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As I said before, my other let lodgings, and kept the groundfloor front room for people to drink tea and smoke in ; and I used to take my little stool and sit at the knees of the pensioners who came in, and hear all their stories, and try to make out what they meant, for half was to me incomprehensible; and I brought them fire for their pipes, and ran messages. Old Ben the Whaler, as they called him, was the one who took most notice of me, and said that I should be a man one of these days, which I was very glad to hear then. And I made a little boat for my sister, which cost me a great deal of trouble and labour; and Ben helped me to paint it, and I gave it to Virginia, and she and I were both so pleased; but when my mother saw it, she threw it into the fire, saying it so ungenteel,” and we both cried ; and old Ben was very angry, and said something to my mother, which made her sing, “ High diddle diddle," for the whole day afterwards.
Such are the slight reminiscences, which must content the reader, of my early existence.
When I was eight years old (about six years after his last visit), my father made his appearance ; and then, for the first time, I knew that my father was alive, for I was but two years old when he left, and I remembered nothing about him, and I had never heard
my mother mention his name, as if he still existed. My father came in one day very unexpectedly, for he had given no notice of his return; and it so happened that as he came in, my mother was beating me with the frying-pan, for having dipped my finger in the grease, in which she had been frying some slices of bacon. She was very angry, and as she banged me with it, Virginia was pulling at her skirts, crying and begging her to desist. “ You little wretch,” cried my mother, “you 'll be just such a sea-monster as your father was little wulgar animal, you must put your finger into the frying-pan, must you ? There, now, you've got it.” So saying, she put down the frying-pan, and commenced singing as loud as she could, “Hush-a-by baby, Pussy's a lady" —“Ay-now you're vexed I dare say," continued she, as she walked into the back kitchen.
All this time, my father had been at the door looking on, which
" What's your
she had not perceived. My father then came in. name, my lad?” said he.
“Tommy Saunders," replied I, rubbing myself; for the frying. pan was very hot, and my trowsers very much out of repair.
“ And who is that little girl ?" said he.
“That's my sister Virginia ;- but,” continued I, “who are you? Do you want my mother ?”
“ Not very particularly just now," said my father, taking up my sister and kissing her, and then patting me on the head.
“Do you want any beer or baccy ?” said I –“I'll run and get you some, if you give me the money, and bring back your change all right."
“ Well, so you shall, Jack, my boy,” replied he; and he gave me a shilling. I soon returned with the pipes, tobacco, and beer, and offered him the change, which he told me to keep, to buy apples with it. Virginia was on the knee of my father, who was coaxing and caressing her, and my mother had not yet returned from the back-kitchen. I felt naturally quite friendly towards a man, who had given me more money than I ever possessed in my life; and I took my stool and sat beside him ; while, with my sister on his knee, and his porter before him, my father smoked his pipe.
“ Does your mother often beat you, Jack ?" said my father, taking the pipe out of his mouth.
“ Yes, when I does wrong," replied I.
“ You're a good boy,” replied my father. Does she ever beat you, dear?" said he to Virginia.
« Oh! no,” interrupted I; “ she never beats sister, she loves her too much; but she don't love me."
My father puffed away, and said no more.
I must inform the reader, that my father's person was very much altered from what I have described it to have been at the commencement of this narrative. He was now a boatswain's mate, and wore a silver whistle hung round his neck by a lanyard, and with which little Virginia was then playing. He had grown more burly in appearance, spreading, as sailors usually do, when they arrive to about the age of forty; and moreover, he had a dreadful scar from a cutlass wound, received in boarding, which had divided the whole left side of his face, from the eyebrow to the chin. This gave him a very fierce expression ; still he was a fine-looking man, and his pig-tail had grown to a surprising length and size. His ship, as I afterwards found out, had not been paid off, but he had obtained a fortnight's leave of absence, while she was refitting. We were all very sociable together, without there being the least idea, on the part of my sister and myself, with whom we were in company, when in rolled old Ben the Whaler.
“Sarvice to you,” said Ben, nodding to my father. get me a pipe of 'baccy.”
“Here's pipe and 'baccy too, messmate," replied my father. “Sit down, and make yourself comfortable, old chap.”
“Won't refuse a good offer,” replied Ben, “been too long in the sarvice for that and you've seen sarvice too, I think,” continued Ben, looking my father full in the face.
Chop from a French officer,” replied my father; after a pause, he added, “but he didn't live to tell of it.”
Ben took one of the offered pipes, filled, and was soon very busy puffing away, alongside of my father.
MY FATHER AND MOTHER MEET AFTER AN
ABSENCE OF SIX
THAT HE IS NO LONGER A COXSWAIN BUT A BOAT
While my father and Ben are thus engaged, I will give the reader a description of the latter.
Ben was a very tall, broad-shouldered old fellow, but stooping a little from age: I should think he must have been at least sixty, if not more ; still, he was a powerful, sinewy man. which was no small one, had been knocked on one side, as he told me by the flukes (i. e. tail) of a whale which cut in half a boat,
of which he was steersman. He had a very large mouth, with very few teeth in it, having lost them by the same accident; which, to use his own expression, had at the time “knocked his figure-head all to smash.” He had sailed many years in the whale fisheries, had at last been pressed, and served as quarter-master on board of a frigate for eight or nine years, when his ankle was broken by the rolling of a spar in a gale of wind. He was in consequence invalided for Greenwich. He walked stiff on this leg, and usually supported himself with a thick stick. Ben had noticed me from the time that my mother first came to Fisher’s Alley ; he was the friend of my early days, and I was very much attached to him.
A minute or two afterwards my father pushed the pot of porter to him. Ben drank, and then said
“ Those be nice children, both on 'em — I know them well.” “ And what kind of a craft is the mother ?” replied my father.
“Oh! why, she's a little queer at times—she's always so mighty particular about gentility.”
“Do you know why ?” replied my father. Ben shook his head, « Then I'll tell you because she was once a lady's ladies' maid."
“Well," replied Ben, “I don't understand much about titles and nobility, and those sort of things; but I'm sorry
gone down in the world, for though a little particular about gentility, she's a good sort of woman in her way, and keeps up her character, and earns an honest livelihood.”
“So much the better for her," replied my father, who refilled his pipe, and continued to smoke in silence.
My mother had gone into the back kitchen to wash, which was the cause, (not having been summoned,) of her being so long absent.
Virginia, who had become quite sociable, was passing her little fingers through my father's large whiskers, while he every now and then put his pipe out of his mouth to kiss her. I had the porter pot on my knees, my father having told me to take a swig, when my mother entered the room.
“Well, Mr. Benjamin, I shouldn't wonder but it's he !" cried my mother. “Oh! be quick — Sal-wolatily!"
“Sall who ? What the devil does she mean?" said my father, rising up, and putting my sister off his knee.
“I never heard of her," replied Ben, also getting up — “but Mistress Saunders seems taken all aback, anyhow. Jackl run and fetch a bucket of water”
“ Jack, stay where you are,” cried my mother, springing from the chair on which she had thrown herself. “Oh, dear me!- the shock was so sudden — I'm so flustered - who'd have thought to have seen you ?”
“ Are you her brother ?" inquired Ben.
“ Well, it's the first time I've heard that she had one - but I'll be off, for Mistress Saunders is too genteel to kiss, I see, before company.” Ben then took up his stick, and left the house. It may be as well here to remark, that during his absence, my father had fallen in with one of the men who had been employed in the pressgang, and from him he learnt that a woman had given the information by which he was taken. He made the man, who was present when my mother called upon the officer, describe her person ; and the description in every point was so accurate, that my father had no doubt in his mind, but that it was my mother who had betrayed him : this knowledge had for years rankled in his breast; and he had come home, not only from a wish to see how things were going on, but to reproach my mother with her treachery.
Whether my mother's conscience smote her, or that she perceived by my father's looks that a squall was brewing, I know not; but as soon as Ben had left the house, she shut the streetdoor that the neighbours might not hear. Having so done, she turned to my father, who had resumed his seat and his pipe.
“Well,” said she, putting her apron to her eyes, "you have been away a good six years, and left me to get on how I could with these two poor orphanless children.”
“ You know best why I went," replied my father, “and by whose means I was walked off in such a hurry.”
“ Me?" replied my mother.