The Poacher; Or, Joseph Rushbrook

Фредерик Марриет
The Poacher; Or, Joseph Rushbrook

Chapter Five

The Sins of the Father are Visited upon the Child

Jane had remained in a state of great anxiety during her husband’s absence, watching and listening to every sound; every five minutes raising the latch of the door, and looking out, hoping to see him return. As the time went on, her alarm increased; she laid her head down on the table and wept; she could find no consolation, no alleviation of her anxiety; she dropped down on her knees and prayed.

She was still appealing to the Most High, when a blow on the door announced her husband’s return. There was a sulken gloom over his countenance as he entered: he threw his gun carelessly on one side, so that it fell, and rattled against the paved floor; and this one act was to her ominous of evil. He sat down without speaking; falling back in the chair, and lifting his eyes up to the rafters above, he appeared to be in deep thought, and unconscious of her presence.

“What has happened?” inquired his wife, trembling as she laid her hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t speak to me now,” was the reply.

“Joey,” said the frightened woman in a whisper, “what has he done?”

Joey answered not, but raised his hand, red with the blood which was now dried upon it.

Jane uttered a faint cry, dropped on her knees, and covered her face, while Joey walked into the back kitchen, and busied himself in removing the traces of the dark deed.

A quarter of an hour had elapsed—Joey had returned, and taken his seat upon his low stool, and not a word had been exchanged.

There certainly is a foretaste of the future punishment which awaits crime; for how dreadful were the feelings of those who were now sitting down in the cottage! Rushbrook was evidently stupefied from excess of feeling; first, the strong excitement which had urged him to the deed; and now from the reaction the prostration of mental power which had succeeded it. Jane dreaded the present and the future—whichever way she turned her eyes the gibbet was before her—the clanking of chains in her ears; in her vision of the future, scorn, misery, and remorse—she felt only for her husband. Joey, poor boy, he felt for both. Even the dog showed, as he looked up into Joey’s face, that he was aware that a foul deed had been done. The silence which it appeared none would venture to break, was at last dissolved by the clock of the village church solemnly striking two. They all started up—it was a warning—it reminded them of the bell tolling for the dead—of time and of eternity; but time present quickly effaced for the moment other ideas; yes, it was time to act; in four hours more it would be daylight, and the blood of the murdered man would appeal to his fellow-men for vengeance. The sun would light them to the deed of darkness—the body would be brought home—the magistrates would assemble—and who would be the party suspected?

“Merciful Heaven!” exclaimed Jane, “what can be done?”

“There is no proof;” muttered Rushbrook.

“Yes, there is,” observed Joey, “I left my bag there, when I stooped down to—”

“Silence!” cried Rushbrook. “Yes,” continued he, bitterly, to his wife, “this is your doing; you must send the boy after me, and now there will be evidence against me; I shall owe my death to you.”

“Oh, say not so! say not so!” replied Jane, falling down on her knees, and weeping bitterly as she buried her face in his lap; “but there is yet time,” cried she, starting up; “Joey can go and fetch the bag. You will, Joey: won’t you, dear? you are not afraid—you are innocent.”

“Better leave it where it is, mother,” replied Joey, calmly.

Rushbrook looked up at his son with surprise; Jane caught him by the arm; she felt convinced the boy had some reason for what he said—probably some plan that would ward off suspicion—yet how could that be, it was evidence against them, and after looking earnestly at the boy’s face, she dropped his arm. “Why so, Joey?” said she, with apparent calmness.

“Because,” replied Joey, “I have been thinking about it all this time; I am innocent, and therefore I do not mind if they suppose me guilty. The bag is known to be mine—the gun I must throw into a ditch two fields off. You must give me some money, if you have any; if not, I must go without it; but there is no time to be lost. I must be off and away from here in ten minutes; to-morrow ask every one if they have seen or heard of me, because I have left the house some time during the night. I shall have a good start before that; besides, they may not find the pedlar for a day or two, perhaps; at all events, not till some time after I am gone; and then, you see, mother, the bag which is found by him, and the gun in the ditch, will make them think it is me who killed him; but they will not be able to make out whether I killed him by accident, and ran away from fear, or whether I did it on purpose. So now, mother, that’s my plan, for it will save father.”

“And I shall never see you again, my child!” replied his mother.

“That’s as may be. You may go away from here after a time, mother, when the thing has blown over. Come, mother, there is no time to lose.”

“Rushbrook, what say you—what think you?” said Jane to her husband.

“Why, Jane, at all events, the boy must have left us, for, you see, I told Byres, and I’ve no doubt but he told the keeper, if he met him, that I should bring Joey with me. I did it to deceive him; and, as sure as I sit here, they will have that boy up as evidence against his father.”

“To be sure they will,” cried Joey; “and what could I do? I dare not—I don’t think I could tell a lie; and yet I would not peach upon father, neither. What can I do—but be out of the way?”

“That’s the truth—away with you, then, my boy, and take a father’s blessing with you—a guilty father’s, it is true; God forgive me. Jane give him all the money you have; lose not a moment: quick, woman, quick.” And Rushbrook appeared to be in agony.

Jane hastened to the cupboard, opened a small box, and poured the contents into the hands of Joey.

“Farewell, my boy,” said Rushbrook; “your father thanks you.”

“Heaven preserve you, my child!” cried Jane, embracing him, as the tears rained down her cheeks. “You will write—no! you must not—mercy!—mercy!—I shall never see him again!”—and the mother fainted on the floor.

The tears rose in our hero’s eyes as he beheld the condition of his poor mother. Once more he grasped his father’s hand; and then, catching up the gun, he went out at the back door, and driving back the dog, who would have followed him, made over the fields as fast as his legs would carry him.

Chapter Six

“The World before him, where to choose.”

We have no doubt but many of our readers have occasionally, when on a journey, come to where the road divides into two, forking out in different directions, and the road being new to them, have not known which of the two branches they ought to take. This happens, as it often does in a novel, to be our case just now. Shall we follow little Joey, or his father and mother?—that is the question. We believe that when a road does thus divide, the wider of the two branches is generally selected, as being supposed to be the continuation of the high road. We shall ourselves act upon that principle; and, as the hero of the tale is of more consequence than characters accessory, we shall follow up the fortunes of little Joey. As soon as our hero had deposited the gun so that it might be easily discovered by any one passing by, he darted into the high road, and went off with all the speed that he was capable of, and it was not yet light when he found himself at least ten miles from his native village. As the day dawned, he quitted the high road, and took to the fields, keeping a parallel course, so as to still increase the distance; it was not until he had made fifteen miles, that, finding himself exhausted, he sat down to recover himself.

From the time that he had left the cottage until the present, Joey had had but one overwhelming idea in his head, which was, to escape from pursuit, and by his absence to save his father from suspicion; but now that he had effected that purpose, and was in a state of quiescence, other thoughts rushed upon his mind. First, the scenes of the last few hours presented themselves in rapid array before him—he thought of the dead man, and he looked at his hand to ascertain if the bloody marks had been effaced; and then he thought of his poor mother’s state when he quitted the cottage, and the remembrance made him weep bitterly: his own position came next upon him,—a boy, twelve years of age, adrift upon the world—how was he to live—what was he to do? This reminded him that his mother had given him money; he put his hand into his pocket, and pulled it out to ascertain what he possessed. He had 1 pound, 16 shillings; to him a large sum, and it was all in silver. As he had become more composed, he began to reflect upon what he had better do; where should he go to?—London. It was a long way, he knew, but the farther he was away from home, the better. Besides, he had heard much of London, and that every one got employment there. Joey resolved that he would go to London; he knew that he had taken the right road so far, and having made up his mind, he rose up, and proceeded. He knew that, if possible, he must not allow himself to be seen on the road for a day or two, and he was puzzled how he was to get food, which he already felt would be very acceptable; and then, what account was he to give of himself if questioned? Such were the cogitations of our little hero as he wended his way till he came to a river, which was too deep and rapid for him to attempt to ford—he was obliged to return to the high road to cross the bridge. He looked around him before he climbed over the low stone wall, and perceiving nobody, he jumped on the footpath, and proceeded to the bridge, where he suddenly faced an old woman with a basket of brown cakes something like ginger-bread. Taken by surprise, and hardly knowing what to say, he inquired if a cart had passed that way.

 

“Yes, child, but it must be a good mile ahead of you,” said the old woman, “and you must walk fast to overtake it.”

“I have had no breakfast yet, and I am hungry; do you sell your cakes?”

“Yes, child, what else do I make them for? three a penny, and cheap too.”

Joey felt in his pocket until he had selected a sixpence, and pulling it out, desired the old woman to give him cakes for it, and, taking the pile in his hand, he set off as fast as he could. As soon as he was out of sight, he again made his way into the fields, and breakfasted upon half his store. He then continued his journey until nearly one o’clock, when, tired out with his exertions, as soon as he had finished the remainder of his cakes, he laid down under a rick of corn, and fell fast asleep, having made twenty miles since he started. In his hurry to escape pursuit, and the many thoughts which occupied his brain, Joey had made no observation on the weather; if he had, he probably would have looked after some more secure shelter than the lee-side of a haystack. He slept soundly, and he had not been asleep more than an hour, when the wind changed, and the snow fell fast; nevertheless, Joey slept on, and probably never would have awakened more, had it not been that a shepherd and his dog were returning home in the evening, and happened to pass close to the haystack. By this time Joey had been covered with a layer of snow, half an inch deep, and had it not been for the dog, who went up to where he laid, and commenced pawing the snow off of him, he would have been passed by undiscovered by the shepherd, who, after some trouble, succeeded in rousing our hero from his torpor, and half dragging, half lifting him, contrived to lead him across one or two fields, until they arrived at a blacksmith’s shop, in a small village, before Joey could have been said to have recovered his scattered senses. Two hours’ more sleep and there would have been no further history to give of our little hero.

He was dragged to the forge, the fire of which glowed under the force of the bellows, and by degrees, as the warmth reached him, he was restored to self-possession. To the inquiries made as to who he was, and from where he came, he now answered as he had before arranged in his mind. His father and mother were a long way before him; he was going to London, but having been tired, he had fallen asleep under the haystack, and he was afraid that if he went not on to London directly, he never might find his father and mother again.

“Oh, then,” replied the shepherd, “they have gone on before, have they? Well, you’ll catch them, no doubt.”

The blacksmith’s wife, who had been a party to what was going on, now brought up a little warm ale, which quite re-established Joey; and at the same time a waggon drove up to the door, and stopped at the blacksmith’s shop.

“I must have a shoe tacked on the old mare, my friend,” said the driver. “You won’t be long?”

“Not five minutes,” replied the smith. “You’re going to London?”

“Yes, sure.”

“Here’s a poor boy that has been left behind by his father and mother somehow—you wouldn’t mind giving him a lift?”

“Well, I don’t know; I suppose I must be paid for it in the world to come.”

“And good pay too, if you earn it,” observed the blacksmith.

“Well, it won’t make much difference to my eight horses, I expect,” said the driver, looking at Joey; “so come along, youngster: you may perch yourself on top of the straw, above the goods.”

“First come in with me, child,” said the wife of the blacksmith; “you must have some good victuals to take with you—so, while you shoe the horse, John, I’ll see to the boy.”

The woman put before Joey a dish in which were the remains of more than one small joint, and our hero commenced his attack without delay.

“Have you any money, child?” inquired the woman.

Joey, who thought she might expect payment, replied, “Yes ma’am, I’ve got a shilling;” and he pulled one out of his pocket and laid it out on the table.

“Bless the child! what do you take me for, to think that I would touch your money? You are a long way from London yet, although you have got such a chance to get there. Do you know where to go when you get there?”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Joey; “I shall get work in the stables, I believe.”

“Well, I dare say that you will; but in the meantime you had better save your shilling—so we’ll find something to put this meat and bread up for your journey. Are you quite warm now?”

“Yes, thank’ee, ma’am.”

Joey, who had ceased eating, had another warm at the fire, and in a few minutes, having bade adieu, and giving his thanks to the humane people, he was buried in the straw below the tilt of the waggon, with his provisions deposited beside him, and the waggon went on his slow and steady pace, to the tune of its own jingling bells. Joey, who had quite recovered from his chill, nestled among the straw, congratulating himself that he should now arrive safely in London, without more questioning. And such was the case: in three days and three nights, without any further adventure, he found himself, although he was not aware of it, in Oxford-street, somewhat about eight or nine o’clock in the evening.

“Do you know your way now, boy?” said the carman.

“I can ask it,” replied Joey, “as soon as I can go to the light and read the address. Good-bye, and thank you,” continued he, glad at last to be clear of any more evasive replies.

The carman shook him by the hand as they passed the Boar and Castle, and bade him farewell, and our hero found himself alone in the vast metropolis.

What was he to do? He hardly knew—but one thought struck him, which was, that he must find a bed for the night. He wandered up and down Oxford Street for some time, but every one walked so quick that he was afraid to speak to them: at last a little girl, of seven or eight years of age, passed by him, and looked him earnestly in the face.

“Can you tell me where I can get a bed for the night?” said Joey.

“Have you any brads?” was the reply.

“What are those?” said Joey.

“Any money, to be sure; why, you’re green—quite.”

“Yes, I have a shilling.”

“That will do—come along, and you shall sleep with me.”

Joey followed her very innocently, and very glad that he had been so fortunate. She led him to a street out of Tottenham-court-road, in which there were no lamps—the houses, however, were large, and many stories high.

“Take my hand,” said the girl, “and mind how you tread.”

Guided by his new companion, Joey arrived at a door that was wide open: they entered, and, assisted by the girl, he went up a dark staircase, to the second storey. She opened a room-door, when Joey found himself in company with about twenty other children, of about the same age, of both sexes. Here were several beds on the floor of the room, which was spacious. In the centre were huddled together on the floor, round a tallow candle, eight or ten of the inmates, two of them playing with a filthy pack of cards, while the others looked over them: others were lying down or asleep on the several beds. “This is my bed,” said the girl; “if you are tired you can turn in at once. I shan’t go to bed yet.”

Joey was tired, and he went to bed; it was not very clean, but he had been used to worse lodgings lately. It need hardly be observed that Joey had got into very bad company, the whole of the inmates of the room consisting of juvenile thieves and pickpockets, who in the course of time obtain promotion in their profession, until they are ultimately sent off to Botany Bay. Attempts have been made to check these nurseries of vice: but pseudo-philanthropists have resisted such barbarous innovation: and upon the Mosaic principle, that you must not seethe the kid in the mother’s milk, they are protected and allowed to arrive at full maturity, and beyond the chance of being reclaimed, until they are ripe for the penalties of the law.

Joey slept soundly, and when he awoke next morning found that his little friend was not with him. He dressed himself; and then made another discovery, which was, that every farthing of his money had been abstracted from his pockets. Of this unpleasant fact he ventured to complain to one or two boys, who were lying on other beds with their clothes on; they laughed at him, called him a greenhorn, and made use of other language, which at once let Joey know the nature of the company with whom he had been passing the night. After some altercation, three or four of them bundled him out of the room, and Joey found himself in the street without a farthing, and very much inclined to eat a good breakfast.

There is no portion of the world, small as it is in comparison with the whole, in which there is more to be found to eat and to drink, more comfortable lodgings, or accommodation and convenience of every kind, than in the metropolis of England, provided you have the means to obtain it; but notwithstanding this abundance, there is no place, probably, where you will find it more difficult to obtain a portion of it, if you happen to have an empty pocket.

Joey went into a shop here and there to ask for employment—he was turned away everywhere. He spent the first day in this manner, and at night, tired and hungry, he laid down on the stone steps of a portico, and fell asleep. The next morning he awoke shivering with the cold, faint with hunger. He asked at the areas for something to eat, but no one would give him anything. At a pump he obtained a drink of water—that was all he could obtain, for it cost nothing. Another day passed without food, and the poor boy again sheltered himself for the night at a rich man’s door in Berkeley-square.

Chapter Seven

If you want Employment go to London

The exhausted lad awoke again, and pursued his useless task of appeals for food and employment. It was a bright day, and there was some little warmth to be collected by basking in the rays of the sun, when our hero wended his way through Saint James’s Park, faint, hungry, and disconsolate. There were several people seated on the benches; and Joey, weak as he was, did not venture to go near them, but crawled along. At last, after wandering up and down, looking for pity in everybody’s face as they passed, and receiving none, he felt that he could not stand much longer, and emboldened by desperation, he approached a bench that was occupied by one person. At first he only rested on the arm of the bench, but, as the person sitting down appeared not to observe him, he timidly took a seat at the farther end. The personage who occupied the other part of the bench was a man dressed in a morning suit à la militaire and black stock. He had clean gloves and a small cane in his hand, with which he was describing circles on the gravel before him, evidently in deep thought. In height he was full six feet, and his proportions combined strength with symmetry. His features were remarkably handsome, his dark hair had a natural curl, and his whiskers and mustachios (for he wore those military appendages) were evidently the objects of much attention and solicitude. We may as well here observe, that although so favoured by nature, still there would have been considered something wanting in him by those who had been accustomed to move in the first circles, to make him the refined gentleman. His movements and carriage were not inelegant, but there was a certain retinue wanting. He bowed well, but still it was not exactly the bow of a gentleman. The nursery-maids as they passed by said, “Dear me, what a handsome gentleman!” but had the remark been made by a higher class, it would have been qualified into “What a handsome man!” His age was apparently about five-and-thirty—it might have been something more. After a short time he left off his mechanical amusements, and turning round, perceived little Joey at the farther end. Whether from the mere inclination to talk, or that he thought it presuming in our hero to seat himself upon the same bench, he said to him—

“I hope you are comfortable, my little man; but perhaps you’ve forgot your message.”

“I have no message, sir, for I know no one: and I am not comfortable, for I am starving,” replied Joey, in a tremulous voice.

“Are you in earnest now, when you say that, boy; or is it that you’re humbugging me?”

Joey shook his head. “I have eaten nothing since the day before yesterday morning, and I feel faint and sick,” replied he at last.

 

His new companion looked earnestly in our hero’s face, and was satisfied that what he said was true.

“As I hope to be saved,” exclaimed he, “it’s my opinion that a little bread and butter would not be a bad thing for you. Here,” continued he, putting his hand into his coat-pocket, “take these coppers, and go and get some thing into your little vitals.”

“Thank you, sir, thank you, kindly. But I don’t know where to go: I only came up to London two days ago.”

“Then follow me as fast as your little pins can carry you,” said the other. They had not far to go, for a man was standing close to Spring-garden-gate with hot tea and bread and butter, and in a few moments Joey’s hunger was considerably appeased.

“Do you feel better now, my little cock?”

“Yes, sir, thank you.”

“That’s right, and now we will go back to the bench, and then you shall tell me all about yourself; just to pass away the time. Now,” said he, as he took his seat, “in the first place, who is your father, if you have any; and if you haven’t any, what was he?”

“Father and mother are both alive, but they are a long way off. Father was a soldier, and he has a pension now.”

“A soldier! Do you know in what regiment?”

“Yes, it was the 53rd, I think.”

“By the powers, my own regiment! And what is your name, then, and his?”

“Rushbrook,” replied Joey.

“My pivot man, by all that’s holy. Now haven’t you nicely dropped on your feet?”

“I don’t know, sir,” replied our hero.

“But I do; your father was the best fellow I had in my company—the best forager, and always took care of his officer, as a good man should do. If there was a turkey, or a goose, or a duck, or a fowl, or a pig within ten miles of us, he would have it: he was the boy for poaching. And now tell me (and mind you tell the truth when you meet with a friend) what made you leave your father and mother?”

“I was afraid of being taken up—” and here Joey stopped, for he hardly knew what to say; trust his new acquaintance with his father’s secret he dare not, neither did he like to tell what was directly false; as the reader will perceive by his reply, he partly told the truth.

“Afraid of being taken up! Why, what could they take up a spalpeen like you for?”

“Poaching,” replied Joey; “father poached too: they had proof against me, so I came away with father’s consent.”

“Poaching! well, I’m not surprised at that, for if ever it was in the blood, it is in yours—that’s truth. And what do you mean to do now?”

“Anything I can to earn my bread.”

“What can you do—besides poaching, of course? Can you read and write?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Would you like to be a servant—clean boots, brush clothes, stand behind a cab, run messages, carry notes, and hold your tongue?”

“I could do all that, I think—I am twelve years old.”

“The devil you are! Well then, for your father’s sake, I’ll see what I can do for you, till you can do better. I’ll fit you out as a tiger, and what’s more, unless I am devilish hard up, I won’t sell you. So come along. What’s your name?”

“Joey.”

“Sure that was your father’s name before you, I now recollect and should any one take the trouble to ask you what may be the name of your master, you may reply, with a safe conscience, that it’s Captain O’Donahue. Now come along. Not close after me—you may as well keep open file just now, till I’ve made you look a little more decent.”

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