Poor Jack

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A scene in the hospital, and a strange discovery.

In a very few days Bramble and Bessy were sufficiently recovered to resume their usual avocations; but the former expressed no willingness to embark again, and Bessy's persuasions assisted to retain him at the cottage. With me it was different. I was still restless, and anxious for change; my feelings toward Bessy were those of admiration and esteem, but not yet of love. Yet I could not help recalling to mind the words of Bramble, "Observe how she performs those duties which fall to her lot; if she is a good daughter she will make a good wife." I felt that she would make a good wife, and I wished that I could have torn from my bosom the remembrance of Janet, and have substituted the form of Bessy in her place. We had been at the cottage nearly a week, when I received a letter from Anderson; he informed me that he had visited old Nanny, who had made her will in due form, and confided to him, and that he thought she was more inclined to listen to him than she had before been; that my father and mother and sister were well, and that Spicer had been obliged to go into the hospital with an abscess in his knee, occasioned by running something into it, and that it was reported that he was very ill, and, in all probability, amputation must take place. I felt convinced that Spicer must have, in his hasty retreat, fallen over the iron railings which lay on the ground, and which had, as I mentioned, tripped me up; but with this difference, that, as the spikes of the railing were from me, and consequently I met with little injury, they must have been toward him, and had penetrated his knee, and thus it was that he had received the injury. Anderson also stated that they were very busy at the hospital, receiving the men who had been maimed in the glorious battle of Trafalgar. Altogether, I made up my mind that I would take the first ship that was offered for pilotage up the river, that I might know more of what was going on; and, as we sat down to supper, I mentioned my intentions to Bramble.

"All's right. Tom, you're young, and ought to be moving; but just now I intend to take a spell on shore. I have promised Bessy, and how can I refuse her anything, dear girl? I don't mean to say that I shall never pilot a vessel again, but I do feel that I am not so young as I was, and this last affair has shaken me not a little, that's the truth of it. There's a time for all things, and when a man has enough he ought to be content, and not venture more. Besides, I can't bear to make Bessy unhappy; so, you see, I've half promised—only half, Bessy, you know."

"I think you would have done right if you had promised altogether," replied I; "you have plenty to live upon, and are now getting a little in years. Why should you not stay on shore, and leave them to work who want the money?"

Bessy's eyes beamed gratefully toward me, as I thus assisted her wishes. "You hear, father," said she, fondling him, "Tom agrees with me."

"Ah!" replied Bramble, with a sigh, "if—but we cannot have all we wish in this world."

Bessy and I both felt what he would have referred to, and we were silent. She cast down her eyes, and appeared busy with her fork, although she was eating nothing. I no longer felt the repugnance that I had a short time before, and I was in deep reverie, watching the changes of her beautiful countenance, when she looked up. Our eyes met: she must have read my thoughts in mine, for from that moment each hour increased our intimacy and confidence. We were no longer afraid of each other.

A day or two after this conversation an opportunity was given to me of going up the river, which I did not neglect; and having delivered up charge of the ship, I hastened down to Greenwich. I found everything in statu quo at my mother's house, and Virginia much pleased at there being no lodgers. Anderson I met walking with Ben the Whaler and my father. He told me that Spicer had refused to have his leg amputated, when the surgeon had pointed out the necessity of the operation; and that it was now said that it was too late to have the operation performed, and that there was little or no chance of his recovery. They asked me many questions relative to the narrow escape of Bramble, and the behavior of Bessy.

As soon as I could get away, I set off to the hospital to see Spicer; for, as the reader must be aware, I had many reasons for having communication with him—not that I expected that at first he would acknowledge anything. I knew that his heart was hardened, and that he had no idea of his danger; but I had his secret—he was indeed in my power, and I hoped by terrifying him to obtain the information which I wished.

I found him in bed, in the corner of the hospital ward, to the left. He was looking very pale, and apparently was in great pain.

"Spicer," said I, "I have come to see you; I am sorry to hear of your accident. How is your leg? is it better?"

"No, not much," replied he, writhing, "I am in great pain; another man would scream out with agony, but I'm like the wolf—I'll die without complaint."

"But you don't think that you're going to die, Spicer?"

"No, Jack, I don't think that; I never have thought that, when I have been worse than now. I'll never believe that I'm dead until I find myself so. It must come some time or another, but I'm hale and hearty in constitution as yet, and my time is not yet come."

"It was the iron railings which you fell over, was it not? I fell over them myself the same night when I landed, on the Monday, going up to old Nanny's."

"Who told you it was those cursed spikes? Well, well, so it was; but not on the Monday, Jack, it was on the Wednesday."

"Nay, that cannot be; for on the Tuesday, as I went down to the beach, I saw them all fixed up in the stonework, and soldered in. It must have been on the Monday—the night on which old Nanny was nearly smothered by some one who went in to rob her. I came there just in time to save her life; indeed, if you recollect, you were lame the next day, when I met you in the hospital."

"Well, Jack, you may think what you please; but I tell you it was on the Wednesday."

"Then you must have fallen over something else."

"Perhaps I did."

"Well, it's of no consequence. I'm glad to find that you're so much better, for I was told that the doctor had said—"

"What did the doctor say?" interrupted Spicer.

"Why, it's better to tell the truth; he said it was impossible for you to get over it; that the inflammation was too great to allow of amputation now, and that it must end in mortification."

"He said that!" said Spicer, wildly, raising himself on his elbow.

"Yes, he did; and it's known all over the hospital."

"Well," replied Spicer, "he may have said so; but I think I ought to know best how I feel. He'll be here in half an hour or so, and then I'll put the question to him. I'm a little tired, Jack, so don't speak to me any more just now."

"Shall I go away, Spicer?"

"No, no, stay here. There's a book or two; read them till I feel a little stronger."

That my communication had had an effect upon Spicer was evident. He was startled at the idea of the near approach of death, which he had not contemplated. Alas! who is not? He shut his eyes, and I watched him; the perspiration trickled down his forehead. I took up the book he had pointed out to me; it was the History of the Buccaneers, with plates, and I thought then that it was a parallel of Spicer's own career. I looked at the plates, for I was not much inclined to read. In a few minutes Spicer opened his eyes. "I am better now, Jack; the faintness has passed away. What book is that? Oh, the Buccaneers. That and Dampier's Voyages were the only two books of my father's library that I ever thought worth reading. Have you ever read it?"

"No," replied I, "I never have. Will you lend it to me?"

"Yes; I'll give it to you, Jack, if you like."

"Thank you. Was your father a sailor, Spicer, as well as you?"

"Yes, Jack; a sailor, every inch of him."

"Did you ever sail with him?"

"No, he died about the time that I was born." Here the doctor, who was going round the wards, came up to Spicer and asked him how he felt. "Pretty well, doctor," said he.

"Come, we must look at your leg, my man; it will require dressing. Is it very painful?"

"Why, yes, sir; it has been very painful indeed all night."

The hospital mates unbandaged Spicer's leg, and took off the poultices, and I was horrified when I saw the state which his leg was in: one mass of ulceration from the middle of the thigh down to half-way below his knee, and his ankle and foot swelled twice their size, a similar inflammation extending up to his hip. The doctor compressed his lips and looked very grave. He removed some pieces of flesh, it was then cleaned and fresh poultices put on.

"Doctor," said Spicer, who had watched his countenance, "they say in the hospital that you have stated that I cannot live. Now, I should wish to know your opinion myself on this subject, as I believe I am the most interested party."

"Why, my man," said the doctor, "you certainly are in great danger, and if you have any affairs to settle, perhaps it will be prudent so to do."

"That's a quiet way of saying there is no hope for me; is it not, doctor?" replied Spicer.

"I fear, my good man, there is very little."

"Tell me plainly, sir, if you please," replied Spicer; "is there any?"

"I am afraid that there is not, my good man; it's unpleasant to say so, but perhaps it is kindness to tell the truth."

"Well, sir, that is honest. May I ask you how long I may expect to live?"

"That will depend upon when the mortification takes place, about three days; after that, my poor fellow, you will probably be no more. Would you like the chaplain to come and see you?"

"Thank you, sir; when I do, I'll send for him."

The doctor and the attendants went away to the other patients. I was silent. At last Spicer spoke.

"Well, Jack, you were right; so it is all over with me. Somehow or another, although I bore up against it, I had an inkling of it myself, the pain has been so dreadful. Well, we can die but once, and I shall die game."

"Spicer," said I, "that you will die without fear I know very well; but still, you know that you should not die without feeling sorry for the sins you have committed, and praying for pardon. We have all of us, the very best of us, to make our peace with Heaven; so, had I not better tell the chaplain to come and talk with you?"

"No, Jack, no; I want no parsons praying by my side. What's done is done, and can't be undone. Go now, Jack, I wish to get a little sleep."

"Shall I come and see you to-morrow, Spicer?"

"Yes, come when you will; I like to have some one to talk to; it keeps me from thinking."

I wished him good day, and went away with the book in my hand. Before I went home I sought out old Anderson and told him what had passed. "He will not see the chaplain, Anderson, but perhaps he will see you; and, by degrees, you can bring him to the subject. It is dreadful that a man should die in that way."

"Alas for the pride of us wretched worms!" ejaculated Anderson; "he talks of dying game—that is to say, he defies his Maker. Yes, Jack, I will go and see him; and happy I am that he has a few days to live. I will see him to-night, but will not say much to him, or he might refuse my coming again."

I went home. I was not in a very gay humor, for the sight of Spicer's leg, and the announcement of his situation, had made a deep impression upon me. I sat down to read the book which Spicer had made me a present of. I was interrupted by my mother requesting me to go a message for her, and during my absence Virginia had taken up the book.

"Who lent you this book, Tom?" said she, when I returned.

"Spicer, the man whom they call Black Sam, who is now dying in the hospital."

"Well, that's not the name on the title-page—it is Walter James, Tynemouth."

"Walter James, did you say, dear? Let me look! Even so."

"Why, what's the matter, Tom?" said my sister; "you look as if you were puzzled."

And indeed I do not doubt but I did, for it at once recalled to my mind that old Nanny's married name was James, and that Spicer had said that his father was a sailor, and that he had died at the time that he was born, which agreed with the narrative of old Nanny. The conclusions which I came to in a moment made me shudder.

"Well, my dear, I was surprised, if not frightened; but you don't know why, nor can I tell you, for it's not my secret. Let me look at the book again."

Here my father came in, and the conversation took a different turn, which I was not sorry for. I wished, however, to be left to my own reflections; so I soon afterward took up my candle and retired to my room.

I turned the subject over in my mind in a hundred ways, but could not come to any conclusion as to the best method of proceeding. At last I thought I would see Peter Anderson the next day, and take his advice. I was out immediately after breakfast; but I could not find Anderson, so I walked to the hospital to see Spicer. I found Anderson sitting by his bedside, but they were not then conversing. After a short time Anderson rose, and giving a slight shake of the head, as if to inform me that he had had no success, he walked away.

"He has been trying to convert me," said Spicer, with a grim smile.

"He has been trying, Spicer, to bring you to a sense of your condition; and is he not kind? he can have no interest but your own good. Do you think that no one knows the sins you have committed except yourself?—there is one eye which sees all."

"Come, Jack, no preaching."

"Spicer, you are here under a false name, and you think no one knows anything about you; but everything has been discovered by me; and I cannot help thinking that it has been made known providentially, and for your good."

"Ah!" replied Spicer, "and pray what do you know? Perhaps you can tell me all the sins I have committed."

"No, Spicer, but perhaps I can tell you of sins which you yourself are not aware of. But first answer me—you know that you cannot live long, Spicer; will you acknowledge that what I state is correct, should it really be so?"

"I give you my word that if you tell me anything about me which is true, I will freely acknowledge it; so now, Mr. Fortuneteller, here's my hand—it may be useful, you know, in helping your discovery."

"I do not want your hand, Spicer—now hear me. Is not your name James?—and were you not born at Tynemouth?"

Spicer started. "How did you find that out? Well, Tom, it is so, and what then?"

"As you told me yourself, although I knew it before, your father was lost at sea about the time that you were born. Spicer, I know how you left your mother, and how you returned from you know where—how you robbed her of every farthing, and left her again destitute and in misery. Is there nothing to repent of in that, Spicer?"

"Who the devil—"

"Nay, Spicer, the devil has had nothing to do with the discovery."

"Strange, strange indeed," muttered Spicer; "but still, it is true."

"Spicer, you know best how your life was passed from that time until you came into the hospital; but it was to be hoped that when laid up to rest in this haven, after such a stormy life, you would have amended your life; but what have you done?"

"And what have I done?"

"What would have brought you to the gallows if I had not held my tongue. You attempted to murder the old woman to obtain her money, and, in escaping, you received the wound which soon will bring you to your grave."

"What proofs?"

"Every proof: your stump struck me in the face when you rushed out—the button was off your coat the next morning when I met you—I had every proof, and, had I chosen, would have sworn on the Bible to your having been the party."

"Well, I'll not deny it—why should I, when I cannot be taken out of this bed to be tried, even if you wished? Have you more to say?"

"Yes, more."

"I doubt it."

"Then hear me. The poor woman whom you would have murdered, whom I found at her last gasp, and with difficulty restored to consciousness, that poor woman, Spicer, is your own mother!"

"God of heaven!" exclaimed he, covering his face.

"Yes, Spicer, your fond, indulgent mother, who thinks that you suffered the penalty of the law many years ago, and whose energies have been crushed by the supposed unhappy fate of her still loved and lamented son. Spicer, this is all true, and have you now nothing to repent of?"

"I thought her dead, long dead. God, I thank Thee that I did not the deed; and, Jack, I am really grateful to you for having prevented it. Poor old woman!—yes, she did love me, and how cruelly I treated her!—and she is then still alive, and thinks that I was hanged—yes, I recollect now, she must think so. Oh! my brain, my brain!"

"Spicer, I must leave you now."

"Don't leave me, Jack—yes, do—come to-morrow morning."

"Spicer, will you do me a favor?"


"Will you see Anderson, and talk with him?"

"Yes, if you wish it; but not now. This evening I will, if he'll come."

I left Spicer, well satisfied with what had passed, and hastened to Anderson, to communicate it to him.

"A strange and providential discovery, Tom, indeed," said he, "and good use it appears to me you have made of it. His heart is softened, that is evident. I will certainly go to him this evening."

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