Poor Jack

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In which a new character appears upon the stage, and i play the part of a pilot on shore.

"A frigate has anchored in the Downs, Tom, and makes the signal for a pilot," said Bramble, coming into the cottage, with my telescope in his hand. "There is but you and I here—what do you say?—will you venture to take her up to the Medway?"

"To be sure I will, father; I would not refuse a line-of-battle ship. Why should I? the tides are the same, and the sands have not shifted. Would you not trust me?"

"Ay, that I would, Tom, and perhaps better that myself; for my eyes are not so good as they were. Well, then, you had better be off."

I got my bundle ready, and was about to start, when I perceived my telescope lying down where Bramble had placed it on the table. "They are not very fond of letting pilots have their glasses on board of a King's ship," said I, "so I will take mine this time."

"You're right, Tom; you can't take the spy-glass out of the captain's hand, as you do in a merchant vessel."

"Well good-by, father; I shall come down again as soon as I can—there's another gun, the captain of the frigate is in a hurry."

"They always are on board of a man-of-war, if no attention is paid to their orders or their signals. Come, start away." I went down to the beach, the men launched the galley, and I was soon on board. As I gained the quarter-deck I was met by the captain and first lieutenant, who were standing there.

"Well," said the captain, "where's the pilot?"

"I am, sir," replied I, taking off my hat.

"Where's your warrant?"

"There, sir," replied I, offering him the tin case in which I carried it.

"Well, all is right, my good fellow; but you seem but a young hand."

"Not so young as to lose so fine a vessel as this, I trust, sir," replied I.

"I hope not, too; and I dare say you are as good as many with gray hairs. At all events, your warrant is sufficient for me, and the frigate is now under your charge. Will you weigh directly?"

"If you please; the wind will probably fail as the sun goes down, and, if so, we may just as well lie off the Foreland to-night."

The frigate was soon under way; she was evidently well manned, and as well commanded. The wind fell, as I expected, and after dark we barely stemmed the ebb tide. Of course I was up all night, as was my duty, and occasionally entered into conversation with the officer of the watch and midshipmen. From them I learned that the frigate, which was called the "Euphrosyne," had just returned from the West India station; that they had been out four years, during which they had two single-handed encounters, and captured two French frigates, besides assisting at many combined expeditions; that they were commanded by Sir James O'Connor, who had distinguished himself very much, and was considered one of the best officers in the service; that the frigate had suffered so from the conflicts in which they had been engaged that she had been sent home to be surveyed; it was found that she must be docked, and undergo a thorough repair, and consequently they had been ordered to Sheerness, where the ship would be paid off. At daylight there was a leading wind up the river, and we made sail, carrying with us three-fourths of the flood. The discipline and order of the ship's company were so great that I felt much more confidence in piloting this vessel, notwithstanding her greater draught of water, than I did a merchant vessel, in which you had to wait so long before the people could execute what you required: here, it was but to speak and it was done, well done, and done immediately; the vessel appeared to obey the will of the pilot as if endued with sense and volition, and the men at the lead gave quick and correct soundings; the consequence was that I had every confidence, and while the captain and officers sometimes appeared anxious at the decrease of the depth of water, I was indifferent, and I daresay appeared to them careless, but such was not the case.

"Quarter less five."

"Quarter less five. Pilot, do you know what water we draw?"

"Yes, Sir James, I do; we shall have half four directly, and after that the water will deepen."

As it proved exactly as I stated, the captain had after that more confidence in me. At all events, the frigate was brought safely to an anchor in the river Medway, and Sir James O'Connor went down to his cabin, leaving the first lieutenant to moor her, for such were the port orders. As I had nothing more to do, I thought I might as well go on shore, and get a cast down by one of the night coaches to Dover. I therefore begged the first lieutenant to order my certificate of pilotage to be made out, and to inquire if I could take anything down to Deal for the captain. A few minutes afterward I was summoned down to the captain. I found him sitting at his table with wine before him. My certificates, which the clerk had before made out, were signed, but my name was not inserted.

"I must have your name, pilot, to fill in here."

"Thomas Saunders, Sir James," replied I.

"Well, my lad, you're young for a pilot; but you appear to know your business well, and you have brought this ship up in good style. Here are your certificates," said he, as he filled in my name.

I had my spy-glass in my hand, and, to take up the certificates and fold them to fit them into my tin case, I laid my glass down on the table close to him. Sir James looked at it as if surprised, took it up in his hand, turned it round, and appeared quite taken aback. He then looked at the brass rim where the name had been erased, and perceived where it had been filed away.

"Mr. Saunders," said he at last, "if not taking a liberty, may I ask where you procured this spy-glass?"

"Yes, Sir James, it was given me by a person who has been very kind to me ever since I was a boy."

"Mr. Saunders, I beg your pardon—I do not ask this question out of mere curiosity—I have seen this glass before; it once belonged to a very dear friend of mine. Can you give me any further information? You said it was given you by—"

"A very amiable woman, Sir James."

"Did she ever tell you how it came into her hands?"

"She never did, sir."

"Mr. Saunders, oblige me by sitting down; and if you can give me any information on this point, you will confer on me a very great favor. Can you tell me what sort of a person this lady is—where she lives—and what countrywoman she is?"

"Yes, Sir James; I will first state that she is Irish, and that she lives at present at Greenwich." I then described her person.

"This is strange, very strange," said Sir James, with his hand up to his forehead as he leaned his elbow on the table.

After a pause, "Mr. Saunders, will you answer me one question candidly? I feel I am not speaking to a mere Thames pilot—I do not wish to compliment, and if I did not feel as I state, I should not put these questions. Do you not know more about this person than you appear willing to divulge? There is something in your manner which tells me so."

"That I know more than I have divulged is true, Sir James; but that I know more than I am willing to divulge is not the case, provided I find that the party who asks the question is sufficiently interested to warrant my so doing."

"There can be no one more interested than I am," replied Sir James, mournfully. "You tell me she is Irish—you describe a person such as I expected would be described, and my curiosity is naturally excited. May I ask what is her name?"

"The name that she goes by at present is St. Felix."

"She had distant relations of that name; it may be one of them—yet how could they have obtained—? Yes, they might, sure enough!"

"That is not her real name, Sir James."

"Not her real name! Do you then know what is her real name?"

"I believe I do, but I obtained it without her knowledge, from another party, who is since dead."

"Ah! may I ask that name?"

"A man who died in the hospital, who went by the name of Spicer, but whose real name was Walter James; he saw the glass in my hand, recognized it, and on his deathbed revealed all connected with it; but he never knew that the party was still alive when he did so."

"If Walter James confessed all to you on his deathbed, Mr. Saunders, it is certain that you can answer me one question. Was not her real name Fitzgerald?"

"It was, Sir James, as I have understood."

Sir James O'Connor fell back in his chair and was silent for some time. He then poured out a tumbler of wine, and drank it off.

"Mr. Saunders, do others know of this as well as you?"

"I have never told any one, except to one old and dearest friend, in case of accident to myself. Mrs. St. Felix is ignorant of my knowledge, as well as others."

"Mr. Saunders, that I am most deeply interested in that person I pledge you my honor as an officer and a gentleman. Will you now do me the favor to detail all you do know on this subject, and what were the confessions made you by that man Walter James?"

"I have already, sir, told you more than I intended. I will be candid with you; so much do I respect and value the person in question that I will do nothing without I have your assurance that it will not tend to her unhappiness."

"Then, on my honor, if it turns out as I expect, it will, I think, make her the happiest woman under the sun."

"You said that the spy-glass belonged to a dear friend?"

"I did, Mr. Saunders; and if I find, from what you can tell me, that Mrs. St. Felix is the real Mrs. Fitzgerald, I will produce that friend and her husband. Now are you satisfied?"

"I am," replied I, "and I will now tell you everything." I then entered into a detail from the time that Mrs. St. Felix gave me the spy-glass, and erased the name, until the death of Spicer. "I have now done, sir," replied I, "and you must draw your own conclusions."

"I thank you, sir," replied he; "allow me now to ask you one or two other questions. How does Mrs. St. Felix gain her livelihood, and what character does she bear?"

I replied to the former by stating that she kept a tobacconist's shop; and to the latter by saying that she was a person of most unimpeachable character, and highly respected.

Sir James O'Connor filled a tumbler of wine for me, and then his own. As soon as he had drunk his own off, he said, "Mr. Saunders, you don't know how you have obliged me. I am excessively anxious about this matter, and I wish, if you are not obliged to go back to Deal immediately, that you would undertake for me a commission to Greenwich. Any trouble or expense—"

"I will do anything for Mrs. St. Felix, Sir James; and I shall not consider trouble or expense," replied I.

"Will you then oblige me by taking a letter to Greenwich immediately? I cannot leave my ship at present—it is impossible."

"Certainly I will, Sir James."

"And will you bring her down here?"

"If she will come. The letter I presume will explain everything, and prevent any too sudden shock."

"You are right, Mr. Saunders; and indeed I am wrong not to confide in you more. You have kept her secret so well that, trusting to your honor, you shall now have mine."

"I pledge my honor, Sir James."

"Then, Mr. Saunders, I spoke of a dear friend, but the truth is, I am the owner of that spy-glass. When I returned to Ireland, and found that she had, as I supposed, made away with herself, as soon as my grief had a little subsided, I did perceive that, although her apparel remained, all her other articles of any value had disappeared; but I concluded that they had been pillaged by her relations, or other people. I then entered on board of a man-of-war, under the name of O'Connor, was put on the quarter-deck, and by great good fortune have risen to the station in which I now am. That is my secret—not that I care about its being divulged, now that I have found my wife. I did nothing to disgrace myself before I entered on board of a man-of-war, but having changed my name, I do not wish it to be known that I ever had another until I can change it again on a fitting opportunity. Now, Mr. Saunders, will you execute my message?"

"Most joyfully, Sir James; and I now can do it with proper caution; by to-morrow morning I will be down here with Mrs. St. Felix."

"You must post the whole way, as hard as you can, there and back, Mr. Saunders. Here is some money," said he, thrusting a bundle of notes in my hand, "you can return me what is left. Good-by, and many, many thanks."

"But where shall I meet you, sir?"

"Very true; I will be at the King's Arms Hotel, Chatham."

I lost no time. As soon as the boat put me on shore, I hired a chaise, and posted to Greenwich, where I arrived about half-past nine o'clock. I dismissed the chaise at the upper end of the town, and walked down to Mrs. St. Felix's. I found her at home, as I expected, and to my great delight the doctor was not there.

"Why, Mr. Pilot, when did you come back?" said she.

"But this minute—I come from Chatham."

"And have you been home?"

"No, not yet; I thought I would come and spend the evening with you."

"With me! Why, that's something new; I don't suppose you intend to court me, do you, as the doctor does?"

"No, but I wish that you would give me some tea in your little back parlor, and let Jane mind the shop in the meantime."

"Jane's very busy, Mr. Tom, so I'm afraid that I can't oblige you."

"But you must, Mrs. St. Felix. I'm determined I will not leave this house till you give me some tea; I want to have a long talk with you."

"Why, what's in the wind now?"

"I'm not in the wind, at all events, for you see I'm perfectly sober; indeed, Mrs. St. Felix, I ask it as a particular favor. You have done me many kindnesses, now do oblige me this time; the fact is, something has happened to me of the greatest importance, and I must have your advice how to act; and, in this instance, I prefer yours to that of any other person."

"Well, Tom, if it really is serious, and you wish to consult me, for such a compliment the least I can do is to give you a cup of tea." Mrs. St. Felix ordered Jane to take the tea things into the back parlor, and then to attend in the shop.

"And pray say that you are not at home, even to the doctor."

"Well, really the affair looks serious," replied she, "but it shall be so if you wish it."

We took our tea before I opened the business, for I was thinking how I should commence: at last I put down my cup, and said, "Mrs. St. Felix, I must first acquaint you with what is known to no one here but myself." I then told her the history of old Nanny; then I went on to Spicer's recognition of the spy-glass—his attempt to murder his mother, the consequences, and the disclosure on his deathbed.

Mrs. St. Felix was much moved.

"But why tell me all this?" said she, at last; "it proves, certainly, that my husband was not hanged, which is some consolation, but now I shall be ever restless until I know what has become of him—perhaps he still lives."

"Mrs. St. Felix, you ask me why do I tell you all this? I beg you to reply to my question: having known this so long, why have I not told you before?"

"I cannot tell."

"Then I will tell you: because I did feel that such knowledge as I had then would only make you, as you truly say, unhappy and restless. Nor would I have told you now, had it not been that I have gained further intelligence on board of a frigate which I this afternoon took into the Medway."

Mrs. St. Felix gasped for breath. "And what is that?" said she, faintly.

"The spy-glass was recognized by a person on board, who told me that your husband still lives."

I ran out for a glass of water, for Mrs. St. Felix fell back in her chair as pale as death.

I gave her the water, and threw some in her face: she recovered, and put her handkerchief up to her eyes. At first she was silent, then sobbed bitterly; after a while she sank from the chair down on her knees, and remained there some time. When she rose and resumed her seat, she took my hand and said, "You may tell me all now."

As she was quite calm and composed, I did so; I repeated all that had passed between Sir James O'Connor and me, and ended with his wish that I should accompany her at once to Chatham.

"And now, Mrs. St. Felix, you had better go to bed. I told Sir James that I would be down to-morrow morning. I will come here at seven o'clock, and then we will go to the upper part of the town and hire a chaise. Will you be ready?"

"Yes," replied she, smiling. "Heaven bless you, Tom! and now good-night."

I did not go to my mother's, but to an inn in the town, where I asked for a bed. In the morning I went down. As soon as Mrs. St. Felix saw me she came out, and followed me at a little distance. We went up to where the chaises were to be obtained, and in less than three hours were at the King's Arms, Chatham. I asked to be shown into a room, into which I led Mrs. St. Felix, trembling like an aspen leaf. I seated her on the sofa, and then asked to be shown in to Sir James O'Connor.

"She is here, sir," said I.

"Where?"

"Follow me, Sir James."

I opened the door of the room, and closed it upon them.

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