Poor Jack

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In which there is a hop, skip, and a jump.

Life has often, and with great truth, been compared to a river. In infancy a little rill, gradually increasing to the pure and limpid brook, which winds through flowery meads, "giving a gentle kiss to every ridge it overtaketh in its pilgrimage." Next it increases in its volume and its power, now rushing rapidly, now moving along in deep and tranquil water, until it swells into a bold stream, coursing its way over the shallows, dashing through the impeding rocks, descending in rapids swift as thought, or pouring its boiling water over the cataract. And thus does it vary its velocity, its appearance, and its course, until it swells into a broad expanse, gradually checking its career as it approaches, and at last mingles with the ocean of Eternity. I have been led into this somewhat trite metaphor, to account to the reader for the contents of this chapter. As in the river, after many miles of checkered and boisterous career, you will find that its waters will for some time flow in a smooth and tranquil course as almost to render you unconscious of the never-ceasing stream; so in the life of man, after an eventful and adventurous career, it will be found that for a time he is permitted to glide gently and quietly along, as if a respite were given to his feelings preparatory to fresh scenes of excitement. Such was the case with me for some time. I had now been under Bramble's tuition for more than a year and a half, and was consequently between fifteen and sixteen years old. The years from 1800 to the end of 1804 were of this description in my stream of life, unmarked by any peculiar or stirring events worthy of occupying the attention of my readers. It is therefore my intention, in this chapter, to play the part of the chorus in the old plays, and sum up the events in few words, so as not to break the chain of history, at the same time that I shall prepare my readers for what subsequently took place.

I will first speak of myself. Up to the age of nineteen I continued my career under the care of Bramble; we seldom remained long on shore, for neither Bramble nor I found home so agreeable since little Bessy had been sent to school, and Mrs. Maddox, assisted by a little girl, had charge of the house; indeed, Bramble appeared resolved to make all the money he could, that he might the sooner be able to give up his profession. Mrs. Maddox I have spoken little of, because I had seen but little of her; now that she was downstairs, I will not say I saw, but I certainly heard too much of her, for she never ceased talking; not that she talked loud or screamed out—on the contrary, she was of a mild amiable temper, but could not hold her tongue. If she could not find any one to talk to she would talk to any thing; if she was making the fire she would apostrophize the sticks for not burning properly. I watched her one morning as she was kneeling down before the grate:

"Now, stick, you must go in," said she; "it's no use your resisting, and what's more, you must burn, and burn quickly too—d'ye hear? or the kettle won't boil in time for breakfast. Be quick, you little fellow—burn away and light the others, there's a good boy." Here she knocked down the tongs. "Tongs, be quiet; how dare you make that noise?" Then, as she replaced them, "Stand up, sir, in your place until you are wanted. Now, poker, your turn's coming, we must have a stir directly. Bless me, smoke, what's the matter with you now? can't you go up the chimney? You can't pretend to say the wind blows you down this fine morning, so none of your vagaries. Now, fender, it's your turn—stand still till I give you a bit of a rub. There, now you're all right. Table, you want your face washed—your master has spilled his grog last night—there now, you look as handsome as ever. Well, old chair, how are you this morning? You're older than I am, I reckon, and yet you're stouter on your legs. Why, candle, are you burning all this while? Why didn't you tell me? I would have put you out long ago. Come, now, don't be making a smell here—send it up the chimney."

Thus would she talk to everything. We only had two animals in the house—a cat and a canary bird: of course they were not neglected, but somehow or another the cat appeared to get tired of it, for it would rise and very gently walk into the back kitchen; and as for the canary bird, like all other canary birds, as soon as he was talked to be would begin to sing, and that so loud that Mrs. Maddox was beaten out of the field. Bramble bore with her very well, but at the same time he did not like it: he once said to me, "Well, if Bessy were at Deal, I think I would take a short spell now; but as for that poor good old soul, whose tongue is hung on the middle and works at both ends, she does tire one, and that's the truth." But she really was a good-natured, kind creature, ready to oblige in everything; and I believe that she thought that she was amusing you when she talked on in this way. Unfortunately she had no anecdote, for she had a very bad memory, and therefore there was nothing to be gained from her. By way of amusing me, she used to say, "Now, Tom, sit down here, and I'll tell you all about my bad leg." And then she would commence with the first symptoms, the degrees of pain, the various plasters, bandages, and poultices which had been applied, and what the doctor had said this day and that day. I bore this very patiently for four or five times; but at last, after several days of increasing impatience (somewhere about the fifteenth time, I believe), I could stand it no more, so I jumped off my chair and ran away just as she commenced the interesting detail.

"Mrs. Maddox," said I, "I cannot bear to hear of your sufferings; pray never mention them again."

"What a kind-hearted creature you are!" said she. "Well, I won't, then. It's not many who have such pity in them. Cotton, where have you got to—always running away? One would think you don't like to be knitted. Now, cotton, don't be foolish; where have you hid yourself? You make others as bad as yourself. Scissors have got away now—there now, sit on my lap and be quiet."

However, if Mrs. Maddox got back cotton and scissors, she did not get me back, for I bolted out of the front door, and joined the men who were lolling against the gunnel of a galley hauled up on the shingle.

During the period of which I am speaking, I continued every day to add to my knowledge of my profession, and eventually I was competent to pass my examination at the Trinity House. When I went on board a vessel with Bramble, he would often give me charge of her, never interfering with me (although he watched me carefully) unless he considered that it was absolutely necessary, which I believe took place but twice. He used to tell the masters of the vessels that I was quite as good a pilot as he was, which certainly was not quite correct; however, it was of great consequence to me, as it gave me that confidence so necessary in my profession, and in due time I passed for a river pilot at the Trinity House. Some alteration occurred at the hospital during this interval. Anderson had been promoted from boatswain of the ward to inspecting boatswain, a place of trust, with very comfortable emoluments, his weekly allowance being increased to five shillings; and on his promotion my father was made a boatswain's mate of the Warriors' Ward. This was at first satisfactory to my mother, who was pleased that my father should wear lace upon his pensioner's coat; but, as she advanced in the world, she did not like the idea of my father being in the hospital, nor did she want him to be at her house—in fact, she could have done better without him; but as that could not be she made the best of it. It must be acknowledged that my father's boisterous and rude manner had been softening down ever since he had been in the hospital, and that he had become a very well-behaved, quiet, and sober person, and was very respectable in his appearance; but I shall say more about him when I talk of my mother again. Old Nanny went on much as usual, but on the whole she improved. I used to pick up for her anything I could, and put it in a large bag which I occasionally brought to Greenwich, and this bag, with its multifarious contents, would give her more pleasure than if I had brought her any single object more valuable. Old Anderson used to call upon her occasionally, but he did not do her much good. She appeared to think of hardly anything but getting money. She was always glad to see me, and I believe thought more of me than anybody else in the world, and I seldom failed to pay her a visit on the first day of my arrival.

Dr. Tadpole and his apprentice Tom went on pretty well together until the hundredweight of liquorice was expended, and then there was a fresh rising on the part of the injured and oppressed representative of the lower orders, which continued till a fresh supply from London appeased his radical feelings which had been called forth, and then the liquorice made everything go on smoothly as before; but two years afterward Tom was out of his time, and then the doctor retained him as his assistant, with a salary added to his board, which enabled Tom to be independent of the shop, as far as liquorice was concerned, and to cut a very smart figure among the young men about Greenwich; for on Tom's promotion another boy was appointed to the carrying out of the medicine as well as the drudgery, and Tom took good care that this lad should clean his boots as well as the doctor's, and not make quite so free with the liquorice as he had done himself. I found out also that he had cut Anny Whistle.

Mrs. St. Felix continued to vend her tobacco, and I never failed seeing her on my visits to Greenwich. She appeared to look just as young as she did when I first knew her, and every one said that there was no apparent alteration. She was as kind and as cheerful as ever; and I may as well here remark that during this period a great intimacy had grown up between her and my sister Virginia, very much to the annoyance of my mother, who still retained her feelings of ill-will against Mrs. St. Felix—why, I do not know, except that she was so good-looking a person, and such a favorite with everybody. But my father, who, when he chose, would not be contradicted, insisted upon Virginia's being on good terms with Mrs. St. Felix, and used to take her there himself; and Virginia, who had never forgotten the widow's kindness to me, was extremely partial to her, and was much more in her company than my mother had any idea of, for Virginia would not vex my mother unnecessarily by telling her she had been with the widow unless she was directly asked.

It was about four months after my father and I had given our money to my mother that I returned to Greenwich. A letter from Virginia had acquainted me with the street and the number of the house which my mother had taken, and I therefore walked from the beach right to it; and I must say that when I came to the new abode I was very much surprised at its neat and even handsome appearance. The ground-floor was fitted up as a shop with large panes of glass, and inside upon stands were arranged a variety of bonnets and caps, set off with looking-glass and silk curtains, in the arrangement of which no little taste was displayed. Behind the show goods was a curtain hanging on a brass rod, drawn so as to conceal the workpeople who were within. There was a private door as well as a shop door, and I hardly knew which I was to go in at; however, as the shop door required no knocking, I went into that, and found myself in the company of eight young damsels, very busy at their needles, sitting on each side of a long table covered with half-made dresses. I inquired of them whether my mother was at home, and was answered by one, who was apparently the eldest, that she was down below getting the breakfast ready.

"I suppose," continued she, "you are Mr. Tom Saunders, the pilot?"

"I suppose I am," replied I; "and pray who are you?"

"I am Miss Amelia Gozlin, apprentice to Mrs. Saunders, milliner—at your service, sir; and, in consequence of my being so very quiet and sedate, I have charge of all these young ladies you see with me."

Here the others burst into a laugh.

"They are in very good hands, Miss Amelia," replied I, "and under your care, and with your example, I have no doubt but they will turn out very useful members of society."

"Thank you, sir; but allow me to say that I cannot permit young men, especially such enchanting young men as Mr. Tom Saunders, to remain here; as, if I do, your amiable mother would give me what is genteelly termed a wigging; so if you will be pleased, sir, just to remove yourself from our presence," continued she, with a mock courtesy, "and not make your appearance here again until you are certain your mother is gone out, you will oblige us very much."

I obeyed the wishes of Miss Amelia Gozlin, who certainly was a very handsome girl, with fine black eyes, apparently about fifteen years old. I walked into the passage, and found my way down into the kitchen, where my mother and Virginia were employed as they had told me above. My mother received me kindly, but said little, for she appeared to be fully occupied; and Virginia had no time to dedicate to me until the breakfast was ready, when she called the apprentices, and we all sat down together, Miss Amelia and her companions looking so demure, that, if I had not seen them before, I should have thought that they could not speak.

After breakfast was over Virginia showed me the house. The first floor was to let furnished, the second was occupied by my mother and Virginia, and the attics were appropriated to the apprentices. Everything appeared clean, neat, and well arranged, and I could not imagine how my mother had contrived to do so much with so little money; but Virginia told me that she thought Mr. Wilson had assisted her.

When I returned, which might have been in six months, I found a great improvement, and every appearance of my mother succeeding well in her speculations. She had now a maid-servant, and her apprentices were increased to twelve, and there was every appearance of brisk and full employment.

In 1803 I found that Virginia, who was then fourteen years old, had left school. She had told my mother that, during the last half-year, she had only repeated over again what she had learned the half-year before, and that she thought she could employ her time better at home in assisting her. My mother was of the same opinion, and Virginia now superintended the cutting-out department, and was very useful. She said that the increase of business had been very great, and that my mother could hardly execute the orders which she received. There were now two servants in the house, and additional workwomen. My mother also had very much altered in appearance: before, she was usually clean and neat, now she was well if not elegantly dressed, and appeared much younger and better looking. I must do her the justice to say that prosperity had not spoiled but improved her: she was more kind and more cheerful every time that I went to see her; and I may add that, with the exception of a little necessary castigation to Miss Amelia and her companions, she never scolded, and was kind to her servants. The last year she had been even more successful, and was now considered the first milliner in the town. I believed that she deserved her reputation, for she had a great deal of taste in dress; and when she had gone upstairs to decorate previous to the hour of arrival of her customers, and came down in a handsome silk dress and an elegant morning cap, I would often look at her with surprise, and say to myself, "Who would think that this was my mother, who used to shove the broom at me in the little parlor at Fisher's Alley?"

The reader may inquire how my father and mother got on after such an alteration in her circumstances. I can only reply that they got on better than they did before; for my mother, who did not wish my father's company in the house, pointed out to him that, with so many young people living with her, it would be very inconvenient if he came there in the evenings to smoke his pipe, and that it would be better if he could smoke and drink his beer anywhere else. My father perceived the propriety of this, and assented with a good grace: my mother was very liberal to him, and he was now enabled, when he chose, to ask a companion or two to join him, so that it suited both parties. My father, therefore, never came to the house, except after the hospital supper, when he remained a few minutes to see Virginia, and then departed. On Sundays he spent the whole day there, and was kindly welcomed, but he always left in the evening to smoke his pipe elsewhere. As for me, when I did come I was always kindly received, and slept in a spare bed on the same floor with my mother and Virginia. Before my time was out I was too well supplied by Bramble ever to want anything, and afterward I made plenty of money, and seldom came home without bringing a present both to my mother and Virginia.

Having thus given a general outline of affairs, I shall in the next chapter enter more minutely into some particulars, without which the detail of events will not be complete.

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