Poor Jack

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In which my father proves he can give good advice as well as peter anderson.

I found my father under the colonnade, and inquired of him if Anderson was there.

"No, he's not," replied my father; "he has been sent for by the officers; so stop, Tom—that is, if you can spare a minute for your own father."

"Of course I can," replied I, taking my seat by him.

"Why, you see, boy," said my father, "I have but very little of your company, and I feel it, Tom, I do indeed. I'm not jealous, and I know that Peter Anderson has done more for you than ever I could, for I've no larning to signify; but still, Tom, I am your father, and I don't think Peter, although he may be proud of your turning out so well, can feel exactly for you what a father does. I'm proud enough of you, Heaven knows, and it does hurt me a little when I find that, whenever you come here, it is for Peter Anderson, and it makes me wish sometimes that I had been Peter Anderson instead of your father."

"Indeed, father," replied I, "I hope you don't think that I like Anderson better than I do you; but you recollect that I have been accustomed all my life to take his advice."

"I know it, boy, I know it. I was serving my country and doing my duty on board of a King's ship, and you were left here, and therefore lucky it was that you fell in with old Peter; but, Tom, I could not be in two places at the same time, and if I did not do my duty as a father toward you, at all events I was doing my duty to my country."

"To be sure you were, and it was of more importance than looking after a brat like me," replied I, soothingly, for I really never had the idea that my father could have showed so much feeling.

"Why, Tom, I can't say that I thought so, for the fact is I didn't think about it; indeed, I thought about nothing. Sailors afloat have little time to think; they can't think when it's their watch on deck, for they are too busy; nor at their watch below, for they're too tired; nor at meal-times, for they must look after their share of the victuals; indeed, there is not any time to think on board ship, and that's a fact. But, Tom, since I've been laid up here I have thought a good deal. All is calm and quiet, and one day passes just like the other, and no fear of interruption when one don't wish it—and I have thought a good deal. At first I thought it a hard case to be shoved on the shelf at my age, but I don't think so now—I'm quite satisfied."

"I'm glad to hear you say so, father."

"Yes, Tom. And then, you see, when I was afloat, I didn't think any good of your mother, and I was glad to keep out of her way; and then I didn't care about my children, for I didn't know them; but now I've other thoughts, Tom. I don't think your mother so bad, after all; to be sure, she looks down upon me 'cause I'm not genteel; but I suppose I aren't, and she has been used to the company of gentlefolk; besides she works hard, and now that I don't annoy her by getting tipsy, as I used to do, at all events she's civil; and then I never knew what it was to have children until I came here, and found Virginia and you; and I'm proud of you both, and love you both better than anything on earth; and, although I may not be so well brought up or so well taught as you both are, still, Tom, I'm your father, and all I can say is, I wish for your sakes I was better than I am."

"Don't say so, father. You know that Virginia and I are both as fond of you as you are of us."

"Well, mayhap you are; I don't say no. You are both good children, and at all events would try to like me; but still I do feel that you can't look up to me exactly; but that's my misfortune, Tom, more than my fault. I haven't larning like Anderson, or gentility like your mother. I've only a true heart to offer to you. You see, Tom, I've said all this because you are always after Anderson; not but that I like Anderson, for he's a good man, and has been of sarvice to me, and I don't think he would ever say anything to you that would make you think less of me."

"No, indeed, father; on the contrary, I once asked him his opinion about you, and he spoke most highly of you; and whenever I go to him for advice, he always sends me to you to approve of what he has said."

"Well, he is a good man, and I'm very sorry to have any feeling of envy in me, that's the truth; but still a father must have a father's feelings. Don't let us say anything more about it, Tom; only try next time, when you want advice, whether I can't give it. You can always go to Peter afterward, and see whether I'm right or wrong."

"I will indeed, my dear father, now I know that you wish it."

I never felt so warm toward my father as after this conversation; there was so much affection toward me, and yet so much humility shown by him, as respected himself, that I was quite touched with it, and I began to think that he really had had occasion to complain, and that I had not treated him with that respect which he deserved.

"Now, Tom, I've something to say to you. When Anderson, Bramble, and I were taking a pipe together last night, Bramble said that he had a letter from the captain of the Indiaman, offering you a berth on board as guinea-pig, or midshipman. He said that he had not shown it to you as yet, because it was of no use, as he was sure you would not accept it. Well, Anderson and I said that at least you ought to know it, and have the refusal; and your mother pricked up her ears and said that it was much more genteel than being a pilot; so I now put the question to you.'

"Thank you, father; but Bramble was right. I shall not accept of it, although I am much obliged to the captain."

Here my father stopped me. "First, Tom," said he, "we must overhaul the pros and cons, as people call them. Old Anderson weighed them very closely, and now you shall hear them." Here my father commenced a long story, with which I shall not tire the reader, as to the prospects on either side; but as soon as he had finished I replied:

"That all he said was very true; but that I had made up my mind that, if ever I were regularly to serve, it should be in a man-of-war, not in a merchant vessel; that it was certainly possible that I might, after serving many years, become a captain of an Indiaman, which was a high position, but I preferred being a pilot, and more my own master; that if there were no other objections, that of being absent for three years at a time from him and Virginia would be more than sufficient, and that I was very happy where I was, as Bramble and little Bessy were almost equal to another father and another sister. A rolling stone gathers no moss, they say, father. I have entered into the pilot service, and in that I hope to remain."

"Well, you're right, Tom; Bramble said you would decide so. There's nothing like being contented with what we are and what we have got."

"I might probably become a richer man if I were to be a captain of an Indiaman," observed I; "but I'm sure if ever I'm able to buy a little farm, as Bramble is now able to do, I shall think myself quite rich enough."

"You see, Tom, it all depends upon what people's ideas are. One man thinks himself rich with what another would think that he was a beggar. Now I dare say old Nanny thinks that shop of old iron and rubbish that she has got together the finest shop in all Greenwich."

"I believe she does, and the prettiest," replied I, laughing.

"Well now, Tom, an odd thing happened the other day while you were away, just to prove how true that is. You may recollect a little old man in our ward, Phil Nobbs they called him, who walked with his chin half a yard before him. Well, he took to the sick ward and died, since you have been gone. I went to see him, of course, and he was always talking about his property; and none of us knew where it was, but we supposed that he had it somewhere. One day, as I was sitting by his bed, he says, 'Saunders, the doctor's coming round, just tell him I want to make my will, for I feel as if I were slipping my wind.' Well, the doctor and the chaplain both came to his bedside with the paper, and Nobbs raised himself on his elbow, and said, 'Are you ready, sir? Well, then, I'll make short work of it. This is my last will and testament: first, I wish a white pall over me, when I'm buried, and that expense must be deducted, after which I bequeath to my nephews and nieces, James Strong, Walter Strong, Ellen Strong, Mary Williams, the one married, Peter Strong, all of Rotherhithe, and to Thomas Day, Henry Day, and Nicholas Day, of Eltham, the whole of my money and personal effects, share and share alike, equally divided among them all. There, sir, that will do. I can't write, but I'll put my cross to it.' Well, the old fellow died that night, and notice of his will was sent to his nephews and nieces, who all came on the day of his burial dressed in their best, for they were all mechanics and laborers, poor people, to whom, I suppose, a legacy was a great object. The chaplain had asked Nobbs where his money was, and he replied that it was in the hands of Lieutenant ——, who knew all about his affairs. After the funeral they all went in a body to the lieutenant, who stated that he had ten shillings belonging to Nobbs, out of which seven shillings were to be deducted for the white pall; and that as for his other effects, they must be in his cabin, as he never heard of his having anything but what was there. So we went to his cabin, and there we found five or six penny prints against the wall, two pair of old canvas trousers, and an old hat, six cups and saucers, cracked and mended; and this was all his property, altogether not worth (with the three shillings) more than seven or eight at the outside, if so much. You may guess the disappointment of his nephews and nieces, who had lost a good day's work and come so far for nothing; and I must say they were not very dutiful in their remarks upon their old uncle as they walked off. Now you see, Tom, this old fellow had been in the hospital for more than twenty years, and had been able to save no more than what he had out of his shilling per week, and in his eyes this small property was very large, for it was the saving of twenty years. He thought so, poor fellow, because he probably had never saved so many shillings in his life. There was no joking about it, I can assure you."

"Well, father, I hope I may be able to save more than seven shillings before I die; but no one knows. I have made my decision as I think for the best, and we must leave the rest to Providence. We never know whether we do right or wrong."

"Never, Jack; things which promise well turn out bad, and things which look very bad often turn out just as well. I recollect an instance which was told me, which I'll give you as a proof that we never know what is best for us in this world. A man may plan, and scheme, and think in his blindness that he has arranged everything so nicely that nothing can fail, and down he lies on his bed and goes to sleep quite satisfied that affairs must turn out well as he has ordered them, forgetting that Providence disposes as it thinks fit. There was a gentleman by birth, of the name of Seton, who lived at Greenock; he was very poor, and although he had high friends and relations well-to-do, he was too proud to ask for assistance. His wife was equally proud; and at last one day he died, leaving her with hardly a penny, and two fine boys of the names of Archibald and Andrew. Well, the widow struggled on, how she lived no one knew, but she fed the boys and herself, and was just as stately as ever. Her relations did offer to educate the boys and send them to sea, but she refused all assistance. There was a foundation or chartered school at Greenock, to which she was entitled to send her children to be educated without expense, and to that school they went. I don't know why, but they say the master had had a quarrel with their father when he was alive, and the master had not forgotten it now he was dead, and in consequence he was very severe upon these two boys, and used to beat them without mercy; at all events it did them good, for they learned faster than any of the others who were at all favored, and they soon proved the best boys in the school. Well, time ran on till Archibald was thirteen and Andrew twelve years old, and, being very tired of school, they asked their mother what profession they were to be of, and she answered, 'Anything except going to sea, for there you will never get on.' But times became harder with the widow; she had not enough to give the boys to eat, and they complained bitterly; but it was of no use, so they got on how they could, until one day Archy says to Andrew, 'Why, brother, we have nothing but ferrule for breakfast, dinner, and supper, and I see little chance of our getting anything more. Mother, poor soul! has not enough for herself to eat, and she very often gives us her dinner and goes without. I can't stand it any longer; what shall we do? shall we seek our fortunes?'

"'Yes,' says Andrew, 'and when we are gone mother will have enough for herself.'

"'Well, they say anything is better than going to sea, but I don't know how we can do anything else.'

"'Well, Archy, going to sea may be the worst of all, but it's better than taking the victuals out of poor mother's mouth.'

"'That's very true, so we'll be off, Andrew.'

"They walked down to the pier, and then they fell in with the captain of a vessel going foreign, and they asked him whether he wanted any boys on board.

"'Why,' says he, 'I wouldn't care, but you've never been to sea before.'

"'No,' said Archy; 'but there must be a beginning to everything.'

"'Well,' said the captain, 'I suppose you've run away from your friends, and, as I can't get apprentices now, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll take you on board, and as soon as we get round to another port in the Channel, I'll bind you as apprentices for three years. Will you agree to that?'

"The boys said 'yes,' and the captain told them that he should sail the next morning about daylight, and that they must be down at the pier by that time; so they went back again to their mother, and said nothing about what had passed. There was no supper that night, which confirmed them in their resolution. They kissed their mother, and went up to bed, packed up all their clothes, and before she was downstairs the next morning they were on board of the vessel.

"Well, they were duly apprenticed when the ship arrived at Weymouth, and then off they went. The other men on board were, as usual, very much afraid of being pressed, and every plan was hit upon for stowing away when they were boarded by a man-of-war. Well, time passed, and after many voyages they had both nearly served their time. They were tall, stout young men, and looked older than they really were. At last, one day, when off the Western Isles, they were boarded by a frigate, and the officer who came in the boat asked Archy what he was, and he replied he was an apprentice.

"'You an apprentice!' cried he; 'that won't do.'

"'But here are the indentures.'

"'All forged,' cried the officer; 'just get into the boat, my lad.' (You see that's a very common trick of officers; if a boy's grown up and fit for service, they don't care about indentures.) Well, Archy found it was of no use, so he gets his kit and steps into the boat, shaking hands with Andrew, who was shedding tears at the thoughts of parting with his brother.

"'It's no use crying, Andrew,' says he; 'I might have been second mate in three months, as the captain promised me when my time was up, and then I should have been protected, and might have risen from mate to captain; but now it's all over with me. May you have better luck, and I hope the captain will give you the berth instead of me.' Well, away went Archy on board of the man-of-war, looking very gloomy, as you may suppose. When he went aft on the quarter-deck the captain asked him his name and where he came from.

"'Ah,' said the captain, 'and who are your friends? So Archy told him that he had only his mother left. The captain asked him a good many more questions as to whether he had been educated or not, and what he knew, and then rated him A.B., and put him into the maintop. Well, Archie remained there for about six months, and found that a man-of-war was not so bad a place after all; and he was well treated by the captain and officers, the more so as he was a good scholar. After the cruise was over the frigate ran into the Channel, and anchored in Portland Roads, where there were a great many vessels wind-bound. As usual, they sent round to press the men. Now Archy was one of those sent in the boats, and by this time, being a man-of-war's man all over, he was just as eager to get the men as the others were. They boarded several vessels, and got some men; about dark they boarded one which laid well in the offing. The captain was not on board, and the men were turned up, but they were very few, and all protected. Now Archy, who was up to the hiding-places on board a merchant vessel, goes down with his cutlass, and crawls about in the dark, until at last he gets hold of a man by the heels. 'Come out, you thief,' cries he, 'come out directly, or I'll give you an inch of my cutlass;' so the man, finding that he could not help himself, backs out, stern foremost. Archy collars him and takes him on deck, when who should it prove to be but his own brother Andrew!

"'Oh, Archy, Archy, I didn't think this of you!'

"'Well, Andrew, I didn't know it was you, but there's no help for it; you must come and serve in the maintop along with me, and give up all chance of being a mate or captain of a merchant vessel. We're in bad luck, that's clear, but it can't be helped.' There was a good laugh on board of the man-of-war at Archy pressing his own brother, and the captain was very much amused. 'I'm very sorry for it,' said Archy.

"Now the captain was short of midshipmen, and, being obliged to sail immediately, he determined to put Archy on the quarter-deck, and so he did, while Andrew served in the maintop. But this did not last long. The captain, who liked Andrew quite as well, and who knew their family and connections, put Andrew also on the quarter-deck; and what was the consequence? Why, they are now both post-captains, commanding fine frigates. So you see, going on board of a man-of-war, which they conceived as their ruin, was the means of their rising to rank and riches, for they have been very lucky in the service. I heard Captain Archibald tell the story himself one day as I helped at dinner in the cabin when I was coxswain with Sir Hercules."

"Well, father, that's a good story to the point, but I do not see that I ever have any chance of being a post-captain."

"Don't seem much like it, certainly; but you've a good chance of being a pilot."

"Yes, that I certainly have; and a pilot is always respected, go on board what ship he may."

"To be sure he is, because he is supposed to have more knowledge than any one on board."

"Then I am contented, father, with the prospect of being respectable; so there's an end of that business, except that I must write and thank the captain for his kindness."

"Just so, Tom. Do you dine with me?"

"No, father. I promised to meet Bramble at the 'Jolly Sailors.' We are going up to Mr. Wilson's."

"Ay, about the farm he wants to buy. Well, the clock is striking, so good-by till this evening."

I must explain to the reader that Mr. Wilson, having heard of Bramble's intention to purchase the farm, very kindly interfered. He had a son who was a solicitor at Dover, and he recommended Bramble not to appear personally, but let his son manage the affair for him, which he promised should be done without expense. The next morning Bramble and I took our leave and quitted Greenwich, taking the coach to Dover; for Bramble, having a good deal of money in his pocket, thought it better to do so than to wait till he could take a ship down the river. On our arrival at Dover we called upon Mr. Wilson's son, who had already made inquiries, and eventually obtained the farm for Bramble for two hundred pounds less than he expected to give for it, and, very handsomely, only charged him for the stamps of the conveyance. When we arrived at Deal we found Mrs. Maddox quite recovered, and sitting with little Bessy in the parlor below.

After Mrs. Maddox and Bessy went upstairs to bed, Bramble said to me, as he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, "Tom, I've got this farm for Bessy for two hundred pounds less than I expected to give for it. Now, I've been thinking about this two hundred pounds, which I consider in a manner as her property, and what d'ye think I mean to do with it? I'll tell you. I'll give her education as well as money. This sum will keep her at a good school for a matter of four years, and I've made up my mind that she shall go. I don't like to part with her, that's certain; but it's for her good, so all's right. Don't you think so?"

"I do, indeed, father," replied I. "I shall miss her as much as you do; but, as you say, it's all right, and I'm very glad that you have so decided."

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