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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 6
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 6 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1036

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 6

PART II CHAPTER VI

"Why, what's that to you, if my eyes I'm a wiping?
A tear is a pleasure, d'ye see, in its way;
'Tis nonsense for trifles, I own, to be piping,
But they that ha'n't pity, why I pities they.
* * * * * * * *
The heart and the eyes, you see feel the same motion,
And if both shed their drops, 'tis all the same end;
And thus 'tis that every tight lad of the ocean
Sheds his blood for his country, his tears for his friend."

CHARLES DIBDIN.


If one wants to find the value of all he has learned in the way of righteousness, common-sense, and real skill of any sort; or to reap most quickly what he has sown to obedience, industry, and endurance, let him go out and rough it in the world.

There he shall find that a conscience early trained to resist temptation and to feel shame will be to him the instinctive clutch that may now and again--in an ungraceful, anyhow fashion--keep him from slipping down to perdition, and save his soul alive. There he shall find that whatever he has really learned by labour or grasped with inborn talent, will sooner or later come to the surface to his credit and for his good; but that what he swaggers will not even find fair play. There, in brief, he shall find his level--a great matter for most men. There, in fine, he will discover that there being a great deal of human nature in all men, and a great deal that is common to all lives--if he has learned to learn and is good-natured withal, he may live pretty comfortably anywhere--


"As a rough rule,
The rough world's a good school,"--


and if there are a few parlour-boarders it is very little advantage to them.

For my own part I was almost startled to find how quickly I was beginning to learn something of the ways of the ship and her crew; and though, when I asked for information about all the various appliances which come under the comprehensive sea-name of "tackle," I was again and again made the victim of a hoax, I soon learned to correct one piece of information by another, and to feel less of an April fool and more of a sailor. Reading sea-novels had not really taught me much, for there was not one in all that the Jew-clerk lent or sold me which _explained ship's language and customs. But the school-master had given me many useful hints, and experience soon taught me how to apply them.

The watch in which Alister and I shared just after we picked up Dennis O'Moore, was naturally very much enlivened by news and surmises regarding our new "hand." Word soon came up from below that he was alive and likely to recover, and for a brief period I found my society in great request, because I had been employed in some fetching and carrying between the galley and the steerage, and had "heard the drowned man groan." We should have gossiped more than we did if the vessel had not exacted unusual attention, for the winds and the waves had "plenty of mischief in 'em" yet, as I was well able to testify when I was sent aft to help the man at the wheel.

"That'll take the starch out o' yer Sunday stick-ups!" said the boatswain's mate, on hearing where I was bound for, when he met me clinging to the wet deck with my stocking-feet, and catching with my hands at every bit of tackle capable of giving support. And as I put out all my strength to help the steersman to force his wheel in the direction he meant it to go, and the salt spray smacked my face and soaked my slops, and every wind of heaven seemed to blow down my neck and up my sleeves and trousers--I heartily agreed with him.

The man I was helping never spoke, except to shout some brief order into my ear or an occasional reply to the words of command which rang over our heads from the captain on the bridge. Of course I did not speak, I had quite enough to do to keep my footing and take my small part in this fierce bitting and bridling of the elements; but uncomfortable as it was, I "took a pride and pleasure in it," as we used to say at home, and I already felt that strenuous something which blows in sea-breezes and gives vigour to mind and body even when it chills you to the bone.

That is, to some people; there are plenty of men, as I have since discovered, who spend their lives at sea and hate it to the end. Boy and man, they do their hard duty and live by its pitiful recompense. They know the sea as well as other mariners, are used to her uncertain ways, bear her rough usage, control her stormy humours, learn all her moods, and _never feel her charm_.

I have seen two such cases, and I have heard of more, yarned with all their melancholy details during those night watches in which men will tell you the ins and outs of many a queer story that they "never talk about." And it has convinced me that there is no more cruel blunder than to send a boy to sea, if there is good reason to believe that he will never like it; unless it be that of withholding from its noble service those sailor lads born, in whose ears the sea-shell will murmur till they die.

It had murmured in mine, and enticed me to my fate. I thought so now that I knew the roughest of the other side of the question, just as much as when I sat comfortably on the frilled cushion of the round-backed arm-chair and read the Penny Numbers to the bee-master. Barefoot, bareheaded, cold, wet, seasick, hard worked and half-rested, would I even now exchange the life I had chosen for the life I had left?--for the desk next to the Jew-clerk, for the partnership, to be my uncle's heir, to be mayor, to be member? I asked myself the question as I stood by the steersman, and with every drive of the wheel I answered it--"No, Moses! No! No!"

It is not wise to think hard when you are working hard at mechanical work, in a blustering wind and a night watch. Fatigue and open air make you sleepy, and thinking makes you forget where you are, and if your work is mechanical you do it unconsciously, and may fall asleep over it. I dozed more than once, and woke with the horrible idea that I had lost my hold, and was not doing my work. That woke me effectually, but even then I had to look at my hands to see that they were there. I pushed, but I could not feel, my fingers were so numb with cold.

The second time I dozed and started again, I heard the captain's voice close beside us. He was bawling upwards now, to Mr. Waters on the bridge. Then he pushed me on one side and took my place at the wheel, shouting to the steersman--"I meant the Scotch lad, not that boy."

"He's strong enough, and steady too," was the reply.

They both drove the wheel in silence, and I held on by a coil of heavy rope, and sucked my fingers to warm them, and very salt they tasted. Then the captain left the wheel and turned to me again.

"Are you cold?"

"Rather, sir."

"You may go below, and see if the cook can spare you a cup of coffee."

"Thank you, sir."

"But first find Mr. Johnson, and send him here."

"Yes, sir."

Whilst the captain was talking, I began to think of Dennis O'Moore, and how he groaned, and to wonder whether it was true that he would get better, and whether it would be improper to ask the captain, who would not be likely to humbug me, if he answered at all.

"Well?" said the captain sharply, "what are you standing there like a stuck pig for?"

I saluted. "Please, sir, _will he get better?"

"What the ---- Oh, yes. And hi, you!"

"Yes, sir?"

"He's in the steerage. You may go and see if he wants anything, and attend on him. You may remain below at present."

"Thank you, sir."

I lost no time in finding Mr. Johnson, and I got a delicious cup of coffee and half a biscuit from the cook, who favoured me in consequence of the conscientious scouring I had bestowed upon his pans. Then mightily warmed and refreshed, I made my way to the side of the hammock I had swung for the rescued lad, and by the light of a swinging lamp saw his dark head buried in his arms.

When I said, "Do you want anything?" he lifted his face with a jerk, and looked at me.

"Not I--much obliged," he said, smiling, and still staring hard. He had teeth like the half-caste, but the resemblance stopped there.

"The captain said I might come and look after you, but if you want to go to sleep, do," said I.

"Why would I, if you'll talk to me a bit?" was his reply; and resting his head on the edge of his hammock and looking me well over, he added, "Did they pick you up as well?"

I laughed and wrung some salt water out of my sleeve.

"No. I've not been in the sea, but I've been on deck, and it's just as wet. It always _is wet at sea," I added in a tone of experience.

His eyes twinkled as if I amused him. "That, indeed? And yourself, are ye--a midshipman?"

It had been taken for granted that our new hand was "a gentleman." I never doubted it, though he spoke with an accent that certainly recalled old Biddy Macartney; a sort of soft ghost of a brogue with a turn up at the end of it, as if every sentence came sliding and finished with a spring, and I did wish I could have introduced myself as a midshipman--instead of having to mutter, "No, I'm a stowaway."

He raised himself higher in his hammock.

"A stowaway? What fun! And what made ye go? Were ye up to some kind of diversion at home, and had to come out of it, eh? Or were ye bored to extinction, or what? (Country life in England is mighty dull, so they tell me.) I suppose it was French leave that ye took, as ye say you're a stowaway? I'm asking ye a heap of impertinent questions, bad manners to me!"

Which was true. But he asked them so kindly and eagerly, I could only feel that sympathy is a very pleasant thing, even when it takes the form of a catechism that is all questions, and no room for the answers. Moreover, I suspect that he rattled on partly to give me time to leave off blushing and feel at ease with him.

"I ran away because of several things," said I.

"I always did want to see the world"--("And why wouldn't ye?" my new friend hastily interpolated). "But even if I had stayed at home I don't believe I should ever have got to like being a lawyer"--("Small chance of it, I should say, the quill-driving thievery!") "It was my uncle's office"--("I ask his pardon and yours.") "Oh, you may say what you like. I never could get on with him. I don't mean that he was cruel to me in the least, though I think he behaved shabbily--"

"Faith, it's a way they have! I've an uncle myself that's a sort of first cousin of my father's, and six foot three in his stockings, without a drop of good-nature in the full length of him."

"Where is your home?" said I, for it certainly was my turn to ask questions.

"Where would it be but ould Ireland?" And after a moment's pause he added, "They call me Dennis O'Moore. What's _your name, ye enterprising little stowaway?"

I told him. "And where were you going in your boat, and how did you get upset?" I asked.

He sighed. "It was the old hooker we started in, bad luck to her!"

"Is that the name of the boat you were holding on to?"

"_That boat? No! We borrowed _her_--and now ye remind me, I wouldn't be surprised if Tim Brady was missing her by this, for I had no leisure to ask his leave at the time, and, as a rule, we take our own coracle in the hooker--"

"What _is a hooker?" I interrupted, for I was resolved to know.

"What's a hooker? A hooker--what a catechetical little chatterbox ye are! A man can't get a word in edgeways--a hooker's a boat. Ours was a twenty-ton, half-decked, cutter-rigged sort of thing, built for nothing in particular, and always used for everything. It was lucky for me we took Tim Brady's boat instead of the coracle, or I'd be now where--where poor Barney is. Oh, Barney, Barney! How'll I ever get over it? Why did ye never learn to swim, so fond of the water as ye were? Why couldn't ye hold on to me when I got a good grip of ye! Barney, dear, I've a notion in my heart that ye left your hold on purpose, and threw away your own life that ye mightn't risk mine. And now I'll never know, for ye'll never be able to tell me. Tim Brady's boat would have held two as easy as one, Barney, and maybe the old hooker'd have weathered the storm with a few more repairs about her, that the squire always intended, as no one knows better than yourself! Oh, dear! oh, dear! But--Heaven forgive us!--putting off's been the ruin of the O'Moores from time out of mind. And now you're dead and gone--dead and gone! But oh, Barney, Barney, if prayers can give your soul ease, you'll not want them while Dennis O'Moore has breath to pray!"

I was beginning to discover that one of the first wonders of the world is that it contains a great many very good people, who are quite different from oneself and one's near relations. For I really was not conceited enough to disapprove of my new friend because he astonished me, though he certainly did do so. From the moment when Barney (whoever Barney might be) came into his head, everything else apparently went out of it. I am sure he quite forgot me.

For my own part I gazed at him in blank amazement. I was not used to seeing a man give way to his feelings in public, still less to seeing a man cry in company, and least of all to see a man say his prayers when he was neither getting up nor going to bed, nor at church, nor at family worship, and before a stranger too! For, as he finished his sentence he touched his curls, and then the place where his crucifix lay, and then made a rapid movement from shoulder to shoulder, and then buried his head in his hands, and lay silent, praying, I had no manner of doubt, for "Barney's" soul.

His prayers did not take him very long, and he finished with a big sigh, and lifted his head again. When his eyes met mine he blushed, and said, "I ask your pardon, Jack; I'd forgotten ye. You're a kind-hearted little soul, and I'm mighty dull company for ye."

"No, you're not," said I. "But--I'm very sorry for you. Was 'Barney' your--?" and I stopped because I really did not know what relationship to suggest that would account for the outburst I had witnessed.

"Ah! ye may well say what was he--for what wasn't he--to me, anyhow? Jack! my mother died when I was born, and never a soul but Barney brought me up, for I wouldn't let 'em. He'd come with her from her old home when she married; and when she lay dead he was let into the room to look at her pretty face once more. Times out of mind has he told me how she lay, with the black lashes on her white cheeks, and the black crucifix on her breast, that they were going to bury with her; the women howling, and me kicking up an indecent row in a cradle in the next apartment, carrying on like a Turk if the nurse came near me, and most outrageously disturbing the chamber of death. And what does Barney do, when he's said a prayer by the side of the mistress, but ask for the crucifix off her neck, that she'd worn all her girlhood? If the women howled before, they double-howled then, and would have turned him out neck and crop, but my father lifted his head from where he was lying speechless in a kind of a fit at the foot of the bed, and says he, 'Barney Barton! ye knew the sweet lady that lies there long before that too brief privilege was mine. Ye served her well, and ye've served me well for her sake; whatever ye ask for of hers in this hour ye'll get, Barney Barton. She trusted ye--and I may.' 'GOD bless ye, squire,' says Barney; and what does he do but go up to her and unloose the ribbon from her throat with his own hands. And away he went with the crucifix, past the women that couldn't get a sound out of them now, and past my father as silent as themselves, and into the room where I lay kicking up the devil's own din in my cradle. And when he held it up to me, with the light shining on the silver, and the black ribbons hanging down, never believe him if I didn't stop squalling, and stretch out my hands with a smile as sweet as sunshine. And Barney tied it round my neck, and took me into his arms. And they said he spoke never a word when they told him my mother was dead, and shed never a tear when he saw her lie, but he sobbed his heart out over me."

"You may well care for him!" said I.

"Indeed I may. He kept my mother's memory green in my heart, and he taught me all ever I knew but books. He taught me to walk, and he taught me to ride, and shooting, and fishing, and such like country diversions; and strange to say, he taught me to swim, the way they learn in my mother's country, with a bundle of bull-rushes--for the old man couldn't swim a stroke himself, or he might be here now, alive and hearty, please GOD."

"Were there only you and he in the hooker?"

"That's all. It was altogether sheer madness, for the old boat was barely fit for a day's fishing in fine weather, and though Barney nearly killed himself overhauling her, and patching her sails, I doubt if he knew very well what he was after. I've been thinking, Jack, that his mind was not what it was. He was always a bit obstinate, if he got a notion into his head, but of late the squire himself couldn't turn him. When he wanted to do a thing about the place that Barney didn't approve, if he didn't give in (as he was apt to do, being easy-tempered) I can tell ye he had to do it on the sly. That was how he ordered the new ploughs that nearly broke Barney's heart, both because of being new-fangled machines, and ready money having to be paid for them. 'I'll see the ould place ruined before ye come to your own, Master Dennis,' he told me. And--Jack! that's another thing makes me think what I tell ye. He was for ever talking as if the place was coming to me, and I've two brothers older than myself, let alone my sister. But ye might as well reason with the rock of Croagh Patrick! Well, if he didn't ask my father to let him and me run round in the hooker with a load of sea-weed for Tim Brady's farm, and of course we got leave, and started as pleasant as could be; barring that if Barney'd been a year or two younger, there'd have been wigs on the green over the cold potatoes, before we got off."

"_Wigs on the green over cold potatoes?_" I repeated, in bewilderment.

"Tst! tst! little Saxon! I mean we'd have had a row over the provisions. It wasn't too hours' run round to Tim Brady's, and I found the old man stowing away half-a-peck of cold boiled potatoes, and big bottles of tea, and goodness knows what. 'Is it for ballast ye're using the potatoes, Barney?' says I. 'Mind your own business, Master Dennis'--(and I could see he was cross as two sticks),--'and leave the provisioning to them that understands it,' says he. 'How many meals d'ye reckon to eat between this and Tim Brady's?' I went on, just poking my fun at him, when--would ye believe it?--the old fellow fired up like a sky-rocket, and asked me if I grudged him the bit of food he ate, and Heaven knows what besides. 'Is it Dennis O'Moore you're speaking to?' says I, for I've not got the squire's easy temper, GOD forgive me! We were mighty near to a quarrel, Jack, I can tell ye, but some shadow of a notion flitting across my brain that the dear soul was not responsible entirely, stopped my tongue, and something else stopped his which I didn't know till we got to Tim Brady's, and found that all we wanted with him was to borrow his boat, and that the sea-weed business was no better than a blind; for Barney had planned it all out that we were to go down to Galway and fetch the new ploughs home in the hooker, to save the cost of the land-carriage. 'Sure it's bad enough for the squire to be soiling his hands with trumpery made by them English thieves, that's no more conscience over bothering a gentleman for money nor if he was one of themselves,' said Barney; 'sorra a halfpenny shall the railway rogues rob him of.' Ah, little stowaway, ye may guess my delight! And hadn't we glorious weather at first, and wasn't the dear old man happy and proud! I can tell ye I yelled, and I sang, and I laughed, when I felt the old hooker begin to bound on the swell when we got into the open, but not a look would Barney turn on me for minding the boat; but I could hear him chuckling to himself and muttering about the railway rogues. It wasn't much time we either of us had for talking, by and by. I steered and saw to the main sheet, and Barney did look-out and minded the foresail, Tim Brady's boat towing astern, getting such a dance as it never had before, and at last dragging upside down. We'd one thing in our favour, anyhow. There was no disputing or disturbing of our minds as to whether we'd turn back or not, for the gale was at our backs; and the old hooker was like my father's black mare--you might guide her, but she was neither to stop nor turn. How the gallant old boat held out as she did, Heaven knows! It was not till the main-sail had split into ribbons with a noise like a gun going off, and every seam was strained to leaking, and the sea came in faster than we could bale it out, that we righted Tim Brady's tub and got into her, and bade the old hooker good-bye. The boat was weather-tight enough--it was a false move of Barney's capsized her,--and I'd a good hold of her with one hand when I gripped him with the other. Oh! Barney dear! Why would ye always have your own way? Oh, why--why did ye lose your hold? Ye thought all hope was over, darling, didn't ye? Ah, if ye had but known the brave hearts that--"

I suppose it was because I was crying as well as Dennis that I did not see Mr. Johnson till he was standing by the Irish boy's hammock. I know I got a sound scolding for the state of his pulse (which the third mate seemed to understand, as he understood most things), and was dismissed with some pithy hints about cultivating common-sense and not making a fool of myself. I sneaked off, and was thankful to meet Alister and pour out my tale to him, and ask if he thought that our new friend would have brain-fever, because I had let him talk about his shipwreck.

Alister was not quite so sympathetic as I had expected. He was so much shocked about the crucifix and about Dennis praying for Barney's soul, that he could think of nothing else. He didn't seem to think that he would have fever, but he said he feared we had small reason to reckon on the prayers of the idolatrous ascending to the throne of grace. He told me a long story about the Protestant martyrs who were shut up in a dungeon under the sea, on the coast of Aberdeenshire, and it would have been very interesting if I hadn't been thinking of Dennis.

We had turned in for some sleep, and I was rolling myself in my blanket, when Alister called me--

"Jack! did ye ever read Fox's _Book of Martyrs_?"

"No."

"It's a gran' work, and it has some awful tales in it. When we've a bit of holiday leesure I'll tell ye some."

"Thank you, Alister."

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