In which i receive a very severe blow from a party or parties unknown.
The day after this conversation we fell in with several vessels windbound at the entrance of the Channel. I took charge of one, and the wind shifting to the S.W., and blowing strong, I carried her up to the Pool. As soon as I could leave her I took a boat to go down to Greenwich, as I was most anxious to have a long conversation with Virginia. It was a dark squally night, with rain at intervals between the gusts of wind, and I was wet through long before I landed at the stairs, which was not until past eleven o'clock. I paid the waterman, and hastened up to my mother's house, being aware that they would either be all in bed or about to retire. It so happened that I did not go the usual way, but passed by the house of old Nanny; and as I walked by with a quick step, and was thinking of her and her misfortunes, I fell over something which, in the dark, I did not perceive, and which proved to be some iron railings, which the workmen who were fixing them up had carelessly left on the ground, previous to their returning to their work on the ensuing morning. Fortunately the spikes at the ends of them were from me, and I received no injury, except a severe blow on the shin; and as I stopped a moment to rub it, I thought that I heard a cry from the direction of old Nanny's house; but the wind was very high, and I was not certain. I stopped and listened, and it was repeated. I gained the door. It was so dark that I groped for the latch. The door was open, and when I went in I heard a gurgling kind of noise and a rustling in her chamber. "Who's there?—What's this?" cried I; for I had a foreboding that something was wrong. I tumbled over some old iron, knocked down the range of keys, and made a terrible din, when, of a sudden, just as I had recovered my legs, I was thrown down again by somebody who rushed by me and darted out of the door. As the person rushed by me I attempted to seize his arm, but I received a severe blow on the mouth, which cut my lip through, and at first I thought I had lost all my front teeth.
I rose up. I heard a heavy groaning; so, instead of pursuing the robber, I felt my way into Nanny's chamber. "Nanny," said I, "mother, what's the matter?" but there was no reply, except another groan. I knew where she kept her tinderbox and matches; I found them, and struck a light; and by the light of the match I perceived the candle and candlestick lying on the floor. I picked it up, lighted it, and then turned to the bed; the flock mattress was above all, and the groans proceeded from beneath. I threw it off, and found old Nanny still breathing, but in a state of exhaustion and quite insensible. By throwing water on her face, after some little while I brought her to her senses. The flaring of the candle reminded me that the shop door was open. I went and made it fast, and then spoke to her. It was a long while before I could obtain any rational answer. She continued to groan and cry at intervals, "Don't leave me, Jack, don't leave me." At last she fell into a sort of slumber from exhaustion, and in this state she remained for more than an hour. One thing was evident to me, which was, that the party, whoever it might be, had attempted to smother the poor old woman, and that in a few seconds more he would have perpetrated the deed.
At last old Nanny roused up, and turning to me, said, "It's Jack, is it not? I thought so. Oh, my poor head! What has happened?"
"That's what I want to know from you, mother," replied I; "but first I will tell you what I know of the business." Which I did, to give her time to collect her thoughts.
"Yes," said she, "so it was. I was just in bed, and my candle was not out, when I heard a noise at the door, as if they were turning a key in it, and then a man entered; but he had something over his face, I thought, or he had blacked it. 'What do you want?' cried I. 'I come for a light, old woman,' said he. I cried 'Thieves! murder!' as loud as I could, and he ran up to me just as I was getting out of bed, and tried to smother me. I don't recollect anything more till I heard your voice. Thank you, Jack, and God bless you; if you hadn't come to the assistance of a poor old wretch like me, I should have been dead by this time."
I felt that what she said was true, and I then asked her many questions, so as to lead to the discovery of the party.
"How was he dressed?" inquired I.
"I can't exactly say. But, do you know, Jack, I fancied that he had a pensioner's coat on; indeed, I am almost sure of it. I think I tore off one of his buttons, I recollect its giving way; I may be wrong—my head wanders."
But I thought that most likely Nanny was right, so I looked down on the floor with the candle, and there I picked up a pensioner's button.
"You're right, Nanny; here is the button."
"Well, now, Jack, I can't talk anymore; you won't leave me to-night, I'm sure."
"No, no, mother, that I will not. Try to go to sleep."
Hardly had Nanny laid her head down again, when it came across my mind like a flash of lightning that it must have been Spicer who had attempted the deed; and my reason for so thinking was that the blow I had received on the mouth was not like that from the hand of a man, but from the wooden socket fixed to the stump of his right arm. The more I reflected upon it the more I was convinced. He was a clever armorer, and had picked the lock; and I now recalled to mind what had never struck me before, that he had often asked me questions about old Nanny, and whether I thought the report that she had money was correct.
It was daylight before old Nanny woke up, and then she appeared to be quite recovered. I told her my suspicions, and my intentions to ascertain the truth of them as far as I possibly could.
"Well, and what then?" said old Nanny.
"Why, then, if we bring it home to him, he will be hanged, as he deserves."
"Now, Jack, hear me," said old Nanny. "You won't do anything I don't wish, I'm sure; and now I'll tell you that I never would give evidence against him, or any other man, to have him hanged. So, if you find out that it is him, do not say a word about it. Promise me, Jack."
"Why, mother, I can't exactly say that I will; but I will talk to Peter Anderson about it."
"It's no use talking to him; and, if you do, it must be under promise of secrecy, or I will not consent to it. Jack, Jack, recollect that my poor boy was hanged from my fault. Do you think I will hang another? Oh, no. Perhaps this very man had a foolish wicked mother, like me, and has, like my boy, been led into guilt. Jack, you must do as I wish—you shall, Jack."
"Well, mother, I have no animosity against the man himself; and, if you forgive him, I do not see why I should do anything."
"I don't forgive him, Jack; but I think of my own poor boy."
"Well, mother, since you wish it, it shall be so; and if I do prove that the man I suspect is the party, I will say nothing, and make Anderson promise the same, as I think he will. But how is it that people come to rob a poor old woman like you? How is it, mother, that there is a report going about that you have money?"
"Is there such a report, Jack?"
"Yes, mother, every one says so; why, I do not know; and as long as it is supposed, you will always be subject to attacks like this, unless, indeed, if you have money, you were to put it away safely, and let everybody know that you have done so. Tell me truly, mother, have you any money?"
"Jack, what a boy you are to ask questions. Well, perhaps I have a little—a very little; but no one will ever find out where I have hidden it."
"But they will try, mother, as this man has done, and you will always be in peril of your life. Why not place it in the hands of some safe person?"
"Safe person! Who's safe nowadays?"
"Why, for instance, there's Mr. Wilson."
"Wilson! what do you know about him, Jack, except that he has a smooth face and a bald head? You're young, Jack, and don't know the world. The money's safe where it is, and no one will ever find it."
"If so, who is to find it after—" I stopped, for I did not like to say, after she was dead.
"I know what you would have said, Jack; who's to find it after my death? That's very true. I never thought of that, and I must will it away. I never thought of that, Jack, it's very true, and I'm glad that you have mentioned it. But who dare I tell? who can I trust?—Can I trust you, Jack?—can I?—I ought, for it's all for you, Jack, when I die."
"Mother, whoever it may be for, you may, I hope, trust me."
"Well, I think I can. I'll tell you where it is, Jack, and that will prove that it is for you, for nobody else will know where to find it. But, Jack, dear, dear Jack, don't you rob me, as my son did; don't rob me, and leave me penniless, as he did; promise me?"
"I never will, mother; you need not be afraid."
"Yes; so you say, and so he said; he swore and he cried too, Jack, and then he took it all, and left his mother without a farthing."
"Well, mother, then don't tell me; I'd rather not know. You will only be uncomfortable, and so let the money go."
"No, Jack, that won't do either; I will tell you, for I can trust you. But first, Jack, go out and look behind the house, that there is no one listening at the window; for if any one should hear—go, look round carefully, and then come back."
I did as she wished, and then Nanny bid me hold my head closer to her, while she whispered, "You must take the back out of the fireplace, and then pull out three bricks, and then put your hand into the hole, and you will find a small box; and there you will find a little money—a very little, Jack, hardly worth having, but still it may be of some use; and it's all yours when I die. Jack—I give it to you."
"Mother, I'm thankful for your kindness, but I cannot touch it if you do die without you leave it to me by your will."
"Ah! that's true, Jack. Well, tell Anderson to come here, and I'll tell him I'll leave the money to you; but I won't tell him where it is, I'll only say that I leave you everything I have. They'll suppose that it's the shop and all the pretty things." Here she chuckled for some time.
It was now broad daylight, and Nanny told me that she would like to get up, and see about a padlock being put to her door before night; so I wished her good-by, and left her.