In which i tell the reader all i can recollect about myself, and moreover prove the truth of the old adage, "that it is a wise child who knows its own father".
My readers must not expect me to tell them much of what passed during the first four years of my existence. I have a recollection of a deal board put at the door of our house, which opened into Fisher's Alley, to prevent me, and afterward my sister, from crawling out. Fisher's Alley is a very narrow street, and what was said in a room on one side of it can be heard on the other, and I used to hang over the board and listen. There were drunken men and drunken women, and occasionally scolding and fighting. My mother, having made up her mind to be saving, had taken a lease of the house and furnished it; and every day I heard her saying at the door, "Walk in, gentlemen; I've a nice clean room and boiling hot water"—for the seamen used to come in to take tea, drink, and smoke; and so did the old pensioners occasionally, for my mother had made acquaintance with several of them. I was always very ragged and dirty, for my mother neglected and ill-treated me. As soon as my sister was born she turned all her affections over to Virginia, who was always very much petted, well dressed, and a very beautiful child.
All this I recollect, but little more, except that my mother gave me several beatings for calling my sister "Jenny," which I had learned to do from others who knew her; but when my mother heard them, she was always very angry, and told them that her child had not such a vulgar name; at which many would laugh, and make a point of calling out "Jenny" to Virginia whenever they passed and saw her at the door. When I was a little more than four years old I would climb over the board, for I had no pleasure at home. As I grew older I used to hasten down to the landing-steps on the beach, where the new inn called the Trafalgar now stands, and watch the tide as it receded, and pick up anything I could find, such as bits of wood and oakum; and I would wonder at the ships which lay in the stream, and the vessels sailing up and down. I would sometimes remain out late to look at the moon and the lights on board of the vessels passing; and then I would turn my eyes to the stars, and repeat the lines which I had heard my mother teach little Virginia to lisp:
"Pretty little twinkling star, How I wonder what you are; All above the earth so high, Like a diamond in the sky;"
and when I did stay out late I was sure of having no supper, and very often a good beating; and then Virginia would wake and cry, because my mother beat me, for we were fond of each other. And my mother used to take Virginia on her knee, and make her say her prayers every night; but she never did so to me; and I used to hear what Virginia said, and then go into a corner and repeat it to myself. I could not imagine why Virginia should be taught to pray and that I should not.
As I said before, my mother let lodgings, and kept the ground-floor front room for people to drink tea and smoke in; and I used to take my little stool and sit at the knees of the pensioners who came in, and hear all their stories, and try to make out what they meant, for half was to me incomprehensible; and I brought them fire for their pipes, and ran messages. Old Ben the Whaler, as they called him, was the one who took most notice of me, and said that I should be a man one of these days, which I was very glad to hear then. And I made a little boat for my sister, which cost me a great deal of trouble and labor; and Ben helped me to paint it, and I gave it to Virginia, and she and I were both so pleased; but when my mother saw it, she threw it into the fire, saying it was "so ungenteel," and we both cried; and old Ben was very angry, and said something to my mother, which made her sing "High diddle diddle" for the whole day afterward.
Such are the slight reminiscences, which must content the reader, of my early existence.
When I was eight years old (about six years after his last visit), my father made his appearance; and then, for the first time, I knew that my father was alive, for I was but two years old when he left, and I remembered nothing about him, and I had never heard my mother mention his name as if he still existed.
My father came in one day very unexpectedly, for he had given no notice of his return; and it so happened that as he came in, my mother was beating me with the frying-pan, for having dipped my finger in the grease in which she had been frying some slices of bacon. She was very angry, and as she banged me with it, Virginia was pulling at her skirts, crying and begging her to desist, "You little wretch," cried my mother, "you'll be just such a sea-monster as your father was—little wulgar animal, you must put your finger into the frying-pan, must you? There, now you've got it." So saying, she put down the frying-pan, and commenced singing as loud as she could, "Hush-a-by, baby, Pussy's a lady." "Ay, now you're vexed, I dare say," continued she, as she walked into the back kitchen.
All this time my father had been at the door looking on, which she had not perceived. My father then came in. "What's your name, my lad?" said he.
"Tommy Saunders," replied I, rubbing myself; for the frying-pan was very hot, and my trousers very much out of repair.
"And who is that little girl?" said he.
"That's my sister Virginia—but," continued I, "who are you? Do you want my mother?"
"Not very particularly just now," said my father, taking up my sister and kissing her, and then patting me on the head.
"Do you want any beer or 'baccy?" said I. "I'll run and get you some, if you give me the money, and bring back your change all right."
"Well, so you shall, Jack, my boy," replied he; and he gave me a shilling. I soon returned with the pipes, tobacco, and beer, and offered him the change, which he told me to keep, to buy apples with. Virginia was on the knee of my father, who was coaxing and caressing her, and my mother had not yet returned from the back kitchen. I felt naturally quite friendly toward a man who had given me more money than I ever possessed in my life; and I took my stool and sat beside him; while, with my sister on his knee, and his porter before him, my father smoked his pipe.
"Does your mother often beat you, Jack?" said my father, taking the pipe out of his mouth.
"Yes, when I does wrong," replied I.
"Oh! only when you do wrong—eh?"
"Well, she says I do wrong; so I suppose I do."
"You're a good boy," replied my father. "Does she ever beat you, dear?" said he to Virginia.
"Oh, no!" interrupted I; "she never beats sister, she loves her too much; but she don't love me."
My father puffed away, and said no more.
I must inform the reader that my father's person was very much altered from what I have described it to have been at the commencement of this narrative. He was now a boatswain's mate, and wore a silver whistle hung round his neck by a lanyard, and with which little Virginia was then playing. He had grown more burly in appearance, spreading, as sailors usually do, when they arrive to about the age of forty; and, moreover, he had a dreadful scar from a cutlass wound, received in boarding, which had divided the whole left side of his face, from the eyebrow to the chin. This gave him a very fierce expression; still he was a fine-looking man, and his pigtail had grown to a surprising length and size. His ship, as I afterward found out, had not been paid off, but he had obtained a fortnight's leave of absence, while she was refitting. We were all very sociable together, without there being the least idea, on the part of my sister and myself, with whom we were in company, when in rolled old Ben the Whaler.
"Sarvice to you," said Ben, nodding to my father. "Tommy, get me a pipe of 'baccy."
"Here's pipe and 'baccy too, messmate," replied my father. "Sit down, and make yourself comfortable, old chap."
"Won't refuse a good offer," replied Ben, "been too long in the sarvice for that—and you've seen sarvice, too, I think," continued Ben, looking my father full in the face.
"Chop from a French officer," replied my father; after a pause, he added, "but he didn't live to tell of it."
Ben took one of the offered pipes, filled, and was soon very busy puffing away, alongside of my father.