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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 5
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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 5 Post by :erika1959 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1762

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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 5


I must pass over the next seven years of my life and that of my young charge Harry, for that was the name Susan was certain the young lady called him. He sometimes spoke of himself as "Jack Tar," but probably he had heard his friends call him so, because he was dressed like a little sailor. We were puzzled what surname to give him. The captain and Mrs Leslie and the young ladies and Susan and I talked it over, and at last settled to call him George, after the old ship; one of the young ladies thought Saint for saint would sound better, and so he went by the name of "Harry Saint George."

I was at first greatly afraid that he would be taken from us, for a subscription was made for the families of those who perished when the ship foundered, and when his story was known a good share was given to him, besides other contributions, and many people wanted to have him. The captain stood my friend, as he did in all other matters, and insisted that as I pulled him out of the water, and the only friend of his we knew of had stopped at our house, Susan and I ought to have charge of him. He would have taken him himself, but he had a good many young children of his own, and thought that Harry would do better with us, and that he could still look after his education and interests as he grew older.

As soon as Harry could speak, he said that he would be a sailor, that his father was one, and that he would be one too; but who his father had been was a puzzle, as about that, of course, he really knew nothing. He could not tell us either anything about those he had seen on board, or how he had got hold of the sheep, though it is my belief that someone must have placed him on the animal's back, intending to lash him to it, but that the ship had gone down before there was time to do so. Perhaps it was the last act of the poor young lady, or maybe of his father, if his father, as seemed probable, was on board.

As may be supposed, that sheep was a great pet with us and the captain's family as long as it lived. Harry was very fond of it, and would ride about on its back, holding on just as he had done when the creature saved him from drowning. People used to come and see him ride about, and the ladies made a gay silk collar for the sheep, and also a bridle, but Harry would not use it, and always held on by the wool, saying that the sheep always well knew where to go. I railed off a piece of the garden and laid it down in grass, and on one side I built a house for the animal; but as there was not food enough in the little plot, the captain had it up to a paddock near his house, where it used to scamper about with Harry on its back and enjoy itself.

"It's an ill wind that blows no one good," and people used to say that the foundering of the _Royal George was a fortunate circumstance for the sheep, as it would long before have been under the butcher's knife.

The captain, meantime, made all the inquiries he could to try and discover the friends of the little fellow, but in vain; none of those who were saved remembered to have seen the young lady talking to anyone, though two or three recollected seeing her, as I had, coming on board.

Susan, like a thoughtful woman as she was, would not let the little boy wear out his clothes, but at once set to work to make him a new suit, while she carefully laid up those he had had on, with his hat, and the little picture in the case, to assist, as she said, in proving who he was should any of his relatives appear. Still time went on, and there appeared less chance of that than ever.

I spent a very happy time on shore with Susan: as we had no children of our own, we loved Harry as much as if he was our own son. Still I could not be idle; had it not been, indeed, for the captain, I should have been pretty soon pressed and compelled to go to sea, whether I liked it or not. Susan would have gladly kept me at home, which was but natural; still, I was too young to settle down in idleness, and should have grown ashamed of myself; so, as seamen were badly wanted for the navy, I at last entered, with the captain's advice, on board a fifty-gun ship, the _Leander_, he promising to use his influence to obtain a boatswain's warrant for me. While I was serving on board her we had a desperate action with a French eighty-gun ship, the _Couronne_, when we lost thirteen killed, and many more wounded, but succeeded in beating her off and putting her to flight.

Peace came soon after this, and five years passed before I obtained my warrant as boatswain. The prize-money I had received enabled me in the meantime to keep Susan and Harry as I wished; and when I became boatswain she was able to draw a fair sum of money every year. During those years I spent five months at home, which was a pretty long time considering what generally falls to the lot of seamen.

Harry had grown into a fine manly boy, and the more I looked at him the more convinced I felt that he was of gentle birth; he called Susan mother, and me father, though he knew that we were not his parents. He had good manners, and, considering his age, a fair amount of learning, for he used to go up every day to the captain's to receive instruction from the children's governess. At last the captain considered that he ought to be sent to school, and arranged that he should go with his own son, Master Reginald, who was about his age, though Harry was the strongest, and, I may say, the most manly of the two.

While I was at home I taught Harry as much as he could learn of what I may call the first principles of seamanship,--to knot and splice, and box the compass. I also built and rigged a model ship, of which he was very fond.

"You will not forget all I have taught you, my boy," I said, when I was going off to sea.

"No, indeed I will not, father," he answered; "and when you come back I hope I shall have learnt more, for I will do my best to pick up information from everybody who will teach me. The captain, I know, will, when I come home for the holidays, and there is old Dick Wright, who has been at sea all his life, settled near us, and he will tell me anything I ask him; though there is no one teaches me so well as you do, father."

In those piping times of peace the ships were not kept so long in commission as they were during the war, so after serving three years as boatswain of the _Huzzar frigate, on the West India and North American station, I once more returned home. I found Harry more determined than ever to go to sea, and he told me that Reginald Leslie had made up his mind to go also.

"Does his father wish it?" I asked.

"Oh yes, he has no objection to his going; and do you know, father, the captain says that he will get him and me appointed to the same ship with you, provided she is sent to a healthy station," was the answer.

"Well, Harry, I shall be very glad to have charge of you both, and I am pleased that the captain thinks so well of you; though, to be sure, he has always shown that," said I.

Susan was much cast down at the thoughts of losing Harry, but she could not help acknowledging that it was time he should go to sea, if he was going at all.

"But a ship's boy has a hard life of it, as you have often told me, Ben," she said, "and he has been gently nurtured, and brought up, I may say, like a young gentleman."

"And a young gentleman he will still remain; for, you may depend on it, the captain intends to get him placed on the quarter-deck; and, though he himself has retired from the service, he has interest enough to get me and the lads appointed to some ship commanded by a friend of his own; and I flatter myself that, from the certificate I got from my last captain, he will have no difficulty about that."

We had almost given up any expectations of ever meeting Harry's friends. I own that I did not care very much about this, for once on the quarter-deck I felt sure he would make his own way; and though it might be of advantage to him to find them out, it was possible that it might be very much to the contrary.

I was one day going up the street of Ryde with Harry, when we saw a crowd of women and children and a few men and boys standing round the model of a full-rigged ship, and we heard a loud voice singing out--

"Cease, rude Boreas, stormy railer;
List, ye landsmen all, to me;
Messmates, hear a brother sailor
Sing the dangers of the sea."

Then came the sound of a fiddle, and the singer continued his song to his own accompaniment.

"Let us stop and hear the old sailor," said Harry, drawing me towards the crowd.

We found room just opposite where the man was standing. I then saw that he had a timber leg, and that the ship was placed on a stand with a lump of lead fixed to the end of a bent iron rod at the bottom, which made it rock backwards and forwards.

"Oh yes! oh yes! all you good people, lend a ear to poor Jack's yarn," he continued; "and you pretty girls with the blue eyes and rosy cheeks, and you with the dark ones, who does more harm with your blinkers, when you've the mind, among the hearts of young fellows than ever our ships gets from the guns of the Frenchmen. There aren't many men in the navy of Old England who has seen queerer sights, or gone through more ups and downs in life than the timber-toed old tar who stands afore you, and who lost his leg in action aboard the _Thunderer_, seventy-four, when we took a Frenchman and hauled down his colours afore he knew where he was. There aren't many either, I've a notion, who've been worse rewarded, or more kicked about by cruel fate, or you wouldn't find him playing the fiddle and singing songs for your amusement. Howsomdever, that's neither here nor there, and I daresay you wish to hear the end of his stave, and so you shall when each on you has helped to load this here craft with such coppers or sixpences or shillings as you may chance to have in your pockets, and I daresay now a golden guinea wouldn't sink her. Just look at her, always a-tossing up and down on the salt sea; that's what we poor sailors have to go through all our lives. She's a correct model of the _Royal George_, that famous ship I once served aboard when she carried the flag of the great Admiral Lord Hawke; and which now lies out there at Spithead fathoms deep below the briny ocean, with all her drownded crew of gallant fellows, no more to hear the tempest howling, or fight the battles of their king and country!"

I had been looking hard at the old sailor, whose eye just then falling on me, he recognised me at once as a brother salt.

"What, Jerry Dix!" I exclaimed; he looked at me very hard. "Don't you know me, old ship? have you forgotten little Ben Truscott?"

"What, Ben, my boy! Give us your flipper, old chum. I thought as how I had seen you afore when my blinkers first caught sight of you, but I didn't like to make a wrong landfall," he exclaimed.

We shook hands heartily. I was truly glad to see the old man again.

"I see that you have become a warrant officer," he said, eyeing my uniform. "That's better nor nothing, though I did think as how you'd have been higher up the ratlines. And are you at anchor hereabouts?"

I told him that I was living in the neighbourhood, and begged him to come at once to my cottage and see my missus, and have a talk about old times.

"In course I will, Ben," he answered. Then recollecting his audience, he thought that some apology was necessary for leaving them so abruptly; turning round, therefore, and eyeing his model of the _Royal George_, as he called her, though she was more like a frigate than a line-of-battle ship, he said--

"You'll excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but you see as how I've fallen in with an old ship, who I've known as man and boy these twenty years, so I must just now keep him company; but I'll come back to-morrow and finish that there stave I was a-singing, and spin you more of my wonderful yarns, if you'll just be good enough to come here and meet me; now mind, my little dears, bring plenty of coppers; and you, my pretty girls, bring something in your purses for poor Jack; I never takes no money from ugly ones--it's a rule of mine, it's wonderful too how few I ever see's; so good-bye, and blessings on all of you; and now, Ben, we'll up anchor and make sail."

Jerry on this unshipped his model from the stand, which he took under his arm, while he placed the vessel on his shoulder, and with a stout stick in his hand came stumping on alongside me.

"Well, Jerry, I am truly glad to see you," I said; "what have you been doing with yourself since we parted?"

"That would be a hard matter to say, Ben, except as how I've been knocking about the country from east to west, and north to south, spinning yarns without end, and singing and fiddling, and doing all sorts of odd dodges to pick up a living. They were honest ones though, so don't be afraid."

"And the yarns were all quite true, Jerry, eh?" I could not help asking.

"As to that, maybe I have spun a tough one now and then," answered Jerry, with a quizzical look.

"About losing your leg aboard the _Thunderer_, for instance," I remarked.

"Well, I can't say quite so true as that, for I did lose my leg aboard the _Thunderer_. To be sure, it was my wooden one. Why, don't you mind, Ben, how you got a mop-stick and helped me to splice it? It sounds better too, do you see, to talk of the _Thunderer_. The name tickles the people's ears, and it wouldn't do to tell 'em I lost my leg by falling down the main hatchway when half-seas over; so, do you see, I generally sticks to the _Thunderer story, as it's nearer the truth than any other, and doesn't so much hurt my conscience."

I had till then forgotten the circumstance, and I felt that it would not do to press old Jerry too hard. I introduced him to Susan, who made him welcome, for she had often heard me speak about the old man; she soon got tea ready, and a few substantials; then I got out a bottle of rum and mixed some grog, which I knew would be more to his taste. He was very happy, and many a long yarn he spun. Harry listened to them eagerly, and seemed much taken with him. I must remark that, after Jerry had sat talking with us for some time, he completely changed his tone and style of speaking; and though he still used what may be called sailor's language, it was such as an officer or any other educated man might have employed. Indeed, I remembered that in my early days, Jerry, when in a serious mood, often showed that he was much superior in mind to the generality of people in the position in which he was placed. He afforded a melancholy example of the condition to which drunkenness and idle habits may reduce a man, who, from birth and education, might have played a respectable part in life. "That's a fine boy of yours," observed Jerry when Harry had gone out of the room. "I don't set up for a prophet, but this much I'm sure of, that if you get him placed on the quarter-deck, he will be a post-captain one of these days. Is he your only one?"

I of course told Jerry that he was not my son, and described how he was rescued from the _Royal George_.

"Well, that's a surprising history," said Jerry; "it's a wonder I never heard of it. Do you see, I was at the time down in the West of England, where my family used to live; and I thought I would go and have a look at the old place and see if any of them were above-ground--not that I intended to make myself known. Few of my relatives would have wished to own a broken-down one-legged old tar like me. I found a brother a lawyer, and a cousin a parson, and two or three other relations; but, from what I heard, I thought I should 'get more kicks than ha'pence' if I troubled them, so I determined to 'bout ship and stand off again. I was, howsomdever, very nearly being found out. I had got this here craft, which I called the _Conqueror in those days, and was showing her off and spinning one of my yarns, when who should appear at the door of a handsome house but a lady with several little girls like fairies, and two fine boys. She and the young ones came down the steps, and after listening for some time she said in a pleasant voice, taking one of the youngsters by the hand--

"'This boy is going to sea some day, and we wish him to hear about sailors, and I know what you tell about them is true, for I once had a brother who went away to sea, and used to write to me and give me accounts of what happened. Poor fellow! he lost his leg just as you have done, and after that I heard no more from him, so that I fear he died.'

"'That was very likely, marm,' said I. 'In case I might have fallen in with him, may I be so bold to ask his name?'

"The lady, as I had a curious feeling she would, told me my own name, and then I knew for certain that she was my youngest sister Mary, the only one of the family who pitied me when others had cast me off. I had a hard matter not to make myself known, but I thought to myself that it would do no good to those pretty young ladies and gentlemen to find out their weather-beaten, rough old uncle. Mary herself, too, I had a notion would not have been really pleased; though, bless her gentle heart, I was sure that she would have been kind to me; and so I gulped down my feelings, and declared that I remembered a man of that name, who was dead and gone long ago. The words stuck in my throat, howsomdever, as I spoke them; and I was obliged to wish her good-morning and stump off, or she would have found me out. I hadn't got far before she called me back, and putting a five-shilling piece in my hand she said--

"'Pray accept this trifle, my good man, for the sake of my lost brother, for I know what you tell me is true, and that you are a genuine sailor.'

"'May Heaven bless you, my dear,' says I--I was as near as possible popping out the word 'Mary,' but I checked myself in time, and said 'lady' instead. The tears came to my eyes, and my voice was as husky as a bear's. She thought it was all from gratitude for her unexpected gift, and that I wasn't accustomed to receive so much. To be sure, she did look at me rather curiously, and, as I was going away, on turning my head I saw that she was still standing on the doorsteps watching me.

"I stopped about the neighbourhood for better than a fortnight, for I could not tear myself away; it was a pleasure to get a sight of Mary driving about in her carriage with her little girls, and her fine boys on ponies trotting alongside. She was happily married, I found, to a man of good fortune.

"While I was putting up at 'The Plough,' which I had known well in my youth, I heard a number of things about the neighbouring families, for I was curious to learn what had become of all the people I had known. There were not many of those who frequented the house who could read, and there was no newspapers taken in, and that is how I did not come to hear about the _Royal George till some time afterwards. It strikes me, though I may be wrong, that by a wonderful chance I got hold of something which has to do with this fine lad here, who you have been looking after. I will think the matter over, and try and rake up what I have heard; but I don't want to disappoint you, and I may be altogether wrong."

I was naturally curious, and tried to get more out of Jerry, but he would not say a word beyond repeating over again that he might be altogether out of his reckoning. I of course begged him to stop with us, promising him board and lodging as long as he liked to stay; for, as he was in no ways particular, I could easily manage to put him up. He thanked me heartily, and said he would stop a night or two at all events. In the evening he went back with me to the inn to get his traps, for he travelled with a sort of knapsack, which he left behind him when he went out for his day's excursions.

The next morning he had a wash and shave, and turned out neat and trim, with a clean shirt and trousers, and altogether looked a different sort of person to what he had been the day before.

"You see, Ben, I have given up drinking, and like to keep a best suit of toggery, and to go to church on a Sunday in a decent fashion, which I used not to care about once upon a time. It's little respect that I can pay to the day, but I don't play my fiddle, nor sing songs, nor spin long yarns about things that never happened, as I think myself a more respectable sort of chap than I used to be."

I was glad to hear Jerry say this of himself, though maybe his notion that it was allowable to spin long yarns which had, as he confessed, no foundation in truth, on other days in the week, was not a very correct one. I told him so.

"As to that," he answered, "my hearers don't take my yarns for gospel any more than the tales they read in books. Some people write long yarns which aren't true, and I spin much shorter ones out of my mouth. Where's the difference, I should like to know? Mine don't do any mortal being the slightest, harm, and that's more than can be said of some books I've fallen in with. My yarns go in at one ear and out at the other, and, supposing them worse than they are, they can't be dwelt upon like those in books. I never speak of a real man except to praise him; and if I paint a scoundrel, I always give him a purser's name. I produce many a hearty laugh, but never cause a blush to rise on a maiden's cheeks; and so, Ben, don't be hard on me."

I confessed that he had made out a good case, and that I was wrong to find fault with him. At this he seemed much pleased, and, laughing heartily, told me that I reminded him of the little boy who wanted to teach his grandfather to suck eggs.

Jerry had been so accustomed to wandering about, that though Susan did her best to make him comfortable, and he always found a willing listener in Harry, after he had been with us three days he began to weary of staying quiet, and announced that he must get under way. The next morning he appeared in his weekday clothes, shouldering his knapsack and model ship. After wishing us all good-bye, he trudged off, intending, as he said, to go to the west end of the island.

"You will not forget that matter about Harry?" I said.

"No fear, Ben! It's the main thing I have on my mind; and if I succeed in picking up any information, I will let you know--depend on that," he answered. "Heaven bless you, and Susan and the boy!"

We watched him as he trudged sturdily away over the hills towards the town, having, I observed, again assumed his independent, happy-go-lucky air, which he had laid aside during his stay with us.

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The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 6 The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 6

The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 6
CHAPTER SIX Harry had been greatly taken with Jerry, and seemed to miss him very much. He used to go out most days to play with his schoolfellow, the captain's son; but while Jerry was with us he preferred stopping and listening to his yarns. The time, however, for both the boys to return to school was now approaching. I saw that Harry had something on his mind. "Father," he said, "am I not old enough to go to sea? and, if I am, had I not better be looking out for a ship?" "As we are no

The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 4 The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 4

The Loss Of The Royal George - Chapter 4
CHAPTER FOUR As I walked up the hill towards my cottage many people stopped, surprised at seeing me dripping wet, carrying a child and leading a sheep, and asked me all sorts of questions about the wreck; but I would not delay to answer them, except very briefly, or I should never have got home. I hoped that Susan would not have heard of the ship going down, still I half expected to meet her coming to learn if I had escaped; and I thought of the joy it would be to her to find that I was alive and