Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Ted Garvin, Celsus Clark, Elaine Wilson and PG Distributed
NEWTON FORSTER OR, THE MERCHANT SERVICE
BY CAPTAIN MARRYAT
LONDON J.M. DENT AND CO. BOSTON: LITTLE, BROWN AND CO. MDCCCXCV 1832,
_Newton Forster, or the Merchant Service_, first appeared in the
_Metropolitan Magazine_, 1832. It is one of the novels which specially
suggests a comparison between Marryat and Smollett, both authors having
described acts of impressment with vigour and indignation.
Jeffrey, of the _Edinburgh Review_, wrote to Mrs Marryat, January
"That I have read it [_Newton Forster_] all through in the week I have
to finish the preparation of our Scotch Reform Bill (if you will forgive
me for mentioning such a thing) is proof enough, I think, that my
opinion is very favourable. It is certainly very entertaining, which I
take to be the first virtue of a work of this description; but it is
interesting as well as entertaining, and not only shows great power of
invention, but a very amiable nature and a kind heart."
The _Editor_ quoted on page 23 is presumably Marryat himself. At least
the footnote occurs in the first edition, and was probably reprinted
from the magazine, where the identity of editor and author was not so
It is here printed from the first edition, in three volumes; motto:
Honesty is the best policy. James Cochrane & Co., 1832.
[Footnote 1: Thompson has been changed to Johnson and, in another place,
Robinson to Robertson, in order to let the same characters act under one
name throughout the book.]
The Merchant Service
* * * * *
"And what is this new book the whole world makes such a rout about?
----Oh! 'tis out of all plumb, my lord,----quite an irregular thing;
not one of the angles at the four corners was a right angle. I had
my rule and compasses, my lord, in my pocket----Excellent critic!
"Grant me patience, just Heaven! Of all the cants which are canted
in this canting world----though the cant of hypocrites may be the
worst, the cant of criticism is the most tormenting!"----Sterne.
What authors in general may feel upon the subject I know not, but I have
discovered, since I so rashly took up my pen, that there are three
portions of a novel which are extremely difficult to arrange to the
satisfaction of a fastidious public.
The first is the beginning, the second the middle, and the third is the
The painter who, in times of yore, exposed his canvas to universal
criticism, and found, to his mortification, that there was not a
particle of his composition which had not been pronounced defective by
one pseudo-critic or another, did not receive severer castigation than I
have experienced from the _unsolicited_ remarks of "d----d good-natured
"I like your first and second volume," said a tall, long-chinned,
short-sighted blue, dressed in yellow, peering into my face, as if her
eyes were magnifying glasses, and she was obtaining the true focus of
vision, "but you fall off in your last, which is all about that _nasty_
"I don't like your plot, sir," bawls out in a stentorian voice an
elderly gentleman; "I don't like your plot, sir," repeated he with an
air of authority, which he had long assumed, from supposing because
people would not be at the trouble of contradicting his opinions, that
they were incontrovertible--"there is nothing but death."
"Death, my dear sir," replied I, as if I was hailing the lookout man at
the mast-head, and hoping to soften him with my intentional bull; "is
not death, sir, a true picture of human life?"
"Ay, ay," growled he, either not hearing or not _taking_; "it's all very
well, but--there's too much killing in it."
"In a novel, sir, killing's no murder, you surely will admit; and you
must also allow something for professional feeling--''tis my
occupation;' and after five-and-twenty years of constant practice,
whether I wield the sword or the pen, the force of habit----"
"It won't do, sir," interrupted he; "the public don't like it.
Otherwise," continued this hypercritic, softening a little, "some of the
chapters are amusing, and, on the whole, it may be said to be
rather--that is--not unpleasantly written."
"I like your first and third volume, but not your second," squeaked out
_something_ intended to have been a woman, with shoulder-blades and
collar-bones, as De Ville would say, most strongly developed.
"Well now, I don't exactly agree with you, my dear Miss Peego; I think
the second and third volumes are by far the most _readable_" exclaimed
_another thing_, perched upon a chair, with her feet dangling half way
between her seat and the carpet.
"If I might presume upon my long standing in the service, Captain----,"
said a pompous general officer, whose back appeared to have been
_fished_ with the kitchen poker--"if I might venture to offer you
advice," continued he, leading me paternally by the arm a little on one
side, "it would be not again to attempt a defence of smuggling: I
consider, sir, that as an officer in his Majesty's service, you have
strangely committed yourself."
"It is not my defence, sir: they are the arguments of a smuggler."
"You wrote the book, sir," replied he, sharply; "I can assure you that I
should not be surprised if the Admiralty took notice of it."
"Indeed, sir!" replied I, with assumed alarm.
I received no answer, except a most significant nod of the head, as he
But I have not yet arrived at the climax, which made me inclined to
exclaim, with the expiring Lion in the fable----
A midshipman--yes, reader, a midshipman--who had formerly belonged to my
ship and had trembled at my frown, ranged up alongside of me, and, with
a supercilious air, observed--
"I have read your book, and--there are _one_ or _two_ good things in
Hear this, admirals and captains on half-pay! hear this, port-admirals
and captains afloat! I have often heard that the service was
deteriorating, going to the devil, but I never became a convert to the
Gracious Heaven! what a revengeful feeling is there in the exclamation
"O that mine adversary had _written a book_!" To be snarled at, and
bow-wowed at, in this manner, by those who find fault because their
intellect is not sufficient to enable them to appreciate! Authors, take
my resolution; which is, never to show your face until your work has
passed through the ordeal of the Reviews--keep your room for the month
after your literary labour. Reviews are like Jesuit father
confessors--guiding the opinions of the multitude, who blindly follow
the suggestions of those to whom they may have entrusted their literary
consciences. If your work is denounced and to be released at once from
your sufferings by one blow from the paw of a tiger, than to be worried
piecemeal by creatures who have all the will, but not the power, to
inflict the _coup de grace_?
The author of "Cloudesley," enumerating the qualifications necessary to
a writer of fiction, observes, "When he introduces his ideal personage
to the public, he enters upon his task with a preconception of the
qualities that belong to this being, the principle of his actions, and
its necessary concomitants, &c, &c." That such preparation ought to be
made, I will not deny; but were I to attempt an adherence to these
rules, the public would never be troubled with any production of mine.
It would be too tedious a journey in perspective for my wayward
intellect; and if I calculated stages before I ordered my horses, I
should abandon the attempt, and remain quietly at home. Mine is not a
journey of that methodical description; on the contrary, it is a ramble
hand-in-hand with Fancy, with a light heart and a lighter baggage; for
my whole wallet, when I set off, contains but one single idea--but ideas
are hermaphrodite, and these creatures of the brain are most prolific.
To speak more intelligibly, I never have made any arrangement of plot
when I commenced a work of fiction, and often finish a chapter without
having the slightest idea of what materials the ensuing one is to be
constructed. At times I feel so tired that I throw down the pen in
despair; but t is soon taken up again, and, like a pigmy Ant, it
seems to have imbibed fresh vigour from its prostration.
I remember when the "King's Own" was finished, I was as happy as a
pedestrian who had accomplished his thousand miles in a thousand hours.
My voluntary slavery was over, and I was emancipated. Where was I then?
I recollect; within two days' sail of the Lizard, returning home, after
a six weeks' cruise to discover a rock in the Atlantic, which never
existed except in the terrified or intoxicated noddle of some master of
a merchant vessel.
It was about half-past five in the evening, and I was alone in my
after-cabin, quite alone, as the captain of a man-of-war must be, even
when in presence of his ship's company. If being sent to sea has been
pronounced by the officers and men to be _transportation_, being the
captain of the ship may truly be designated as _solitary confinement_.
I could not send for any one to whom I could impart the
intelligence--there was no one whom I could expect to sympathise with
me, or to whom I could pour out the abundance of my joy; for that the
service prohibited. What could I do? Why, I could dance; so I sprang
from my chair, and singing the tune, commenced a quadrille
movement,--Tal de ral la, tal de ral la, lity, lity, lity, liddle-um,
tal de ral la, tal--
"Three bells, sir," cried the first lieutenant, who had opened my door
unperceived by me, and showed evident surprise at my motions; "shall we
beat to quarters?"--
"Certainly, Mr B--," replied I, and he disappeared.
But this interruption produced only a temporary cessation: I was in the
height of "Cavalier seul," when his head popped into the cabin--
"All present, and sober, sir," reported he, with a demure smile.
"Except the captain, I presume you are thinking," replied I.
"Oh! no, indeed, sir; I observed that you were very merry."
"I am, Mr B--, but not with wine; mine is a sort of intellectual
intoxication not provided for in the Articles of War."
"A what! sir?"
"Oh! something that you'll never get drunk upon, as you never look into
a book--beat a retreat."
"Ay, ay, sir," replied the first lieutenant; and he disappeared.
And I also beat a retreat to my sofa; and as I threw myself upon it,
mentally vowed that, for two months at the least, I never would take up
a pen. But we seldom make a vow which we do not eventually break; and
the reason is obvious. We vow only when hurried into excesses; we are
alarmed at the dominion which has been acquired over us by our feelings,
or by our habits. Checked for a time by an adherence to our resolutions,
they gradually recover their former strength, until they again break
forth, and we yield to their overpowering influence. A few days after I
had made the resolution, I found myself, like the sailor, _rewarding_ it
by writing more indefatigably than ever.
So now, reader, you may understand that I continue to write, as Tony
Lumpkin says, not to please my good-natured friends, "but because I
can't bear to disappoint myself;" for that which I commenced as an
amusement, and continued as a drudgery, has ended in becoming a
So much for the overture. Now let us draw up the curtain, and our actors
shall appear upon the stage.
"Boldly I venture on a naval scene,
Nor fear the critics' frown, the pedants' spleen.
Sons of the ocean, we their rules disdain.
Tears her strong bottom on the marble rock.
Down on the vale of death, with dismal cries,
The fated victims, shuddering, roll their eyes
In wild despair--while yet another stroke
With deep convulsion rends the solid oak,
Till like the mine in whose infernal cell
The lurking demons of destruction dwell,
At length, asunder torn, her frame divides,
And crushing, spreads in ruin o'er the tides."
It was in the dreary month of fog, misanthropy, and suicide--the month
during which Heaven receives a scantier tribute of gratitude from
discontented man--during which the sun rises, but shines not--gives
forth an unwilling light, but glads us not with his cheerful
rays--during which large tallow candles assist the merchant to calculate
his gains or to philosophise over his losses--in short, it was one
evening in the month of November of the year l7--, that Edward Forster,
who had served many years in his Majesty's navy, was seated in a snug
armchair, in a snug parlour, in a snug cottage to which he had retired
upon his half-pay, in consequence of a severe wound which had, for many
years, healed but to break out again each succeeding spring.
The locality of the cottage was not exactly so snug as it has been
described in itself and its interior; for it was situated on a hill
which terminated at a short distance in a precipitous cliff, beetling
over that portion of the Atlantic which lashes the shores of Cumberland
under the sub-denomination of the Irish Sea. But Forster had been all
his early life a sailor, and still felt the same pleasure in listening
to the moaning and whistling of the wind, as it rattled the shutters of
his cottage (like some importunate who would gain admittance), as he
used to experience when, lying in his hammock, he was awakened by the
howling of the blast, and shrouding himself in his blankets to resume
his nap, rejoiced that he was not exposed to its fury.
His finances did not allow him to indulge in luxuries, and the
distillation of the country was substituted for wine. With his feet upon
the fender and his glass of whiskey-toddy at his side, he had been led
into a train of thought by the book which he had been reading, some
passage of which had recalled to his memory scenes that had long passed
away--the scenes of youth and hope--the happy castle-building of the
fresh in heart, invariably overthrown by time and disappointment. The
night was tempestuous; the rain now pattered loud, then ceased as if it
had fed the wind, which renewed its violence, and forced its way through
every crevice. The carpet of his little room occasionally rose from the
floor, swelled up by the insidious entrance of the searching blast; the
solitary candle, which from neglect had not only elongated its wick to
an unusual extent, but had formed a sort of mushroom top, was every
moment in danger of extinction, while the chintz curtains of the window
waved solemnly to and fro. But the deep reverie of Edward Forster was
suddenly disturbed by the report of a gun, swept to leeward by the
impetuosity of the gale, which hurled it with violence against the door
and front windows of his cottage, for some moments causing them to
vibrate with the concussion. Forster started up, dropping his book upon
the hearth, and jerking the table with his elbow, so as to dash out the
larger proportion of the contents of his tumbler. The sooty coronal of
the wick also fell with the shock, and the candle, relieved from its
burden, poured forth a brighter gleam.
"Lord ha' mercy, Mr Forster; did you hear that noise?" cried the old
housekeeper (the only inhabitant of the cottage except himself), as she
bolted into the room, holding her apron in both hands.
"I did, indeed, Mrs Beazely," replied Forster; "it's the signal of a
vessel in distress, and she must be on a dead lee-shore. Give me my
hat!" and draining off the remainder in his tumbler, while the old lady
reached his hat off a peg in the passage, he darted out from the door of
The door, which faced to seaward, flew open with violence, as Forster
disappeared in the darkness of the night.
The old housekeeper, on whom had devolved the task of securing it, found
it no easy matter; and the rain, blown in by the sweeping gale, proved
an effectual and unwelcome shower-bath to one who complained bitterly of
the rheumatics. At last her object was accomplished, and she repaired to
the parlour to re-light the candle which had been extinguished, and
await the return of her master. After sundry ejaculations and sundry
wonders, she took possession of his arm-chair, poked the fire, and
helped herself to a glass of whiskey-toddy. As soon as her clothes and
her tumbler were again dry, she announced by loud snores that she was in
a happy state of oblivion; in which we shall leave her, to follow the
motions of Edward Forster.
It was about seven o'clock in the evening when Forster thus exposed
himself to the inclemency of the weather. But a few weeks before how
beautiful were the evenings at this hour; the sun disappearing beyond
the distant wave, and leaving a portion of his glory behind him, until
the stars, in obedience to the divine fiat, were lighted up to "shine by
night;" the sea rippling on the sand, or pouring into the crevices of
the rocks, changing its hue, as day-light slowly disappeared, to the
more sombre colours it reflected, from azure to each deeper tint of
grey, until darkness closed in, and its extent was scarcely to be
defined by the horizontal line.
Now all was changed. The roaring of the wind and the hoarse beating of
the waves upon the streaming rocks deafened the ears of Edward Forster.
The rain and spray were hurled in his face, as, with both hands, he
secured his hat upon his head; and the night was so intensely dark that
but occasionally he could distinguish the broad belt of foam with which
the coast was lined. Still Forster forced his way towards the beach,
which it is now requisite that we should more particularly describe.
As we before observed, the cottage was built upon a high land, which
terminated in a precipitous cliff about two hundred yards distant, and
running in a direct line to the westward. To the northward the coast for
miles was one continued line of rocky cliffs, affording no chance of
life to those who might be dashed upon them; but to the southward of the
cliff which formed the promontory opposite to Forster's cottage, and
which terminated the range, there was a deep indent in the line of
coast, forming a sandy and nearly land-locked bay, small indeed, but so
sheltered that any vessel which could run in might remain there in
safety until the gale was spent. Its only occupant was a fisherman, who,
with his family, lived in a small cottage on the beach. He was an ally
of Forster, who had entrusted to his charge a skiff, in which, during
the summer months, he often whiled away his time. It was to this cottage
that Forster bent his way, and loudly knocked when he arrived.
"Robertson--I say, Robertson," called Forster, at the full compass of
"He is not here, Mr Forster," answered Jane, the wife of the fisherman;
"he is out, looking for the vessel."
"Which way did he go?"
Before an answer could be returned, Robertson himself appeared. "I'm
here, Mr Forster," said he, taking off his fur cap, and squeezing out
with both hands the water with which it was loaded; "but I can't see the
"Still, by the report of the gun, she must be close to the shore. Get
some fagots out from the shed, and light as large a fire as you can:
don't spare them, my good fellow; I will pay you."
"That I'll do, sir, and without pay; I only hope that they'll understand
the signal, and lay her on shore in the cove. There's another gun!"
This second report, so much louder than the former, indicated that the
vessel had rapidly neared the land; and the direction from which the
report came proved that she must be close to the promontory of rocks.
"Be smart, my dear fellow, be smart," cried Forster. "I will go up to
the cliff, and try if I can make her out;" and the parties separated
upon their mutual work of sympathy and good will.
It was not without danger, as well as difficulty, that Forster succeeded
in his attempt; and when he arrived at the summit, a violent gust of
wind would have thrown him off his legs, had he not sunk down upon his
knees and clung to the herbage, losing his hat, which was borne far away
to leeward. In this position, drenched with the rain and shivering with
the cold, he remained some minutes, attempting in vain, with straining
eyes, to pierce through the gloom of the night, when a flash of
lightning, which darted from the zenith, and continued its eccentric
career until it was lost behind the horizon, discovered to him the
object of his research. But a few moments did he behold it, and then,
from the sudden contrast, a film appeared to swim over his aching eyes,
and all was more intensely, more horribly dark than before; but to the
eye of a seafaring man this short view was sufficient. He perceived that
it was a large ship, within a quarter of a mile of the land, pressed
gunnel under with her reefed courses, chopping through the heavy
seas--now pointing her bowsprit to the heavens, as she rose over the
impeding swell; now plunging deep into the trough encircled by the foam
raised by her own exertions, like some huge monster of the deep,
struggling in her toils and lashing the seas around in her violent
efforts to escape.
The fire burnt up fiercely in the cove, in defiance of the rain and
wind, which, after in vain attempting to destroy it in its birth, now
seemed to assist it with their violence.
"She may yet be saved," thought Forster, "if she will only carry on. Two
cables' length more, and she will be clear of the point."
Again and again was the vessel momentarily presented to his view, as the
forked lightning darted in every quarter of the firmament, while the
astounding claps of thunder bursting upon his ears before the lightning
had ceased to gleam, announced to him that he was kneeling in the very
centre of the war of the elements. The vessel neared the cliff in about
the same proportion that she forged ahead. Forster was breathless with
anxiety, for the last flash of electricity revealed to him that two
moments more would decide her fate.
The gale now redoubled its fury, and Forster was obliged to cling for
his existence as he sank, from his kneeling posture, flat upon the wet
herbage. Still he had approached so near to the edge of the cliff that
his view below was not interrupted by his change of posture. Another
flash of lightning. It was enough! "God have mercy on their souls!"
cried he, dropping his face upon the ground as if to shut out the horrid
vision from his sight.
He had beheld the vessel within the surf, but a few yards distant from
the outer rocks, thrown on her beam-ends, with both foresail and
mainsail blown clear out of their bolt-ropes. The cry for succour was
raised in vain; the wail of despair was not heard; the struggles for
life were not beheld, as the elements in their wrath roared and howled
over their victim.
As if satiated with its devastation, from that moment the storm
gradually abated, and Forster, taking advantage of a lull, slowly
descended to the cove, where he found Robertson still heaping fuel on
"Save your wood, my good fellow; it's all over with her; and those who
were on board are in eternity at this moment," said Forster, in a
"Is she gone then, sir?"
"Right on the outer ledge; there's not a living soul to see your
"God's will be done!" replied the fisherman; "then their time was
come--but He who destroys, can save if He pleases; I'll not put out the
fire while there's a fagot left, for you know, Mr Forster, that if
anyone should by a miracle be thrown into the smooth water on this side
of the point, he might be saved; that is, if he swam well:"--and
Robertson threw on more fagots, which soon flared up with a brilliant
light. The fisherman returned to the cottage, to procure for Forster a
red woollen cap in lieu of the hat which he had lost; and they both sat
down close to the fire to warm themselves and to dry their streaming
Robertson had once more replenished the fuel, and the vivid blaze glared
along the water in the cove, when the eye of Forster was attracted by
the appearance of something floating on the wave, and evidently nearing
to the shore. He pointed it out to the fisherman, and they descended to
the water's edge, awaiting its approach with intense anxiety.
"It's not a man, sir, is it?" observed Robertson after a minute's pause.
"I cannot make it out," replied Forster; "but I rather think that it is
an animal--something living, most assuredly."
In another minute or two the point was decided; they distinguished a
large dog bearing something white in its mouth, and making for the shore
where they were standing. Calling to the poor beast to cheer him, for he
evidently was much exhausted, and approached but slowly, they soon had
the satisfaction of seeing him pass through the surf, which, even at
this time, was not heavy in the cove, and, with the water pouring from
his shaggy coat, stagger towards them, bearing in his mouth his burden,
which he laid down at Forster's feet, and then shook off the
accumulation of moisture from his skin. Forster took up the object of
the animal's solicitude--it was the body of an infant, apparently a few
"Poor thing!" cried Forster, mournfully.
"It's quite dead, sir," observed the fisherman.
"I am afraid so," replied Forster, "but it cannot have been so long; the
dog evidently bore it up clear of the water until it came into the surf.
Who knows but we might restore it?"
"If anything will restore it, sir, it will be the warmth of a woman's
breast, to which it hitherto hath clung. Jane shall take it in her bed,
between her and the little ones;" and the fisherman entered the hut with
the child, which was undressed, and received by his wife with all the
sympathy which maternal feelings create, even towards the offspring of
others. To the delight of Forster, in a quarter of an hour Robertson
came out of the cottage with the intelligence that the child had moved
and cried a little, and that there was every chance of its recovery.
"It's a beautiful little girl, sir, Jane says; and if it lives, she will
halve her milk between it and our little Tommy."
Forster remained another half-hour, until he had ascertained that the
child had taken the breast and had fallen asleep. Congratulating himself
at having been the means of saving even one little life out of the many
which, in all probability, had been swallowed up, he called to the dog,
who had remained passive by the fire, and rose up to return home; but
the dog retreated to the door of the cottage into which he had seen the
infant carried, and all attempts to coax him away were fruitless.
Forster summoned Robertson, to whom he gave some further directions, and
then returned to his home, where, on his arrival, his old housekeeper,
who had never been awakened from her sound nap until roused by his
knocking at the door, scolded him not a little for being out in such
tempestuous weather, and a great deal more for having obliged her to sit
up and _watch_ all night until his return.
"Creation smiles around; on every spray
The warbling birds exalt their evening lay;
Blithe skipping o'er yon hill, the fleecy train
Join the deep chorus of the lowing plain:
The glassy ocean, hush'd, forgets to roar,
But trembling, murmurs on the sandy shore."
Forster was soon fast asleep after his night of exertion: his dreams
were confused and wild; but I seldom trouble people about dreams, which
are as naught. When Reason descends from her throne, and seeks a
transitory respite from her labour, Fancy usurps the vacant seat, and in
pretended majesty, would fain exert her sister's various powers. These
she enacts to the best of her ability, and with about the same success
as attends a monkey when he attempts the several operations connected
with the mystery of shaving:--and thus ends a very short and conclusive
dissertation upon dreams.
But, to use a nautical phrase, we must "heave-to" in our narrative
awhile, as it is necessary that we should enter a little more into the
previous history of Edward Forster; which we can now do without
interruption, as the parties we have introduced to the reader are all
The father of Edward Forster was a clergyman, who, notwithstanding he
could reckon up some twenty or thirty first, second, and third cousins
with high-sounding titles, officiated as curate in a district not far
from that part of the country where Forster at present was located. He
was one of the bees of the Church, who are constantly toiling, while the
drones are eating up the honey. He preached three sermons, and read
three services, at three different stations every Sunday throughout the
year; while he christened, married, and buried a population extending
over some thousands of square acres, for the scanty stipend of one
hundred per annum. Soon after he was in possession of his curacy, he
married a young woman, who brought him beauty and modesty as her dower,
and subsequently pledges of mutual love ad lib. But He that giveth,
taketh away; and out of nearly a score of these interesting but
expensive presents to her husband, only three, all of the masculine
gender, arrived at years of maturity. John (or Jock as he usually was
called), who was the eldest, was despatched to London, where he studied
the law under a relation; who, perceiving that Mrs Forster's annual
presentation _of_ the living was not followed up by any presentation
_to_ the living, kindly took charge of and received him into his own
Jock was a hard-headed fellow, studied with great diligence, and
retained what he read, although he did not read fast; but that which he
lost in speed he made up by perseverance, and had now, entirely by his
own exertions, risen to considerable eminence in his profession; but he
had been severed from his family in early days, and had never been able
to return to them. He heard, indeed, of the birth of sundry brothers and
sisters; of their deaths; and lastly, of the demise of his parents,--the
only communication which affected him; for he loved his father and
mother, and was anticipating the period when he might possess the means
of rendering them more comfortable.
But all this had long passed away. He was now a bachelor past fifty,
bearish and uncouth in his appearance, and ungracious in his deportment.
Secluded in his chambers, poring over the dry technicalities of his
profession, he had divided the moral world into two parts--honest and
dishonest, lawful and unlawful. All other feelings and affections, if he
had them, were buried, and had never been raised to the surface. At the
time we speak of, he continued his laborious, yet lucrative, profession,
toiling in his harness like a horse in a mill, heaping up riches,
knowing not who should gather them; not from avarice, but from long
habit, which rendered his profession not only his pleasure, but
essential to his very existence. Edward Forster had not seen him for
nearly twenty years; the last time was when he passed through London
upon his retirement from the service. Indeed, as they never corresponded
(for there was nothing in common between them), it is a matter of doubt
whether Jock was exactly aware which of his brothers remained alive; and
had it been a subject of interest, he would, in all probability, have
referred to the former letters of his father and mother, as legal
documents, to ascertain who was remaining of his kin.
The next surviving son was _yclept_ (there's something very _consonant_
in that word) Nicholas. The Reverend Mr Forster, who had no inheritance
to bequeath to his family except a _good name_, which, although better
than _riches_, will not always procure for a man one penny loaf,
naturally watched for any peculiar symptoms of genius in his children
which might designate one of the various paths to wealth and fame by
which it would be most easy for the individual to ascend. Now it did
occur that when Nicholas was yet in womanish attire, he showed a great
partiality to a burning-glass, with which he contrived to do much
mischief. He would burn the dog's nose as he slept in the sun before the
door. His mother's gown showed proofs of his genius by sundry little
round holes, which were considerably increased each time that it
returned from the wash. Nay, heretical and damnable as is the fact, his
father's surplice was as a moth-eaten garment from the repeated and
insidious attacks of this young philosopher. The burning-glass decided
his fate. He was bound apprentice to an optical and mathematical
instrument maker; from which situation he was, if possible, to emerge
into the highest grade of the profession; but somehow or another, a want
of ambition or of talent did not permit him to ascend the scale, and he
now kept a shop in the small seaport town of Overton, where he repaired
damaged articles of science--a watch one day, a quadrant or a compass
another; but his chief employment and his chief forte lay in telescopes;
and accordingly, a large board, with "Nicholas Forster, Optician,"
surmounted the small shop window, at which he was invariably to be seen
at his employment. He was an eccentric person, one of those who had
narrowly escaped being clever; but there was an obliquity in his mind
which would not admit of lucid order and arrangement. In the small town
where he resided, he continued to pick up a decent sustenance; for he
had no competitor, and was looked upon as a man of considerable ability.
He was the only one of the three brothers who had ventured upon wedlock.
But of this part of our history we shall at present say no more than
that he had an only child, and had married his wife, to use his own
expression, because she _suited his focus_.
Edward Forster, the youngest, whom we have already introduced to the
reader, showed strong nautical propensities; he swam nut-shells in a
puddle, and sent pieces of lath with paper sails floating down the brook
which gurgled by the parsonage. This was circumstantial evidence: he was
convicted, and ordered off to sea, to return a Nelson. For his conduct
during the time he served her, Edward Forster certainly deserved well of
his country; and had he been enabled to continue in his profession,
would in all probability have risen by his merit to its highest grades;
but having served his time as midshipman, he received a desperate wound
in "cutting out," and shortly after obtained his promotion to the rank
of lieutenant for his gallant conduct. His wound was of that severe
description that he was obliged to quit the service, and, for a time,
retire upon his half-pay. For many years he looked forward to the period
when he could resume his career:--but in vain; the wound broke out again
and again; fresh splinters of the bone continually worked out, and he
was doomed to constant disappointment. At last it healed; but years of
suffering had quenched the ardour of youth, and when he did apply for
employment, his services had been forgotten. He received a cool
negative, almost consonant to his wishes: and returned, without feeling
mortified, to the cottage we have described, where he lived a secluded
yet not unhappy life. His wants were few, and his half-pay more than
adequate to supply them. A happy contemplative indolence, arising from a
well-cultivated mind, feeding rather upon its previous acquirements than
adding to its store--an equanimity of disposition, and a habit of rigid
self-command--were the characteristics of Edward Forster; whom I shall
now awaken, that we may proceed with our narrative.
"Well, I do declare, Mr Forster, you have had a famous nap," cried Mrs
Beazely, in a tone of voice so loud as to put an immediate end to his
slumber, as she entered his room with some hot water to assist him in
that masculine operation, the diurnal painful return of which has been
considered to be more than tantamount in suffering to the occasional
"pleasing punishment which women bear." Although this cannot be proved
until ladies are endowed with beards (which Heaven forfend!), or some
modern Tiresias shall appear to decide the point, the assertion appears
to be borne out, if we reason by analogy from human life; where we find
that it is not the heavy blow of sudden misfortune tripping the ladder
of our ambition and laying us prostrate, which constitutes life's
intermittent "fitful fever," but the thousand petty vexations of hourly
occurrence.----We return to Mrs Beazely, who continued--"Why, it's nine
o'clock, Mr Forster, and a nice fresh morning it is too, after last
night's tempest. And pray what did you hear and see, sir?" continued the
old woman, opening the shutters and admitting a blaze of sunshine, as if
determined that at all events he should now both _hear_ and _see_.
"I'll tell you all, Mrs Beazely, when I am dressed. Let me have my
breakfast as soon as you can, for I must be off again to the cove. I did
not intend to have slept so late."
"Why, what's in the wind now, Mr Forster?" said the old lady, borrowing
one of his nautical phrases.
"If you wish to know, Mrs Beazely, the sooner you allow me to get out of
bed, the sooner I shall be able to give you the information you
"But what made you stay out so late, Mr Forster?" continued the
housekeeper, who seemed determined, if possible, to have a little
information _en attendant_, to stay her appetite until her curiosity
could obtain a more substantial repast.
"I am sorry to say, there was a vessel wrecked."
"Oh dear! O dear! Any lives lost?"
"All, I am afraid, except one, and even that is doubtful."
"O Lord! O Lord! Do, pray, Mr Forster, tell me all about it."
"As soon as I am dressed, Mrs Beazely," replied Mr Forster, making a
movement indicative that he was about to _"turn out," whether or no_,
and which occasioned Mrs Beazely to make a hasty retreat.
In a few minutes Forster made his appearance in the parlour, where he
found both the kettle and the housekeeper boiling with impatience. He
commenced eating and narrating until the respective appetites of Mrs
Beazely and himself were equally appeased, and then set off for the
abode of Robertson, to ascertain the fate of the infant.
How different was the scene from that of the night before! The sea was
still in commotion; and as the bright sun shone upon its agitated
surface, gilding the summits of the waves, although there was majesty
and beauty in the appearance, there was nought to excite terror. The
atmosphere, purified by the warfare of the elements, was fresh and
bracing. The short verdure which covered the promontory and hills
adjacent was of a more brilliant green, and seemed as if to bask in the
sun after the cleansing it had received from the heavy rain; while the
sheep (for the coast was one extended sheep-walk) studded the sides of
the hills, their white fleeces in strong yet beautiful contrast with the
deep verdure of nature. The smooth water of the cove, in opposition to
the vexed billows of the unsheltered ocean; the murmuring of the light
waves, running in long and gently curved lines to their repose upon the
yellow sand; their surface occasionally rippled by the eddying breeze as
it swept along; his own little skiff safe at her moorings, undulating
with the swell; the sea-gulls, who but a few hours ago were screaming
with dismay as they buffeted against the fury of the gale, now skimming
on the waves, or balanced on the wing near to their inaccessible
retreats; the carolling of the smaller birds on every side of him,
produced a lightness of heart and quickened pulse, to which Edward
Forster had latterly been a stranger.
He soon arrived at the cottage, where the sound of his footsteps brought
out the fisherman and his wife, the latter bearing in her arms the
little object of his solicitude.
"See, Mr Forster," said Jane, holding out the infant, "it's quite well
and hearty, and does nothing but smile. What a lovely babe it is!"
Forster looked at the child, who smiled, as if in gratitude; but his
attention was called away by the Newfoundland dog, who fawned upon him,
and after having received his caresses, squatted down upon the sand,
which he beat with his tail as he looked wistfully in Forster's face.
Forster took the child from the arms of its new mother. "Thou hast had a
narrow escape, poor thing," said he, and his countenance assumed a
melancholy cast as the ideas floated in his mind. "Who knows how many
more perils may await thee? Who can say whether thou art to be restored
to the arms of thy relatives, or to be left an orphan to a sailor's
care? Whether it had not been better that the waves should have
swallowed thee in thy purity, than thou shouldest be exposed to a
heartless world of sorrow and of crime? But He who willed thee to be
saved knows best for us who are in darkness;" and Forster kissed its
brow, and returned it to the arms of Jane.
Having made a few arrangements with Robertson and his wife, in whose
care he resolved at present to leave the child, Forster bent his steps
towards the promontory, that he might ascertain if any part of the
vessel remained. Stretching over the summit of the cliff, he perceived
that several of the lower futtocks and timbers still hung together, and
showed themselves above water. Anxious to obtain some clue to her
identity, he prepared to descend by a winding and hazardous path which
he had before surmounted. In a quarter of an hour he had gained a
position close to the wreck; but, with the exception of the shattered
remnant which was firmly wedged between the rocks, there was nothing to
be seen; not a fragment of her masts and spars, or sails, not a relic of
what once was life remained. The tide, which ran furiously round the
promontory, had swept them all away, or the _undertow_ of the deep water
had buried every detached particle, to be delivered up again, "far, far
at sea." All that Forster could ascertain was that the vessel was
foreign built, and of large tonnage; but who were its unfortunate
tenants, or what the cargo, of which she had been despoiled by the
devouring waves, was not even to be surmised. The linen on the child was
marked J. de F.; and this was the only clue which remained for its
identity. For more than an hour did Forster remain fixed as a statue
upon the rock, where he had taken his station with arms folded, while he
contemplated the hoarse waves dashing against the bends, or dividing as
they poured themselves between the timbers of the vessel, and he sank
into deep and melancholy thought.
And where is the object exciting more serious reflection than a _wreck_?
The pride and ingenuity of man humbled and overcome; the elements of the
Lord occupying the fabric which had set them at defiance; tossing,
tumbling, and dancing, as if in mockery at their success! The structure,
but a few hours past, as perfect as human intellect could devise,
towering with its proud canvas over space, and bearing man to greet his
fellow-man, over the _surface of death_!--dashing the billow from her
stem, as if in scorn, while she pursued her trackless way--bearing
tidings of peace and security, of war and devastation--tidings of joy or
grief, affecting whole kingdoms and empires, as if they were but
Now, the waters delight in their revenge, and sparkle with joy, as the
sun shines upon their victory. That keel, which with the sharpness of a
scythe has so often mowed its course through the reluctant wave, is now
buried--buried deep in the sand, which the angry surge accumulates each
minute, as if determined that it never will be subject to its weight
How many seasons had rolled away, how many millions had returned to the
dust from which they sprung, before the kernels had swelled into the
forest giants levelled for that structure;--what labour had been
undergone to complete the task;--how many of the existent race found
employment and subsistence as they slowly raised that monument of human
skill;--how often had the weary miner laid aside his tool to wipe his
sweating brow, before the metals required for its completion had been
brought from darkness;--what thousands had been employed before it was
prepared and ready for its destined use! Yon copper bolt, twisted with a
force not human, and raised above the waters, as if in evidence of their
dreadful power, may contain a history in itself.
How many of her own structure must have been employed, bringing from the
north, the south, the east, and the west, her masts, her spars, her
"_hempen tackle_," and her canvas wings; her equipment in all its
variety; her stores for the support of life; her magazines of _quiescent
death_. And they who so fearlessly trod her decks, conscious of their
own powers, and confident in their own skill; they who expanded her
thousands of yards of canvas to the pursuing breeze, or reduced them,
like magic, at the approaching storm--where are they now? How many sighs
have been lavished at their absence! how many hearths would have been
gladdened by their return! Where are the hopes, the fears, the ambition,
and the pride; the courage and the enterprise; the love and the
yearnings after their kin; the speculations of the present, and the
calculations of the future, which occupied their minds, or were
cherished in their bosoms? All--all _wrecked_!
[Footnote 1: We presume the gentleman means gunpowder.--ED.]
Days, weeks, and months rolled away; yet every step that could be taken
to find out the name of the vessel proved unavailing. Although the
conjecture of Forster, that she was one of the many foreign West
Indiamen which had met with a similar fate during that tempestuous
winter, was probably correct; still no clue could be gathered by which
the parentage of the little girl could be ascertained. The linen was,
indeed, marked with initials; but this circumstance offered but a faint
prospect of discovery. Either her relations, convinced of her loss, made
no inquiries, or the name of the vessel in which she had been a
passenger was not known to them. The child had been weaned, and removed
to the cottage, where it occupied much of the attention of the old
housekeeper and Forster, who, despairing of its ever being reclaimed,
determined to bring it up as his own.
Mrs Beazely, the housekeeper, was a good-tempered woman, long past the
grand climacteric, and strongly attached to Forster, with whom she had
resided many years. But, like all women, whether married or single, who
have the responsibility of a household, she would have her own way; and
scolded her master with as little ceremony as if she had been united to
him by matrimonial bonds.
To this Forster quietly submitted; he had lived long enough to be aware
that people are not the happiest who are not under control, and was
philosopher sufficient to submit to the penal code of matrimony without
tasting its enjoyments. The arrival of the infant made him more than
ever feel as if he were a married man; for he had all the delights of
the nursery in addition to his previous discipline. But, although bound
by no ties, he found himself happier. He soon played with the infant,
and submitted to his housekeeper with all the docility of a well-trained
The Newfoundland dog, who, although (like some of his betters) he did
not change his name _for_ a fortune, did, in all probability, change it
_with_ his fortune, soon answered to the deserved epithet of "Faithful,"
and slept at the foot of the crib of his little mistress, who also was
to be rechristened. "She is a treasure, which has been thrown up by the
ocean," said Forster, kissing the lovely infant. "Let her name be
But we must leave her to bud forth in her innocence and purity, while we
direct the attention of the reader to other scenes, which are
contemporary with those we have described.
"A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while 'tis so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip, or touch one drop of it."
A man may purchase an estate, a tenement, or a horse, because they have
pleased his fancy, and eventually find out that he has not exactly
suited himself; and it sometimes will occur that a man is placed in a
similar situation relative to his choice of a wife:--a more serious
evil; as, although the prime cost may be nothing, there is no chance of
getting rid of this latter speculation by re-vending, as you may the
former. Now it happened that Nicholas Forster, of whom we have already
made slight mention, although he considered at the time of his marriage
that the person he had selected would _exactly suit his focus_, did
eventually discover that he was more short-sighted in his choice than an
optician ought to have been.
Whatever may have been the personal charms of Mrs Nicholas Forster at
the time of their union, she had, at the period of our narrative, but
few to boast of, being a thin, sharp-nosed, ferret-eyed little woman,
teeming with suspicion, jealousy, and bad humours of every description:
her whole employment (we may say, her whole delight) was in finding
fault: her shrill voice was to be heard from the other side of the
street from morning until night. The one servant which their finances
enabled them with difficulty to retain, and whom they engaged as a maid
of all work (and certainly she was not permitted by Mrs Forster to be
idle in her multifarious duty), seldom remained above her _month_; and
nothing but the prospect of immediate starvation could induce any one to
offer herself in the capacity.
Mr Nicholas Forster, fortunately for his own happiness, was of, that
peculiar temperament that nothing could completely rouse his anger: he
was _absent_ to an excess; and if any language or behaviour on the part
of his wife induced his choler to rise, other ideas would efface the
cause from his memory; and this hydra of the human bosom, missing the
object of its intended attack, again lay down to rest.
The violence and vituperation of his spouse were, therefore, lost upon
Nicholas Forster; and the impossibility of disturbing the equanimity of
his temper increased the irritability of her own. Still Mr Nicholas
Forster, when he did reflect upon the subject, which was but during
momentary fits of recollection, could not help acknowledging that he
should be much more quiet and happy when it pleased Heaven to summon Mrs
Forster to a better world: and this idea ultimately took possession of
his imagination. Her constant turbulence interfered so much with the
prosecution of his plans, that, finding it impossible to carry them into
execution, everything that he considered of moment was mentally put off
until _Mrs Forster was dead_!
"Well, Mr Forster, how long is the dinner to wait before you think
proper to come? Everything will be cold, as usual. (N.B. The dinner
consisted of the remains of a cold shoulder of mutton.)--Or do you mean
to have any dinner at all? Betty, clear away the table; I have my work
to do, and won't wait any longer."
"I'm coming, my dear, I'm coming; only this balance-spring is a job that
I cannot well leave," replied Nicholas, continuing his vocation in the
shop, with a magnifying glass attached to his eye.
"Coming! yes, and Christmas is coming, Mr Forster.--Well, the dinner's
going, I can tell you."
Nicholas, who did not want appetite, and who was conscious that if the
mutton returned to the cupboard there would be some difficulty made in
reproducing it, laid down the watch and came into the back parlour.
"Well, my dear, here I am; sorry to have kept you waiting so long, but
business must be attended to. Dear me! why, the mutton is really quite
cold," continued Nicholas, thrusting a large piece into his mouth, quite
forgetting that he had already dined twice off the identical joint.
"That's a fine watch of Mr Tobin's; but I think that my improvement upon
the duplex when I have finished it--"
"When you have finished it, indeed!" retorted the lady; "why, when did
you ever finish anything, Mr Forster? Finish, indeed!"
"Well, my dear," replied the husband, with an absent air--"I do mean to
finish it, when--_you are dead_!"
"When I am dead!" screamed the lady, in a rage--"when I am dead!"
continued she, placing her arms akimbo, as she started from the chair.
"I can tell you, Mr Forster, that I'll live long enough to plague you.
It's not the first time that you've said so; but depend upon it, I'll
dance upon your grave yet, Mr Forster."
"I did not exactly mean to say that; not exactly that, my dear," replied
Nicholas, confused. "The fact is that I was not exactly aware of what I
was saying--I had not precisely the--"
"Precisely the fiddle-stick, Mr Forster! you did mean it, and you do
mean it, and this is all the return that I am to expect for my kindness
and anxiety for your welfare--slaving and toiling all day as I do; but
you're incorrigible, Mr Forster: look at you, helping yourself out of
your snuff-box instead of the salt-cellar. What man in his senses would
eat a cold shoulder of mutton with tobacco?"
"Dear me, so I have," replied Forster, removing the snuff taken from the
box, which, as usual, lay open before him, not into the box again, but
into the salt-cellar.
"And who's to eat that salt now, you nasty beast?"
"I am not a beast, Mrs Forster," replied her husband, whose choler was
roused; "I made a mistake; I do not perceive--now I recollect it, did
you send Betty with the 'day and night glass' to Captain Simkins?"
"Yes, I did, Mr Forster; if I did not look after your business, I should
like to know what would become of us; and I can tell you, Mr Forster,
that if you do not contrive to get more business, there will soon be
nothing to eat; seventeen and sixpence is all that I have received this
last week; and how rent and fire, meat and drink, are to be paid for
with that, you must explain, for I can't."
"How can I help it, my dear? I never refuse a job."
"Never refuse a job? no; but you must contrive to make more business."
"I can mend a watch, and make a telescope, but I can't make business, my
dear," replied Nicholas.
"Yes, you can, and you must, Mr Forster," continued the lady, sweeping
off the remains of the mutton, just as her husband had fixed his eye
upon the next cut, and locking it up in the cupboard--"if you do not,
you will have nothing to eat, Mr Forster."
"So it appears, my dear," replied the meek Nicholas, taking a pinch of
snuff; "but I really don't--"
"Why, Mr Forster, if you were not one of the greatest--"
"No, no, my dear," interrupted Nicholas, from extreme modesty, "I am not
one of the greatest opticians of the present day; although, when I've
made my improve--"
"Greatest opticians!" interrupted the lady. "One of the greatest
_fools_, I meant!"
"That's quite another thing, my dear; but--"
"No _buts_, Mr Forster; please to listen, and not interrupt me again in
that bearish manner. Why do you repair in the way you do? Who ever
brings you a watch or a glass that you have handled a second time?"
"But why should they, my dear, when I have put them in good order?"
"Put them in order! but why do you put them in order?"
"Why do I put them in order, my dear?" replied Forster, with
"Yes; why don't you leave a screw loose, somewhere? then they must come
again. That's the proper way to do business."
"The proper way to do my business, my dear, is to see that all the
screws are tight."
"And starve!" continued the lady.
"If it please God," replied the honest Nicholas
But this matrimonial duet was interrupted by the appearance of their
son, whom we must introduce to the reader, as he will play a conspicuous
part in our narrative.
Newton Forster, for thus had he been christened by his father, out of
respect _for the great Sir Isaac_, was now about seventeen years
old--athletic and well-proportioned in person, handsome in features, and
equally gifted in mind. There was a frankness and sincerity in his open
brow, an honesty in his smile, which immediately won upon the beholder;
and his countenance was but an index to his mind. His father had
bestowed all his own leisure, and some expense, which he could ill
afford, upon his education, trusting one day that he would rival the
genius after whom he had been christened; but Newton was not of a
disposition to _sit_ down either at a desk or a workbench. Whenever he
could escape from home or from school, he was to be found either on the
beach or at the pier, under the shelter of which the coasting vessels
discharged or received their cargoes; and he had for some years declared
his intention to follow the profession of a sailor. To this his father
had reluctantly consented, with the proviso that he would first finish
his education; and the mutual compact had been strictly adhered to by
At the age of fifteen, Newton had acquired all that could be imparted to
him by the pedagogue of the vicinity, and had then, until something
better should turn up, shipped himself on board of a coasting vessel, in
which, during the last two years, he had made several trips, being
usually absent about six weeks, and remaining in port about the same
time, until another cargo could be procured.
Young as he was, the superiority of his education had obtained him the
situation of mate of the vessel; and his pay enabled him to assist his
father, whose business, as Mrs Forster declared, was not sufficient to
"make both ends meet." Upon his return, his love of knowledge and active
habits induced him to glean as much as he could of his father's
profession, and he could repair most articles that were sent in.
Although Newton amused himself with the peculiarities and eccentricity
of his father, he still had a high respect for him, as he knew him to be
a worthy, honest man. For his mother he certainly had none: he was
indignant at her treatment of his father, and could find no redeeming
quality to make amends for her catalogue of imperfections. Still he had
a peculiar tact, by which he avoided any serious altercation. Never
losing his own temper, yet quietly and firmly resisting all control, he
assumed a dominion over her, from which her feelings towards him,
whatever they may have been in his early years, were now changed into
those of positive hatred. His absence this morning had been occasioned
by his assistance being required in the fitting of a new main-stay for
the sloop to which he belonged. "Please God what, father?" said Newton,
as he came in, catching his father's last words.
"Why, your mother says that we must starve, or be dishonest."
"Then we'll starve, father, with a clear conscience; but I hope that
things are not so bad yet, for I am devilish hungry," continued Newton,
looking at the dinner-table, which offered to his view nothing but a
table-cloth, with the salt-cellar and the snuff-box. "Why, mother, is it
dead low water, or have you stowed all away in the locker?" and Newton
repaired to the cupboard, which was locked.
Now Mrs Forster was violent with others, but with Newton she was always
"There's nothing in the cupboard," growled the lady.
"Then why lock up nothing?" rejoined Newton, who was aware that veracity
was not among Mrs Forster's catalogue of virtues. "Come, mother, hand me
the key, and I'll ferret out something, I'll answer for it."
Mrs Forster replied that the cupboard was her own, and she was mistress
of the house.
"Just as you please, mother. But, before I take the trouble, tell me,
father, is there anything in the cupboard?"
"Why, yes, Newton, there's some mutton. At least, if I recollect right,
I did not eat it all--did I, my dear?"
Mrs Forster did not condescend an answer. Newton went into the shop, and
returned with a chisel and hammer. Taking a chair to stand upon, he very
coolly began to force the lock.
"I am very sorry, mother, but I must have something to eat; and since
you won't give me the key, why--" observed Newton, giving the handle of
the chisel a smart blow with the hammer--
"Here's the key, sir," cried Mrs Forster, with indignation, throwing it
on the table, and bouncing out of the room.
A smile was exchanged between the father and son, as she went backwards,
screaming, "Betty--I say, Betty, you idle slut, where are you?" as if
determined to vent her spleen upon somebody.
"Have you dined, father?" inquired Newton, who had now placed the
contents of the cupboard upon the table.
"Why, I really don't quite recollect; but I feel very hungry," replied
the optician, putting in his plate to receive two large slices; and
father and son sat down to a hearty meal, proving the truth of the wise
man's observation, that, "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is,
than the stalled ox and hatred therewith."
"Whate'er it be,
'Tis wondrous heavy. Wrench it open straight.
If the sea's stomach be o'ercharged with gold,
It is a good constraint of fortune, that
It belches on us."
About three weeks after the events narrated in the preceding chapter,
Newton Forster sailed in his vessel with a cargo to be delivered at the
seaport of Waterford. The master of her was immoderately addicted to
liquor; and during the time that he remained in port, seldom was to be
found in a state of perfect sobriety, even on a Sunday. But, to do him
justice, when his vessel was declared ready for sea, he abstained from
his usual indulgence, that he might be enabled to take charge of the
property committed to his care, and find his way to his destined port.
It was a point on which his interest overcame, for a time, his darling
propensity: and his rigid adherence to sobriety, when afloat, was so
well ascertained, that his character as a trustworthy seaman was not
injured by his continual intemperance when in harbour. Latterly,
however, since Newton had sailed with him, he had not acted up to his
important resolution. He found that the vessel was as safe under the
charge of Forster as under his own; and having taken great pains to
instruct him in seamanship, and make him well acquainted with the
dangers of the coast, he thought that, as Newton was fully equal to the
charge of the vessel, he might as well indulge himself with an
occasional glass or two, to while away the tedium of embarkation. A
stone pitcher of liquor was now his constant attendant when he pulled on
board to weigh his anchor; which said pitcher, for fear of accidents, he
carried down into the cabin himself. As soon as sail was on the vessel,
and her course shaped, he followed his darling companion down into the
cabin, and until the contents were exhausted was never sufficiently
sober to make his appearance on deck; so that Newton Forster was, in
fact, the _responsible_ master of the vessel.
The wind, which had been favourable at the time of heaving up the
anchor, changed, and blew directly in their teeth, before they were well
out of sight of the port of Overton. On the third day they were
stretching off the land, to meet the first of the tide, under a light
breeze and smooth water, when Newton perceived various objects floating
in the offing. A small thing is a good prize to a coaster; even an empty
beaker is not to be despised; and Newton kept away a point or two, that
he might close and discover what the objects were. He soon distinguished
one or two casks, swimming deeply, broken spars, and a variety of other
articles. When the sloop was in the midst of them, Newton hove-to,
tossed out the little skiff, and, in the course of an hour, unknown to
his captain, who was in bed sleeping off the effect of his last
potations, brought alongside, and contrived to parbuckle in, the casks,
and as many others of the floating articles as he could conveniently
stow upon her decks. The boat was again hoisted in, by the united
exertions of himself and his crew, consisting of _one_ man and _one_
boy; and the sloop, wearing round, reached in for the land.
It was evident to Newton that some large vessel had lately been wrecked,
for the spars were fresh in the fracture, and clean--not like those long
in the water, covered with sea-weed, and encircled by a shoal of fish,
who finding sustenance from the animalculae collected, follow the
floating pieces of wood up and down, as their adopted parent, wherever
they may be swept by the inconstant winds and tides.
Newton examined the heels of the spars, but they were not marked with
the name of the vessel to which they had belonged. The two casks had
only initials branded upon their heads; but nothing could be found which
would designate the owners of the property. A large trunk riveted his
attention; but he would not open it until the master of the vessel came
upon deck. Having ascertained by spiling that the contents of the casks
were _real Jamaica_, he went down into the cabin to announce what he
knew would be most grateful intelligence.
It was some time before Newton could rouse his stupefied senior.
"What spars? D--n the wreck!" growled old Thompson (for such was his
name), as he turned his back in no very ceremonious manner, and
recommenced his snore.
"There's a trunk besides, sir--a large trunk; but I did not open it, as
you were not on deck. A large trunk, and rather heavy."
"Trunk!--well, what then? Trunk!--oh, d--n the trunk!--let me go to
sleep," muttered the master.
"There's two large casks, too, sir; I've spiled them, and they prove to
be puncheons of rum," bawled Newton, who pertinaciously continued.
"Eh; what?--casks! what casks?"
"Two puncheons of rum."
"Rum!--did you say rum?" cried old Thompson, lifting his head off the
pillow, and staring stupidly at Newton; "where?"
"On deck. Two casks: we picked them up as we were standing off the
"Picked them up?--are they on board?" inquired the master, sitting
upright in his bed and rubbing his eyes.
"Yes, they're on board. Won't you come on deck?"
"To be sure I will. Two puncheons of rum, you said?"--and old Thompson
gained his feet, and reeled to the companion ladder, holding on by _all
fours_, as he climbed up without his shoes.
When the master of the sloop had satisfied himself as to the contents of
the casks, which he did by taking about half a tumbler of each, Newton
proposed that the trunk should be opened. "Yes," replied Thompson, who
had drawn off a mug of the spirits, with which he was about to descend
to the cabin, "open if you like, my boy. You have made a _bon prize_
to-day, and your share shall be the trunk; so you may keep it, and the
things that are stowed away in it, for your trouble; but don't forget to
secure the casks till we can stow them away below. We can't break bulk
now; but the sooner they are down the better; or we shall have some
quill-driving rascal on board, with his _flotsam_ and _jetsam_, for the
_Lord knows who_;" and Thompson, to use his own expression, went down
again "to lay his soul in soak."
Reader, do you know the meaning of _flotsam_ and _jetsam_? None but a
lawyer can, for it is old law language. Now, there is a slight
difference between language in general and law language. The first was
invented to enable us to explain our own meaning, and comprehend the
ideas of others; whereas the second was invented with the view that we
should not be able to understand a word about it. In former times, when
all law, except _club_ law, was in its infancy, and practitioners not so
erudite, or so thriving as at present, it was thought advisable to
render it unintelligible by inventing a sort of _lingo_, compounded of
bad French, grafted upon worse Latin, forming a mongrel and
incomprehensible race of words, with French heads and Latin tails, which
answered the purpose intended--that of mystification.--_Flotsam_ and
_jetsam_ are of this breed. _Flot_, derived from the French _flottant_,
floating; and _jet_ from the verb _jeter_, to _throw up_; both used in
seignoral rights, granted by kings to favourites, empowering them to
take possession of the property of any man who might happen to be
unfortunate, which was in those times tantamount to being guilty. I
daresay, if one could see the deed thus empowering them to confiscate
the goods and chattels of others for their own use, according to the
wording of the learned clerks in those days, it would run thus:--"Omnium
quod flotsam et jetsam, et everything else-um, quod findetes;" in plain
English, "Everything floating or thrown up, and everything else you may
pick up." Now, the admiral of the coast had this piratical privilege:
and as, in former days, sextants and chronometers were unknown,
seafaring men incurred more risk than they do at present, and the wrecks
which strewed the coast were of very great value. I had a proof the
other day that this right is still exacted; that is, as far as regards
property _unclaimed_. I had arrived at Plymouth from the Western
Islands. When we hove up our anchor at St Michael's, we found another
anchor and cable hooked most lovingly to our own, to the great joy of
the first lieutenant, who proposed buying silk handkerchiefs for every
man in the ship, and expending the residue in paint. But we had not been
at anchor in Plymouth Sound more than twenty-four hours, and he hardly
had time to communicate with the gentlemen-dealers in marine stores,
when I received a notification from some lynx-eyed agent of the present
admiral of the coast (who is a lawyer, I believe), requesting the
immediate delivery of the anchor and cable, upon the plea of his
seignoral rights of _flotsam_ and _jetsam._ Now, the idea was as
preposterous as the demand was impudent. We had picked up the anchor in
the roadside of a _foreign power,_ about fifteen hundred miles distant
from the English coast.
We are all lawyers, _now,_ on board ship; so I gave him one of my legal
answers, "that, in the first place, _flotsam_ meant floating, and
anchors did not float; in the second place, that _jetsam_ meant thrown
up, and anchors never were thrown up; in the third and last place, _I'd
see him d--d first!"_
My arguments were unanswerable. Counsel for the plaintiff (I presume)
threw up his brief, for we heard no more of _"Mr Flotsam and Jetsam."_
But to proceed:--The man and boy, who, with Newton, composed the whole
crew, seemed perfectly to acquiesce in the distribution made by the
master of the sloop; taking it for granted that their silence, as to the
liquor being on board, would be purchased by a share of it, as long as
They repaired forward with a pannikin from the cask, with which they
regaled themselves, while Newton stood at the helm. In half an hour
Newton called the boy aft to steer the vessel, and lifted the trunk into
the cabin below, where he found that Thompson had finished the major
part of the contents of the mug, and was lying in a state of drunken
The hasp of the lock was soon removed by a clawhammer, and the contents
of the trunk exposed to Newton's view. They consisted chiefly of female
wearing apparel and child's linen; but, with these articles, there was a
large packet of letters addressed to Madame Louise de Montmorenci, the
contents of which were a mystery to Newton, who did not understand
French. There were also a red morocco case, containing a few diamond
ornaments, and three or four crosses of different orders of knighthood.
All the wearing-apparel of the lady was marked with the initials L.M.,
while those appertaining to the infant were marked with the letters J.F.
After a careful examination, Newton spread out the clothes to dry, over
the cabin lockers and table; and depositing the articles of value in a
safe place, he returned on deck. Although Thompson had presented him
with the trunk and its contents, he felt that they could not be
considered as his property, and he determined to replace everything,
and, upon his return, consult his father as to the proper measures which
should be taken to discover who were the lawful owners.
The sloop, under the direction of Newton, had continued her course for
two days against the adverse, yet light breeze, when the weather
changed. The wind still held to the same quarter: but the sky became
loaded with clouds, and the sun set with a dull red glare, which
prognosticated a gale from the N.W.; and before morning the vessel was
pitching through a short chopping sea. By noon the gale was at its
height; and Newton, perceiving that the sloop did not "hold her own,"
went down to rouse the master, to inquire what steps should be taken, as
he considered it advisable to bear up; and the only port under their lee
for many miles was one with the navigation of which he was himself
The vessel was under close-reefed mainsail and storm foresail, almost
buried in the heavy sea, which washed over the deck from forward to the
companion hatch, when Newton went down to rouse the besotted Thompson,
who, having slept through the night without having had recourse to
additional stimulus, was more easy to awaken than before.
"Eh! what?--blows hard--whew!--so it does. How's the wind?" said the
master, throwing his feet outside the standing bedplace, as he sat up.
"N.W., veering to N.N.W. in the squalls. We have lost good ten miles
since yesterday evening, and are close to Dudden Sands," replied Newton.
"I think we must bear up, for the gale shows no signs of breaking."
"Well, I'll be on deck in a moment, my boy," rejoined Thompson, who was
now quite himself again, and was busy putting on his shoes, the only
articles which had been removed when he turned in. "Go you up, and see
that they keep her clean, full and bye--and those casks well
secured.--Dudden Sands--awkward place, too--but I've not been forty
years a-boxing about this coast for nothing."
In a minute Thompson made his appearance on deck, and steadying himself
by the weather topmast backstay, fixed his leaden eyes upon the land on
the quarter.--"All right, younker, that's the head, sure enough;" then
turning his face to the wind, which lifted up his grey curling locks,
and bore them out horizontally from his fur cap, "and it's a devil of a
gale, sure enough.--It may last a month of Sundays for all I know.--Up
with the helm, Tom.--Ease off the main sheet, handsomely, my lad--not
too much. Now, take in the slack, afore she jibes;" and the master
ducked under the main boom and took his station on the other side of the
deck. "Steady as you go now.--Newton, take the helm.--D'ye see that
bluff?--keep her right for it. Tom, you and the boy rouse the cable
up--get about ten fathoms on deck, and bend it.--You'll find a bit of
seizing and a marling-spike in the locker abaft." The sloop scuddled
before the gale, and in less than two hours was close to the headland
pointed out by the master. "Now, Newton, we must hug the point or we
shall not fetch--clap on the main sheet here, all of us. Luff, you may,
handsomely.--That's all right; we are past the Sand-head and shall be in
smooth water in a jiffy.--Steady, so-o.--Now for a drop of _swizzle,"_
cried Thompson, who considered that he had kept sober quite long enough,
and proceeded to the cask of rum lashed to leeward. As he knelt down to
pull out the spile, the sloop which had been brought to the wind, was
struck on her broadside by a heavy sea, which careened her to her
gunnel: the lashings of the weather cask gave way, and it flew across
the deck, jamming the unfortunate Thompson, who knelt against the one to
leeward, and then bounding overboard. The old man gave a heavy groan,
and fell upon his back; the man and boy ran to his assistance, and by
the directions of Newton, who could not quit the helm, carried him
below, and placed him on his bed. In a few minutes the sloop was safe at
anchor, in smooth water, and Newton ran down into the cabin. Thompson's
head had been crushed against the chime of the cask; for an hour or two
he breathed heavily; and then--he was no more!
"The Indian weed, unknown to ancient times,
Nature's choice gift, whose acrimonious fume
Extracts superfluous juices, and refines
The blood distemper'd from its noxious salts;
Friend to the spirits, which with vapours bland
It gently mitigates--companion fit
Of _'a good pot of porter.'_" PHILLIPS.
"There a pot of good double beer, neighbour.
The next day the remains of old Thompson were carried on shore in the
long-boat, and buried in the churchyard of the small fishing town that
was within a mile of the port where the sloop had anchored. Newton
shipped another man, and when the gale was over, continued his voyage;
which was accomplished without further adventure.
Finding no cargo ready for him, and anxious to deliver up the vessel to
the owner, who resided at Overton, he returned in ballast, and
communicated the intelligence of Thompson's death; which, in so small a
town, was long the theme of conversation, and the food of gossips.
Newton consulted with his father relative to the disposal of the trunk;
but Nicholas could assist him but little with his advice. After many
_pros_ and _cons,_ like all other difficult matters, it was
postponed.--"Really, Newton, I can't say. The property certainly is not
yours, but still we are not likely to find out the lawful owner. Bring
the trunk on shore; we'll nail it up, and perhaps we may hear something
about it by-and-bye. We'll make some inquiries--by-and-bye--when your
"I think," interrupted Newton, "it would not be advisable to acquaint my
mother with the circumstance; but how to satisfy her curiosity on that
point, I must leave to you."
"To me, boy! no; I think that you had better manage that, for you know
you are only _occasionally_ at home."
"Well, father, be it so," replied Newton, laughing: "but here comes Mr
Dragwell and Mr Hilton, to consult with us what ought to be done
relative to the effects of poor old Thompson. He has neither kith nor
kin, to the ninety-ninth degree, that we can find out."
Mr Dragwell was the curate of the parish; a little fat man with
bow-legs, who always sat upon the edge of the chair, leaning against the
back, and twiddling his thumbs before him. He was facetious and
good-tempered, but was very dilatory in everything. His greatest
peculiarity was, that although he had a hearty laugh for every joke, he
did not take the jokes of others at the time that they were made. His
ideas seemed to have the slow and silent flow ascribed to the stream of
lava (without its fire): and the consequence was, that although he
eventually laughed at a good thing, it was never at the same time with
other people; but in about a quarter or half a minute afterwards
(according to the difficulty of the analysis), when the cause had been
dismissed for other topics, he would burst out in a hearty Ha, ha, ha!
Mr Hilton was the owner of the sloop: he was a tall, corpulent man, who
for many years had charge of a similar vessel, until by "doing a little
contraband," he had pocketed a sufficient sum to enable him to purchase
one for himself. But the profits being more than sufficient for his
wants, he had for some time remained on shore, old Thompson having
charge of the vessel. He was a good-tempered, jolly fellow, very fond of
his pipe and his pot, and much more fond of his sloop, by the employment
of which he was supplied with all his comforts. He passed most of the
day sitting at the door of his house, which looked upon the anchorage,
exchanging a few words with everyone that passed by, but invariably upon
one and the same topic--his sloop. If she was at anchor--"There she is,"
he would say, pointing to her with the stem of his pipe. If she was
away, she had sailed on such a day;--he expected her back at such a
time. It was a fair wind--it was a foul wind for his sloop. All his
ideas were engrossed by this one darling object, and it was no easy task
to divert him from it.
I ought to have mentioned that Mr Dragwell, the curate, was invariably
accompanied by Mr Spinney, the clerk of the parish, a little spare man,
with a few white hairs straggling on each side of a bald pate. He always
took his tune, whether in or out of church, from his superior, ejecting
a small treble "He, he, he!" in response to the loud Ha, ha, ha! of the
"Peace be unto this house!" observed the curate as he crossed the
threshold, for Mrs Forster's character was notorious; then laughing at
his own wit with a Ha, ha, ha!
"He, he, he!"
"Good morning, Mr Forster, how is your good lady?"
"She's safe moored at last," interrupted Mr Hilton.
"Who?" demanded the curate, with surprise.
"Why the sloop, to be sure."
"Oh! I thought you meant the lady--Ha, ha, ha!"
"He, he, he!"
"Won't you sit down, gentlemen?" said Nicholas, showing the way from the
shop into the parlour, where they found Mrs Forster, who had just come
in from the back premises.
"Hope you're well, Mr Curate," sharply observed the lady, who could not
be persuaded, even from respect for the cloth, to be commonly
civil--"take a chair; it's all covered with dust; but that Betsy is such
an idle slut!"
"Newton handles her as well as any man going," observed Hilton.
"Newton!" screamed the lady, turning to her son, with an angry inquiring
look--"Newton handles Betsy!" continued she, turning round to Hilton.
"Betsy! no; the sloop I meant, ma'am."
Newton burst out into a laugh, in which he was joined by Hilton and his
"Sad business--sad indeed!" said Hilton, after the merriment had
subsided, "such an awful death!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" roared the curate, who had but just then taken the joke
"He, he, he!"
"Nothing to laugh at, that I can see," observed Mrs Forster, snappishly.
"Capital joke, ma'am, I assure you!" rejoined the curate. "But, Mr
Forster, we had better proceed to business. Spinney, where are the
papers?" The clerk produced an inventory of the effects of the late Mr
Thompson, and laid them on the table.--"Melancholy thing, this, ma'am,"
continued the curate, "very melancholy indeed! But we must all die."
"Yes, thank Heaven!" muttered Nicholas, in an absent manner.
"Thank Heaven, Mr Forster!" cried the lady,--"why, do you wish to die?"
"I was not exactly thinking about myself, my dear," replied
"Depend upon it she'll last a long while yet," interrupted Mr Hilton.
"Do you think so?" replied Nicholas, mournfully.
"Oh! sure of it; I stripped her the other day, and examined her all
over; she's as sound as ever."
Nicholas started, and stared Hilton in the face; while Newton, who
perceived their separate train of thought, tittered with delight.
"What are you talking of?" at last observed Nicholas.
"Of the sloop, to be sure," replied Hilton.
"I rather imagine that you came to consult about Mr Thompson's effects,"
observed Mrs Forster, angrily--"rather a solemn subject, instead of--"
"Ha, ha, ha!" ejaculated the curate, who had just _taken_ the equivoque
which had occasioned Newton's mirth.
"He, he, he!"
This last merriment of Mr Dragwell appeared to the lady to be such a
pointed insult to her, that she bounded out of the room, exclaiming,
"that an alehouse would have been a more suitable _rendezvous."_
The curate twiddled his thumbs, as the eyes of all the party followed
the exit of Mrs Forster; and there were a few moments of silence.
"Don't you find her a pleasant little craft, Forster?" said Hilton,
Nicholas Forster, who was in a brown study about his wife, shook his
head without lifting up his eyes, while Newton nodded assent.
"Plenty of accommodation in her," continued Hilton.--Another negative
shake from Nicholas, and assentient nod from Newton.
"If I thought you could manage her, Forster," continued Hilton--"tell
me, what do you think yourself?"
"Oh, quite impossible!" replied Nicholas.
"Quite impossible, Mr Forster! Well, now, I've a better opinion of
Newton--I think he _can."_
"Why, yes," replied Nicholas! "certainly better than I can; but still
"She's a beauty, Mr Forster."
"Mrs Forster a beauty!" cried Nicholas, looking at Hilton with
Newton and Hilton burst into a laugh. "No, no," said the latter, "I was
talking about the sloop; but we had better proceed to business. Suppose
we have pipes, Mr Forster; Mr Dragwell, what do you say?"
"Ha, ha, ha!" roared the curate, who had just taken the last joke.
"He, he, he!"
"Why, yes," continued the curate, "I think it is a most excellent
proposition; this melancholy affair requires a great deal of
consideration. I never compose so well as I do with a pipe in my mouth:
Mrs Dragwell says that she knows all my best sermons by the smell of
them; d'ye take?--Ha, ha, ha!"
"He, he, he!"
The pipes, with the addition of a couple of pots of porter, were soon
procured from the neighbouring alehouse; and while the parties are
filling them, and pushing the paper of tobacco from one to the other, I
shall digress, notwithstanding the contrary opinion of the other sex, in
praise of this most potent and delightful weed.
I love thee, whether thou appearest in the shape of a cigar, or diest
away in sweet perfume enshrined in the meerschaum bowl; I love thee with
more than woman's love! Thou art a companion to me in solitude. I can
talk and reason with thee, avoiding loud and obstreperous argument. Thou
art a friend to me when in trouble, for thou advisest in silence, and
consolest with thy calm influence over the perturbed spirit.
I know not how thy power has been bestowed upon thee; yet, if to
harmonise the feelings, to allow the thoughts to spring without control,
rising like the white vapour from the cottage hearth, on a morning that
is sunny and serene;--if to impart that sober sadness over the spirit,
which inclines us to forgive our enemy, that calm philosophy which
reconciles us to the ingratitude and knavery of the world, that heavenly
contemplation whispering to us, as we look around, that "All is
good;"--if these be merits, they are thine, most potent weed.
What a quiet world this would be if everyone would smoke! I suspect that
the reason why the fairer sex decry thee is, that thou art the cause of
silence. The ancients knew thee not, or the lips of Harpocrates would
have been closed with a cigar, and his forefinger removed from the mouth
unto the temple.
Half an hour was passed without any observation from our party, as the
room gradually filled with the volumes of smoke, which wreathed and
curled in graceful lines, as they ascended in obedience to the
unchangeable laws of nature.
Hilton's pipe was first exhausted; he shook the ashes on the table. "A
very melancholy business, indeed!" observed he, as he refilled. The rest
nodded a grand assent; the pipe was relighted; and all was silent as
Another pipe is empty. "Looking at this inventory," said the curate, "I
should imagine the articles to be of no great value. One fur cap, one
round hat, one pair of plush breeches, one--; they are not worth a
couple of pounds altogether," continued he, stuffing the tobacco into his
pipe, which he relighted, and no more was said. Nicholas was the third
in, or rather _out._ "It appears to me," observed he;--but what appeared
is lost, as some new idea flitted across his imagination, and he
commenced his second pipe without further remark.
Some ten minutes after this, Mr Spinney handed the pot of porter to the
curate, and subsequently to the rest of the party. They all took
largely, then puffed away as before.
How long this cabinet-council might have continued, it is impossible to
say; but "Silence," who was in "the chair," was soon afterwards driven
from his post of honour by the most implacable of his enemies, a
"Well, Mr Forster! well, gentlemen! do you mean to poison me? Have you
made smell and dirt enough? How long is this to last, I should like to
know?" cried Mrs Forster, entering the room. "I tell you what, Mr
Forster, you had better hang up a sign at once, and keep an ale-house.
Let the sign be a Fool's Head, like your own. I wonder you are not
ashamed of yourself, Mr Curate; you that ought to set an example to your
But Mr Dragwell did not admire such remonstrance; so taking his pipe out
of his mouth, he retorted--"If your husband does put up a sign, I
recommend him to stick you up as the 'Good Woman;' that would be without
your head--Ha, ha, ha!"
"He, he, he!"
"He, he, he! you pitiful 'natomy," cried Mrs Forster, in a rage, turning
to the clerk, as she dared not revenge herself upon the curate. "Take
that for your He, he, he!" and she swung round the empty pewter pot,
which she snatched from the table, upon the bald pericranium of Mr
Spinney, who tumbled off his chair, and rolled upon the sanded floor.
The remainder of the party were on their legs in an instant. Newton
jerked the weapon out of his mother's hands, and threw it in a corner of
the room. Nicholas was aghast; he surmised that his turn would come
next; and so it proved--"An't you ashamed of yourself, Mr Forster, to see
me treated in this way--bringing a parcel of drunken men into the house to
insult me? Will you order them out, or not, sir?--Are we to have quiet or
"Yes, my love," replied Nicholas, confused, "yes, my dear, by-and-bye as
soon as you're--"
Mrs Forster darted towards her husband with the ferocity of a mad cat.
Hilton, perceiving the danger of his host, put out his leg so as to trip
her up in her career, and she fell flat upon her face on the floor. The
violence of the fall was so great, that she was stunned. Newton raised
her up; and, with the assistance of his father (who approached with as
much reluctance as a horse spurred towards a dead tiger), carried her
upstairs, and laid her on her bed.
Poor Mr Spinney was now raised from the floor. He still remained
stupefied with the blow, although gradually recovering. Betsy came in to
render assistance. "O dear, Mr Curate, do you think that he'll die?"
"No, no; bring some water, Betsy, and throw it in his face."
"Better take him home as he is," replied Betsy, "and say that he is
killed; when Missis hears it, she'll be frightened out of her life. It
will keep her quiet for some time at least."
"An excellent idea, Betty; we will punish her for her conduct," replied
Hilton. The curate was delighted at the plan. Mr Spinney was placed in
an arm-chair, covered over with a table-cloth, and carried away to the
parsonage by two men, who were provided by Betsy before Nicholas or
Newton had quitted the room where Mrs Forster lay in a deplorable
condition; her sharp nose broken, and twisted on one side; her eyebrow
cut open to the bone, and a violent contusion on her forehead. In less
than half-an-hour it was spread through the whole town that Spinney had
been murdered by Mrs Forster, and that his brains were bespattered all
over the shop windows!
"That she is mad, 'tis true: 'tis true, 'tis pity;
And pity 'tis, 'tis true: a foolish figure;
But farewell it, for I will use no art.
Mad let us grant her then; and now remains
That we find out the cause of this effect,
Or rather say, the cause of this defect."
Mr Dragwell has already made honourable mention of his wife; it will
therefore only be necessary to add that he had one daughter, a handsome
lively girl, engaged to a Mr Ramsden, the new surgeon of the place, who
had stepped into the shoes and the _good-will_ of one who had retired
from forty years' practice upon the good people of Overton. Fanny
Dragwell had many good qualities, and many others which were rather
doubtful. One of the latter had procured her more enemies than at her
age she had any right to expect. It was what the French term "malice,"
which bears a very different signification from the same word in our own
language. She delighted in all practical jokes, and would carry them to
an excess, at the very idea of which others would be startled; but it
must be acknowledged that she generally selected as her victims those
who from their conduct towards others richly deserved retaliation. The
various tricks which she had played upon certain cross old spinsters,
tattlers, scandal-mongers, and backbiters, often were the theme of
conversation and of mirth: but this description of _espieglerie_
contains a most serious objection; which is, that to carry on a
successful and well-arranged plot, there must be a total disregard of
truth. Latterly, Miss Fanny had had no one to practise upon except Mr
Ramsden, during the period of his courtship--a period at which women
never appear to so much advantage, nor men appear so silly. But even for
this, the time was past, as latterly she had become so much attached to
him that distress on his part was a source of annoyance to herself.
When, therefore, her father came home, narrating the circumstances which
had occurred, and the plan which had been meditated, Fanny entered gaily
into the scheme. Mrs Forster had long been her abhorrence; and an insult
to Mr Ramsden, who had latterly been designated by Mrs Forster as a
"Pill-gilding Puppy," was not to be forgotten. Her active and inventive
mind immediately conceived a plan which would enable her to carry the
joke much further than the original projectors had intended. Ramsden,
who had been summoned to attend poor Mr Spinney, was her sole confidant,
and readily entered into a scheme which was pleasing to his mistress,
and promised revenge for the treatment he had received; and which, as
Miss Dragwell declared, would be nothing but retributive justice upon
Late in the evening, a message was received from Newton Forster,
requesting that Mr Ramsden would attend his mother. He had just visited
the old clerk, who was now sensible, and had nothing to complain of
except a deep cut on his temple from the rim of the pewter-pot. After
receiving a few parting injunctions from Miss Dragwell, Mr Ramsden
quitted the parsonage.
"I am afraid it's a very bad business, Mr Forster," replied the surgeon
to Newton, who had been interrogating him relative to the injury
received by Mr Spinney.
"Evident concussion of the brain; he may live--or he may not; a few days
will decide the point: he is a poor feeble old man."
Newton sighed as he reflected upon the disaster and disgrace which might
ensue from his mother's violence of temper.
"Eh! what, Mr Ramsden?" said Nicholas, who had been for some time
contemplating the battered visage of his spouse. "Did you say she'll
"No, no, Mr Forster, there's no fear of Mrs Forster, she'll do well
enough. She'll be up and about again in a day or two, as lively as
"God forbid!" muttered the absent Nicholas.
"Mr Forster, see if I don't pay you off for that, as soon as I'm up
again," muttered the recumbent lady, as well as the bandages passed
under her chin would permit her.
"Pray call early to-morrow, Mr Ramsden, and let us know how Mr Spinney
is going on," said Newton, extending his hand as the surgeon rose to
depart. Mr Ramsden shook it warmly, and quitted the house: he had left
them about half-an-hour when Betsy made her appearance with some
fomentations, which had been prepared in the kitchen. Out of revenge for
sundry blows daily received, and sundry epithets hourly bestowed upon
her by her mistress, the moment she entered she exclaimed, in a
half-crying tone, "O dear, Mr Newton! there's such shocking news just
come from the parsonage; Mr Spinney is just dead, and my missis will be
Mrs Forster said not a word; she quailed under dread of the report being
correct. Newton and his father looked at each other; their mute anguish
was expressed by covering up their faces with their hands.
When Hilton and the curate arranged their plans for the mortification of
Mrs Forster, it was considered advisable that Newton (who was not so
easily to be imposed upon) should be removed out of the way. Hilton had
already stated his intention to give him charge of the vessel; and he
now proposed sending him for a cargo of shingle, which was lying ready
for her, about fifty miles down the coast, and which was to be delivered
at Waterford. At an early hour, on the ensuing morning, he called at
Forster's house. Newton, who had not taken off his clothes, came out to
"Well, Newton, how is your mother?" said Hilton, "I hope you are not
angry with me: I certainly was the occasion of the accident, but I could
not bear to see your worthy father treated in that manner."