Which is all about love—bramble confides to me all his acquaintance with the tender passion.
To conceal from Bramble or Bessy the state of mind to which I was reduced was impossible. I was in a condition of prostration against which I could not rally; and I believe that there never was a person who had been disappointed in his first love who did not feel as I did—that is, if he really loved with a sincere, pure, and holy feeling; for I do not refer to the fancied attachments of youth, which may be said to be like the mere flaws of wind which precede the steady gale. I could not, for several days, trust myself to speak; I sat silent and brooding over the words, the looks, the smiles, the scenes which had promised me a store of future happiness—such as would probably have been the case, as far as we can be happy in this world, had I fixed my affections upon a true and honest, instead of a fickle and vain, woman; had I built my house upon a rock, instead of one upon the sand—which, as pointed out by the Scriptures, had been washed away, and had disappeared forever! Bramble and Bessy in vain attempted to gain from me the cause of my dejection; I believe that they had many conversations upon it when I was absent, but whatever may have been their surmises, they treated me with every kindness and consideration. About a week after I had received the letter, Bramble said to me, "Come, Tom, we have had an easterly wind for ten days now, they are going off in a galley to-morrow—suppose we go too; it's no use staying here moping and doing nothing. You've been out of sorts lately, and it will do you good." I thought so too, and consented; but the other pilots were not ready, and our departure was deferred till the day after. Bramble had acquainted me in the morning with this delay; I was annoyed at it, for I was restless and wished for change. My bundle had been prepared; I had passed the best part of the night in writing to Virginia, and was, as people very often are when under such oppressed feelings, in anything but a good humor at being obliged to remain another day at Deal. I had walked out to the beach after we had breakfasted, and had remained there some time. Bramble had gone out in the direction of the post-office, and I asked him to inquire if there was a letter for me, for I thought it very likely that Virginia might have written to me again. I had remained for an hour on the beach, when I recollected that my knife required to be sharpened, and I walked round the cottage to the back yard, where there was a small grindstone. I had not put my knife to it when I heard Bramble come in and say to Bessy:
"Well, girl, I've found it all out; for, you see, I thought old Anderson might know something about it, or, if he did not, he could inquire—and I've got the whole story. Here's Anderson's letter. I thought there must be something of that sort."
Here there was a pause, as if Bessy was reading the letter.
"Only to think—she's run away with a young lord," said Bramble.
"So it seems," replied Bessy. "I'm sorry for poor Tom, for he feels it severely."
"I'm not sorry," rejoined Bramble; "she wasn't deserving of him; and, Bessy, I'm glad for your sake."
"Don't say that, father; Tom will never think of me, nor do I care about him."
"I don't exactly believe that, Bessy, for all you say so. It's my wish, and you know it, Bessy, to see you and Tom spliced before I die; and I thank Heaven that this false girl is out of the way—I've more hopes now."
"Marriages are made in heaven, father," replied Bessy; "so, pray don't say any thing more about it. It will be time enough for me to think of Tom when Tom appears to think of me. I shall always love him as a brother."
"Well, God's will be done! We must now try and console him, poor fellow; and I'm very glad that we're off to-morrow. Salt water cures love, they say, sooner than anything else."
"It may, perhaps," replied Bessy; "but I feel that if I were once really in love the whole ocean itself could not wash my love out. However, women are not men."
"That's true. You hug your love as you do your babies, all day long, and never tire. Now, you see, a man gets tired of nursing in no time. I never was in love but once."
"Oh, father, I've heard that story so often."
"Well, then, you shan't hear it again. Now, I'll go out and see where Tom may be. I suppose he's looking at the wind, and thinking how it changes like a woman. But I'll light my pipe first."
"Do, father; and while Tom looks at the wind and thinks of women, do you just watch the smoke out of your pipe, and think of men and their constancy."
"Well, I will, if it pleases you. Put the letter by, Bessy, for I shouldn't like Tom to see it. What have you got for dinner?"
"I left that to Mrs. Maddox, so I can't tell. But there's cold pudding in the larder; I'll put it out for Tom."
"Nay, Bessy, you must not jest with him."
"Am I likely, think you, father?" replied Bessy. "Can't I feel for him?"
"Come, come, dearest, I didn't mean to make you cry."
"I'm not crying, but I'm very sorry for Tom, and that's the truth. Now go away with your pipe and leave me alone."
It was impossible for me to have returned without being perceived, and I therefore remained during the whole of this conversation. I was annoyed to discover that they knew my secret; and still more vexed at the remainder of this colloquy, by which I discovered that Bramble had so completely set his heart upon a union between me and Bessy, which I considered as impossible. I felt, as all do at the time, as if I never could love again. I walked away, and did not return home till dinner-time. Bramble and Bessy were very kind, although they did not talk much; and when I went away the next day I was moved with the affectionate farewell of the latter.
It was a beautiful night, and we were running before the east wind, the Portland Light upon our starboard beam; the other men in the boat had lain down in their gregos and pilot jackets, and were fast asleep, while Bramble was at the helm steering; and I, who was too restless in my mind to feel any inclination to repose, was sitting on the sternsheets beside him.
"Do you see the line of the Race" said Bramble; "it seems strong to-night."
Bramble referred to what is called by the mariners the Race of Portland, where the uneven ground over which the water runs creates a very heavy sea even in a calm. Small smuggling vessels and boats, forced into it in bad weather, have often foundered. The tide, however, runs so rapidly over it that you are generally swept through it in a few minutes, and then find yourself again in comparatively smooth water.
"Yes," replied I; "it is very strong to-night, from the long continuance of the easterly wind."
"Exactly so, Tom," continued Bramble. "I've often thought that getting into that Race is just like failing in love."
"Why so?" replied I, rather pettishly, for I was not pleased at his referring to the subject.
"I'll tell you why, Tom," said Bramble; "because, you see, when we get into the Race it's all boiling and bubbling and tossing about—rudder and sails are of no use; and you are carried along by a fierce tide, which there's no resisting, with no small damage to the upper works, until you are fairly out again, and find breath to thank God for it. Now, aren't that like love?"
"I suppose it is as you say so; you know best."
"Well, I think I do know best; because, you see, I have long been clear of it. I never was in love but once, Tom; did I ever tell you about it?"
"Never," replied I.
"Well, then, as 'twill pass time away, I'll just give you the long and the short of it, as the saying is. When I was just about twenty, and a smart lad in my own opinion, I was on board of a transport, and we had gone round to Portsmouth with a load of timber for the dockyard. It was not my first trip there, for, you see, the transport was employed wholly on that service; and during my cruising on shore I had taken up my quarters at the Chequer Board, a house a little way from the common Hard, in the street facing the dockyard wall; for, you see, Tom, it was handy to us, as our ship laid at the wharf, off the mast pond, it being just outside the dockyard gates. The old fellow who kept the house was as round as a ball, for he never started out by any chance from one year's end to another; his wife was dead; and he had an only daughter, who served at the bar, in a white cap with blue streamers; and when her hair was out of papers, and she put on clean shoes and stockings, which she did every day after dinner, she was a very smart neat built little heifer; and, being an only daughter, she was considered as a great catch to any one who could get hold of her. She had quite the upper hand of her father, who dared not say a word; and with others she would give herself no few airs. At one time she would be as sweet as sugar, and the next, without any cause, she'd 'wonder at your imperance.' It was difficult to know how to take her. It's a bad thing for a girl to have a great fortune; they get so much flattery that it turns their heads. Well, Tom, I wasn't looking after the money, as you'll believe when I tell you so; but as she was very chatty with me, and allowed me to come inside the bar, which was considered as a great favor, to help rinse the glasses, and so on, and as the other men used to joke with me, and tell me that I should carry off the prize, I began to think that she was fond of me, and so very naturally I became fond of her; and we met and we parted (and she would allow me to kiss her when we parted), until I was quite gone altogether, and did nothing but think of her all day and dream of her all night. Well, the last time that I was in the transport to Portsmouth, I had made up my mind to clinch the business, and as soon as the sails were furled, I dressed myself in my best toggery and made all sail for the old house. When I came in I found Peggy in the bar, and a very fancy sort of young chap alongside of her. I did not think so much of that, and I was going inside the bar to shake hands as usual, when says she, 'Well, I should not wonder,' pulling to the half-door, as if she were surprised at my attempting to come in.
"'Oh, ho!' says I, 'are you on that tack? what next?' and then I looked more at the chap, and he was a very nice young man, as the saying is. As I afterward found out, he was in the smuggling line between Cherbourg and our coast, and he had Frenchified manners, and he talked little bits of French, and he had French gloves for presents, and had earrings in his ears, and lots of rings on his fingers. So I took my seat at the wooden benches near the fire, just as sulky as a bear with a sore head, watching their maneuvers. At last he walked out, kissing his hand as she smiles. As the coast was clear I went up to the bar.
"'Well,' says I, 'Peggy, so the wind's shifted, is it?'
"'What do you mean?' says she. 'I suppose I may be civil to another person as well as to you.'
"'Yes, I see no objection,' says I; 'but why was he to be inside the bar, and I put out?'
"'Oh,' replied she, 'one at a time, you know, Mr. Philip. I haven't made any promises to you that I know of.'
"'That's very true,' replied I, 'but—'
"'Oh, you mustn't fret here,' interrupted she. 'I'm my own mistress, I suppose. However, I'll tell you this much, that I don't care a bit about him, and that's the truth of it—but I did not like your coming inside the bar so quietly, as if you had a right there, for I don't want people to make remarks.'
"Well, the end of it was that she pacified me, and we were as great friends almost as ever. I say almost, for I had my eyes upon her and that chap, and did not much like it. A week after my arrival there was to be a fair over at Ryde, in the Isle of Wight, and I asked Peggy whether she would go with me; but she refused, saying that she was obliged to go to her aunt's out at Limberhook, who was very old, and had sent for her, so I thought nothing more about the matter. Well, the day before the fair, as we were busy in the fore noon getting the timber out of the vessel, one of my shipmates, who went to the same house, says to me, 'I say, Tom, when I was at the Chequers last night, I overheard Peggy promise to go to the Ryde Fair with that Frenchified smuggling chap.'
"'Did you?' said I.
"'Yes,' replied he, 'and they agreed to start at twelve o'clock, just after the dockyard bell rang. I thought at the time it was just to give you the slip before you left the ship, and that she is turning you over.'
"Well, when I heard this, did not my blood boil? for the hussy had told me a lie in saying that she was going to her aunt's; and it was evident that she had done so that she might go with this other fellow to the fair. I thought the matter over and over again, for, to tell you the truth, all I wanted then was revenge. I felt nothing but scorn for a woman who could act in so base a manner; at the same time I wished to punish both her and him by spoiling their day's sport; so at last I determined that I would start right away for the fair myself, and not only put her to shame, but give her fancy man a good drubbing, which I was well able to do. So I walks down to Point and gets into a wherry, keeping a sharp lookout for their coming down from the Hard. At last I spied them, and then I made the waterman pull away, so as to keep about three cables' lengths ahead of them, and thus I continued watching their billing and cooing, and grinding my teeth with rage, until we had come over to the other side. Now, you see, Tom, at that time there was no wooden pier at Ryde as there is now, and when the tide was out there was such a long flat of mud that there was no landing; so the way it was managed was, the wherries came in as far as they could, and were met by a horse and cart, which took out the passengers and carried them through the mud and water to the hard ground. Well, when I pulled in, the man was there with his horse and cart, and I paid my fare, and stepped out of the wherry, expecting the man to drive off and put me on shore; but he, seeing that there was another wherry close at hand, says he must wait for her passengers, and make one trip of it. I did not care how soon we met, and waited very patiently until they pulled up to us. They were not a little surprised to see me, and not a little annoyed either. As for Peggy, she colored to her elbows, and then tried to put up an impudent face on the matter. He looked both foolish and angry. They were both very smart. She had on a white gown with a yellow handkerchief on her shoulders, a green silk bonnet and blue feathers, and he was figged out as fine as fivepence, with white jean trousers, and rings and chains, and Lord knows what.
"'Well,' says Peggy, as bold as brass, 'who'd have thought to have seen you here?'
"'I did not say that I was going to see my aunt,' replied I; 'but as you did, who would have expected to see you here?'
"'Don't talk to me, young man,' said she, as red as fire, and turning away to her beau.
"Just as she said this, the cart drove off, the horse floundering through the mud, which was about three feet deep, with a matter of six inches of water above it. As she turned away aft, I turned forward, thinking what I should do next, and then I cast my eyes down, and observed that it was a tilting cart as they use for carrying out manure, and that if I took the two pegs out it would fall right back. I thought this a capital trick. The carman was sitting on his horse, and it couldn't matter to him, so I stepped out on the front of the cart, and standing on the shafts, I first pulled out one peg and then another, while they were busy talking to each other, with their heads so close that his face was under her bonnet. As soon as the second peg was out, I helped up the front of the cart a little, and back it went, shooting them out right headforemost in the mud. You never saw such a scramble, for they had caught hold of each other in their fright, and they rolled and floundered, and were half smothered before they could recover their feet; and then a pretty pickle they were in, wet to the skin, and covered with mud from one end to the other; they could not see out of their eyes. Peggy did nothing but scream and flounder—she was frightened out of her wits—while the carman and I laughed ready to split. I gave him half a crown to drive on shore without them, which he did, and we left them to make their way out how they could; and a pretty pickle they did come out at last. Thus was their day's pleasure, as well as their clothes, all spoiled; and instead of dancing at the fair and seeing all the sights, they were shivering in their wet clothes, and the laughingstocks to all that saw them.
"Depend upon it, I did not leave them after they had crawled out to the beach. The fellow was, as you may suppose, as savage as a bull, and very saucy, so I took off my jacket that I might not dirty myself, and gave him a couple of black eyes and a bloody nose for his trouble; and as for Peggy, I pretended to be so sorry for her, and condoled with her so much, that at last she flew at me like a tigress—and as I knew that there was no honor, and plenty of mud, to be gained by the conflict, I took to my heels and ran off to the fair, where I met some of my friends and told them what had happened, and then we had a very merry day of it, and I felt quite cured of my love; for, you see, Peggy looked so ugly and miserable when she was in the state I left her, that I had only to think of her as when I last saw her, and all my love was gone."
"Did you ever meet her again?"
"I met her that very night; for, you see, she had gone to a cottage and taken off her clothes, having insisted upon her fancy man going back to Portsmouth to fetch her others to go home in. He dared not refuse, so off he went in the pickle that he was. But he didn't come back again, for, you see, there was a warrant out against him for an affray at Bear Haven, in which a King's officer was killed; and after he had changed his own clothes, and was proceeding to get some for her from the Chequers, he was met by the constable who had the warrant, and carried off handcuffed to jail, and afterward he was transported—so she never saw him again. Well, Peggy, poor creature, had been waiting for him for hours, expecting his return; and it was past ten o'clock when I was coming down with some others, and saw her at the door of the cottage weeping.
"'Good-night, Peggy,' says I.
"'Oh, Philip, do be kind, do come to me; I'm frightened out of my life. I shall have to stay here all night.'
"So, you see, I did feel some little pity for her, and I went up to her, and she told me how she had sent him, and he had never come back again.
"'The fact is,' says I, 'Peggy, you aren't smart enough for such a Frenchified chap as he is. He don't like to be seen in your company. Come, get up, and I will see you home, at all events;' so I took charge of her, and saw her safe to her father's door.
"'Won't you come in?' said she.
"'No, thank you,' says I.
"'Won't you forgive me, Philip?' said she.
"'Yes," says I, 'I'll forgive you, for old acquaintance' sake, and for one more reason.'
"'What's that?' says Peggy.
"'Why,' says I, 'for the lesson which you've learned me. I've been made a fool of once, and it's your fault; but if ever a woman makes a fool of me again, why, then it's mine. And so, Peggy, good-by forever.'
"So I turned away on my heel, and as I left the transport the next trip, I never saw her again."
"Well, Bramble," replied I, "I agree with you; and if ever a woman makes a fool of me again, it will be my fault. You know what's happened, so I don't mind saying so."
"Why, Tom, in your present humor, you think so; but all do not keep to the same way of thinking as I did till it was too late to think about marrying; but still I do not think that I should have been happy as a single man, if it had not been for my falling in with Bessy. I should have been very lonely, I expect, for I began to feel so. When you come to your own door, Tom, home looks cheerless if there is no bright eye to welcome you, and the older a man gets the more he feels that he was not intended to live single. My yearning after something to love and to love me, which is in our nature, was satisfied, first by having Bessy, and then by having you—and I'm thankful."
"You might have married, and have been very unhappy."
"I might, and I might have been very happy, had I chosen a wife as a man should do."
"And how is that, pray, Bramble?"
"Why, Tom, I've often thought upon it. In the first place look out for good temper: if you find that you may be happy, even if your wife is a silly woman; assure yourself first of her temper, and then you must judge her by the way in which she does those duties which have fallen to her lot; for if a girl is a dutiful and affectionate daughter there is little fear but that she will prove a loving and obedient wife. But I think we have had our spell here, Tom, and it's rather cold: rouse up one of those chaps, and tell him to come to the helm. I'll coil myself up and have a snooze till the morning, and do you do the same."