Charles James Lever.

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tolerable anguish ; as I lay, with closed eyes and crossed
hands, not a bad resemblance of those stone saints one sees
upon old tombstones.

My faculties were clear and acute, so that, having abun-
dant leisure for the occupation, I had nothing better to do
than take a brief retrospect of my late life. Such reviews
are rarely satisfactory, or rather, one rarely thinks of making
them when the " score of the past " is in our favour. Up to
this moment it was clear I had gained little but experience ;
I had started light, and I had acquired nothing, save a some-
what worse opinion of the world and a greater degree of
confidence in myself. I had but one way of balancing my
account with Fortune, which was by asking myself " Would
I undo the past, if in my power ? Would I wish once more
to be back in my ' father's mud edifice,' now digging a drain,
now drawing an indictment, a kind of pastoral pettifogger,
with one foot in a potato furrow and the other in petty
sessions ? " I stoutly said " No ! " a thousand times " no ! "
to this question.

I could not ask myself as to my preference for a university
career, for my college life had concluded abruptly, in spite of
me ; but still, during my town experiences, I saw enough
to leave me no regrets at having quitted the muses. The



108 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

life of a " skip," as the Trinity men have it, vice gyp., for
the Greek word signifying a " vulture " is only removed by
a thin sheet of silver paper from that of a cabin boy in a
collier ; copious pummeling and short prog being the first
two articles of your warrant ; while in some respects the
marine has a natural advantage over him on shore. A skip
is invariably expected to invent lies '' at discretion " for his
master's benefit, and is always thrashed when they are either
discovered or turn out adverse. On this point his educa-
cation is perfectly "Spartan;" but, unhappily too, he is
expected to be a perfect mirror of truth on all other occasions.
This is somewhat hard, inasmuch as it is only in a man's
graduate course that he learns to defend a paradox, and sup-
port, by good reasons, what he knows to be false.

Again, a " skip " never receives clothes, but is flogged at
least once a week for disorders in his dress, and for general
untidiness of appearance : this, too, is hard, since he has as
little intercourse with soap as he has with conic sections.

Thirdly, a good skip invariably obtains credit for his
master at " Foles's " chop-house ; while, in his own proper
capacity, he would not get trust for a cheese-paring.

Fourthly, a skip is supposed to be born a valet, as some
are born poets to have an instinctive aptitude for all the
details of things he has never seen or heard of before ; so
that when he applies Warren's patent to French leather
boots, polishes silver with a Bath brick, blows the fire with
a quarto, and cuts candles with a razor, he finds it passing
strange that he should be " had up " for punishment. To
be fat without food, to be warm without fire, to be wake-
ful without sleep, to be clad without clothes, to be known as
a vagabond, and to pass current for unblemished honesty, to
be praised as a liar, and then thrashed for lying is too much
to expect at fifteen y ars of age.

Lastly, as to Bitty 's, I had no regrets. The occupation
of horse-boy, like the profession of physic, has no " avenir."
The utmost the most aspiring can promise to himself is to
hold more horses than his neighbours, as the Doctor's success
is to order more " senna." There is nothing beyond these ;
no higher path opens to him who feels the necessity for an
" upward course." It is a ladder with but one round to it !
No, no ; I was right to " sell out " there.

My steeple-chase might have led to something, that is, I
might have become a jockey ; but then again, one's light
weight, like a "contr" alto" voice, is sure to vanish after
a year or two ; and then, from the heyday of popularity,



" MEANS AND MEDITATIONS." 109

you sink down into a bad groom or a fourth-rate tenor, just
as if, after reaching a silk gown at. the bar, a man had to
begin life again as crier in the Exchequer! Besides, in
all these various walks, I should have had the worst of
all " trammels," a patron. Now, if any resolve had thoroughly
fixed itself in my mind, it was this, never to have a patron,
never to be bound to any man who, because he had once set
you on your legs, should regulate the pace you were to walk
through a long life. To do this, one should be born without
a particle of manhood's spirit absolutely without volition
otherwise you go through life a living lie, talking sentiments
that are not yours, and wearing a livery in your heart as well
as on your back !

Why do we hear such tirades about the ingratitude of
men, who, being once assisted by otherstheir inferiors in
everything save gold soar above the low routine of toadyism,
and rise into personal independence ? Let us remember that
the contract was never a fair one, and that a whole life's
degradation is a heavy sum to pay for a dinner with his
grace, or a cup of tea with her highness. " My lord," I am
aware, thinks differently ; and it is one of the very pleasant
delusions of his high station to fancy that little folk are
dependent upon him what consequence they obtain among
their fellows by his recognition in public, or by his most
careless nod in the street. But " my lord " does not know
that this is a paper currency, that represents no capital, that
it is not convertible at will, and is never a legal tender, and
consequently, as a requital for actual bond fide services, is
is about as honest a payment as a flash-note.

It was no breach of my principle that I accepted Sir
Dudley's offer. Our acquaintance began by my rendering
him a service ; and I was as free to leave him that hour, and,
I own, as ready to do so, if occasion permitted, as he could
be to get rid of me ; and it was not long before the occasion
presented itself for exercising these views.

As I lay thus, ruminating on my past fortunes, Halkett
descended the steerage-ladder, followed by Felborg, the Dane;
and, approaching my hammock, held a light to my face fora
few seconds. "Still asleep?" said Halkett. " Poor boy !
he has never awoke since I dressed his wound this morning.
I'm sure it's better, so let us leave him so."

"Ay, ay," said the Dane, "let him sleep; bad tidings
come soon enough, without one's being awoke to hear them.
But do you think he'll do it?" added he, with lower and
more anxious tone.



110 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

" He has said so, and I never knew him fail in his promise
when it was a cruel one."

" Have you no influence over him, Halkett ? could you not
speak for the boy?"

" I have done all I could, more than perhaps it was safe to
do. I told him I couldn't answer for the men, if he were to
shoot him on board ; and he replied to me short, ' I'll take
the fellow ashore with me alone neither you nor they have
any right to question what you are not to witness.' "

" Well, when I get back to Elsinore, it's to a prison and
heavy irons I shall go for life, that's certain ; but I'd face it
all rather than live the life we've done now for twenty months
past."

"Hush! speak low!" said the other. "I suppose others
are weary of it as well as you. Many a man has to live a bad
life just because he started badly."

" I'm sorry for the boy ! " sighed the Dane ; " he was a
bold and fearless fellow."

" I am sorry for him too. It was an evil day for him when
he joined us. Well, well, what would he have become if ho
had lived a year or two on board ? "

" He has no father nor mother," said the Dane, " that's
something. I lost mine, too, when I was nine years old, and
it made me the reckless devil I became ever after. I wasn't
sixteen when the crew of the Tre-JKroner mutinied, and I led
the party that cut down the first-lieutenant. It was a moon-
light night, just as it might be now, in the middle watch, and
Lieutenant CEldenstrom was sitting aft, near the wheel, hum-
ming a tune. I walked aft, with my cutlass in one hand, and
a pistol in the other ; but just as I stepped up the quarter-
deck my foot slipped, and the cutlass fell with a clank on the
deck.

" ' What's that?' cried the lieutenant.

" ' Felborg, sir, mate of the watch,' said I, standing fast
where I was. ' It's shoaling fast a-head, sir.'

-" ' D n !' said he, ' what a coast ! '

" ' Couldn't you say a bit of something better than that ? '
said I, getting nearer to him, slowly.

" 'What do you mean?' said he, jumping up angrily;
but he was scarce on his legs when he was down again at
his full length on the plank, with a bullet through his brain,
never to move again !"

" There, there, avast with that tale ; you've told it to me
every night that my heart was heavy this twelvemonth past.
But I've hit on a way to save the lad will you help me ? "



"MEANS AND MEDITATIONS." Ill

" Ay, if my help doesn't bring bad luck on him ; it always
has on every one I befriended since since "

" Never mind that. There's no risk here, nor much room
for luck, good or bad." He paused a second or two, then
added

" I'm thinking we can't do better than shove him ashore on
the island yonder."

" On Anticosti !" said Felborg, with a shudder.

" Ay, why not ? There's always a store of biscuit and fresh
water in the log-houses, and the cruisers touch there every six
or seven weeks to take people off. He has but to hoist the
flag to show he's there."

" There's no one there now," said the Dane.

"No. I saw the flag-staff bare yesterday; but what does
that matter ? a few days or a few weeks alone are better than
what's in store for him here."

" I don't think so. No ! Beym alia Deyvelm ! I'd stand
the bullet at three paces, but I'd not meet that negro chap
alone."

" Oh, he's dead and gone this many a year," said Halkett.
" When the Rodney transport was wrecked there, two years
last fall, they searched the island from end to end, and
couldn't find a trace of him. They were seven weeks there,
and it's pretty clear if he were alive "

" Ay, just so if he were alive."

" Nonsense, man you don't believe those yarns they get
up to frighten the boys in the cook's galley."

"It's scarce mercy, to my reckoning," said Felborg, "to
take the lad from a quick and short fate, and leave him
yonder; but, if you need my help, you shall have it."

" That's enough," said Halkett, " go on deck, and look
after the boat. None of our fellows will betray us ; and in
the morning we'll tell Sir Dudley that he threw himself
overboard in the night, in a fit of frenzy. He'll care little
whether it's true or false."

" I say, Con Con, my lad," said Halkett as soon as the
other had mounted the ladder; "wake up, my boy, I've
something to tell you."

" I know it," said I, wishing to spare time, which I thought
might be precious, " I've been dreaming all about it."

" Poor fellow, his mind is wandering," muttered Halkett
to himself. " Come, my lad, try and put on your clothes
here's your jacket," and with that he lifted me from my
hammock, and begun to help me to dress.

"I was dreaming, Halkett," said I, " that Sir Dudley sent



112 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

me adrift in the punt, and fired at me with the swivel, but
that you rowed out and saved me."

" That's just it ! " said Halkett, with an energy that showed
how the supposed dream imposed upon him.

" You put me ashore on Anticosti, Halkett," said I, " but
wasn't that cruel ! the Black Boatswain is there."

" Never fear the Black Boatswain, my lad, he's dead years
ago ; and it strikes me you'll steer a course in life, where old
wives' tales never laid down the soundings."

" I can always be brave when I want it, Halkett," said I,
letting out a bit of my peculiar philosophy ; but I saw he
didn't understand my speech, and I went on with my dressing
in silence.

Halkett meanwhile continued to give me advice about the
island, and the log-houses, and the signal-ensign ; in fact,
about all that could possibly concern my safety and speedy
escape, concluding with a warning to me, never to divulge
that anything but a mere accident had been the occasion of my
being castaway. " This for your own sake and for mine, too,
Con," said he, " for one day or other he," he pointed to the
after-cabin " he'd know it, and then it would fare badly with
some of us."

"Why not come too, Halkett?" said I, "this life is as
hateful to you as to myself."

" Hush, boy, no more of that," said he, with a degree of
emotion which I had never witnessed in him before. " Make
yourself warm and snug, for you mustn't take any spare
clothes, or you'd be suspected by whoever takes you off the
island : here's my brandy-flask and a tindei'-box that's a
small bag of biscuit for you'll take six or seven hours to
reach the log-house and here is a pistol with some powder
and ball. Come along now, or shall I carry you up the
ladder ? "

" No, I'm able enough now," said I, making an effort to
seem free from pain while I stepped up on deck.

I was not prepared for the affectionate leave-taking which
met me here : each of the crew shook my hand twice or
thrice over, and there was not one did not press upon mo
some little gift in token of remembrance.

At last the boat was lowered, and Halkett and three others
descended noiselessly, motioned to me to follow. I stepped
boldly over the side, and, waving a last good-bye to those
above, sat down in the stern to sl<eer, as I was directed.

It was a calm night, with nothing of a sea, save that rolling
heave ever present in the Gulf-stream ; and now the men



*' MEANS AND MEDITATIONS." 113

stretched to their oars, and we darted swiftly on, not a word
breaking the deep stillness.

Although the island lay within six miles, we could see
nothing of it against the sky, for the highest point is little
more than twelve feet above the water-level.

I have said that nothing was spoken as we rowed along
over the dark and swelling water ; but this silence did not
impress me till I saw ahead of us the long low outline of
the dreary island shutting out the horizon ; then, a sensation
of sickening despair came over me. Was I to linger out a
few short hours of life on that melancholy spot, and die at
last exhausted and broken-hearted ? " Was this to be the
end of the brilliant dream I had so often revelled in ? "
" Ah, Con ! " said I, " to play the game of life, a man must
have capital to stand its losses its runs of evil fortune ; but
you are ruined with one bad deal ! "

" Run her in here ! in this creek ! " cried Halkett to the
men, and the boat glided into a little bay of still water under
the lee of the land, and then, after about twenty minutes'
stout rowing, her keel grated on the rugged shingly shore of
Anticosti.

"We oannot land you dry-shod, Con," said Halkett, "it
shoals for some distance here."

"No matter," said I, trying to affect an easy, jocular air,
my choking throat and swelling heart made far from easy ;
"for me to think of wet feet, would be like the felon at the drop
blowing the froth off the porter because it was unwholesome ! "

" I've better hopes of you than that comes to, lad ! "
said he ; " but good-bye ! good-bye ! " He shook my hand
with a grasp like a vice, and sat down with his back to-
wards me ; the others took a kind farewell of me ; and
then, shouldering my little bag of biscuit, I pressed my
cap down over my eyes, and stepped into the surf. It was
scarcely more than over mid-leg, but the clay-like, spongy
bottom made it tiresome walking. I had only gone a few
hundred yards, when a loud cheer struck me ; I turned, it
was the boat's crew, giving me a parting salute. I tried
to answer it, but my voice failed me ; the next moment
they had turned the point, and I saw them no more !

I now plodded wearily on, and in about half an hour
reached the land ; and whether from weariness, or some
strange instinct of security, on touching shore, I know not,
but I threw myself heavily down upon the shingly stones,
and slept soundly ; ay, and dreamed too ! dreamed of fair
lands far away, such as I have often read of in books of

I



114 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON CREGAN.

travels, where bright flowers and delicious fruits were grow-
ing, and where birds and insects of gaudiest colours floated
past with a sweet murmuring song that made the air
tremble.

Who has not read " Robinson Crusoe " ? and who has not
imagined himself combating with some of the difficulties of
his fortune, and pictured to his mind what his conduct might
have been under this or that emergency ?

No speculations are pleasanter, when indulged at our own
fireside, in an easy-chair, after having solaced our " material "
nature by a good dinner, and satisfied the " moral" man by
the " City Article," which assures us that the Three per
Cents are rising, and that Consols for the Account are in a very
prosperous state. Then, indeed, if our thoughts by any acci-
dent stray to the shipwrecked sailor, they are blended with
a wholesome philanthropy, born of good digestion and fair
worldly prospects ; we assure ourselves that we should have
made precisely the same exertions that he did, and comported
ourselves in all the varied walks of carpenter, tailor, hosier,
sail-maker, and boat-builder, exactly like him. The chances
are, too, that if accidentally out of temper with our neigh-
bours, we cordially acknowledge that the retirement was
not the worst feature in his history ; and if provoked by John
Thomas, the footman, we are ready to swear that there was
more gratitude in Friday's little black finger than in the whole
body corporate of flunkeys, from Richmond to Blackwall.

While these very laudable sentiments are easy enough in
the circumstances I have mentioned, they are marvellously
difficult to practise at the touch of stern reality. At least I
found them so, as I set out to seek the " Refuge" on Anti-
costi. It was just daybreak, as, somewhat stiffened with a
sleep on the cold beach, and sore from my recent bruises, I
began my march. " Nor'-west and by west" was Halkett's
vague direction to me, but as I had no compass, I was left
to the guidance of the rising sun for the cardinal points.
Not a path, nor track of any kind was to be seen ; indeed
the surface could scarcely have borne traces of footsteps, for
it was one uniform mass of slaty shingle, with here and there
the backbone of a fish, and scattered fragments of sea-weed,
washed up by the storms, on this low bleak shore. I cannot
fancy desolation more perfect than this dreary spot, slightly
undulating, but never sufficient to lose sight of the sea ; not
a particle of shelter to be found ; not a rock, nor even a
stone large enough to sit upon when weary. Of vegetation,
no trace could be met with, even a patch of moss, or a



tc MEANS AND MEDITATIONS." 115

lichen, would have been a blessing to see ; but there wero
neither. At last, as I journeyed on, I wandered beyond the
sound of the sea, as it broke upon the low strand, and then
the silence became actually appalling; but a few moments
back, and the loud booming of the breakers stunned the
ear, and now, as I stopped to listen, I could hear my own
heart, as in full thick beat it smote against my ribs. I could
not dismiss the impression, that such a stillness thus terri-
ble, would prevail on the day of judgment ; when, after the
graves had given up their millions of dead, and the agonizing
cry for mercy had died away, then, as in a moment of dread
suspense, the air would be motionless, not a leaf to stir, not
a wing to cleave it. Such possession of me did this notion
take, that I fell upon my knees and sobbed aloud, while,
with trembling and uplifted hands, I prayed that I too might
be pardoned.

So powerful is the influence of a devotional feeling, no
matter how associated with error, how alloyed by the dross
of superstition, that I, who but an instant back could scarcely
drag my wearied limbs along for very despair, became of a
sudden trustful and courageous. Life seemed no longer the
worthless thing it did a few minutes before ; on the contrary,
I was ready to dare anything to preserve it ; and so, with
renewed vigour, I again set forward.

At each little swell of the ground, I gazed eagerly about
me, hoping to see the log-hut, but in vain ; nothing but the
same wearisome monotony met my view. The sun was now
high, and I could easily see that I was following out the
direction Halkett gave me, and which I continued to repeat
over and over to myself as I went along. This, and watching
my shadow the only one that touched the earth were my
occupations. It may seem absurd, even to downright folly,
but when from any change in the direction of my course the
shadow did not fall in front of me, where I could mark it,
my spirits fell, and my heavy heart grew heavier.

When, however, it did precede me, I was never wearied
watching how it dived down the little slopes, and rose again
on the opposite bank, bending with each swell of the ground.
Even this was companionship its very motion smacked of
life.

At length I came upon a little pool of rain-water, and,
although far from clear, it reflected the bright blue sky, and
white clouds, so temptingly, that I sat down beside it to
make my breakfast. As I sat thus, Hope was again with
me, and I fancied how, in some long distant time, whea

i 2



116 THE CONFESSIONS OF CON

favoured by fortune, and possessed of every worldly gift ;
with rank, and riches, and honour, I should remember the
hour when, a poor friendless outcast, I ate my lonely meal
on Anticosti. I fancied, even, how friends would listen
almost incredulously to the tale, and with what traits of
pity, or of praise, they would follow me in my story.

I felt I was not doomed to die in that dreary land, that my
own courage would sustain me ; and thus armed, I again
set out.

Although I walked from daybreak to late evening, it was
only a short time before darkness closed in that I saw a
bulky mass straight before me, which I knew must be the
Log-house. I could scarcely drag my legs along a few
moments before, but now I broke into a run, and with many
a stumble, and more than one fall, for 1 never turned my
eyes from the hut, I at last reached a little cleared spot of
ground, in the midst of which stood the " Refuge-house."

What a moment of joy was that, as, unable to move farther,
I sat down upon a little bench in front of the hut ! All sense
of my loneliness, all memory of my desolation, was lost in
an instant. There was my home ; how strange a word for
that sad-looking hut of pine-logs, in a lone island, unin-
habited ! No matter ; it would be my shelter, and my refuge,
till better days came round ; and with that stout resolve, I
entered the great roomy apartment, which, in the settling
gloom of night, seemed immense.

Striking a light, I proceeded to take a survey of my terri-
tory, which I rejoiced to see contained a great metal stove,
and an abundant supply of bed-clothing, precautions required
by the frequency of ships being ice-bound in these latitudes.
There were several casks of biscuits, some flour, a large chest
of maize, besides three large tanks of water, supplied by the
rain. A few bags of salt, and some scattered objects of
clothing, completed the catalogue, which, if not very luxu-
rious, contained nearly everything of absolute necessity.

I lighted a good fire in the stove, less because I felt cold,
for it was still autumn, than for the companionship of the
bright blaze and the crackling wood. This done, I proceeded
to make myself a bed on one of the platforms, arranged like
bed-places round the walls, and of which I saw the upper
ones seemed to have a preference in the opinion of my prede-
cessors, since, in these, the greater part of the bed-clothing
was to be found, a choice I could easily detect the reason of,
in the troops of rats which walked to and fro, with a most
contemptuous indifference to my presence ; some of them



"MEANS AND MEDITATIONS." 117

standing near me while I made my bed, and looking, as
doubtless they felt, considerably surprised at the nature of
my operations. Promising myself to open a spirited cam-
paign against them on the morrow, I trimmed and lighted a
large lamp, which from its position had defied their attempt
on the oil it still contained ; and then, a biscuit in hand,
betook myself to bed, watching with an interest, not, I own,
altogether pleasant, the gambols of these primitive natives
of Anticosti.

From my earliest years I had an antipathy to rats, so
great, that it mastered all the instincts of my courage. I



Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 5) → online text (page 12 of 50)