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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 10
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 10 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1539

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 10

PART II CHAPTER X

"May it please GOD not to make our friends
so happy as to forget us!"--_Old Proverb_.


The _Water-Lily was re-christened by Dennis, with many flourishes of speech and a deck tub of salt water long before we reached our journey's end. The _Slut_, as we now privately called her, defied all our efforts to make her look creditable for New York harbour, but we were glad enough to get her there at all.

We made the lights of Barnegat at about six o'clock one fine morning, took a pilot on board at Sandy Hook, and the _Slut being by this time as ship-shape as we could get her, we cleaned ourselves to somewhat better purpose, put on our shore-togs, and were at leisure to enjoy one of the most charming sensations in the world, that of making one's way into a beautiful harbour on a beautiful morning. The fresh breeze that favoured us, the sunshine that--helped by the enchantment of distance--made warehouses look like public buildings, and stone houses like marble palaces, a softening hue of morning mist still clinging about the heights of Brooklyn and over the distant stretch of the Hudson river islands, the sparkling waves and dancing craft in the bay, and all the dear familiar maze of spars and rigging in the docks; it is wonderful how such sights, and the knowledge that you are close to the haven where you would be, charm away the sore memories of the voyage past, and incline you to feel that it hasn't been such a bad cruise after all.

"Poor ole _Water-Lily_!" sighed Alfonso, under the influence of this feeling, "you and me's called her a heap o' bad names, Dennis; I 'spects we has to have our grumbles, Dennis. Dat's 'bout whar 'tis."

"She's weathered the storm and got into port, anyhow," said Dennis, "and I suppose you think the best can do no more. Eh?"

"Jes' so, Dennis."

Alfonso was not far wrong on the subject of grumbling. It is one of a sailor's few luxuries and privileges, and acts as safety-valve for heats of just and unjust indignation, which might otherwise come to dangerous explosion. We three had really learned no mean amount of rough-and-ready seamanship by this time, and we had certainly practised the art of grumbling as well. That "of all the dirty ill-found tubs," the _Slut was the worst we had ever known, our limited experience had made us safe in declaring, and we had also been voluble about the undue length of time during which we had been "humbugging about" between Halifax and New York. But these by-gones we now willingly allowed to be by-gones, especially as we had had duff-pudding the day before, though it was not Sunday--(Oh, Crayshaw's! that I should have lived to find duff-pudding a treat--but it _is a pleasant change from salt meat),--and as the captain had promised some repairs to the ship before we returned to Halifax.

We were not long in discovering that the promise was a safe one, for he did not mean to return to Halifax at all. Gradually it leaked out, that when the salt fish was disposed of we were not going to take in ballast and go back, as we had thought, but to stow away a "general cargo" of cheap manufactured articles (chiefly hardware, toys, trumpery pictures, and looking-glasses) and proceed with them on a trading voyage "down south."--"West Indies," said the carpenter. "Bermuda for certain," was another opinion; but Alfonso smiled and said, "Demerara."

"Cap'n berry poor sailor, but berry good trader," he informed us in confidence. "Sell 'm stinking fish and buy gimcracks cheap; sell gimcracks dear to Portugee store in Georgetown, take in sugar--berry good sugar, Demerara sugar--and come back to New York."

Alfonso had made the voyage before on these principles, and was all the more willing to believe that this was to be the programme, because he was--at such uncertain intervals as his fate ordained--courting a young lady of colour in Georgetown, Demerara. I don't think Dennis O'Moore could help sympathizing with people, and as a result of this good-natured weakness, he heard a great deal about that young lady of colour, and her genteel clothes, and how she played the piano, and belonged to the Baptist congregation.

"I've a cousin myself in Demerara, Alfonso," said Dennis.

"Hope she'm kind to you, Dennis. Hope you can trust her, 'specially if the members walks home with her after meeting." And Alfonso sighed.

But jokes were far too precious on board the _Slut for Dennis to spoil this one by explaining that his cousin was a middle-aged gentleman in partnership with the owner of a sugar estate.

As we had sailed on the understanding that the _Water-Lily was bound to New York and back again to Halifax, of course we made a fuss and protested at the change. But we had not really much practical choice in the matter, whatever our strict rights were, and on the whole we found it would be to our advantage to go through with it, especially as we did secure a better understanding about our wages, and the captain promised us more rest on Sundays. On one point we still felt anxious--our home letters; so Dennis wrote to the post-master at Halifax, and arranged for them to be forwarded to us at the post-office, Georgetown, Demerara. For Alfonso was right, we were bound for British Guiana, it being however understood that we three were not under obligation to make the return voyage in the _Water-Lily_.

An odd incident occurred during our brief stay in New York. It was after the interview in which we came to terms with the captain, and he had given us leave for three hours ashore. You can't see very much of a city when you have no money to spend in it; but we had walked about till we were very hungry, and yet more thirsty, for it was hot, when we all three caught sight of a small shop (or store, as Americans would call it), and we all spoke at once.

"Cooling drinks!" exclaimed Dennis.

"There's cakes yonder," said Alister.

"Michael Macartney," muttered I, for that was the name over the door.

We went in as a customer came out, followed by Michael Macartney's parting words in a rich brogue that might have been old Biddy's own. I took a good look at him, which he returned with a civil comment on the heat, and an inquiry as to what I would take, which Dennis, in the thirstiness of his throat, answered for me, leaving me a few moments more of observation. I made a mental calculation, and decided that the man's age would fit Micky, and in the indescribableness of the colour of his clothes and his complexion he was undoubtedly like Biddy, but if they had been born in different worlds the expression of his eyes could not have been more different. I had the clearest remembrance of hers. One does not so often look into the eyes of a stranger and see genuine feeling that one should forget it. For the rest of him, I was glad that Biddy had allowed that there was no similarity "betwixt us." He had a low forehead, a broad nose, a very wide mouth, full of very large teeth, and the humorous twinkle in his eye did not atone for the complete absence of that steady light of honest tenderness which shone from Biddy's as freely and fearlessly as the sun shines. He served Dennis and Alister and turned to me.

"Have you a mother in Liverpool?" I asked, before he had time to ask me which "pop" I wanted.

As I have said, his mouth was big, but I was almost aghast at the size to which it opened, before he was able to say, "Murther and ages! Was ye there lately? Did ye know her?"

"Yes; I know her."

"And why would ye be standing there with the cold pop, when there's something better within? Come in, me boy. So you're acquainted with my mother? And how was she?"

"No, thank you, I don't drink spirits. Yes; your mother was well when I saw her."

"GOD be praised! It's a mighty long time since I seen the ould craythur."

"Fifteen years," said I.

I looked at Mr. Macartney as I said it, but he had evasive eyes, and they wandered to the doorway. No customers appeared, however, and he looked back to Dennis and Alister, but they had both folded their arms, and were watching us in silence.

"Murther and ages!" he repeated, "it doesn't feel the half of it."

"I fancy it seems longer, if anything, to her. But she has been on the look-out for you every day, you see. You've a good business, Mr. Macartney, so I dare say you're a ready reckoner. Fifteen times three hundred and sixty-five? Five thousand four hundred and seventy-five, isn't it?"

"It's a fine scholar for a sailor-boy that ye are!" said Micky; and there was a touch of mischief in his eye and voice which showed that he was losing his temper. I suppose Dennis heard it, too, for he took one bound to my side in a way that almost made me laugh to feel how ready he was for a row. But I knew that, after all, I had no right over the man's private affairs, warm as was my zeal for old Biddy.

"And you think I might mind my business and leave you to yours, Mr. Macartney?" I said. "But you see your mother was very kind to me, very kind indeed; and when I left Liverpool I promised her if ever I came across you, you should hear of her, and she should hear of you."

"And why not?" he answered in mollified tones. "It's mighty good-natured in ye too. But come in, all the three of ye, and have somethin' to eat and drink for the sake of the old country."

We followed him into a back parlour, where there were several wooden rocking-chairs, and a strong smell of stale tobacco. Here he busied himself in producing cold meat, a squash pie, and a bottle of whisky, and was as voluble as civil about every subject except the one I wished to talk of. But the memory of his mother was strong upon me, and I had no intention of letting it slide.

"I'm so glad to have found you," I said. "I am sure you can't have known what a trouble it has been to your mother never to have heard from you all these years."

"Arrah! And why should she bother herself over me?" he answered impatiently. "Sure I never was anything _but a trouble to her, worse luck!" And before I could speak again, he went on. "But make your mind aisy, I'll be writing to her. Many's the time that I've all but indited the letter, but I'll do it now. Upon me conscience, ye may dipind upon me."

Could I depend upon his shambling conscience? Every instinct of an honest man about me answered, No. As he had done for fifteen years past, so he would do for fifteen years to come. As long as he was comfortable himself, his mother would never get a line out of him. Perhaps his voice recalled hers, but I almost fancied I could hear her as I sat there.--"I ax your pardon, darlin'. It was my own Micky that was on my mind."

"Look here, Mr. Macartney," said I; "I want you to do me a favour. I owe your mother a good turn, and it'll ease my mind to repay it. Sit down whilst we're enjoying your hospitality, and just write her a line, and let me have the pleasure of finding a stamp and putting it in the post with my own hands."

We argued the point for some time, but Micky found the writing materials at last, and sat down to write. As he proceeded he seemed to become more reconciled to the task; though he was obviously no great scribe, and followed the sentiments he was expressing with curious contortions of his countenance which it was most funny to behold. By and by I was glad to see a tear or two drop on to the paper, though I was sorry that he wiped them up with his third finger, and wrote over the place before it had time to dry.

"Murther and ages! But it's mighty pleased that she'll be," said Mr. Macartney when he had finished. He looked mighty pleased with himself, and he held the letter out to me.

"Do you mean me to read it?" I asked.

"I did. And ye can let your friends hear too."

I read it aloud, wondering as I read. If pen and ink spoke the truth, Biddy's own Micky's heart was broke entirely with the parting from his mother. Sorra a bit of taste had there been in his food, or a drop of natural rest had he enjoyed for the last fifteen years. "Five thousand four hundred and seventy-five days--no less." (When I reached this skilful adoption of my calculations, I involuntarily looked up. There sat Mr. Macartney in his rocking-chair. He was just lighting a short pipe, but he paused in the operation to acknowledge what he evidently believed to be my look of admiration with a nod and a wink. I read on.) Times were cruel bad out there for a poor boy that lived by his industry, but thank GOD he'd been spared the worst pangs of starvation (I glanced round the pop-shop, but, as Micky himself would have said, No matther!); and didn't it lighten his heart to hear of his dear mother sitting content and comfortable at her own coffee-stall. It was murderously hot in these parts, and New York--bad luck to it--was a mighty different place from the dear old Ballywhack where he was born. Would they ever see old Ireland again? (Here a big blot betrayed how much Mr. Macartney had been moved by his own eloquence.) The rest of the letter was rich with phrases both of piety and affection. How much of the whole composition was conscious humbug, and whether any of it was genuine feeling, I have as little idea now as I had then. The shallows of the human heart are at least as difficult to sound as its depths, and Micky Macartney's was quite beyond me. One thing about the letter was true enough. As he said, it would "plaze the ould craythur intirely."

By the time I had addressed it, "Mrs. Biddy Macartney, coffee-seller," to the care of the Dockgate-keeper, we had not much spare time left in which to stamp and post it, so we took leave of the owner of the pop-shop. He was now very unwilling to let us go. He did not ask another question about his mother, but he was consumed with trivial curiosity about us. Once again he alluded to Biddy. We were standing outside, and his eye fell upon the row of shining pop-taps--

"Wouldn't she be the proud woman now, av she could see me!" he cried.

"Why don't you get her out to live with you?" I asked.

He shook his head, "I'm a married man, Mr. ---- bad luck to me, I've forgotten your name now!"

"I didn't trouble you with it. Well, I hope you'll go and see her before she dies."

But when I came to think of it, I did not feel sure if that was what I wished. Not being a woman, how could I balance the choice of pain? How could I tell if it were better for her to be disappointed with every ship and every tide, still having faith in her own Micky, and hope of his coming, or for the tide and the ship to bring him with all his meanness upon the head she loved, a huge disappointment, once for all!

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