Percival Keene

Фредерик Марриет
Percival Keene

Chapter Ten

About six months after I had blown up the school of Mr O’Gallagher, the company to which my father Ben belonged was ordered afloat again, and shortly afterwards sailed for the East Indies, in the Redoubtable, 74. That my mother was very much pleased at his departure, I do not scruple to assert; but whether she ever analysed her feelings, I cannot pretend to say; I rather think that all she wished was, that the chapter of accidents would prevent Ben’s reappearance, as she was ashamed of him as a husband, and felt that he was an obstacle to her sister’s advancement.

So one fine day Ben wished us all good bye; my mother was very generous to him, as she could well afford to be. I rather think that Ben himself was not sorry to go, for, stupid as he was, he must have felt what a cypher he had become, being treated, not only by my mother, but by everybody else, even by me, as a sort of upper servant.

It so happened, that about a month after Ben’s departure, Captain Delmar had, through the interest of his uncle, Lord de Versely, been appointed to a ship which was lying in the Medway, and he came down to Chatham to join her. He had no idea that my mother was there, for he had lost sight of her altogether, and had it not been for me, might very probably have left the town without having made the discovery.

Among other amusements, I had a great partiality for a certain bull pup, mentioned by Lieutenant Flat in the former chapter, and which he had made me a present of; the pup was now grown up, and I had taught it many tricks; but the one which afforded me most amusement (of course, at other people’s expense) was, that I had made out of oakum a sham pigtail, about a foot and a half long, very strong and think, with an iron hook at the upper end of it.

The sham tail I could easily hook on to the collar of any one’s coat from behind, without their perceiving it; and Bob had been instructed by me, whenever I told him to fetch it (and not before), to jump up at the tail wherever it might be, and hang on to it with all the tenacity of the race.

As it may be supposed, this was a great source of mirth in the barracks; it was considered a good joke, and was much applauded by Captain Bridgeman; but it was not considered a good joke out of the barracks; and many an old woman had I already frightened almost out of her senses, by affixing the tail to any portion of the back part of her dress.

It so happened, that one afternoon, as I was cruising about with Bob at my heels, I perceived the newly-arrived Captain Delmar, in all the pomp of pride of full uniform, parading down the street with a little middy at his heels; and I thought to myself, “Law! how I should like to hang my tail to his fine coat, if I only dared;” the impulse had become so strong, that I actually had pulled up my pinafore and disengaged the tail ready for any opportunity, but I was afraid that the middy would see me.

Captain Delmar had passed close to me, the middy at his heels was passing, and I thought all chance was gone, when, suddenly, Captain Delmar turned short round and addressed the little officer, asking him whether he had brought the order-book with him? The middy touched his hat, and said, “No;” upon which Captain Delmar began to inflict a most serious lecture upon the lad for forgetting what he had forgotten himself, and I again passed by.

This was an opportunity I could not resist; while the captain and middy were so well employed giving and receiving I fixed my oakum tail to the collar of the Captain’s gold-laced coat, and then walked over to the other side of the street with Bob at my heels.

The middy being duly admonished, Captain Delmar turned round again and resumed his way; upon which I called Bob, who was quite as ready for the fun as I was, and pointing to the captain, said, “Fetch it, Bob.” My companion cleared the street in three or four bounds, and in a few seconds afterwards made a spring up the back of Captain Delmar, and seizing the tail, hung by it with his teeth, shaking it with all his might as he hung in the air.

Captain Delmar was, to use a sailor’s term, completely taken aback; indeed he was nearly capsized by the unexpected assault. For a short time he could not discover what it was; at last, by turning his head over his shoulder and putting his hand behind him, he discovered who his assailant was.

Just at that time, I called out “Mad dog! mad dog!” and Captain Delmar, hearing those alarming words, became dreadfully frightened; his cocked hat dropped from his head, and he took to his heels as fast as he could, running down the street, with Bob clinging behind him.

The first open door he perceived was that of my mother’s library; he burst in, nearly upsetting Captain Bridgeman, who was seated at the counter, talking to Aunt Milly, crying out “Help! help!” As he turned round, his sword became entangled between his legs, tripped him up, and he fell on the floor. This unhooked the tail, and Bob galloped out of the shop, bearing his prize to me, who, with the little middy, remained in the street convulsed with laughter. Bob delivered up the tail, which I again concealed under my pinafore, and then with a demure face ventured to walk towards my mother’s house, and, going in at the back door, put Master Bob in the wash-house out of the way; the little middy who had picked up the captain’s hat, giving me a wink as I passed him, as much as to say, I won’t inform against you.

In the meantime Captain Delmar had been assisted to his legs by Captain Bridgeman, who well knew who had played the trick, and who, as well as Aunt Milly, had great difficulty in controlling his mirth.

“Merciful heaven! what was it? Was the animal mad? Has it bitten me?” exclaimed Captain Delmar, falling back in his chair, in which he had been seated by Captain Bridgeman.

“I really do not know,” replied Captain Bridgeman; “but you are not hurt, sir, apparently, nor indeed is your coat torn.”

“What dog—whose dog can it be?—it must be shot immediately—I shall give orders—I shall report the case to the admiral. May I ask for a glass of water? Oh, Mr Dott! you’re there, sir; how came you to allow that dog to fasten himself on my back in that way?”

“If you please,” said the middy, presenting his cocked hat to the captain, “I did draw my dirk to kill him, but you ran away so fast that I couldn’t catch you.”

“Very well, sir, you may go down to the boat and wait for orders,” replied the captain.

At this moment my mother, who had been dressing herself, made her first appearance, coming out of the back parlour with a glass of water, which aunt Milly had gone in for. Perceiving a gold-laced captain, she advanced all smiles and courtesies, until she looked in his face, and then she gave a scream, and dropped the tumbler on the floor, much to the surprise of Captain Bridgeman, and also of aunt Milly, who, not having been at the Hall, was not acquainted with the person of Captain Delmar.

Just at this moment in came I, looking as demure as if, as the saying is, “butter would not melt in my mouth,” and certainly as much astonished as the rest at my mother’s embarrassment; but she soon recovered herself, and asked Captain Delmar if he would condescend to repose himself a little in the back parlour. When my mother let the tumbler fall, the captain had looked her full in the face and recognised her, and, in a low voice, said, “Excessively strange,—so very unexpected!” He then rose up from the chair and followed my mother into the back room.

“Who can it be?” said Aunt Milly to Captain Bridgeman, in a low tone.

“I suppose it must be the new captain appointed to the Calliope. I read his name in the papers,—the Honourable Captain Delmar.”

“It must be him,” replied Milly; “for my sister was brought up by his aunt, Mrs Delmar; no wonder she was surprised at meeting him so suddenly. Percival, you naughty boy,” continued Milly, shaking her finger at me, “it was all your doing.”

“Oh, Aunt Milly! you should have seen him run,” replied I, laughing at the thought.

“I’d recommend you not to play with post captains,” said Captain Bridgeman, “or you may get worse than you give. Mercy on us!” exclaimed he, looking at me full in the face.

“What’s the matter?” said aunt Milly.

Captain Bridgeman leant over the counter, and I heard him whisper, “Did you ever see such a likeness as between the lad and Captain Delmar?”

Milly blushed a little, nodded her head, and smiled, as she turned away. Captain Bridgeman appeared to be afterwards in a brown study; he tapped his boot with his cane, and did not speak.

About a quarter of an hour passed, during which Captain Delmar remained with my mother in the parlour, when she opened the door, and beckoned me to come in. I did so not without some degree of anxiety, for I was afraid that I had been discovered: but this doubt was soon removed; Captain Delmar did me the honour to shake hands with me, and then patted my head saying, he hoped I was a good boy, which, being compelled to be my own trumpeter, I very modestly declared that I was. My mother, who was standing up behind, lifted up her eyes at my barefaced assertion. Captain Delmar then shook hands with my mother, intimating his intention of paying her another visit very soon, and again patting me on the head, quitted the parlour, and went away through the shop.

As soon as Captain Delmar was gone, my mother turned round, and said, “You naughty, mischievous boy, to play such pranks. I’ll have that dog killed, without you promise me never to do so again.”

“Do what again, mother?”

“None of your pretended innocence with me. I’ve been told of the pigtail that Bob pulls at. That’s all very well at the barracks with the marines, sir, but do you know who it is that you have been playing that trick to?”

 

“No mother, I don’t. Who is he?”

“Who is he, you undutiful child? why, he’s—he’s the Honourable Captain Delmar.”

“Well, what of that?” replied I. “He’s a naval captain, ain’t he?”

“Yes; but he’s the nephew of the lady who brought me up and educated me. It was he that made the match between me and our father: so if it had not been for him, child, you never would have been born.”

“Oh that’s it,” replied I. “Well, mother, if it had not been for me, he’d never have come into the shop, and found you.”

“But, my child, we must be serious; you must be very respectful to Captain Delmar, and play no tricks with him; for you may see him very often, and, perhaps, he will take a fancy to you; and if he does, he may do you a great deal of good, and bring you forward in the world; so promise me.”

“Well, mother, I’ll promise you I’ll leave him alone if you wish it. Law, mother, you should have seen how the middy laughed at him; it was real fun to make a gallant captain run in the way he did.”

“Go along, you mischievous animal, and recollect your promise to me,” said my mother, as she went into the shop where she found that Captain Bridgeman, to whom she intended to explain how it was that she had dropped the tumbler of water, had gone away.

There was a great deal of consultation between my grandmother and my mother on that evening; my aunt and I were sent out to to take a walk, that we might not overhear what passed, and when we returned we found them still in close conversation.

Chapter Eleven

The Honourable Captain Delmar was now a frequent visitor to my mother, and a good customer to the library. He did, however, generally contrive that his visit should be paid late in the afternoon, just after the marine officers had retired to dress for dinner; for he was a very haughty personage, and did not think it proper for any officers of an inferior grade to come “between the wind and his nobility.”

I cannot say that I was partial to him; indeed, his pomposity, as I considered it, was to me a source of ridicule and dislike. He took more notice of me than he did of anybody else; but he appeared to consider that his condescending patronage was all that was necessary; whereas, had he occasionally given me a half-crown I should have cherished better feelings towards him: not that I wanted money, for my mother supplied me very liberally, considering my age: but although you may coax and flatter a girl into loving you, you cannot a boy, who requires more substantial proofs of your good-will.

There were a great many remarks not very flattering to my mother, made behind her back, as to her former intimacy with Captain Delmar; for, somehow or another, there always is somebody who knows something, wherever doubts or surmises arise, and so it was in this case; but if people indulged in ill-natured remarks when she was not there, they did not in her presence; on the contrary, the friendship of so great a man as the Honourable Captain Delmar appeared rather to make my mother a person of more consequence.

She was continually pointing out to me the propriety of securing the good will of this great personage, and the more she did so, the more I felt inclined to do the reverse; indeed, I should have broke out into open mutiny, if it had not been for Captain Bridgeman, who sided with my mother, and when I went to him to propose playing another trick upon the noble captain, not only refused to aid me, but told me, if I ever thought of such a thing, he would never allow me to come to his rooms again.

“Why, what good can he do to me?” inquired I.

“He may advance you properly in life—who knows?—he may put you on the quarter-deck, and get you promoted in the service.”

“What, make a middy of me?”

“Yes, and from a midshipman you may rise to be a post-captain, or admiral,—a much greater rank than I shall ever obtain,” said Captain Bridgeman; “so take my advice, and do as your mother wishes; be very civil and respectful to Captain Delmar, and he may be as good as a father to you.”

“That’s not saying much,” replied I, thinking of my father Ben; “I’d rather have two mothers than two fathers.” And here the conversation ended.

I had contracted a great alliance with Mr Dott, the midshipman, who followed Captain Delmar about, just as Bob used to follow me, and generally remained in the shop or outside with me, when his captain called upon my mother. He was a little wag, as full of mischief as myself, and even his awe of his captain, which, as a youngster in the service, was excessive, would not prevent him from occasionally breaking out. My mother took great notice of him, and when he could obtain leave (which, indeed, she often asked for him), invited him to come to our house, when he became my companion during his stay; we would sally out together, and vie with each other in producing confusion and mirth at other people’s expense; we became the abhorrence of every old fruit-woman and beggar in the vicinity.

Captain Delmar heard occasionally of my pranks, and looked very majestic and severe; but as I was not a middy, I cared little for his frowns. At last an opportunity offered which I could not resist; and, not daring to make known my scheme either to Captain Bridgeman or Aunt Milly, I confided it to Tommy Dott, the little middy, who, regardless of the consequences, joined me in it heart and soul.

The theatre had been opened at Chatham, and had met with indifferent success. I went there once with my aunt Milly, and twice with Mr Dott; I, therefore, knew my locale well. It appeared that one of the female performers, whose benefit was shortly to take place, was very anxious to obtain the patronage of Captain Delmar, and, with the usual tact of women, had applied to my mother in the most obsequious manner, requesting her to espouse her cause with the gallant captain.

My mother, pleased with the idea of becoming, as it were, a patroness under the rose, did so effectually exert her influence over the captain, that, in a day or two afterwards, play-bills were posted all over the town, announcing that the play of The Stranger, with the farce of Raising the Wind, would be performed on Friday evening, for the benefit of Miss Mortimer under the patronage of the Honourable Captain Delmar, and the officers of his Majesty’s ship Calliope. Of course the grateful young lady sent my mother some tickets of admission, and two of them I reserved for Tommy Dott and myself.

Captain Delmar had made a large party of ladies, and of course all the officers of the ship attended: the house was as full as it could hold. My mother and aunt were there in a retired part of the boxes; Tommy Dott and I entered the theatre with them, and afterwards had gone up to what is, at the theatres at seaports, usually denominated the slips, that is, the sides of the theatre on the same range as the gallery. There was Captain Delmar with all his ladies and all his officers, occupying nearly the whole of the side of the dress circle below us, we having taken our position above him, so that we might not be observed.

The performance commenced. Miss Mortimer, as Mrs Haller, was very effective; and in the last scene was compelling the eyes of the company to water, when we thought we would produce a still greater effect.

We had purchased a pound of the finest Scotch snuff, which we had enclosed in two pasteboard cases, similar in form to those of squibs, only about six times the size, and holding half a pound of snuff each. Our object was, in doing this, that, by jerking it all out with a heave, we might at once throw it right into the centre of the theatre above, so that in its descent it might be fairly distributed among all parties.

There was no one in the slips with us, except midshipmen, and a description of people who would consider it a good joke, and never would peach if they perceived we were the culprits.

At a signal between us, just as Mrs Haller was giving a paper to her husband did we give our shower of snuff to the audience, jerking it right across the theatre. In a few minutes the effect was prodigious; Captain Delmar’s party being right beneath us, probably received a greater share, for they commenced sneezing fast, then the boxes on the other side, the pit followed, and at last Mr and Mrs Haller and the Stranger were taken with such a fit of sneezing that they could no longer talk to each other.

The children were brought out to their parents to effect their reconciliation, but they did nothing but sneeze, poor things; and at last the uproar was tremendous, and the curtain was dropped, not to loud plaudits, but to loud sneezings from every part of the theatre.

Never was there anything so ludicrous; the manager sent officers up to discover the offenders but no one could tell who had played the trick; he then came before the curtain to make a speech upon the occasion, but, having sneezed seven or eight times, he was obliged to retire with his handkerchief to his nose; and the audience, finding it impossible to check the titillation of the olfactory nerves, abandoned the theatre as fast as they could, leaving the farce of Raising the Wind to be performed to empty beaches.

I hardly need say, that as soon as we had thrown the snuff, Mr Dott and I had gone down and taken our places very demurely in the box by the side of my mother, and appeared just as astonished, and indeed added as much as possible to the company of sneezers.

Captain Delmar was very furious at this want of respect of certain parties unknown, and had we been discovered, whatever might have been my fate, it would have gone hard with Tommy Dott; but we kept our own counsel, and escaped.

That I was suspected by Aunt Milly and Captain Bridgeman is certain, and my aunt taxed me with it, but I would not confess; my mother also had her suspicions, but as Captain Delmar had none, that was of no consequence.

The success of this trick was a great temptation to try another or two upon the noble captain. He was, however saved by the simple fact of H.M. ship Calliope being reported manned and ready for sea; orders were sent down for his going round to Portsmouth to await the commands of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and Captain Delmar came to pay his farewell visit.

The report from the schoolmaster had been very favourable and Captain Delmar then asked me, for the first time, if I would like to be a sailor. As Captain Bridgeman had advised me not to reject any good offer on the part of the honourable captain, I answered in the affirmative; whereupon the captain replied, that if I paid attention to my learning, in a year’s time he would take me with him on board of his frigate.

He then patted my head, forgot to give me half a crown, and, shaking hands with my mother and aunt, quitted the house, followed by Tommy Dott, who, as he went away, turned and laughed his adieu.

I have not mentioned my grandmother lately. The fact is, that when Captain Delmar made his appearance, for some cause or another, which I could not comprehend, she declared her intention of going away and paying a visit to her old acquaintances at the Hall. She did so. As I afterwards found out from what I overheard, she had a very great aversion to the noble captain: but the cause of her aversion was never communicated to me. Soon after the sailing of the Calliope, she again made her appearance, took her old seat in the easy-chair, and resumed her eternal knitting as before.

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