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which he had at his fingers' ends ; and, moreover, he was
a very religious, good man. I never heard him swear, but
correct all those who did so in his presence. He had saved

50



POOR JACK

some money in the service, the interest of which, with his
allowances as boatswain, enabled him to obtain many little
comforts, and to be generous to others. Before Ben was
shifted over to Anderson's ward, which he was when he was
appointed boatswain's mate under him, they had not been
well acquainted ; but since that time they were almost
always together, so that now I knew Anderson, which I did
not before, except by sight. He was a very venerable-looking
old man, with grey locks curling down on his shoulders, but
very stout and hearty ; and as Ben had told him all about
me, he took notice of me, and appeared also to take an in-
terest. When 1 came back, after the providential escape I
have mentioned in the last chapter, Ben had narrated to him
the conduct of my mother ; and a day or two afterwards,
when the frost had broken up, and they were both sitting
down, basking in the sun, which was shining bright, I went
up to them.

"Well, Jack," said old Ben, "are you ready for another
trip down the river "' "

" I hope I shall earn my sixpence at an easier rate, if I do
go," replied 1.

" It was wonderful that you were saved, boy," said Peter
Anderson, "and you ought to be very thankful to the
Omniscient."

I stared ; for I had never heard that term applied to the
Deity.

"You mean God, don't you ?" said I at last ; for I thought
he couldn't mean any other.

" Yes, boy ; has not your mother taught you that name ? "

" She never would teach me anything. All the prayers I
know 1 have stolen from my sister."

" And what do you know, Jack ? "

" I know ' Our Father/ and ' Now I lay down to sleep/
and I believe that is all."

" How old are you now, Jack ? "

" I am three years older than Virginia ; she, I heard my
mother say, was six the other day then I suppose I'm
nine."

" Do you know your letters ? "

"Yes, some of them ; I learnt them on the boats."

" But you cannot read ? "

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POOR JACK

." No, not a word."

" Has your mother ever told you of the Bible ? "

te Not me ; but I've heard her tell Virginia about it."

" Don't you ever go to church ? "

"No, never. Mother takes little Virginia; but she says
I'm too ragged and ungenteel."

" Why does your mother neglect you ? I suppose you are
a bad boy ? "

"That he's not," interrupted Ben ; "that's not the reason.
But we must not talk about that now ; only I must take
Jack's part. Go on, Peter."

" Would you like to learn to read, Jack ? " said Anderson ;
" and would you like to hear me re r -d the Bible to you, until
you can read it yourself? "

" Indeed I would," replied I. " There's many of the boys
on the beach, smaller than me, who can both read and
write."

Peter Anderson then told me that he would teach me,
provided I behaved myself well. He desired I would come
to his cabin every afternoon at six o'clock, a time which
interfered little with my avocation of " Poor Jack," and that
he would give me a lesson. Before he had finished talking,
one of the lieutenants of the hospital sent for him ; and
Ben remained behind, to point out to me how valuable my
knowing how to read and write might one day prove
to me.

" I've no laming myself, Jack," said he ; "and I know the
loss of it. Had I known how to read and write, I might
have been something better than a poor Greenwich pensioner ;
but, nevertheless, I'm thankful that I'm no worse. Ever
since I've been a man grown I've only regretted it once
and that's been all my life. Why, Jack, I'd give this right
arm of mine to be sure, it's no great things now, but once
it could send a harpoon in up to the hilt but still a right
arm is a right arm to the end of your days ! and I'd give
it with pleasure, if I only knew how to read and write ;
nay, I wouldn't care about the writing, but if I could only
read print, Jack, I'd give it, for then I could read the Bible, as
Peter Anderson does. Why, Jack, when we do go to chapel
on Sunday, there's not one in ten of us who can follow the
parson with his book ; all we can do is to listen, and when



POOR JACK

he has done speaking we are done also, and must waif till
he preaches again. Don't I feel ashamed, then, Jack, a* not
being able to read? and ought not they to feel proud who
can ; no, not proud, but thankful ? : We don't thinl'. of
the Bible much in our younger days, boy ; but when we are
tripping our anchor for the other world, we long to read
away our doubts and misgivings ; and it's the only chart you
can navigate by safely. I think a parent has much to answer
for, that don't teach its child to read ; but I must not blame
my father or mother, for I never knew them."

" Never knew them ? "

" No, boy, no. My father and mother left me when I was
one year old : he was drowned, and my mother she died
too, poor soul ! '-'

" How did your mother die, Ben ? "

" It's a sad, sad story, Jack, and I cannot bear to think of
it ; it was told me long afterwards, by one who ^ittle thought
to whom he was speaking."

" Do tell me, Ben."

"You're too young, boy, for such a tale ; it's tifo shocking."

" Was it worse than being froze to death, as I nearly was
the other day ?"

" Yes, my lad, worse than that ; although, foi .*>ne so young
as you are, that was quite bad enough."

" Well, Ben, I won't ask you to tell me, if it pains you to
tell it. But you did not do wrong ? "

" How could a baby of two years old do wrong, and five
thousand miles off at the time, you little fool ? Well, I don't
know if I won't tell you, Jack, after all, because you will
then find out that there's a comfort in reading the Bible ;
but you must promise me never to speak about it. I'm a
foolish old fellow to tell it to you, Jack, I do believe, but I'm
fond of you, boy, and I don't like to say ' no' to you. Now
come to an anchor close to me. The bells are ringing for
dinner I shall lose my meal, but you will not lose your
story, and there will be no fear of interruption.

" My father was brought up to the sea, Jack, and was a

1 Ben's observations were true at the time he spoke ; but this is no
longer the case. So much more general has education become, that
now, in a ship's company, at least five out of seven can read.

53



POOR JACK

smart young man till he was about thirty, when a fall from
the main-yard disabled him from hard duty and going aloft ;
but still he had been brought up to sea, and was fit for
nothing on shore. So, as he was a clean likely fellow, he
obtained the situation of purser's steward in an Indiaman.
After that he was captain's steward on board of several ships.
He sailed originally from Yarmouth, and going home after a
voyage to see his relations, he fell in with my mother, and
they were spliced. He was very fond of his wife, and I
believe she was a very true and good woman, equally fond
of him. He went to sea again, and I was born. He made
another voyage to India, and when he came back I was two
years old. I do not recollect him or my mother. My father
had agreed to sail to the West Indies as captain's steward,
and the captain, with whom he had sailed before, consented
that he should take his wife with him, to attend upon the
lady passengers ; so I was left at Yarmouth, and put out to
nurse till they came back. But they never came back, Jack ;
and as soon as I can recollect, I found myself in the work-
house, and, when old enough, was sent to sea. I had been
told that my father and mother had been lost at sea, but no
one could tell me how, and I thought little more about it,
for I had never known them, and those we don't know we
do not love or care for, be they father or mother.

" Well, I had sailed four or five voyages to the north in
the whalers, and was then about twenty-five years old, when
I thought I would go back to Yarmouth and show myself,
for I was ' harpooner and steersman ' at that early age, and
not a little proud. I thought I would go and look at the old
workhouse, for it was the only thing I could recollect, and
see if the master and mistress were still alive, for they were
kind to me when I was living with them. I went to Yar-
mouth, as I said. There was the workhouse, and the master
and mistress both alive ; and I made myself known to them,
and the old people looked at me through their spectacles,
and could not believe that I could possibly be the little Ben
who used to run to the pump for water. I had money in my
pocket, and I liked the old people, who offered me all they
could give without hopes of receiving anything in return,
and, as I knew nobody else, I used to live much with them,
and pay them handsomely ; I gave the old man some curiosi-



POOR JACK

ties and the old woman a teapot, and so on, and I remained
with them till it was time for me to sail again. Now, you
see, Jack, among the old folk in the workhouse was a man
who had been at sea ; and I often had long talks with him,
and gave him tobacco, which he couldn't afford to buy for
they don't allow it in a workhouse, which is a great hardship,
and I have often thought that I should not like to go into
a workhouse because I never could have a bit of tobacco.
This man's hair was as white as snow, much too white for his
age, for he was more decrepit and worn out than, perhaps,
he was old. He had come home to his parish, and being
unable to gain his living, they had sent him to the work-
house. I can't understand why a place should be called a
workhouse where they do nothing at all. Well, Charley, as
they called him, got very ill, and they thought he would not
last long ; and when the old people were busy I used to
talk a great deal with him. He was generally very quiet
and composed, and said he was comfortable, but that he
knew he was going fast.

" ' But,' says he, ' here's my comfort, ' and he pointed to a
Bible that he had on his knees. ' If it had not been for this
book,' said he, ' I do think, at times, I should have made
away with myself.'

" ' Why,' says I, ' what have you done ? Have you been
very wicked ? '

" ' We are all very wicked/ said he ; ' but that's not exactly
it. I have been haunted for so many years, that I have been
almost driven mad.'

" ' Why,' said I, ' what can you have done that you should
have been haunted ? You haven't committed murder, have
you ? '

" ' Well, I don't know what to say/ replied he ; ' if a man
looks on and don't prevent murder, is it not the same ? I
haven't long to live, and I feel as if I should be happier if I
made a clean breast of it ; for I have kept the secret a long
while, and I think that you, as a sailor, and knowing what
sailors suffer, may have a fellow-feeling ; and perhaps you will
tell me (for I'm somewhat uneasy about it) whether you think
that I am so very much to blame in the business? I've
suffered enough for it these many years, and I trust that it
will not be forgotten that I have so, when I'm called up to

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POOR JACK

be judged as we all shall, if this book is true, as I fully
believe it to be.'

" Here he appeared to be a good deal upset ; but he took
a drink of water, and then he told me as follows :

" ' About twenty-three years ago I was a seaman on board
of the William and Caroline, West Indiaman, bound to
Jamaica. We had two or three passengers on board, and the
steward's wife attended upon them. She was a handsome,
tall young woman ; and when she and her husband came on
board, they told me they had one child, which they had left
at home. Now Yarmouth, you see, is my native place, and
although I did not know her husband, I knew her family
very well ; so we were very intimate, and used to talk about
the people we knew, and so on. I mention this in conse-
quence of what occurred afterwards. W r e arrived very safe at
Jamaica, and remained, as usual, some time at the island
before the drogers brought round our cargo, and then we
again sailed for England.

" ' Well, we got clear of the islands, and were getting well
north, when there came on a terrible gale of wind which
dismasted us ; and for three weeks we were rolling about
gunnel under, for we were very heavily laden, and we lost
our reckoning. . At last we found out that we had been
blown down among the reefs to the southward of the Bahama
Isles. We had at one time rigged jury-masts, but unfortu-
nately the gale had blown up again, and carried them also
over the side ; and we had no means of doing anything, for
we had no more small spars or sails, and all our hopes were of
falling in with some vessel which might assist us.

" ' But we had no such good fortune ; and one morning,
when a heavy sea was running, we discovered that it was
bearing us down upon a reef of rocks, from which there was
no chance of escape. We had no resource but to get the
boats out, and take our chance in them. The captain was
very cool and collected : he ordered everything in which
might be requisite ; called up the men, and explained to
them his intentions. All the water and provisions were put
into the launch, for the sea ran so high that the small boats
could not carry them ; and it was intended that all the boats
should keep company till it moderated, and then each boat
should have its own supply. When all was ready, we were

56



POOR JACK

told off to our respective boats. The steward and his wife
were to be in the same boat with me, and I had put her care-
fully in the stern-sheets, for I was her great friend. Now
the steward was called out by the captain to go for something
which had been forgotten ; and while he was away the ship
was struck by a heavy sea, which occasioned such a breach
over her that all was in confusion, and to prevent the small
boats from swamping they were pushed off. The launch still
held on for the captain, who hastened in with the mate and
the steward, for they were the only three left on board ; and
away we all went. I mention tin; as the cause why the
steward was separated (only for a time, as we supposed) from
his wife. We had not been clear of the ship more than five
minutes before we found that we, in our boat, could hardly
make head 'gainst the wind and swell, which bore down on
the reef close to us ; the launch, which Avas a heavy-pulling
boat and deeply laden, could not ; and in a quarter of an hour
we had the misery to see her in the breakers, swallowed up
with all hands, together with all the provisions and water for
our sustenance. I will not attempt to describe the agony of
the steward's wife, who saw her husband perish before her
eyes. She fainted, and it was a long time before she came
to again ; for no one could leave his oar for a minute to assist
her, as we pulled for our lives. At last she did come to.
Poor thing ! I felt for her. Towards night the wind lulled,
and we had every appearance of fine weather coming on ; but
we had nothing to eat, and only a barrico of water in the
boat, and we were quite exhausted with fatigue.

" ' We knew that we must pull to the northward, and try
and fetch the Bahama Isles, or, perhaps, some of the small
quays to the southward of them, where we might procure
turtle, and perhaps water ; and when the sea had gone down,
which it did very fast, we put the head of our boat in that
direction, pulling all night. At daybreak the other boat was
not to be seen ; it was a dead calm, but there was still a
long heavy swell. We shared out some water and rested till
the evening, and then we took to our oars again.

" ' We rowed hard till the morning, but when the sun rose
it scorched us up ; it was impossible for us to keep to our
oars without drinking, and, there being no one to take the
command, our water was all gone, and we had not gained

57



POOR JACK

fifty miles to the northward. On the third morning we laid
down exhausted at the bottom of the boat we were dying
not only with thirst but with hunger. We had agreed that
when night came on we would take to the oars again, but
some would and some would not ; so that, at last, those who
had taken to their oars would pull no longer.

" ' The steward's wife at times sang psalms, and at times
wept; she had a very sweet voice, but her lips were soon
glued together for want of water, and she could sing no
longer.

" ' When the sun rose on the fourth day, there was no
vessel to be seen ; some were raving for water, and others
sat crouched under the boat's thwarts in silent despair.
But, towards evening, the sky clouded over, and there fell
a heavy rain, which refreshed us. W r e took the gown from
off the steward's wife, and spread it, and caught the water ;
and we all drank until our thirst was quenched even our
wet clothes were a comfort to us ; still we were gnawed with
hunger. That night we slept ; but the next morning every
man's eyes flashed, and we all looked as if we would eat each
other ; and there were whisperings and noddings going on
in the bow of the boat, and a negro who was with us took
out his knife, and sharpened it on the boat's gunnel. No
one asked him why. We spoke not, but we all had our own
thoughts. It was dreadful to look at our hollow cheeks
our eyes sunken deep, but glaring like red-hot coals our
long beards and haggard faces every one ready to raise his
hand against the other. The poor woman never complained
or said a word after she left off singing ; her thoughts ap-
peared elsewhere. She sat for hours motionless, with her
eyes fixed on the still blue water, as if she would pierce
its depth.

" ' At last the negro came aft : and we were each upon our
guard as he passed us, for AVC had seen him sharpen his
knife. He went to the stern-sheets, where the poor woman
sat, and we all knew what he intended to do, for he only
acted our own thoughts. She was still hanging over the
gunnel, with her eyes fixed downwards, and she heeded not
his approach : he caught her by the hair, and dragged her
head towards him. She then held out her arms towards
me, faintly calling me by name ; but I shame on me !

58



POOR JACK

remained sitting on the after thwart. The negro thrust his
knife into her neck, below the ear ; and as soon as he had
divided the artery, he glued his thick .lips to the gash, and
sucked her blood.

" ' When the deed was done, others rose up and would
have shared ; but the negro kept his white eyes directed
towards them one arm thrust out, with his knife pointed
at them, as he slaked his thirst, while, with his other round
her waist, he supported her dying frame. The attitude was
that of fondness, while the deed was murder. He appeared
as if he were caressing her, while her life's blood poured into
his throat. At last we all drew our knives ; and the negro
knew that he must resign his prey or his life. He dropped
the woman, and she fell, with her face forward, at my feet.
She was quite dead. And then our hunger was relieved.

" ' Three days passed away, and again we were mad for
want of water when we saw a vessel. We shouted, and
shook hands, and threw out the oars, and pulled as if we had
never suffered. It was still calm, and as we approached the
vessel we threw what remained of the poor woman into
the sea ; and the sharks finished what we had left. We
agreed to say nothing about her, for we were ashamed of
ourselves.

" ' Now, I did not murder, but I did not prevent it ; and I
have ever since been haunted by this poor woman. I see
her and the negro constantly before me, and then I think of
what passed, and I turn sick. I feel that I ought to have
saved her she is always holding out her arms to me, and I
hear her faintly call " Charles " then I read my Bible and
she disappears, and I feel as if I were forgiven. Tell me,
what do you think, messmate?'

" ' Why/ replied I, ' sarcumstances will make us do what
we otherwise would never think possible. I never was in
such a predicament, and therefore can't tell what people may
be brought to do. But tell me, messmate, what was the
name of the poor woman ? '

"'The husband's name was Ben Rivers.'

" ' Rivers, did you say ? ' replied I, struck all of a heap.

" ' Yes,' replied he ; ' that was her name ; she was of this
town. But never mind the name tell me what you think,
messmate ? '

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POOR JACK

"< Well/ says I (for I was quite bewildered), ' I'll tell you
what, old fellow as far as I'm consarned, you have my
forgiveness, and now I must wish you good-bye and I pray
to God that we may never meet again.'

" ' Stop a little/ said he ; ' don't leave me this way. Ah !
I see how it is you think I'm a murderer.'

" ' No, I don't/ replied I ; ' not exactly still, there'll be no
harm in your reading your Bible.'

" And so I got up, and walked out of the room for you
see, Jack, although he mayn't have been so much to blame,
still I didn't like to be in company with a man who had eaten
up my own mother/"

Here Ben paused, and sighed deeply. I was so much
shocked with the narrative that I could not say a word. At
last Ben continued

" I couldn't stay in the room I couldn't stay in the work-
house. I couldn't even stay in the town. Before the day
closed I was out of it, and I have never been there since.
Now, Jack, I must go in remember what I have .said to you,
and larn to read your Bible."

I promised that I would, and that very evening I had my
first lesson from Peter Anderson, and I continued to receive
them until I could read well. He then taught me to write
and cipher ; but before I could do the latter, many events
occurred, which must be made known to the reader.



CHAPTER XI

In which the doctor lets out some very novel modes of medical
treatment, which are attended with the greatest success.

H a change has taken place since I can first recollect
Greenwich, that it will be somewhat difficult for me to make
the reader aware of my localities. Narrow streets have been
pulled down, handsome buildings erected new hotels in lieu
of small inns gay shops have now usurped those which were
furnished only with articles necessary for the outfit of the
seamen. Formerly, long stages, with a basket to hold six
behind, and dillies which plied at the Elephant and Castle,

60



were the usual land conveyances now they have made place
for railroads and omnibuses. Formerly, the wherry conveyed
the mariner and his wife, with his sea-chest, down to the
landing-place now steamboats pour out their hundreds at a
trip. Even the view from Greenwich is much changed, here
and there broken in upon by the high towers for shot and
other manufactories, or some large building which rises boldly
in the distance ; while the Dreadnotight's splendid frame fills
up half the river, and she that was used to deal out death and
destruction with her terrible rows of teeth, is now dedicated
by humanity to succour and relieve.

I mention this, because the house in which Dr. Tadpole
formerly lived no longer exists ; and I wish particularly to
describe it to the reader.

When I left Greenwich in 1817 or 1818, it was still stand-
ing, although certainly in a very dilapidated state. I will,
however, give a slight sketch of it, as it is deeply impressed
on my memory.

It was a tall narrow building of dark red brick, much
ornamented, and probably built in the time of Queen
Elizabeth. It had two benches on each side the door ; for,
previous to Tadpole's taking possession of it, it had been an
alehouse, and much frequented by seamen. The doctor had
not removed these benches, as they were convenient, when
the weather was fine, for those who waited for medicine or
advice ; and moreover, being a jocular sociable man, he liked
people to sit down there, and would often converse with
them. Indeed, this assisted much to bring him into notice,
and made him so well known among the humbler classes,
that none of them, if they required medicine or advice, ever
thought of going to any one but Dr. Tadpole. He was very
liberal and kind, and I believe there was hardly a poor person
in the town who was not in his debt, for he never troubled
them much about payment. He had some little property of
his own, or he never could have carried on such a losing
concern as his business really must have been to him. In
early life he had been a surgeon in the navy, and was said,
and 1 believe with justice, to be very clever in his profession.
In defending himself against some act of oppression on the
part of his captain for in those times the service was very
different to what it is now he had incurred the displeasure

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POOR JACK

of the Navy Board, and had left the service. His enemies
(for even the doctor had his enemies) asserted that he was



Online LibraryFrederick MarryatPoor Jack; and The settlers in Canada → online text (page 6 of 58)