Percival Keene

Фредерик Марриет
Percival Keene

Chapter Twelve

Another year of my existence passed rapidly away; I was nearly thirteen years old, a sturdy bold boy, well fitted for the naval profession, which I now considered decided upon, and began to be impatient to leave school, and wondered that we heard nothing of Captain Delmar, when news was received from another quarter.

One morning Captain Bridgeman came much earlier than usual, and with a very grave face put on especially for the occasion. I had not set off for school, and ran up to him; but he checked me, and said, “I must see your mother directly, I have very important news for her.”

I went in to tell my mother, who requested Captain Bridgeman to come into the parlour, and not being aware of the nature of the communication, ordered Aunt Milly and me into the shop; we waited for some minutes, and then Captain Bridgeman made his appearance.

“What is the matter?” said Milly.

“Read this newspaper,” said he; “there is a despatch from India, it will tell you all about it, and you can show it to your sister, when she is more composed.”

Curious to know what the matter could be, I quitted the shop, and went into the parlour, where I saw my mother with her face buried in the sofa pillow, and apparently in great distress.

“What’s the matter, mother?” said I.

“Oh! my child, my child!” replied my mother, wringing her hands, “you are an orphan, and I am a lonely widow.”

“How’s that?” said I.

“How’s that?” said my grandmother, “why, are you such a fool, as not to understand that your father is dead?”

“Father’s dead, is he?” replied I, “I’ll go and tell Aunt Milly;” and away I went out of the parlour to Milly, whom I found reading the newspaper.

“Aunt,” said I, “father’s dead, only to think! I wonder how he died!”

“He was killed in action, dear,” said my aunt; “look here, here is the account, and the list of killed and wounded. D’ye see your father’s name—Benjamin Keene, marine?”

“Let me read all about it, Aunt Milly,” replied I, taking the paper from her; and I was soon very busy with the account of the action.

My readers must not suppose that I had no feeling, because I showed none at my father’s death; if they call to mind the humble position in which I had always seen my father, who dared not even intrude upon the presence of those with whom my mother and I were on familiar terms, and that he was ordered about just like a servant by my mother, who set me no example of fear or love for him, they will easily imagine that I felt less for his death than I should have for that of Captain Bridgeman, or many others with whom I was on intimate terms.

What did puzzle me was, that my mother should show so much feeling on the occasion. I did not know the world then, and that decency required a certain display of grief. Aunt Milly appeared to be very unconcerned about it, although, occasionally, she was in deep thought. I put down the paper as soon as I had read the despatch, and said to her, “Well, I suppose I must go to school now, aunt?”

“Oh no, dear,” replied she, “you can’t go to school for a few days now—it wouldn’t be proper; you must remain at home and wait till you have put on mourning.”

“I’m glad of that, at all events,” replied I; “I wonder where Captain Delmar is, and why he don’t send for me; I begin to hate school.”

“I dare say it won’t be long before you hear from him, dear,” replied my aunt; “stay here and mind the shop, while I go in to your mother.”

If the truth was told, I am afraid that the death of Ben was a source of congratulation to all parties who were then in the parlour. As for me, I was very glad to have a few days’ holiday, being perfectly indifferent as to whether he was dead or alive.

When I went in I found them in consultation as to the mourning: my mother did not, in the first place, wish to make any a parade about a husband of whom she was ashamed; in the second, she did not like widow’s weeds, and the unbecoming cap. So it was decided, as Ben had been dead six months, and if they had known it before they would have been in mourning for him all that time, that half-mourning was all that was requisite for them; and that, as for me, there was no reason for my going into mourning at all.

Three days after the intelligence, my mother re-appeared in the shop; the reason why she did not appear before was, that her dress was not ready—she looked very pretty indeed in half-mourning, so did my Aunt Milly; and the attentions of the marine corps, especially Captain Bridgeman and Lieutenant Flat, were more unremitting than ever.

It appeared that, as the death of Ben had removed the great difficulty to my aunt’s being married to an officer, my grandmother had resolved to ascertain the intentions of Captain Bridgeman, and if she found that he cried off, to persuade Milly to consent to become Mrs Flat. Whether she consulted my mother or my aunt on this occasion, I cannot positively say, but I rather think not.

My mother and my aunt were walking out one evening, when Captain Bridgeman came in, and my grandmother, who remained in the shop whenever my mother and Milly went out together, which was very seldom, requested him to walk into the back parlour, desiring me to remain in the shop, and let her know if she was wanted.

Now when they went into the parlour, the door was left ajar, and, as I remained at the back part of the shop, I could not help over-hearing every word which was said; for my grandmother being very deaf, as most deaf people do, talked quite as loud as Captain Bridgeman was compelled to do, to make her hear him.

“I wish, Captain Bridgeman, as a friend, to ask your advice relative to my daughter Amelia,” said the old lady. “Please to take a chair.”

“If there is any opinion that I can offer on the subject, madam, I shall be most happy to give it,” replied the captain, sitting down as requested.

“You see, my daughter Amelia has been well brought up, and carefully educated, as was, indeed, my daughter, Arabella, through the kindness of my old patron, Mrs Delmar, the aunt of the Honourable Captain Delmar, whom you have often met here, and who is heir to the title of de Versely; that is to say, his eldest brother has no children. I have been nearly fifty years in the family as a confidential, Captain Bridgeman; the old lord was very fond of my husband, who was his steward, but he died, poor man, a long while ago; I am sure it would have broken his heart, if, in his lifetime, my daughter Arabella had made the foolish marriage which she did with a private marine—however, what’s done can’t be helped, as the saying is—that’s all over now.”

“It was certainly a great pity that Mrs Keene should have been so foolish,” replied Captain Bridgeman, “but, as you say, that is all over now.”

“Yes; God’s will be done, Captain Bridgeman; now you see, sir, that this marriage of Bella’s has done no good to the prospects of her sister Amelia, who, nevertheless, is a good and pretty girl though I say it, who am her mother; and moreover, she will bring a pretty penny to her husband whoever he may be; for you see, Captain Bridgeman, my husband was not idle during the time that he was in the family of the Delmars, and as her sister is so well to do, why little Amelia will come into a greater share than she otherwise would—that is, if she marries well, and according to the wishes of her mother.”

At this interesting part of the conversation Captain Bridgeman leant more earnestly towards my grandmother.

“A pretty penny, madam, you said; I never heard the expression before; what may a pretty penny mean?”

“It means, first and last, 4,000 pounds, Captain Bridgeman; part down, and the other when I die.”

“Indeed,” replied Captain Bridgeman; “I certainly never thought that Miss Amelia would ever have any fortune; indeed, she’s too pretty and accomplished to require any.”

“Now, sir,” continued my grandmother, “the point on which I wish to consult you is this: you know that Lieutenant Flat is very often here, and for a long while has been very attentive to my daughter; he has, I believe, almost as much as proposed—that is, in his sort of way; but my daughter does not seem to care for him. Now, Captain Bridgeman, Mr Flat may not be very clever, but I believe him to be a very worthy young man; still one must be cautious, and what I wish to know before I interfere and persuade my daughter to marry him is, whether you think that Mr Flat is of a disposition which would make the marriage state a happy one; for you see, Captain Bridgeman, love before marriage is very apt to fly away, but love that comes after marriage will last out your life.”

“Well, madam,” replied the captain, “I will be candid with you; I do not think that a clever girl like Miss Amelia is likely to be happy as the wife of my good friend Mr Flat—still there is nothing against his character, madam; I believe him harmless—very harmless.”

“He’s a very fine-looking young man, Captain Bridgeman.”

“Yes; nothing to be found fault with in his appearance.”

“Very good-natured.”

“Yes; he’s not very quick in temper, or anything else; he’s what we call a slow-coach.”

“I hear he’s a very correct officer, Captain Bridgeman.”

“Yes; I am not aware that he has ever been under an arrest.”

“Well, we cannot expect everything in this world; he is handsome, good-tempered, and a good officer—I cannot see why Amelia does not like him, particularly as her affections are not otherwise engaged. I am satisfied with the answer you have given, Captain Bridgeman, and now I shall point out to Amelia that I expect she will make up her mind to accept Mr Flat.”

Here Captain Bridgeman hesitated.

“Indeed, madam, if her affections are not otherwise engaged—I say—are not engaged, madam, I do not think she could do better. Would, you like me to sound Miss Amelia on the subject?”

 

“Really, Captain Bridgeman, it is very kind of you; you may, perhaps, persuade her to listen to your friend Mr Flat.”

“I will, at all events, ascertain her real sentiments, madam,” said the captain, rising; “and, if you please, I will say farewell for the present.”

As my grandmother anticipated, the scale, which had been so long balanced by Captain Bridgeman, was weighed down in favour of marriage by the death of my father Ben, and the unexpected fortune of 4,000 pounds.

The next day the captain proposed and was accepted, and six weeks from that date my aunt Milly became his wife.

The wedding was very gay: some people did sneer at the match, but where was there ever a match without a sneer? There are always and everywhere people to be found who will envy the happiness of others. Some talked about the private marine; this attack was met with the 4,000 pounds (or rather 8,000 pounds per annum, for rumour, as usual, had doubled the sum); others talked of the shop as infra dig; the set-off against which was, the education and beauty of the bride. One or two subs’ wives declared that they would not visit Mrs Bridgeman; but when the colonel and his lady called to congratulate the new-married couple, and invited a large party in their own house to meet them, then then subs’ wives left their cards as soon as they could.

In a few weeks all was right again: my mother would not give up her shop—it was too lucrative; but she was on more intimate terms with her customers; and when people found that, although her sister was a captain’s lady, my mother had too much sense to be ashamed of her position; why they liked her the better. Indeed, as she was still very handsome, one or two of the marine officers, now that she was a widow, paid her very assiduous court; but my mother had no intention of entering again into the holy state—she preferred State in quo. She had no one to care for but me, and for me she continued her shop and library, although, I believe, she could have retired upon a comfortable independence, had she chosen so to do.

My mother, whatever she might have been when a girl, was now a strong-minded, clever woman. It must have been a painful thing for her to have made up her mind to allow me to go to sea; I was her only child, her only care; I believe she loved me dearly, although she was not so lavish of her caresses as my aunt Milly; but she perceived that it would be for my advantage that I should insure the patronage and protection of Captain Delmar, and she sacrificed self to my interest.

Chapter Thirteen

About a month after my aunt’s marriage, a letter was received from Captain Delmar, who had arrived at Spithead, requesting my mother to send me to Portsmouth as soon as she could, and not go to the trouble or expense of fitting me out, as he would take that upon himself.

This was but short notice to give a fond mother, but there was no help for it; she returned an answer, that in three days from the date of the letter I should be there.

I was immediately summoned from school that she might see as much of me as possible before I went; and although she did not attempt to detain me, I perceived, very often, the tears run down her cheeks.

My grandmother thought proper to make me very long speeches every three or four hours, the substance of which may be comprehended in very few words—to wit, that I had been a very bad boy, and that I was little better now; that I had been spoiled by over-indulgence, and that it was lucky my aunt Milly was not so much with me; that on board a man-of-war I dare not play tricks, and that I would find it very different from being at home with my mother; that Captain Delmar was a very great man, and that I must be very respectful to him; that some day I should thank her very much for her being so kind to me; that she hoped I would behave well, and that if I did not, she hoped that I would get a good beating.

Such was the burden of her song, till at last I got very tired of it, and on the third evening I broke away from her, saying, “Law, granny how you do twaddle!” upon which she called me a good-for-nothing young blackguard, and felt positively sure that I should be hanged. The consequence was, that granny and I did not part good friends; and I sincerely hoped that when I had come back again, I should not find her above ground.

The next morning I bade farewell to my dear Aunt Milly and Captain Bridgeman, received a very ungracious salute from granny, who appeared to think, as she kissed me, that her lips were touching something poisonous, and set off with my mother in the coach to Portsmouth.

We arrived safe at Portsmouth, and my mother immediately took lodgings on the Common Hard at Portsea. The next day, having dressed herself with great care, with a very thick veil on her bonnet, my mother walked with me to the George Hotel, where Captain Delmar had taken up his quarters.

On my mother sending up her card, we were immediately ushered upstairs, and on entering the room found the Honourable Captain Delmar sitting down in full uniform—his sword, and hat, and numerous papers, lying on the table before him. On one side of the table stood a lieutenant, hat in hand; on the other, the captain’s clerk, with papers for him to sign. My friend Tommy Dott was standing at the window, chasing a blue-bottle fly, for want of something better to do; and the steward was waiting for orders behind the captain’s chair.

My mother, who had pulled down her veil, so that her face was not visible, made a slight courtesy to Captain Delmar, who rose up and advanced to receive her very graciously, requesting that she would be seated for a minute or two, till he had time to speak to her.

I have thought since, that my honourable captain had a mind to impress upon my mother the state and dignity of a captain in his Majesty’s service, when in commission. He took no notice whatever of me. Tommy Dott gave me a wink of his eye from the window, and I returned the compliment by putting my tongue into my cheek; but the other parties were too much occupied with the captain to perceive our friendly recognition. Captain Delmar continued to give various orders, and after a time the officers attending were dismissed.

As soon as we were alone, my mother was addressed in, I thought, rather a pompous way, and very much in contrast with his previous politeness before others. Captain Delmar informed her that he should take me immediately under his protection, pay all my expenses, and, if I behaved well, advance me in the service.

At this announcement, my mother expressed a great deal of gratitude, and, shedding a few tears, said, that the boy would in future look up to him as a parent. To this speech Captain Delmar made no reply; but, changing the conversation, told her that he expected to sail in about three or four days, and that no time must be lost in fitting me out; that, all things considered, he thought it advisable that she should return at once to Chatham, and leave the boy with him as she could not know what was requisite for me, and would therefore be of no use.

At the idea of parting with me, my mother cried bitterly. Captain Delmar did then rise off his chair, and taking my mother by the hand speak to her a few words of consolation. My mother removed her handkerchief from her eyes and sighed deeply, saying to Captain Delmar, with an appealing look, “Oh! Captain Delmar, remember that for you I have indeed made great sacrifices; do not forget them, when you look at that boy, who is very dear to me.”

“I will do him justice,” replied the captain, somewhat affected, “but I must insist upon inviolable secrecy on your part; you must promise me that under any circumstances—”

“I have obeyed you for thirteen years,” replied my mother; “I am not likely to forget my promise now; it is hard to part with him, but I leave him in the hands of—”

“You forget the boy is there,” interrupted Captain Delmar; “take him away now; to-morrow morning I will send my coxswain for him, and you must go back to Chatham.”

“God bless you, sir,” replied my mother, weeping, as Captain Delmar shook her hand, and then we left the room. As we were walking back to our lodging, I inquired of my mother—“What’s the secret between you and Captain Delmar, mother?”

“The secret, child! Oh, something which took place at the time I was living with his aunt, and which he does not wish to have known; so ask me no more questions about it.”

After our return, my mother gave me a great deal of advice. She told me that, as I had lost my father Ben, I must now look upon Captain Delmar as a father to me; that Ben had been a faithful servant to the captain, and that she had been the same to Mrs Delmar, his aunt; and that was the reason why Captain Delmar was interested about me, and had promised to do so much for me; begging me to treat him with great respect and never venture to play him any tricks, or otherwise he would be highly offended, and send me home again; and then I should never rise to be an officer in his Majesty’s service.

I cannot say the advice received the attention it deserved, for I felt more inclined to play tricks to my honourable captain than any person I ever met with; however, I appeared to consent, and, in return begged my mother to take care of my dog Bob, which she promised to do.

My mother cried a great deal during the night; the next morning she gave me five guineas as pocket-money, recommending me to be careful of it, and telling me I must look to Captain Delmar for my future supply. She tied up the little linen I had brought with me in a handkerchief, and shortly after the coxswain knocked at the door, and came upstairs to claim me for his Majesty’s service.

“I’m come for the youngster, if you please, marm,” said the coxswain, a fine, tall seaman, remarkably clean and neat in his dress.

My mother put her arms round me, and burst into tears.

“I beg your pardon, marm,” said the coxswain, after standing silent about a minute, “but could not you do the piping after the youngster’s gone? If I stay here long I shall be blowed up by the skipper, as sure as my name’s Bob Cross.”

“I will detain you but a few seconds longer,” replied my mother; “I may never see him again.”

“Well, that’s a fact; my poor mother never did me,” replied the coxswain.

This observation did not raise my mother’s spirits. Another pause ensued, during which I was bedewed with her tears, when the coxswain approached again—

“I ax your pardon, marm; but if you know anything of Captain Delmar, you must know he’s not a man to be played with, and you would not wish to get me into trouble. It’s a hard thing to part with a child, I’m told, but it wouldn’t help me if I said anything about your tears. If the captain were to go to the boat, and find me not there, he’d just say, ‘What were my orders, sir?’ and after that, you know, marm, there is not a word for me to say.”

“Take him, then, my good man,” replied my mother, pressing me convulsively to her heart—“take him; Heaven bless you, my dear child.”

“Thanky, marm; that’s kind of you,” replied the coxswain. “Come, my little fellow, we’ll soon make a man of you.”

I once more pressed my lips to my poor mother’s, and she resigned me to the coxswain, at the same time taking some silver off the table and putting it into his hand.

“Thanky, marm; that’s kinder still, to think of another when you’re in distress yourself; I shan’t forget it. I’ll look after the lad a bit for you, as sure as my name’s Bob Cross.”

My mother sank down on the sofa, with her handkerchief to her eyes.

Bob Cross caught up the bundle, and led me away. I was very melancholy, for I loved my mother, and could not bear to see her so distressed, and for some time we walked on without speaking.

The coxswain first broke the silence:– “What’s your name, my little Trojan?” said he.

“Percival Keene.”

“Well I’m blessed if I didn’t think that you were one of the Delmar breed, by the cut of your jib; howsomever, it’s a wise child that knows its own father.”

“Father’s dead,” replied I.

“Dead! Well, fathers do die sometimes; you must get on how you can without one. I don’t think fathers are of much use, for, you see, mothers take care of you till you’re old enough to go to sea. My father did nothing for me, except to help mother to lick me, when I was obstropolous.”

The reader, from what he has already been informed about Ben, the marine, may easily conceive that I was very much of Bob Cross’s opinion.

 

“I suppose you don’t know anybody on board—do you?”

“Yes, I know Tommy Dott—I knew him when the ship was at Chatham.”

“Oh! Mr Tommy Dott; I dare say you’re just like him, for you look full of mischief. He’s a very nice young man for a small party, as the saying is; there is more devil in his little carcase than in two women’s, and that’s not a trifle; you’ll hunt in couples, I dare say, and get well flogged at the same gun, if you don’t take care. Now, here we are, and I must report my arrival with you under convoy.”

Bob Cross sent a waiter for the captain’s steward, who went up to Captain Delmar. I was ordered to go upstairs, and again found myself in the presence of the noble captain, and a very stout elderly man, with a flaxen wig.

“This is the lad,” said Captain Delmar, when I came into the room and walked up to him; “you know exactly what he requires; oblige me by seeing him properly fitted out and the bill sent in to me.”

“Your orders shall be strictly obeyed, Captain Delmar,” said the old gentleman, with a profound bow.

“You had better not order too many things, as he is growing fast; it will be easy to make good any deficiencies as they may be required.”

“Your orders shall be most strictly obeyed, Captain Delmar,” replied the old gentleman, with another bow.

“I hardly know what to do with him for to-day and to-morrow, until his uniforms are made,” continued the captain: “I suppose he must go on board.”

“If you have no objection, Captain Delmar,” said the old gentleman, with another low bow, “I am sure that Mrs Culpepper will be most proud to take charge of any protégé of yours; we have a spare bed, and the young gentleman can remain with us until he is ready to embark in the uniform of his rank.”

“Be it so, Mr Culpepper; let your wife take care of him until all is complete, and his chest is ready. You’ll oblige me by arranging about his mess.”

“Your wishes shall be most strictly attended to, Captain Delmar,” replied Mr Culpepper, with another profound inclination, which made me feel very much inclined to laugh.

“If you have no further orders, Captain Delmar, I will now take the young gentleman with me.”

“Nothing more, Mr Culpepper—good morning,” replied Captain Delmar, who neither said how d’ye do to me when I came in, or good bye when I went away in company with Mr Culpepper. I had yet to learn what a thing of no consequence was a “sucking Nelson.”

I followed Mr Culpepper down stairs, who desired me to remain with the coxswain, who was standing under the archway, while he spoke to the captain’s steward.

“Well,” said Bob Cross, “what’s the ticket, youngster,—are you to go abroad with me?”

“No,” said I; “I am to stay on shore with that old chap, who does nothing but bob his head up and down. Who is he?”

“That’s our nipcheese.”

“Nipcheese!”

“Yes; nipcheese means purser of the ship—you’ll find all that out by-and-by; you’ve got lots to larn, and, by way of a hint, make him your friend if you can, for he earwigs the captain in fine style.”

Perceiving that I did not understand him, Bob Cross continued: “I mean that our captain’s very fond of the officers paying him great respect, and he likes all that bowing and scraping; he don’t like officers or men to touch their hats, but to take them right off their heads when they speak to him. You see, he’s a sprig of nobility, as they call it, and what’s more he’s also a post-captain, and thinks no small beer of himself; so don’t forget what I say—here comes the purser.”

Mr Culpepper now came out, and, taking my hand, led me away to his own house, which was at Southsea. He did not speak a word during the walk, but appeared to be in deep cogitation: at last we arrived at his door.

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