In which my mother gives my father a scriptural lesson—my father's grief at parting with an old friend—he expostulates with my mother and quits the house.
I Woke early the next morning; for the whole night I had been restless, and dreaming of the unusual occurrences of the day before. It was just daylight, and I was recalling what had passed, and wondering what had become of my father, when I heard a noise in my mother's room. I listened—the door opened, and she went downstairs.
This surprised me; and being conscious, even at my age, of the vindictive temper shown by my mother upon every occasion, and anxious to know where my father was, I could not remain in bed. I put on my trousers, and crept softly downstairs without my shoes. The door of the front room was ajar, and I looked in. The light was dimly peering through the window which pointed to the alley; the table was covered with the empty pipes, tobacco, and large pools of beer and liquor which had been spilled on it; the sofa was empty, and my father, who evidently had become deeply intoxicated the night before, was lying on the sanded floor with his face downward; my mother, in her short dressing-gown and flannel petticoat, was standing over him, her teeth set, her fists clinched, and arms raised, with a dire expression of revenge in her countenance. I thought at the time that I never saw her look so ugly—I may say so horrid; even now her expression at that moment is not effaced from my memory. After a few minutes she knelt down and put her ear close to his head, as if to ascertain whether he was in a sound sleep. She then took a knife from off the table, felt the edge, looked at my prostrate father, and raised it. I would have screamed, but my tongue was glued to my lips with horror. She appeared to reflect, and, after a time, laid the knife down on the table, put the palm of her hand up to her forehead, and then a smile gleamed over her moody features. "Yes, if he murders me; but they will be better," muttered she at last. She went to the cupboard, took out a large pair of scissors, and, kneeling down by my father, commenced severing his long pigtail from his head. My father was too sound asleep to be roused: in a minute the tail was off, and my mother rose up, holding it, with an expression of the utmost contempt, between her finger and thumb. She then very softly laid it down by his side, and replaced the scissors in the cupboard. As I expected that she would go upstairs again, I concealed myself in the back kitchen. I was correct in my supposition. A moment afterward I heard her ascending the stairs and go into her own room.
I must say that I felt indignant at this conduct of my mother's, as, so far from provocation, she had hardly received the reward of previous treachery. I believe, however, that, like most people, I was actuated by my own feelings toward my mother, who had treated me so unkindly. I thought for a little while—what would my mother do? She would hardly remain in the house, to meet the wrath of my father, when he made the discovery. She would escape him; this I had no wish that she should do; so I went softly into the front parlor and pushed my father to awake him. For some time this was useless; he muttered and growled, but it appeared impossible to rouse him. There were the remains of a jug of water on the table; and, as I had seen the same thing done before to a drunken sailor, I took the jug, and poured the water softly on the nape of his neck. In a minute or two this had the effect of waking him. He turned over, opened his eyes, and, when I put my finger to my lips to intimate silence, he looked at me with a vacant stare. Time pressed; I heard my mother moving about upstairs, and I was afraid that she would leave the house before my father had recovered his senses. I therefore took his pigtail from the floor and held it up before him. This appeared to surprise him. He fixed his eyes upon it for a few seconds, and then, as if at last suspecting what had taken place, he put his hand to the back of his head and found no pigtail there. Suddenly he jumped up; he appeared to be sobered all at once. He caught the tail out of my hand, looked at it, felt convinced of his loss, threw himself down on the sofa and wept like a child.
"I saw my mother do it, father," said I, whispering in his ear. This appeared to recall him. He raised himself up, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, ground his teeth, and shook his head. He threw his tail on the floor, and, as he eyed it, a deep melancholy spread over his countenance. After a minute or two he folded his arms, and thus lamented over it:
"Well, I never would have thought it had they told me that you and I should have parted company. Many, many years has it taken you to grow to your present length; often have you been handled, often have you been combed, and often have you been tied. Many's the eel has been skinned for your sarvice, and many's the yard of ribbon which you have cost me. You have been the envy of my shipmates, the fancy of the women, and the pride of poor Tom Saunders. I thought we should never have parted on 'arth, and, if so be my sins were forgiven me, and I could show a fair log, that I might be permitted to wear you in the world which is to come. But there you are—parted for all the world like a limb shot off in action, never to be spliced again. What am I to say when I go on board? I shall have a short tale to tell, instead of a long tail to show. And the wife of my busum to do this! Well, I married too high, and now my pride is laid low. Jack, never marry a lady's ladies' maid; for it appears that the longer the names the more venomous the cattle be."
Just as he had finished I heard my mother coming downstairs with Virginia, whom she had taken up and dressed, to take away with her. "Hush!" I heard her softly say to Virginia, "don't speak, dear, or you'll wake your naughty father."
She had hardly said this when she made her appearance, with Virginia on one arm and a large bundle on the other. But as soon as she perceived that my father was awake, and cognizant of her revenge, she uttered a loud scream, dropped Virginia and the bundle, and, running upstairs to her own room, locked herself in.
Poor little Virginia set up a roar at this very unusual (and I believe felonious) act of child-dropping on the part of my mother. I ran to her, and carried her to the sofa, while my father, with compressed lips, first taking two or three quarter-deck strides up and down the room, locked the street door, put the key in his pocket, and then ascended the stairs to pay a visit to my mother, who, I believe, would very willingly have been "not at home"; but some people are importunate, and will take no refusal; and, when my father retired three or four steps from the door, and with a sudden run brought the whole weight of his foot to bear upon it, it flew open. At first my mother was not visible, my father thought she had escaped; but at last he spied her legs under the bed. Seizing her by her extremities, he dragged her out, without any regard to propriety, until he had her into the middle of the room with his foot upon her. What a situation for a lady's ladies' maid! I had put Virginia down on the sofa, and crept up the stairs to see what took place. My father and mother were in these relative positions, and he thus addressed her:
"I have heard say that a man mustn't thrash his wife with anything thicker than his own thumb. That's as may be—and I do recollect when the first lieutenant wanted to cut off the men's hair that the purser told him that it was felony, under the Act of cutting and maiming. I don't know whether the first lieutenant would have made a felony or not; but this I'm sartain of—he'd have made a mutiny. You desarve no mercy, and you shall have none. This pigtail of mine shall be what I shall use upon you, and if the colt is heavy, recollect you cut it for yourself; and as you may not be able to hear what I say by the time I have done with you, I'll just tell you now. I'll point the end, and work a mouse on this pigtail of mine, and never part with it. I'll keep it for your own particular use, and for nobody else's; and as sartain as I come back, so sartain every time I come you shall have a taste of pigtail without chewing', my lady's ladies' maid."
Having made this uncommon long speech, to which my mother offered no reply, her eyes being fixed in terror upon the brandished tail, which was nearly as thick as her own arm, my father proceeded to put his threats into execution. Blow resounded after blow; my mother's cries became feebler and feebler, until at last she appeared senseless. Then I ran to my father, and, clinging to his leg, cried, "Oh, father, she's dead!"
This observation induced him to leave off. He looked at my mother's face; her eyes were closed, and her jaw had fallen. "Well, she had enough of it this time," said my father, after a pause; "maybe too much on it. But when I looks at this tail in my hand, I feel as if I could still give her more. And if she be dead, I think the judge would not hang me, if I showed him what I have lost. I'd rather have parted with an arm or a leg any day of the week. There's been provocation enough, at all events, if she be dead—a saint in heaven couldn't stand it."
During these remarks my mother gave no signs of returning animation, and at last my father became seriously alarmed. "Jack," said he, "I must cut my stick, or they may put me into limbo. As soon as I have cleared out, do you run for a doctor to look at your mother; and mind you don't forget to tell that old chap who was boozing with me last night everything which has happened, and the people will say, come what will on it, that I was aggravated sufficient; and, Jack, if there be a crowner's inquest, mind you tell the truth. You know I didn't want to kill the old woman, don't you, my boy? for didn't I say that I'd keep the tail to give her another dose when I came back again?—that proves I didn't intend that she should slip her wind, you know, boy. I said I'd give her another dose, you know, Jack—and," continued my father, "so I will, if I find her above ground when I comes back again."
My father then went downstairs. Little Virginia had fallen asleep again on the sofa; my father kissed her softly, shook hands with me, and put a crown in my hand. He then unlocked the door, and, thrusting the end of his pigtail into his breast, coiled it, as it were, round his body, hastened down the alley, and was soon out of sight.