good man, and it has been for sale these three years; but I never could manage the price till now. When we go back to Deal, I shall try if I can buy that farm; for, you see, money may slip through a man's fingers in many ways, but land can't run away; and, as you say, it will be Bessy's one of these days—and more, too, if I can scrape it up."

"You are right, Bramble," said Peter Anderson, "and I am glad to hear that you can afford to buy the land."

"Why, there's money to be picked up by pilotage if you work hard, and aren't afraid of heavy ships," replied Bramble.

"Well, I never had a piece of land, and never shall have, I suppose," said my father. "I wonder how a man must feel who can stand on a piece of ground and say, 'This is my own!'"

"Who knows, father? it's not impossible but you may."

"Impossible! No, nothing's impossible, as they say on board of a man-of-war. It's not impossible to get an apology out of a midshipman, but it's the next thing to it."

"Why do they say that, father?"

"Because midshipmen are so saucy—why, I don't know. They haven't no rank as officers, nor so much pay as a petty officer, and yet they give themselves more airs than a lieutenant."

"I'll tell you why," replied Anderson. "A lieutenant takes care what he is about. He is an officer, and has something to lose; but a midshipman has nothing to lose, and therefore he cares about nothing. You can't break a midshipman, as the saying is, unless you break his neck. And they have necks which aren't easily broken, that's sartain."

"They do seem to me to have more lives than a cat," observed my father, who, after a pause, continued: "Well, I was saying how hard it was to get an apology out of a midshipman. I'll just tell you what took place on board of one ship I served in. There was a young midshipman on board who was mighty free with his tongue; he didn't care what he said to anybody, from the captain downward. He'd have his joke, come what would, and he'd set everybody a-laughing; punish him as much as you please, it was all the same. One day, when we were off Halifax Harbor, the master, who was a good-tempered fellow enough, but not overbright, was angry with this young chap for something that he had not done, and called him a 'confounded young bear,' upon which the youngster runs to the Jacob-ladder of the main rigging, climbs up, and as soon as he had gained the main rattlings he cries out, 'Well, if I'm a bear, you aren't fit to carry guts to a bear.' 'What, sir?' cried the master. 'Mutiny, by heavens! Up to the masthead, sir, directly.' 'Don't you see that I was going of my own accord?' replied the midshipman; for, you see, he knew that he would be sent there, so he went up the rigging on purpose. Well, this was rather a serious affair, and so the master reports it to the first lieutenant, who reports it to the captain, who sends for the youngster on the quarter-deck, at the time that the ship's company were at quarters. 'Mr. ——' (I forget his name), said the captain (drawing himself up to his full height, and perhaps an inch or two above it, as they say), 'you have been guilty of disrespect to your superior officer, in telling him that he was not fit to carry guts to a bear' (the captain could hardly help laughing). 'Now, sir,' continued he, recovering himself, 'I give you your choice: either you will make an apology to Mr. Owen on this quarter-deck, or you must quit my ship immediately.' 'Sir,' replied the midshipman, 'I don't think it quite fair that the master should first punish me himself and then complain to you afterward. He has taken the law into his own hands already by mastheading me for eight hours, and now he makes a complaint to you; but I am always ready to do as you wish, and, to please you, I will make an apology.' 'There is some truth in your observation,' replied the captain, 'and I have pointed the same out to the master; but still, this is a breach of discipline which cannot be passed over, and requires a public retraction before the whole ship's company. I therefore insist upon your retracting what you have said.' 'Certainly, sir,' replied the youngster. 'Mr. Owen,' continued he, turning to the master, 'I said that you were not fit to carry guts to a bear. I was in the wrong, and I retract with pleasure, for I am perfectly satisfied that you are fit to carry them.' 'Sir!' cried the captain. 'Oh, Captain G——!' interrupted the master, who did not take the joke, 'I'm perfectly satisfied. The young gentleman sees his error, and has retracted; I ask no more.' 'If you are satisfied, sir,' replied the captain, biting his lips, 'of course I have nothing more to say. Youngster, you may go to your duty, and recollect that you never again use such expressions to your superior officer,' and, said he in a low tone, 'I may add, never venture in my presence to make such an apology as that again.'"

I never saw old Anderson laugh so much as he did at this story of my father's. They continued to talk and smoke their pipes till about nine o'clock, when my father and he went to the hospital, and Bramble took possession of a bed which had been prepared for him in my mother's house.

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