Charles James Lever.

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caught the General's eye fixed upon us, with anything but an ex-
pression of pleasure, and I thought that Isabella blushed and seemed
confused also. ' What care I V however, was my reflection ; ' my
views are honorable; and the nephew and heir of Sir Toby

Sparks - ' Just in the very act of making this reflection, the old

man in the shorts hit me in the eye with a roasted apple, calling
out at the moment, —

" ' When did you join, thou child of the pale faces?'

" ' Mr. Murdocks !' cried the General, in a voice of thunder, and
the little man hung down his head and spoke not.

" ' A word with you, young gentleman,' said a fat old lady, pinch-
ing my arm above the elbow.

" * Never mind her,' said Isabella, smiling ; ' poor dear old Dorkin,
she thinks she's an hour-glass. How droll, isn't it ?"

" * Young man, have you any feelings of humanity ?' inquired the
old lady, with tears in her eyes as she spoke ; ' will you — dare you —
assist a fellow-creature under my sad circumstances ?'

" ' What can I do for you, madam ?' said I, really feeling for her
distress.

" ■ Just, like a good dear soul, just turn me up, for I'm nearly run
out.'

" Isabella burst out a-laughing at the strange request — an excess
which, I confess, I was unable myself to repress ; upon which the
old lady, putting on a frown of the most ominous blackness, said, —

" ' You may laugh, madam ; but first, before you ridicule the mis-
fortunes of others, ask yourself are you, too, free from infirmity ?
When did you see the ace of spades, madam ? answer me that.'

" Isabella became suddenly pale as death, her very lips blanched,
and her voice, almost inaudible, muttered, —

" ' Am I, then, deceived? Is not this he?' So saying, she placed
her hand upon my shoulder.

" ' That the ace of spades !' exclaimed the old lady, with a sneer —
1 that the ace of spades !'

" ' Are you, or are you not, sir ?' said Isabella, fixing her deep and
languid eyes upon me. ' Answer, as you are honest ; are you the
ace of spades V

" ' He is the King of Tuscarora. Look at his war-paint !' cried
an elderly gentleman, putting a streak of mustard across my nose
and cheek.



218 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

"'Then am I deceived/ said Isabella. And, flying at me, she
plucked a handful of hair out of my whiskers.

" ' Cuckoo, cuckoo !' shouted one ; ' Bow, wow, wow !' roared an-
other ; ' Phiz V went a third ; and, in an instant, such a scene of
commotion and riot ensued ! Plates, dishes, knives, forks, and de-
canters flew right and left ; every one pitched into his neighbor with
the most fearful cries, and hell itself seemed let loose. The hour-
glass and the Moulah of Oude had got me down, and were pummel-
ling me to death, when a short, thickset man came on all fours slap
down upon them, shouting out, ' Way, make way for the royal Ben-
gal tiger V at which they both fled like lightning, leaving me to the
encounter single-handed. Fortunately, however, this was not of
very long duration, for some well-disposed Christians pulled him
from off me ; not, however, before he had seized me in his grasp,
and bitten off a portion of my right ear, leaving me, as you see, thus
mutilated for the rest of my days."

" What an extraordinary club I" broke in the Doctor.

" Club ! sir, club ! it was a lunatic asylum. The General was no
other than the famous Doctor Andrew Moorville, that had the great
madhouse at Bangor, and who was in the habit of giving his patients
every now and then a kind of country party ; it being one remark-
able feature of their malady that, when one takes to his peculiar
flight, whatever it be, the others immediately take the hint, and go
off at score. Hence my agreeable adventure, the Bengal tiger being
a Liverpool merchant, and the most vivacious madman in England;
while the hour-glass and the Moulah were both on an experimental
tour to see whether they should not be pronounced totally incurable
for life,"

" And Isabella ?" inquired Power.

" Ah ! poor Isabella had been driven mad by a card-playing aunt
at Bath, and was, in fact, the most hopeless case there. The last
words I heard her speak confirmed my mournful impression of her
case : —

"'Yes,' said she, as they removed her to her carriage, 'I must,
indeed, have but weak intellects, when I could have taken the
nephew of a Manchester cotton-spinner, with a face like a printed
calico, for a trump card, and the best in the pack !' "

Poor Sparks uttered these last words with a faltering accent, and
finishing his glass at one draught, withdrew without wishing us good
night.



/



THE SKIPPER. 219

CHAPTEE XXXIII.

THE SKIPPER.



IN such like gossipings passed our days away, for our voyage
itself had nothing of adventure or incident to break its dull
monotony. Save some few hours of calm, we had been steadily
following our seaward track with a fair breeze, and the long pen-
nant pointed ever to the land where our ardent expectations were
hurrying before it.

The latest accounts which had reached us from the Peninsula told
us that our regiment was almost daily engaged ; and we burned with
impatience to share with the others the glory they were reaping.
Power, who had seen service, felt less on this score than we who had
not "fleshed our maiden swords;" but even he sometimes gave way;
and when the wind fell, towards sunset, he would break out into
some exclamation of discontent, half- fearing we should be too late ;
" for," said he, " if we go on in this way, the regiment will be re-
lieved, and ordered home before we reach it."

" Never fear, my boys, you'll have enough of it. Both sides like
the work too well to give in ; they've got a capital ground, and
plenty of spare time," said the Major.

" Only to think," cried Power, "that we should be lounging away
our idle hours, when these gallant fellows are in the saddle late and
early. It is too bad ; eh, O'Malley ? You'll not be pleased to go back
with the polish on your sabre ? What will Lucy Dash wood say?"

This was the first allusion Power had ever made to her, and I be-
came red to the very forehead.

". By the bye," added he, " I have a letter for Hammersley, which
should rather have been entrusted to your keeping."

At these words I felt cold as death, while he continued :

" Poor fellow ! certainly he is most desperately smitten ; for, mark
me, when a man at his age takes the malady, it is forty times as
severe as with a younger fellow, like you. But then, to be sure, he
began at the wrong end in the matter ; why commence with papa ?
When a man has his own consent for liking a girl, he must be a con-
temptible fellow if he can't get her ! and as to anything else being
wanting, I don't understand it. But the moment you begin by in-
fluencing the heads of the house, good-bye to your chances with the
dear thing herself, if she have any spirit whatever. It is, in fact,
calling on her to surrender without the honors of war ; and what girl
would stand that ?"

" It's vara true," said the Doctor ; " there's a strong speerit of op-
position in the sex, from physiological causes."



220 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

" Curse your physiology, old Galen : what you call opposition is
that piquant resistance to oppression that makes half the charm of
the sex. It is with them — with reverence be it spoken— -as with
horses : the dull, heavy-shouldered ones, that bore away with the
bit in their teeth, never caring whether you are pulling to the right
or to the left, are worth nothing; the real luxury is in the manage-
ment of your arching-necked curveter, springing from side to side
with every motion of your wrist, madly bounding at restraint; yet
to the practised hand, held in check with a silk thread ; eh, Skipper
— am I not right V

" Well, I can't say I've had much to do with horse-beasts, but I
believe you're not far wrong. The lively craft that answers the helm
quick, goes round well in stays, luffs up close within a point or two,
when you want her, is always a good sea-boat, even though she
pitches and rolls a bit; but the heavy lugger that never knows
whether your helm is up or down, whether she's off the wind or on it, is
only fit for firewood — you can do nothing with a ship or a woman
if she hasn't got steerage way on her."

" Come, Skipper, we've all been telling our stories ; let us hear
one of yours ?"

" My yarn won't come so well after your sky-scrapers of love and
courting, and all that. But if you like to hear what happened to
me once, I have no objection to tell you.

" I often think how little we know what's going to happen to us
any minute of our lives. To-day we have the breeze fair in our
favor ; we are going seven knots, studding-sails set, smooth water,
and plenty of sea-room ; to-morrow the wind freshens to half a gale,
the sea gets up, a rocky coast is seen from the bow, and maybe — to
add to all — we spring a leak forward ; but then, after all, bad as it
looks, mayhap we rub through even this, and with the next day,
the prospect is as bright and cheering as ever. You'll perhaps ask
me what has all this moralizing to do with women and ships at sea?
Nothing at all with them, except that I was a-going to say that
when matters look worst, very often the best is in store for us, and
we should never say strike when there is a timber together. Now
for my story : —

" It's about four years ago, I was strolling one evening down the
side of the harbor at Cove, with my hands in my pockets, having
nothing to do, nor no prospect of it, for my last ship had been
wrecked off the Bermudas, and nearly all the crew lost ; and, some-
how, when a man is in misfortune, the underwriters won't have him
at any price. Well, there I was, looking about me at the craft that
lay on every side waiting for a fair wind to run down channel. All
was active and busy; every one getting his vessel ship-shape and



THE SKIPPER. 221

tidy, tarring, painting, mending sails, stretching new bunting, and
getting in sea-store ; boats were plying on every side, signals flying,
guns firing from the men-of-war, and everything was lively as might
be ; all but me. There I was, like an old water-logged timber-ship,
never moving a spar, but looking for all the world as though I were
a-settling fast to go down stern foremost ; maybe as how I had no
objection to that same ; but that's neither here nor there. Well, I
sat down on the fluke of an anchor, and began a-thinking if it wasn't
better to go before the mast than live on that way. Just before me,
where I sat down, there was an old schooner, that lay moored in the
same place for as long as I could remember. She was there when I
was a boy, and never looked a bit the fresher nor newer as long as
I recollected ; her old bluff bows, her high poop, her round stern,
her flush deck, all Dutch-like, I knew them well, and many a time
I delighted to think what a queer kind of a chap he was that first
set her on the stocks, and pondered in what trade she ever could
have been. All the sailors about the port used to call her Noah's
Ark, and swear she was the identical craft that he stowed away all
the wild beasts in during the rainy season'. Be that as it might, since
I fell into misfortune, I got to feel a liking for the old schooner ; she
was like an old friend ; she never changed to me, fair weather or
foul; there she was, just the same as thirty years before, when all
the world were forgetting and steering wide away from me. Every
morning I used to go down to the harbor and have a look at her,
just to see that all was right, and nothing stirred ; and if it blew
very hard at night, I'd get up and go down to look how she weath-
ered it, just as if I was at sea in her. Now and then I'd get some of
the watermen to row me aboard of her, and leave me there for a few
hours, when I used to be quite happy walking the deck, holding
the old worm-eaten wheel, looking out ahead, and going down below,
just as though I was in command of her. Day after day this habit
grew on me, and at last my whole life was spent in watching her
and looking after her ; there was something so much alike in our
fortunes, that I always thought of her. Like myself, she had had
her day of life and activity; we had both braved the storm and the
breeze; her shattered bulwarks and worn cutwater attested that she
had, like myself, not escaped her calamities. We both had survived
our dangers, to be neglected and forgotten, and to lie rotting on the
stream of life till the crumbling hand of Time should break us up,
timber by timber. Is it any wonder if I loved the old craft? or if,
by any chance, the idle boys would venture aboard of her to play and
amuse themselves, that I halloed them away? or, when a newly-
arrived ship, not caring for the old boat, would run foul of her, and
carry away some spar or piece of running rigging, I would suddenly



222 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

call out to them to sheer off and not damage us ? By degrees they
came all to notice this ; and I found that they thought me out of my
senses, and many a trick was played off upon old Noah — for that was
the name the sailors gave me.

" Well, this evening, as I was saying, I sat upon the fluke of the
anchor, waiting for a chance boat to put me aboard. It was past
sunset, the tide was ebbing, and the old craft was surging to the fast
current that ran by with a short, impatient jerk, as though she were
well weary, and wished to be at rest; her loose stays creaked mourn-
fully, and, as she yawed over, the sea ran from many a breach in her
worn sides, like blood trickling from a wound. 'Ay, ay,' thought I,
' the hour is not far off; another stiff gale, and all that remains of
you will be found high and dry upon the shore.' My heart was
very heavy as I thought of this, for, in my loneliness, the old Ark —
though that was not her name, as I'll tell you presently — was all the
companion I had. I've heard of a poor prisoner who for many and
many years watched a spider that wove his web within his window,
and never lost sight of him from morning till night , and, somehow,
I can believe it well ; the heart will cling to something, and if it has
no living object to press on, it will find a lifeless one — it can no
more stand alone than the shrouds can without the mast. The even-
ing wore on, as I was thinking thus ; the moon shone out, but no
boat came, and I was just determining to go home again for the
night, when I saw two men standing on the steps of the wharf below
me, and looking straight at the Ark. Now, I must tell you I always
felt uneasy when any one came to look at her, for I began to fear
that some shipowner or other would buy her to break up, though,
except the copper fastenings, there was little of any value about her.
Now, the moment I saw the two figures stop short, and point to her,
I said to myself, 'Ah ! my old girl, so they won't even let the blue
water finish you, but they must set their carpenters and dockyard
people to work upon you.' This thought grieved me more and more.
Had a stiff sou' -wester laid her over, I should have felt it more
natural, for her sand was run out; but, just as this passed through
my mind, I heard a voice from one of the persons, that I at once
knew to be the Port Admiral's : —

" ' Well, Dawkins/ said he to the other, ' if you think she'll hold
together, I'm sure I've no objection. I don't like the job, I confess ;
but still the Admiralty must be obeyed.'

" ' Oh, my lord/ said the other, ' she's the very thing ; she's a
rakish-looking craft, and will do admirably ; any repair we want, a
few days will effect ; secrecy is the great thing.'

" ' Yes/ said the Admiral, after a pause, ' as you observe, secrecy
is the great thing/



THE SKIPPER. 223

" ' Ho ! ho !' thought I, * there's something in the wind here ;'
so I laid myself out upon the anchor-stock, to listen better, unob-
served.

" ' We must find a crew for her, give her a few carronades, make
her as ship-shape as we can, and, if the Skipper '

" 'Ay, but there is the real difficulty/ said the Admiral, hastily ;
? J where are we to find a fellow that will suit us? We can't every
day find a man willing to jeopardize himself in such a cause as this,
even though the reward be a great one.'

" « Very true, my lord ; but I don't think there's any necessity for
our explaining to him the exact nature of the service.'

11 * Come, come, Dawkins, you can't mean that you'll lead a poor
fellow into such a scrape blindfolded ?'

" 'Why, my lord, you never think it requisite to give a plan of
your cruise to your ship's crew before clearing out of harbor.'

" ' This may be perfectly just, but I don't like it,' said the Ad-
miral.

" ' In that case, my lord, you are imparting the secrets of the Ad-
miralty to a party who may betray the whole plot.'

" - I wish, with all my soul, they'd given the order to any one
else,' said the Admiral, with a sigh ; and for a few moments neither
spoke a word.

" ' Well, then, Dawkins, I believe there is nothing for it but what
you say ; meanwhile, let the repairs be got in hand, and see after a
crew.'

" ' Oh, as to that,' said the other, ' there are plenty of scoundrels
in the fleet here fit for nothing else. Any fellow who has been thrice
up for punishment in six months, we'll draft on board of her ; the
fellows who have only been once to the gangway, we'll make the
officers.'

" 'A pleasant ship's company,' thought I, ' if the devil would only
take the command.'

" 'And with a skipper proportionate to their merit,' said Daw-
kins.

" ' Begad, I'll wish the French joy of them,' said the Admiral.

" ' Ho, ho !' thought I, ' I've found you out, at last ; so this is a
secret expedition ; I see it all ; they're fitting her out as a fire-ship,
and going to send her slap in ainong the French fleet at Brest.
Well,' thought I, ' even that's better ; that, at least, is a glorious
end, though the poor fellows have no chance of escape.'

" ' Now, then/ said the Admiral, ■ to-morrow you'll look out for
the fellow to take the command. He must be a smart seaman, a
bold fellow, too ; otherwise the ruffianly crew will be too much for
him ; he may bid high : we'll come to his price.'



224 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

" ' So you may,' thought I, * when you are buying his life.'

"'I hope sincerely,' continued the Admiral, ' that we may light
upon some one without wife or child. I never could forgive my-
self '

" ' Never fear, my lord,' said the other. 'My care shall be to pitch
Upon one whose loss no one would feel — some one without friend or
home, who, setting his life at naught, cares less for the gain than
the very recklessness of the adventure.'

" ' That's me,' said I, starting up from the anchor stock, and
springing between them ; ' I'm that man.'

" Had the very devil himself appeared at the moment, I doubt if
they would have been more scared. The Admiral started a pace or
two backward, whilst Dawkins, the first surprise over, seized me by
the collar, and held me fast.

" ' Who are you, scoundrel, and what brings you here ?' said he,
in a voice hoarse with passion.

" ' I'm old Noah,' said I ; for, somehow, I had been called by no
other name for so long, I never thought of my real one.

"'Noah!' said the Admiral— ' Noah ! Well, but, Noah, what
were you doing down here at this time of night ?'

" ' I was watching the Ark, my lord,' said I, bowing, as I took off
my hat.

" ' I've heard of this fellow before, my lord,' said Dawkins ; 'he's
a poor lunatic that is always wandering about the harbor, and I
believe has no harm in him.'

" ' Yes ; but he has doubtless been listening to our conversation,'
said the Admiral. 'Eh, have you heard all we have been say-
ing?'

" ' Every word of it, my lord.'

" At this the Admiral and Dawkins looked steadfastly at each
other for some minutes, but neither spoke. At last Dawkins
said, ' Well, Noah, I've been told you are a man to be depended on ;
may we rely upon your not repeating anything you overheard this
evening — at least for a year to come?*

" ' You may,' said I.

'" But, Dawkins,' said the Admiral, in a half- whisper, 'if the
poor fellow be mad ?'

" ' My lord,' said I boldly, ' I am not mad. Misfortune and
.calamity I have had enough of to make me so ; but, thank God !
my brain has been tougher than my poor heart. I was once the
part owner and commander of a goodly craft, that swept the sea, if
not with a broad pennon at her mast-head, with as light a spirit as
ever lived beneath one. I was rich ; I had a home and a child. I
am now poor, houseless, childless, friendless, and an outcast. If, in



THE SKIPPER. 225

my solitary wretchedness, I have loved to look upon that old bark,
it is because its fortune seemed like my own. It had outlived all
that needed or cared for it. For this reason they have thought me
mad, though there are those, and not few either, who can well bear
testimony if stain or reproach lie at my door, and if I can be re-
proached with aught save bad luck. I have heard by chance what
you have said this night ; I know that you are fitting out a secret
expedition; I know its dangers, its inevitable dangers, and I here
.offer myself to lead it. I ask no reward, I look for no price. Alas!
who is left to me for whom I can labor now ? Give me but the
opportunity to end my days with honor on board the old craft,
where my heart still clings ; give me but that. Well, if you will
not do so much, let me serve among the crew ; put me before the
mast. My lord, you'll not refuse this ; it is an old man who asks —
one whose gray hairs have floated many a year before the breeze.'

" ' My poor fellow I you know not what you ask ; this is no un-
common case of danger.'

" ' I know it all, my lord ; I have heard it all.'
" ' Dawkins, what is to be done here ?' inquired the Admiral.
" ' I say, friend,' inquired Dawkins, laying his hand upon my
arm, ' what is your real name ? Are you he who commanded the
Dwarf privateer in the Isle of France V
" ' The same.'

" ' Then you are known to Lord Collingwood ?'
" ' He knows me well, and can speak to my character.'
" ' What he says of himself is all true, my lord.'
" ' True,' said I — ' true ! You did not doubt it, did you ?'
" ' We,' said the Admiral, ' must speak together again ; be here
to-morrow night at this hour. Keep your own counsel of what has
passed ; and now, good-night.' So saying, the Admiral took Daw-
kins by the arm, and returned slowly towards the town, leaving me
where I stood, meditating on this singular meeting, and its possible
consequences.

" The whole of the following day was passed by me in a state of
feverish excitement, which I cannot describe. This strange adven-
ture breaking in so suddenly upon the dull monotony of my daily
existence, had so aroused and stimulated me, that I could neither
rest nor eat. How I longed for night to come ! for, sometimes, as
the day wore-later, I began to fear that the whole scene of my meet-
ing with the Admiral had been merely some excited dream of a tor-
tured and fretted mind; and, as I stood examining the ground where
I believed the interview to have occurred, I endeavored to recall the
position of different objects as they stood around, to corroborate my
own failing remembrance.
15



226 CHARLES O'M ALLEY.

" At last the evening closed in ; but, unlike the preceding one,
the sky was covered with masses of dark and watery cloud, that
drifted hurriedly across ; the air felt heavy and thick, and unnatu-
rally still and calm ; the water of the harbor looked of a dull,
leaden hue, and all the vessels seemed larger than they were, and
stood out from the landscape more clearly than usual. Now and
then a low rumbling noise was heard, somewhat alike in sound, but
far too faint, for distant thunder, while occasionally the boats and
smaller craft rocked to and fro, as though some ground swell stirred
them, without breaking the languid surface of the sea above.

" A few drops of thick, heavy rain fell just as the darkness came
on, and then all felt still and calm as before. I sat upon the anchor-
stock, my eyes fixed upon the old Ark, until gradually her outline
grew fainter and fainter against the dark sky, and her black hull
could scarcely be distinguished from the water beneath. I felt that
I was looking towards her, for long after I had lost sight of the tall
mast and high-pitched bowsprit, I feared to turn away my head,
lest I should lose the place where she lay.

" The time went slowly on, and, although in reality I had not
been long there, I felt as if years themselves had passed over my
head. Since I had come there, my mind brooded over all the mis-



Online LibraryCharles James LeverCharles O'Malley, the Irish dragon → online text (page 23 of 80)