Charles Dickens.

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jjurse of Fortunatus in our baggage."

" The half-hour's a-going ! " cried Mr. Tapley.

" Good-by a hundred times ! " cried Mary, in a
trembling voice.

But how cold the comfort in Good-by ! Mark
Tapley knew it perfectly. Perhaps he knew it from
his reading, perhaps from his experience, perhaps
from intuition. It is impossible to say ; but how-
ever he knew it, his knowledge instinctively sug-
gested to him the wisest course of proceeding that
any man could have adopted under the circumstances.
He was taken with a violent fit of sneezing, and was
obliged to turn his head another way. In doing
which, he, in a manner, fenced a,nd screened the
lovers into a corner hj themselves.

There was a short pause, but Mark had an unde-
fined sensation that it was a satisfactory one in its
way. Then Mary, with her veil lowered, passed
him with a quick step, and beckoned him to follow.
She stopped once more before they lost that corner ;
looked back ; and waved her hand to Martin. He
made a start towards them at the moment as if he
had some other farewell words to say ; but she only
hurried off the faster, and Mr. Tapley followed as
in duty bound.

When he rejoined Martin again in his own chamber,
he found that gentleman seated moodily before the
dusty grate, with his two feet on the fender, his two
elbows on his knees, and his chin supported in a not
very ornamental manner, on the palms of his hands.

VOL. I.-24.


"Well, Mark?"

" Well, sir," said Mark, taking a long breath, " I
see the young lady safe home, and I feel pretty
comfortable after it. She sent a lot of kind words,
sir, and this," handing him a ring, " for a parting

"Diamonds!" said Martin, kissing it — let us do
him justice, it was for her sake ; not for theirs —
and putting it on his little finger. " Splendid dia-
monds. My grandfather is a singular character,
Mark. He must have given her this, now."

Mark Tapley knew as well that she had bought
it, to the end that that unconscious speaker might
carry some article of sterling value with him in his
necessity, as he knew that it was day, and not night.
Though he had no more acquaintance of his own
knowledge with the history of the glittering trinket
on Martin's outspread finger, than Martin himself
had, he was as certain that in its purchase she had
expended her whole stock of hoarded money, as if
he had seen it paid down coin by coin. Her lover's
strange obtuseness in relation to this little incident,
promptly suggested to Mark's mind its real cause
and root ; and from that moment he had a clear and
perfect insight into the one absorbing principle of
Martin's character.

" She is worthy of the sacrifices I have made,"
said Martin, folding his arms, and looking at the
ashes in the stove, as if in resumption of some
former thoughts. "Well worthy of them. No
riches" — here he stroked his chin, and mused —
" could have compensated for the loss of such a
nature. Not to mention that in gaining her affec-
tion, I have followed the bent of my own wishes,


and balked the selfish schemes of others who had
no right to form them. She is quite worthy — more
than worthy — of the sacrifices I have made. Yes,
she is. No doubt of it."

These ruminations might or might not have
reached Mark Tapley ; for though they were by no
means addressed to him, yet they were softly uttered.
In any case, he stood there, watching Martin, with
an indescribable and most involved expression on
his visage, until that young man roused himself and
looked towards him ; when he turned away, as being
suddenly intent on certain preparations for the
journey, and, without giving vent to any articu-
late sound, smiled with surpassing ghastliness, and
seemed by a twist of his features and a motion of
his lips, to release himself of this word :

" Joliy ! "



A DARK and dreary night; people nestling in
their beds or circling late about the fire; Want,
colder than Charity, shivering at the street corners ;
church towers humming with the faint vibration of
their own tongues, but newly resting from the
ghostly preachment " One ! " The earth covered
with a sable pall as for the burial of yesterday ; the
clumps of dark trees, its giant plumes of funeral
feathers, waving sadly to and fro : all hushed, all
noiseless, and in deep repose, save the swift clouds
that skim across the moon, and the cautious wind,
as, creeping after them upon the ground, it stops to
listen, and goes rustling on, and stops again, and
follows, like a savage on the trail.

Whither go the clouds and wind so eagerly ? If,
like guilty spirits, they repair to some dread con-
ference with powers like themselves, in what wild
region do the elements hold council, or where unbend
in terrible disport ?

Here ! Free from that cramped prison called the
earth, and out upon the waste of waters. Here,
roaring, raging, shrieking, howling, all night long.
Hither come the sounding voices from the caverns


on the coast of that small island, sleeping, a thou-
sand miles away, so quietly in the midst of angry
waves ; and hither, to meet them, rush the blasts
from unknown desert places of the world. Here,
in the fury of their unchecked liberty, they storm
and buffet with each other, until the sea, lashed into
passion like their own, leaps up, in ravings mightier
than theirs, and the whole scene is madness.

On, on, on, over the countless miles of angry
space roll the long heaving billows. Mountains and
caves are here, and yet are not ; for what is now the
one, is now the other ; then all is but a boiling heap
of rushing water. Pursuit, and flight, and mad
return of wave on wave, and savage struggle, end-
ing in a spouting-up of foam that whitens the black
night ; incessant change of place, and form, and
hue ; constancy in nothing, but eternal strife ; on,
on, on, they roll, and darker grows the night, and
louder howl the winds, and more clamorous and
iierce become the million voices in the sea, when
the wild cry goes forth upon the storm " A ship ! "

Onward she comes, in gallant combat with the
elements, her tall masts trembling, and her timbers
starting on the strain ; onward she comes, now high
upon the curling billows, now low down in the
hollows of the sea, as hiding for the moment from
its fury ; and every storm-voice in the air and
water cries more loudly yet, " A ship ! "

Still she comes striving on : and at her boldness
and the spreading cry, the angry waves rise up
above each other's hoary heads to look ; and round
about the vessel, far as the mariners on her decks
can pierce into the gloom, they press upon her,
forcing each other down, and starting up, and rush-


ing forward from afar, in dreadful curiosity. High
over her they break ; and round her surge and roar ;
and giving place to others, moaningly depart, and
dash themselves to fragments in their baffled anger :
still she comes onward bravely. And though the
eager multitude crowd thick and fast upon her all
the night, and dawn of day discovers the untiring
train yet bearing down upon the ship in an eternity
of troubled water, onward she comes, with dim
lights burning in her hull, and people there, asleep :
as if no deadly element were peering in at every
seam and chink, and no drowned seaman's grave,
with but a plank to cover it, were yawning in the
unfathomable depths below.

Among these sleeping voyagers were Martin and
Mark Tapley, who, rocked into a heavy drowsiness
by the unaccustomed motion, were as insensible to
the foul air in which they lay, as to the uproar
without. It was broad day, when the latter awoke
with a dim idea that he was dreaming of having
gone to sleep in a four-post bedstead which had
turned bottom upwards in the course of the night.
There was more reason in this, too, than in the
roasting of eggs ; for the first objects Mr. Tapley
recognized when he opened his eyes were his own
heels — looking down at him, as he afterwards ob-
served, from a nearly perpendicular elevation.

" Well ! " said Mark, getting himself into a sit-
ting posture, after various ineffectual struggles with
the rolling of the ship. " This is the first time as
ever I stood on my head all night."

" You shouldn't go to sleep upon the ground with
your head to leeward, then," growled a man in one
of the berths.


" With my head to where ? " asked Mark.

The man repeated his previous sentiment.

" No, I won't another time," said Mark, " when I
know whereabouts on the map that country is. In
the meanwhile I can give you a better piece of
advice. Don't you nor any other friend of mine
never go to sleep with his head in a ship, any

The man gave a grunt of discontented acquies-
cence, turned over in his berth, and drew his blanket
over his head.

" For," said Mr. Tapley, pursuing the theme by
way of soliloquy, in a low tone of voice ; " the sea
is as nonsensical a thing as any going. It never
knows what to do with itself. It hasn't got no
employment for its mind, and is always in a state
of vacancy. Like them Polar bears in the wild-
beast shows as is constantly a-nodding their heads
from side to side, it never can be quiet. Which is
entirely owing to its uncommon stupidity."

" Is that you, Mark ? " asked a faint voice from
another berth.

" It's as much of me as is left, sir, after a fort-
night of this work," Mr. Tapley replied. "What
with leading the life of a fly, ever since I've been
aboard — for I've been perpetually holding on to
something or other, in a upside-down position —
what with that, sir, and putting a very little into
myself, and taking a good deal out of yourself,
there ain't too much of me to swear by. How do
you find yourself this morning, sir ? "

"Very miserable," said Martin, with a peevish
groan. " Ugh ! This is wretched, indeed ! "

"Creditable," muttered Mark, pressing one hand


upon his aching head and looking round him with a
rueful grin. " That's the great comfort. It is
creditable to keep up one's spirits here. Virtue's
its own reward. So's jollity."

Mark was so far right, that unquestionably any
man who retained his cheerfulness among the steer-
age accommodations of that noble and fast-sailing
line-of-packet ship, "The Screw," was solely indebted
to his own resources, and shipped his good-humor,
like his provisions, without any contribution or assist-
ance from the owners. A dark, low, stifling cabin,
surrounded by berths all filled to overflowing with
men, women, and children, in various stages of sick-
ness and misery, is not the liveliest place of assem-
bly at any time; but when it is so crowded (as the
steerage cabin of the Screw was, every passage out),
that mattresses and beds are heaped upon the floor,
to the extinction of everything like comfort, cleanli-
ness, and decency, it is liable to operate not onl}^ as
a pretty strong barrier against amiability of temper,
but as a positive encourager of selfish and rough
humors. Mark felt this, as he sat looking about
him ; and his spirits rose proportionately.

There were English people, Irish people, Welsh
people, and Scotch people there ; all with their little
store of coarse food and shabby clothes ; and nearly
all, with their families of children. There were chil-
dren of all ages ; from the baby at the breast, to the
slattern girl who was as much a grown woman as
her mother. Every kind of domestic suffering that
is bred in poverty, illness, banishment, sorrow, and
long travel in bad weather, was crammed into the
little space; and yet was there infinitely less of
complaint and querulousness, and infinitely more of


mutual assistance and general kindness, to be found
in that unwholesome ark, than in many brilliant

Mark looked about him wistfully, and his face
brightened as he looked. Here an old grandmother
was crooning over a sick child, and rocking it to
and fro, in arms hardly more wasted than its own
young limbs ; here a poor woman with an infant in
her lap, mended another little creature's clothes, and
quieted another who was creeping up about her from
their scanty bed upon the floor. Here were old men
awkwardly engaged in little household offices, where-
in they would have been ridiculous but for their
good-will and kind purpose ; and here were swarthy
fellows — giants in their way — doing such little acts
of tenderness for those about them, as might have
belonged to gentlest-hearted dwarfs. The very idiot
in the corner who sat mowing there, all day, had his
faculty of imitation roused by what he saw about
him ; and snapped his fingers to amuse a crying

" Now, then," said Mark, nodding to a woman Avho
was dressing her three children at no great distance
from him — and the grin upon his face had by this
time spread from ear to ear — " hand over one of
them young 'uns according to custom."

" I wish you'd get breakfast, Mark, instead of
worrying with people who don't belong to you,"
observed Martin petulantly.

"All right," said Mark. "She'll do that. It's a
fair division of labor, sir. I wash her boys, and she
makes our tea. I never could make tea, but any one
can wash a boy."
' The woman, who was delicate and ill, felt and


understood his kindness, as well she might, for she
had been covered every night with his great-coat,
while he had had for his own bed the bare boards
and a rug. But Martin, who seldom got up or looked
about him, was quite incensed by the folly of this
speech, and expressed his dissatisfaction by an im-
patient groan.

"So it is, certainly," said Mark, brushing the
child's hair as coolly as if he had been born and
bred a barber.

" What are you talking about, now ? " asked Martin.

"What you said," replied Mark; "or what you
meant, when you gave that there dismal vent to
your feelings. I quite go along with it, sir. It is
very hard upon her."

" What is ? "

" Making the voyage by herself along with these
young impediments here, and going such a way at
such a time of the year to join her husband. If
you don't want to be driven mad with yellow soap
iu your eye, young man," said Mr. Tapley to the
second urchin, who was by this time under his
hands at the basin, " you'd better shut it."

" Where does she join her husband ? " asked
Martin, yawning.

"Why, I'm very much afraid," said Mr. Tapley,
in a low voice, " that she don't know. I hope she
mayn't miss him. But she sent her last letter by
hand, and it don't seem to have been very clearly
understood between 'em without it, and if she don't
see him a-waving his pocket-handkerchief on the
shore, like a pictur out of a song-book, my opinion
is, she'll break her heart."

"Why, how, in Folly's name, does the woman


come to be on board ship on such a wild-goose
venture ? " cried Martin.

Mr. Tapley glanced at him for a moment as he
lay prostrate in his berth, and then said, very
quietly, —

'' Ah ! How, indeed ! I can't think ! He's been
away from her for two year ; she's been very poor
and lonely in her own country ; and has always
been a-looking forward to meeting him. It's very
strange she should be here. Quite amazing ! A
little mad, perhaps ! There can't be no other way
of accounting for it."

Martin was too far gone in the lassitude of sea-
sickness to make any reply to these words, or even
to attend to them as they were spoken. And the
subject of their discourse, returning at this crisis
with some hot tea, effectually put a stop to any
resumption of the theme by Mr. Tapley ; who, when
the meal was over and he had adjusted Martin's
bed, went up on deck to wash the breakfast service,
which consisted of two half-pint tin mugs, and a
shaving-pot of the same metal.

It is due to Mark Tapley to state, that he suffered
at least as much from seasickness as any man,
woman, or child, on board ; and that he had a pecul-
iar faculty of knocking himself about on the small-
est provocation, and losing his legs at every lurch
of the ship. But resolved, in his usual phrase, to
"come out strong" under disadvantageous circum-
stances, he was the life and soul of the steerage,
and made no more of stopping in the middle of a
facetious conversation to go away and be exces-
sively ill by himself, and afterwards come back in
the very best and gayest of tempers to resume it,


than if such a course of proceeding had been the
commonest in the world.

It cannot be said that as his illness wore off, his
cheerfulness and good-nature increased, because
they would hardly admit of augmentation ; but his
usefulness among the weaker members of the party
was much enlarged ; and at all times and seasons
there he was exerting it. If a gleam of sun shone
out of the dark sky, down Mark tumbled into the
cabin, and presently up he came again with a
woman in his arms, or half a dozen children, or
a man, or a bed, or a saucepan, or a basket, or some-
thing animate or inanimate, that he thought would
be the better for the air. If an liour or two of fine
weather in the middle of the day tempted those
who seldom or never came on deck at other times,
to crawl into the long-boat, or lie down upon the
spare spars, and try to eat, there, in the centre of
the group, was Mr. Tapley, handing about salt beef
and biscuit, or dispensing tastes of grog, or cutting
up the children's provisions with his pocket-knife,
for their greater ease and comfort, or reading aloud
from a venerable newspaper, or singing some roaring
old song to a select party, or writing the beginnings
of letters to their friends at home for people who
couldn't write, or cracking jokes with the crew, or
nearly getting blown over the side, or emerging,
half drowned, from a shower of spray, or lending
a hand somewhere or other : but always doing some-
thing for the general entertainment. At night,
when the cooking fire was lighted on the deck, and
the driving sparks that flew among the rigging, and
the cloud of sails, seemed to menace the ship with
certain annihilation by fire, in case the elements of


air and water failed to compass her destruction ;
there, again, was Mr. Tapley, with his coat off and
his shirt-sleeves turned up to his elbows, doing all
kinds of culinary offices : compounding the strangest
dishes ; recognized by every one as an established
authority ; and helping all parties to achieve some-
thing, which, left to themselves, they never could
have done, and never would have dreamed of. In
short, there never was a more popular character
than Mark Tapley became, on board that noble and
fast-sailing line-of-packet ship, the Screw ; and he
attained at last to such a pitch of universal admira-
tion, that he began to have grave doubts within
himself whether a man might reasonably claim any
credit for being jolly under such exciting circum-

"If this was going to last," said Mr. Tapley,
*' there'd be no great difference, as I can perceive,
between the Screw and the Dragon. I never am
to get any credit, I think. I begin to be afraid that
the Fates is determined to make the world easy to


"Well, Mark," said Martin, near whose berth he
had ruminated to this effect. " When will this be
over ? "

"Another week, they say, sir," returned Mark,
"will most likely bring us into port. The ship's
a-going along at present, as sensible as a ship can,
sir ; though I don't mean to say as that's any very
high praise."

" I don't think it is, indeed," groaned Martin.

" You'd feel all the better for it, sir, if you was
to turn out," observed Mark.

" And be seen by the ladies and gentlemen on the


after-deck," returned Martin, with a scornful em-
phasis upon the words, "mingling with the beg-
garly crowd that are stowed away in this vile
hole. I should be greatly the better for that, no
doubt ! "

" I'm thankful that I can't say from my own ex-
perience what the feelings of a gentleman may be,"
said Mark, "but I should have thought, sir, as a
gentleman would feel a deal more uncomfortable
down here, than up in the fresh air, especially when
the ladies and gentlemen in the after-cabin know
just as much about him, as he does about them, and
are likely to trouble their heads about him in the
same proportion. I should have thought that,

" I tell you, then," rejoined Martin, " you would
have thought wrong, and do think wrong."

"Very likely, sir," said Mark, with imperturbable
good-temper. " I often do."

" As to lying here," cried Martin, raising himself
on his elbow, and looking angrily at his follower,
"do you suppose it's a pleasure to lie here ? "

"All the madhouses in the world," said Mr.
Tapley, " couldn't produce such a maniac as the
man must be who could think that."

" Then why are you forever goading and urging
me to get up ? " asked Martin. " I lie here because
I don't wish to be recognized, in the better days to
which I aspire, by any purse-proud citizen, as the
man who came over with him among the steerage
passengers. I lie here, because I wish to conceal
my circumstances and myself, and not to arrive in
a new world badged and ticketed as an utterly
poverty-stricken man. If I could have afforded


a passage in the after-cabin, I should have held up
my head with the rest. As I couldn't, I hide it.
Do you understand that ? "

"I am very sorry, sir," said Mark. "I didn't
know you took it so much to heart as this comes

" Of course you didn't know," returned his mas-
ter. "How should you know, unless I told you?
It's no trial to you, Mark, to make yourself comfort-
able and to bustle about. It's as natural for you to
do so under the circumstances as it is for me not
to do so. Why, you don't suppose there is a living
creature in this ship who can by possibility have
half so much to undergo on board of her as / have.
Do you ? " he asked, sitting upright in his berth,
and looking at Mark, with an expression of great
earnestness not unmixed with wonder.

Mark twisted his face into a tight knot, and with
his head very much on one side pondered upon this
question as if he felt it an extremely difficult one
to answer. He was relieved from his embarrass-
ment by Martin himself, who said, as he stretched
himself upon his back again and resumed the book
he had been reading, —

" But what is the use of my putting such a case
to you, when the very essence of what I have been
saying is, that you cannot by possibility understand
it ? Make me a little brandy and water — cold and
very weak — and give me a biscuit, and tell your
friend, who is a nearer neighbor of ours than I
could wish, to try and keep her children a little
quieter to-night than she did last night; that's a
good fellow."

Mr. Tapley set himself to obey these orders with


great alacrity, and pending their execution, it may
be presumed his flagging spirits revived : inasmuch
as he several times observed, below his breath, that
in respect of its power of imparting a credit to
jollity, the Screw unquestionably had some decided
advantages over the Dragon. He also remarked,
that it was a high gratification to him to reflect
that he would carry its main excellence ashore with
him, and have it constantly beside him wherever he
went ; but what he meant by these consolatory
thoughts he did not explain.

And now a general excitement began to prevail
on board ; and various predictions relative to the
precise day, and even the precise hour at which they
would reach New York, were freely broached.
There was infinitely more crowding on deck and
looking over the ship's side than there had been
before ; and an epidemic broke out for packing up
things every morning, which required unpacking
again every night. Those who had any letters to
deliver, or any friends to meet, or any settled plans
of going anywhere or doing anj-thing, discussed
their prospects a hundred times a day ; and as this
class of passengers was very small, and the number
of those who had no prospects whatever was very
large, there were plenty of listeners and few talkers.
Those who had been ill all along, got well now, and
those who had been well got better. An American
gentleman in the after-cabin, who had been wrapped
up in fur and oil-skin the whole passage, unexpect-
edly appeared in a very shiny, tall, black hat, and
constantly overhauled a very little valise of pale

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Online LibraryCharles DickensDicken's works (Volume 27) → online text (page 25 of 28)