Charles James Lever.

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my reader's indulgent pardon for this long episode, without
which, however, I felt I could not have asked his companion-
ship on board the Firefly.




THE crew of the Firefly consisted of twelve persons, natives
of almost as many countries. Indeed to see them all muster
on deck, it was like a little congress of European rascality
such a set of hang-dog, sullen, reckless wretches were they.
Halkett, the Englishman, being the only one whose features
were not a criminal indictment, and he, with his nose split
by the slash of a cutlass, was himself no beauty. The most
atrocious of all, however, was a Moorish boy, about thirteen
years of age, called El Jarasch (the fiend), and whose diabo-
lical ugliness did not belie the family name. His functions
on board were to feed and take care of two young lion whelps,
which Sir Dudley had brought with him from an excursion
in the interior of Africa. Whether from his blood, or the
nature of his occupation, I know not, but I certainly could
trace in his features all the terrible traits of the creatures he
tended. The wide distended nostrils, the bleared and blood-
shot eyes, the large full-lipped mouth, drawn back by the
strong muscles at its angles, and the great swollen vessels of
the forehead, were developed in him, as in the wild beasts.
He imitated the animals, too, in all his gestures, which were
sudden and abrupt ; the very way he ate, tearing his food and
rending it in fragments, like a prey, showed the type he
followed. His dress was handsome, almost gorgeous ; a white
tunic of thin muslin reached to the knees, over which ho
wore a scarlet cloth jacket, open, and without sleeves this
was curiously slashed and laced, by a wonderful tissue of gold
thread, so delicately traceried as to bear the most minute
examination ; a belt of burnished gold, like a succession of
clasps, supported a small scimitar, whose scabbard of ivory
and gold was of exquisite workmanship, the top of the handle
being formed by a single emerald of purest colour ; his legs
were bare, save at the ankles, where two rings of massive
gold encircled them ; on his feet he wore a kind of embroidered
slippers, curiously studded with precious stones. A white
turban of muslin, delicately sprigged with gold, covered his
head, looped in front by another large emerald, which glared
and sparkled like an eye in the centre of his forehead.


This was his gala costume ; but his evory-day one resembled
it in everything, save the actual value of the material. Such
was El Jarasch, who was to be my companion and my
messmate, a fact which seemed to afford small satisfaction
to either of us.

Nothing could less resemble his splendour than the sim-
plicity of my costume. Halkett, when ordered to " rig me
out," not knowing what precise place I was to occupy on
board, proceeded to dress me from the kit of the sailor we
had left behind in Dublin ; and although, by rolling up the
sleeves of my jacket, and performing the same office for the
legs of my trousers, my hands and feet could be rendered
available to me, no such, ready method could prevent the
clothes bagging around me in every absurd superfluity, and
making me appear more like a stunted monster than a human
being. Beside my splendidly costumed companion I made,
indeed, but a sorry figure, nor was it long dubious that he
himself thought so ; the look of savage contempt he first
bestowed on me, and then the gaze of ineffable pleasure he
accorded to himself afterwards, having a wide interval be-
tween them. Neither did it improve my condition, in his
eyes, that I could lay claim to no distinct duty on board.
While I was ruminating on this fact, the morning after I
joined the yacht, we were standing under easy sail, with a
bright sky and a calm sea, the south-eastern coast of Ireland
on our lee, the heaving swell of the blue water, the fluttering
bunting from gaff and peak, the joyous bounding motion,
were all new and inspirating sensations, and I was congratu-
lating myself on the change a few hours had wrought in my
fortune, when Halkett came to tell me that Sir Dudley wanted
to speak with me in his cabin. He was lounging on a little
sofa when I entered, in a loose kind of dressing gown, and
before him stood the materials of his yet untasted breakfast.
The first effect of my appearance was a burst of laughter, and
although there is nothing I have ever loved better to hear
than a hearty laugh, his was not of a kind to inspire any very
pleasant or mirthful sensations. It was a short, husky, bark-
ing noise, with derision and mockery in every cadence of it.

" What the devil have we here ? Why, boy, you'd disgrace
a stone lighter at Sheerness. Who rigged you in that fashion ?"

"Mr. Halkett, sir."

" Halkett, if you please ; I know no ' misters ' among my
crew. Well, this must be looked to ; but Halkett might have
known better than to send you here in such a guise."

I made no answer ; and, apparently, for some minutes, ho


forgot all about me, and busied himself in a large chart,
which covered the table. At last he looked up ; and then,
after a second or two spent in recalling me to his recollection,
said, " Oh, you're the lad I took up last night ; very true ; I
wanted to speak with you. What can you do, besides what
I have seen, for I trust surgery is an art we shall seldom find
use for can you cook ? "

I was ashamed to say that I could boil potatoes, and fry
rashers, which were all my culinary gifts, and so I replied,
that " 1 could not."

" Have you never been in any service, or any kind of em-
ployment ? "

"Never, sir."

" Always a vagabond ? "

" Always, sir."

" Well, certes, I have the luck of it ! " said he, with one of
his low laughs. " It is, perhaps, all the better. Come, my
boy, it does not seem quite clear to me what we can make of
you ; we have no time, nor, indeed, any patience for making
sailors of striplings ; we always prefer the ready-made article,
but you must pick up what you can ; keep your watches when
onboard, and when we go ashore, anywhere, you shall be my
scout ; therefore, don't throw away your old rags, bat be
ready to resume them when wanted you hear?"

" Yes, sir."

" So far ! Now, the next thing is, and it is right you should
know it, though I keep a yacht for my pleasure and amuse-
ment, I sometimes indulge myself in a little smuggling
which is also a pleasure and amusement and, therefore, my
people are liable, if detected, to be sentenced to a smart term
of imprisonment not that this has yet happened to any of
them, but it may, you know so it is only fair to warn you."

" I'll take my chance with the rest, sir."

"Well said, boy! There are other little ventures, too,
I sometimes make, but you'd not understand them, so we need
not refer to them. Now, as to the third point discipline.
So long as you are on board, I expect obedience in every-
thing ; that you agree with your messmates, and never tell a
lie. On shore, you may cut each other's throats to your
heart's content. Remember, then, the lesson is easy enough ;
if you quarrel with your comrades I'll flog you ; if you ever
deceive me by an untruth, I'll blow your brains out ! " The
voice in which he spoke these last few words grew harsher
and louder ; and, at the end, it became almost a shout of
angry denunciation.


" For your private governance, I may say, you'll find it
wise to be good friends with Halkett, and, if you can, with
Jarasch. Go now, I've nothing more to say."

I was about to retire, when he called me back.

" Stay ! you've said nothing to me, nor have I to you,
about your wages."

" I want none, sir. It is enough for me if I am provided
in all money could buy for me."

"No deceit, sir ! No trickery with me ! " cried he, fiercely
and he glared savagely at me.

" It is not deceit nor trick either," said I, boldly, " but I
see, sir, it is not likely you'll ever trust one whom you saw in
the humble condition you found me. Land me, then, at the
first port you put in to. Leave me to follow out my fortune
my own way."

" What, if I take you at your word," said he, " and leave
you among the red Moors, on the coast of Barbary ? "

I hung my head in shame and dismay.

" Ay, or dropped you with the Tongo chiefs, who'd grill
you for breakfast ? '*

" But we are nigh England now, sir."

"We shall not long be so," cried he, joyfully. "If this
breeze last, you'll see Cape Clear by sunrise, and not look on
it again at sunset. There, away with you ! Tell Halkett I
desire that you should be mustered with the rest of the
fellows, learn the use of a cutlass, and to load a pistol with-
out blowing your fingers off."

He motioned me now to leave, and I withdrew, if I must
own it, only partially pleased with my new servitude. One
word here to explain my conduct, which, perhaps, in the eyes
of some, may appear inconsistent or improbable. It may be
deemed strange and incomprehensible why I, poor, friendless,
and low-born, should have been indifferent, even to the refusal
of all wages. The fact is this : I had set out upon my " life pil-
grimage " with a most firm conviction that one day or other,
sooner or later, I should be a " gentleman;" that I should
mix on terms of equality with the best and the highest, not a
trace or a clue to my former condition being in any respect
discoverable. Now, with this one paramount object before
me, all my endeavours were gradually to conform, so far as
might be, all my modes of thought and action to that sphere
wherein yet I should move. To learn, one by one, the usages
of gentle blood, so that, when my hour came, I should step
into my position ready suited to all its requirements, and
equal to all its demands. If this explanation does not make


clear the reasons of my generosity, and my other motives of
honourable conduct, I am sorry for it, for I have none other
to offer.

I have said that I retired from my interview "with Sir
Dudley not at all satisfied with the result. Indeed, as I
pondered over it, I could not help feeling that gentlemen
must dislike any traits of high and honourable motives in
persons of my own station, as though they were assuming
the air of their betters. What could rags have in common
with generous impulses how could poverty and hunger ever
consort with high sentiments or noble aspirations ? They
forgive us, thought I, when we mimic their dress, and panto-
mime their demeanour, because we only make ourselves ridi-
culous by the imitation ; but when we would assume tho
features that regulate their own social intercourse they hate
us, as though we sullied, with our impure touch, the virtues
of a higher class of beings.

The more I thought over this subject, the more strongly
was I satisfied that I was correct in my judgment; and, sooth
to say, the less did I respect that condition in life which could
deem any man too poor to be high-minded.

Sir Dudley's anticipations were all correct. The following
evening at sunset the great head-lands of the south of Ireland
were seen, at first, clear, and, at last, like hazy fog-banks ;
while our light vessel scudded along, her prow pointing to
where the sun had just set, behind the horizon, and then did
I learn that we were bound for North America.

Our voyage for some weeks was undistinguished by any
feature of unusual character. The weather was uniformly
fine ; steady breezes from the north-east, with a clear sky and
a calm sea, followed us as we went, so that, in the pleasant
monotony of our lives, one day exactly resembled another.
It will, therefore, suffice if, in a few words, I tell how the
hours were passed. Sir Dudley came on deck after break-
fast, when I spread out a large white bear's skin for him to
lie upon ; reclined on which, and with a huge meerschaum of
great beauty in his hand, he smoked and watched the lions at
play. These gambols were always amusing, and never failed
to assemble all the crew to witness them. Jarasch, dressed
in a light woollen tunic, with legs, arms, and neck bare, led
them ibrth by a chain ; and, after presenting them to Sir
Dudley, from whose hands they usually received a small
piece of sugar, they were then set at liberty, a privilege they
soon availed themselves of, setting off" at full speed around
the deck, sometimes one in pursuit of the other, sometimes


by different ways, crossing and recrossing each other ; now,
with a bold spring, now, with cat-like stealthiness, creeping
slowly past. The exercise, far from fatiguing, seemed only
to excite them more and more, since all this time they were
in search of the food which Jarasch, with a cunning all
his own, knew how, each day, to conceal in some new fashion.
Baffled and irritated by delay, the eyes grew red and lus-
truous, the tails stiffened, and were either carried high over
the back or extended straight backwards ; they contracted
their necks too, till the muscles were gathered up in thick
massive folds, and then their great heads seemed actually
fastened on the fore part of the trunk. When their rage
had been sufficiently whetted by delay, Jarasch would bring
forth the mess in a large " grog tub," covered with a massive
lid, on which seating himself, and armed with a short stout
bludgeon, he used to keep the beasts at bay. This, which
was the most exciting part of the spectacle, presented every
possible variety of combat. Sometimes he could hold them
in check for nigh half-an-hour, sometimes the struggle would
scarce last five minutes. Now, he would, by a successful
stroke, so intimidate one of his assailants that he could
devote all his energies against the other. Now, by a simul-
taneous attack, the savage creatures would spring upon, and
overthrow him, and then, with all the semblance of ungo-
vernable passion, they would drag him some distance along
the deck, mouthing him with frothy lips, and striking him
about the head with their huge paws, from which they would
not desist till some of the sailors, uncovering the mess, would
tempt them off by the savour of the food. Although, in
general, these games passed off with little other dam age than
a torn tunic, or a bruise more or less severe, at others Jarasch
would be so sorely mauled as to be carried off insensible ;
nor would he again be seen for the remainder of the day.
That the combat was not quite devoid of peril was clear, by
the fact that several of the sailors were always armed, some
with staves, others with cutlasses, since, in the event of a
bite, and blood flowing, nothing but immediate and prompt
aid could save the boy from being devoured. This he knew
well, and the exercises were always discontinued whenever
the slightest cut, or even a scratch existed in any part of his
person. Each day seemed to heighten the excitement of
these exhibitions ; for, as Jarasch became more skilful in his
defence, so did the whelps in the mode of attack ; besides
that, their growth advanced with incredible rapidity, and
soon threatened to make the amusement no longer prac-


ticable. This display over, Sir Dudley played at chess with
Halkett, while I, seated behind him, read aloud some book
usually one of voyages and travels. In the afternoon he
went below, and studied works in some foreign language of
which he appeared most eager to acquire a knowledge, and I
was then ordered to copy out, into a book, vai-ious extracts of
different routes in all parts of the world; sometimes, the
mode of crossing a Syrian desert ; now the shortest and
safest way through the wild regions on the shores of the
Adriatic. At one time the theme would be the steppes of
Tartary, or the snowy plains of the Ukraine ; at another, the
dangerous passes of the Cordilleras, or the hunting grounds
of the Mandans. What delightful hours were these to me ;
how full of the very highest interest ; the wildest adventures
were here united with narratives of real events and people ;
presenting human life in aspects the strangest and most
varied. How different from my old clerkship with my
father with the interminable string of bastard and broken
law Latin ! I believe that in all my after-life, fortunate as ifc
has been in so many respects, I have never passed hours
more happy than these were.

In recompence for my secretarial functions, I was free of
the middle watch ; so that, instead of turning into my berth
at sun-down, to snatch some sleep before midnight, I could
lounge about at will ; sometimes dropping into the steerago
to listen to some seaman's " yarn " of storm and shipwreck,
but far oftener, book in hand, taking a lesson in French
from the old cook, for which I paid him in being " aide-de-
cuisine ;" or, with more hardy industry, assisting our fat
German mate to polish up his Regensburg pistols, by which
I made some progress in that tongue of harsh and mysterious

Through all these occupations, the thought never left me
what could be the object of Sir Dudley's continued
voyaging ? No feature of pleasure was certainly associated
with it, as little could it be attributed to the practice of
smuggling the very seas he had longest cruised in forbade
that notion. It must be, thought I, that other reason to
which he so darkly alluded on the day he called me to his
cabin ; and what could that be ? Never was ingenuity more
tortured than mine by this ever-recurring question. Since
it is needless to tell the reader I was not then, nor indeed for
a very long time afterwards, acquainted with those par-
ticulars of his history I have already jotted down. This
intense curiosity of mine would, doubtless, have worn itself


out at last, but for a slight circumstance occurring to keep
it still alive within me. The little state-room in which I
used to write lay at one side of the cabin, from which it was
entered no other means of gettiug to it existing ; a heavy
silk curtain supplied the place of a door between the two ;
and this, when four o'clock came, and my day's work was
finished, was let down till the following morning, when it was
drawn aside that Sir Dudley, from time to time, might see,
and, if needful, speak with me. Now, one day, when we had
been about three weeks at sea, the weather being intensely
hot and sultry, Sir Dudley had fallen asleep in his cabin
while I sat writing away vigorously within. Suddenly, I
heard a shout on deck " The whales ! a shoal of whales
a-head!" and immediately the sudden scuffling of feet, and
the heavy hum of voices proclaimed the animation and
interest the sight created. I strained myself to peep through
the little one-paned window beside me, but all I could see
was the great blue heaving ocean, as, in majestic swell, it
rolled along. Still the noise continued ; and, by the number
and tone of the speakers, I could detect that all the crew
were on deck every one, in fact, save myself. What a dis-
appointment ! full as ray mind was of every monster of land
and water; burning to observe some of the wonderful
things I had read so much about, and now destined actually
to be denied a sight on which my comrades were then
gazing! I could endure the thought no longer, and although
my task was each morning allotted to me, and carefully
examined the next day by Sir Dudley, I stepped lightly out
on tip-toe, and letting fall the curtain so that if he awoke I
should not be missed, I stole up " the companion," and
reached the deck.

What a sight was there ! the whole sea around us was in
motion with the great monsters, who, in pursuit of a shoal
of herrings, darted at speed through the blue water
spouting, blowing, and tossing in all the wildest confusion ;
here every eye was bent on a calm still spot in the water,
where a whale had " sounded " that is, gone down quite
straight into the depths of the sea; here, another was seen
scarcely covered by the water, his monstrous head and back
alternately dipping below, or emerging above it ; harpoons
and tackle were sought out, firearms loaded, and every pre-
paration for attack and capture made, but none dared to ven-
ture without orders, nor was any hardy enough to awako
him and ask for them. Perhaps the very expectancy on our
part increased the interest, for certainly the excitement of


the scene was intense ; so much so, that I actually forgot all
about my task, and, without a thought of consequences, was
hanging eagerly over the taffrail in full enjoyment of the
wild scene, when the tinkle of the captain's bell started me,
and to my horror I remembered it was now his dinner hour,
and that, for the rest of the day, no opportunity would offer
of my reaching the state-room to finish my writing.

I was so terrified that I lost all interest in the spectacle,
whereof, up to that time, my mind was full. It was my first
delinquency, and had all the poignancy of a first fault.
The severity I had seen practised on others, for even slight
infractions of duty, was all before me, and I actually debated
with myself whether it would not be better to jump over-
board at once than meet the anger of Sir Dudley. With
any one else, perhaps, I should have bethought me of some
cunning lie to account for my absence, but lie had warned
me about trying to deceive him, and I well knew he could
be as good as his word. I had no courage to tell any of
the sailors my fault, and ask their advice ; indeed, I antici-
pated what would be the result ; some brutal jest over my
misfortune, some coarse allusion to the fate they had often
told me portended me, since " no younker had ever gone from
land to land with Sir Dudley without tasting his hemp frit-
ters." I sat down, therefore, beside the bowsprit, where none
should see me, to commune alone with my grief; and, if I
could, to summon up courage to meet my fate.

Night had closed in some time, and all was tranquil on
board, when I saw Halkett, as was his custom, going aft to
the cabin, where he always remained for an hour or more
each evening. It was just then, I know not how the notion
occurred, but it struck me that if I could lower myself over the
side, I might be able to creep through the little window into tho
state-room, and carry away the paper to finish it before morning.
I lost little time in setting about my plot, and having made
fast a rope to one of the clues, I lowered myself, fearlessly,
over the gunwale, and pushing open the little sash, which
was unfastened, I soon managed to insert my head and
shoulders, and without any difficulty dragging my body slowly
after, entered the state-room. So long as the danger of tho
enterprize, and its difficulty lasted, so long my courage was
high, and my heart fearless ; but when 1 sat down in the
little dark room, scarcely venturing to breathe, lest I should
be overheard, almost afraid to touch the papers on the table,
lest their rustling noise should betray me, how was this terror
increased, when I actually heard the voices of Sir Dudley


and Halkett as plainly as though I were in the cabin besido
them !

"And so, Halkett," said Sir Dudley, "you think this ex-
pedition will be as fruitless as the others ? "

" I do, sir," said the other, in a low, dogged tone.

"And yet you were the very man who encoui-aged me to
make it! "

"And what of that! Of two things, I thought it more
likely that he should be the leader of a band to a regiment in
Canada, than be a Faquiuo on the Mole of Genoa. A fellow
like him could scarcely fall so low as that."

"He shall fall lower, by heaven, if I live ! " said Sir Dud-
ley, in a voice rendered guttural with deep passion.

" Take care you fall not with him, sir," said Halkett, in a
tone of warning.

" And if I should for what else have I lived these three
last years ? In that pursuit have I periled health and life,
satisfied to lose both if I but succeed at last."

" And how do you mean to proceed ? for, assuredly if he
be attached to the regiment at Kingstown he'll hear of you,
from some source or other. You remember, when we all but
had him at Torlosk, and yet he heard of our coming before
we got two posts from Warsaw ; and again, at ' Forli,' we
had scarce dropped anchor off Rimini when he was up and

" I'll go more secretly to work this time, Halkett: hitherto
I have been slow to think the fellow a coward. It is so hard
to believe anything so base, as a man bereft of every trait of
virtue : now I see clearly that he is so. I'll track him, not
to offer him the chances of a duel but to hunt him down as

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 10 of 50)