Poor Jack

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In which my mother proves herself a tender wife, and at the same time shows her patriotism and devotion to her country.

I had almost unconsciously arrived at the age of two years before there were any tidings of my father. All the information that my mother could obtain was, that the ship's company of the "Druid" had been turned over to another frigate called the "Melpomene," the former having been declared not seaworthy, and in consequence condemned and broken up at Port Royal.

But no letter had been received from my father, who indeed was not much of a scholar; he could read, but he could not write. By this time my mother's savings were expended, and she was in great tribulation lest the deceit she had practiced should be exposed. Indeed, there were already many surmises as to the truth of her story, it being so long that her husband had been absent. At last, when she had changed her only remaining guinea, a letter arrived from my father, dated from Portsmouth, stating that the ship was to be paid off in a few days, and then "he would clap on all sail and be on board of his old woman in no time."

My mother, although not a little disgusted at being called an old woman—an affront which she determined to revenge upon a more fitting occasion—was in raptures with the contents of the letter. She therefore returned a kind answer, informing my father what a promising child he was blessed with, and giving him a direction to meet her at Greenwich, as she had resolved upon not receiving him at Woolwich, where her false assertions would have been exposed. Going round to all her acquaintances, she bade them farewell, telling them that her husband had returned well, and well to-do, and had ordered her to meet him at Greenwich. Having thus satisfactorily, as she imagined, got out of this little difficulty, she packed up and hastened to Greenwich, where she sunk her assumed rank and waited very impatiently for her husband. He came at last, seated with many others on the outside of a stage coach—his hat bedecked with ribbons, a pipe in one hand and flourishing a pewter pot in the other. It hardly need be added that he was more than half tipsy. Nevertheless, even in this state, he was well received; and after he had smothered her with kisses, dandled me on his knee, thrown into her lap all the pay he had left, and drank three more pots of porter, they went very peaceably and lovingly to repose.

I regret to say that this amity did not last long. My father's manners, which perhaps had been softened down by the awe which he had of Lady Hercules when he first made my mother's acquaintance, were now more coarse, and so was his language; and the neatness and cleanliness of person which he was obliged to maintain while performing the duties of a coxswain to a married captain were not so observable. Besides which, being no longer under discipline, he was almost every night intoxicated; and, being so, was more self-willed and regardless of his wife's injunctions. The consequences were that having received from my father fifty pounds, my mother first locked that up, and then "unlocked her jaw." Disputes were now hourly occurring; and it was "now you're vexed," and "hey diddle diddle," from morning till night.

My father would repair to the grog-shops to have a dance and carouse with his messmates, and my mother would not accompany him to such a vulgar place; consequently he went alone, was out very late, coming home very drunk, if indeed he came home at all. Moreover, the wives and companions of the other seamen would insult her when she walked out, for pretending to be better than they were.

One day when she was walking out arm-in-arm with my father, unluckily she was met by one of her Woolwich acquaintances. This was the severest stroke of all, as she had intended to return to Woolwich; but now she was discovered, and avoided by one party, as well as insulted by the other. I cannot defend my mother's conduct; nor indeed was she deserving of pity, as her treatment had been brought about by her own folly and pride. The effect of all this was, however, that of souring her temper still more; and the constant vituperation poured out upon my father so roused his indignation that one evening, when more than usually intoxicated, the "lady's ladies' maid" received such a severe box on the ear that the one candle turned to a general illumination. This blow was never forgotten nor forgiven, although my father was very sorry for it, and begged her pardon the next day, with promises of amendment.

Just at this time the French Revolution commenced, and there was expectation of a war with France; the press-gangs were ordered out, and the seamen, aware of it, remained concealed until they should leave the town. But my mother had made up her mind. She found out an officer who commanded one of the press-gangs, gave her address, and, having supplied my father with spirits until he was stupefied, she let in the gang, and before morning my father was safe on board of the tender lying off the Tower. This treachery on her part my father did not discover until some time afterward; and it was the occasion of a scene between them, as I shall hereafter show. The next day my mother went on board of the tender to visit my father, put her cambric handkerchief to her eyes, pressed his hand between the iron bars, and lamented his hard fate, and her hard fate; but when requested by him to smuggle a little liquor in a bladder to comfort him with, she tossed up her head, and declared "that nothing could induce her to do anything so ungenteel." Whereupon my father turned away, lamenting the day that ever he had married a lady's ladies' maid.

A day or two afterward my mother brought my father his kit of clothes, and two pounds of his own money. As a war was expected, my mother would have persuaded my father to give her his "will and power" to receive his prize money; but my father, grown comparatively wiser, positively refused. He turned away on his heel, and they parted.

I shall, for the present, leave my father to his fortunes, and follow those of my mother. Convinced by his refusal to sign the deed, which she had brought ready prepared with her, that she had little in future to expect from my father, and aware probably of the risk incurred by a seaman from "battle, fire, and wreck," she determined this time to husband her resources, and try if she could not do something for herself. At first she thought of going again into service and putting me out to nurse; but she discovered that my father's return was not without its consequences, and that she was again to be a mother. She therefore hired rooms in Fisher's Alley, a small street still existing in Greenwich, and indeed still a general thoroughfare. Here, in due time, she was brought to bed of a daughter, whom she christened by the name of Virginia; not so much out of respect to her last mistress, who bore that name, as because she considered it peculiarly ladylike and genteel.

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