Mr. Midshipman Easy/Chapter 7
In which Jack makes some very sage reflections, and comes to a very unwise decision.
After all, it must be acknowledged that although there are cases of distress in which a well may become a place of refuge, a well is not at all calculated for a prolonged residence—so thought Jack. After he had been there some fifteen minutes, his teeth chattered, and his limbs trembled; he felt a numbness all over, and he thought it high time to call for assistance, which at first he would not, as he was afraid he should be pulled up to encounter the indignation of the farmer and his family. Jack was arranging his jaws for a halloo, when he felt the chain pulled up, and he slowly emerged from the water. At first he heard complaints of the weight of the bucket, at which Jack was not surprised; then he heard a tittering and laughing between two parties; and soon afterwards he mounted up gaily. At last his head appeared above the low wall, and he was about to extend his arms so as to secure a position on it, when those who were working at the windlass beheld him. It was a heavy farming man and a maid-servant.
"Thank you," said Jack.
One never should be too quick in returning thanks; the girl screamed and let go the winch, the man, frightened, did not hold it fast; it slipped from his grasp, whirled round, struck him under the chin, and threw him over it headlong, and before the "Thank you" was fairly out of Jack's lips, down he went again like lightning to the bottom. Fortunately for Jack, he had not yet let go the chain, or he might have struck the sides and have been killed; as it was, he was merely soused a second time, and in a minute or two regained his former position.
"This is mighty pleasant," thought Jack, as he clapped his wet hat once more on his head; "at all events, they can't now plead ignorance, they must know that I'm here."
In the meantime the girl ran into the kitchen, threw herself down on a stool, from which she reeled off in a fit upon sundry heaps of dough waiting to be baked in the oven, which were laid to rise on the floor before the fire.
"Mercy on me, what is the matter with Susan?" exclaimed the farmer's wife. "Here—where's Mary—where's John—Deary me, if the bread won't all be turned to pancakes."
John soon followed, holding his under-jaw in his hand, looking very dismal and very frightened, for two reasons; one, because he thought that his jaw was broken, and the other, because he thought he had seen the devil.
"Mercy on us, what is the matter?" exclaimed the farmer's wife again. "Mary, Mary, Mary!" screamed she, beginning to be frightened herself, for with all her efforts she could not remove Susan from the bed of dough, where she lay senseless and heavy as lead. Mary answered to her mistress's loud appeal, and with her assistance they raised up Susan; but as for the bread, there was no hopes of it ever rising again. "Why don't you come here and help Susan, John?" cried Mary.
"Aw-yaw-aw!" was all the reply of John, who had had enough quite of helping Susan, and who continued to hold his head, as it were, in his hand.
"What's the matter here, missus?" exclaimed the farmer, coming in. "Highty-tighty, what ails Susan? and what ails you?" continued the farmer, turning to John. "Dang it, but everything seems to go wrong, this blessed day. First, there be all the apples stolen—then there be all the hives turned topsy-turvy in the garden—then there be Caesar with his flank opened by the bull—then there be the bull broken through the hedge and tumbled into the saw-pit—and now I come to get more help to drag him out, I find one woman dead like, and John looks as if he had seen the devil."
"Aw-yaw-aw!" replied John, nodding his head very significantly.
"One would think that the devil had broke loose to-day. What is it, John? Have you seen him, and has Susan seen him?"
"He's stopped your jaw, then, at all events, and I thought the devil himself wouldn't have done that-we shall get nothing of you. Is that wench coming to her senses?"
"Yes, yes, she's better now,—Susan, what's the matter?"
"Oh, oh, ma'am! the well, the well——"
"The well! Something wrong there, I suppose: well, I will go and see."
The farmer trotted off to the well; he perceived the bucket was at the bottom and all the rope out; he looked about him, and then he looked into the well. Jack, who had become very impatient, had been looking up some time for the assistance which he expected would have come sooner; the round face of the farmer occasioned a partial eclipse of the round disk which bounded his view, just as one of the satellites of Jupiter sometimes obscures the face of the planet round which he revolves.
"Here I am," cried Jack; "get me up quick, or I shall be dead"; and What Jack said was true, for he was quite done up by having been so long down, although his courage had not failed him.
"Dang it, but there be somebody fallen into the well," cried the farmer; "no end to mishaps this day. Well, we must get a Christian out of a well afore we get a bull out of a saw-pit, so I'll go and call the men."
In a very short time the men who were assembled round the sawpit were brought to the well.
"Down below there, hold on now."
"Never fear," cried Jack.
Away went the winch, and once more Jack had an extended horizon to survey. As soon as he was at the top, the men hauled him over the bricks and laid him down upon the ground, for Jack's strength had failed him.
"Dang it, if it bean't that chap who was on my apple-tree," cried the farmer—"howsoever, he must not die for stealing a few apples; lift him up, lads, and take him in—he is dead with cold—no wonder."
The farmer led the way, and the men carried Jack into the house, when the farmer gave him a glass of brandy; this restored Jack's circulation, and in a short time he was all right again.
After some previous conversation, in which Jack narrated all that had happened, "What may be your name?" inquired the farmer.
"My name is Easy," replied Jack.
"What! be you the son of Mr Easy, of Forest Hill?"
"Dang it, he be my landlord, and a right good landlord too—why didn't you say so when you were up in the apple-tree? You might have picked the whole orchard and welcome."
"My dear sir," replied Jack, who had taken a second glass of brandy, and was quite talkative again, "let this be a warning to you, and when a man proposes to argue the point, always, in future, listen. Had you waited, I would have proved to you most incontestably that you had no more right to the apples than I had; but you would not listen to argument, and without discussion we can never arrive at truth. You send for your dog, who is ripped up by the bull—the bull breaks his leg in a saw-pit—the bee-hives are overturned, and you lose all your honey—your man John breaks his jaw—your maid Susan spoils all the bread—and why? because you would not allow me to argue the point."
"Well, Mr Easy, it be all true that all these mishaps have happened because I would not allow you to argue the point, perhaps, although, as I rent the orchard from your father, I cannot imagine how you could prove to me that the apples were not mine; but now, let's take your side of the question, and I don't see how you be much better off: you get up in a tree for a few apples, with plenty of money to buy them if you like—you are kept there by a dog—you are nearly gored by a bull—you are stung by the bees, and you tumble souse into a well, and are nearly killed a dozen times, and all for a few apples not worth twopence."
"All very true, my good man," replied Jack; "but you forget that I, as a philosopher, was defending the rights of man."
"Well, I never knew before that a lad who stole apples was called a philosopher—we calls it petty larceny in the indictments: and as for your rights of man, I cannot see how they can be defended by doing what's wrong."
"You do not comprehend the matter, farmer."
"No, I don't—and I be too old to learn, Master Easy. All I have to say is this, you are welcome to all the apples in the orchard if you please, and if you prefers, as it seems you do, to steal them, instead of asking for them, which I only can account for by the reason that they say, that 'stolen fruit be sweetest,' I've only to say that I shall give orders that you be not interfered with. My chaise be at the door, Master Easy, and the man will drive you to your father's— make my compliments to him, and say, that I'm very sorry that you tumbled into our well."
As Jack was much more inclined for bed than argument, he wished the farmer good-night, and allowed himself to be driven home.
The pain from the sting of the bees, now that his circulation had fully returned, was so great, that he was not sorry to find Dr Middleton taking his tea with his father and mother. Jack merely said that he had been so unfortunate as to upset a hive, and had been severely stung. He deferred the whole story till another opportunity. Dr Middleton prescribed for Jack, but on taking his hand found that he was in a high fever, which, after the events of the day, was not to be wondered at. Jack was bled, and kept his bed for a week, by which time he was restored; but, during that time, Jack had been thinking very seriously, and had made up his mind.
But we must explain a circumstance which had occurred, which was probably the cause of Jack's decision. When Jack returned on the evening in question, he found seated with his father and Dr Middleton a Captain Wilson, a sort of cousin to the family, who but occasionally paid them a visit, for he lived at some distance; and having a wife and large family, with nothing but his half-pay for their support, he could not afford to expend even shoe-leather in compliments. The object of this visit on the part of Captain Wilson was to request the aid of Mr Easy. He had succeeded in obtaining his appointment to a sloop of war (for he was in the king's service), but was without the means of fitting himself out, without leaving his wife and family penniless. He therefore came to request Mr Easy to lend him a few hundred pounds, until he should be able, by his prize-money, to repay them. Mr Easy was not a man to refuse such a request, and always having plenty of spare cash at his banker's, he drew a cheque for a thousand pounds, which he gave to Captain Wilson, requesting that he would only repay it at his convenience. Captain Wilson wrote an acknowledgment of the debt, promising to pay upon his first prize-money, which receipt, however binding it may be to a man of honour, was, in point of law, about as valuable as if he had agreed to pay as soon "as the cows came home." The affair had been just concluded, and Captain Wilson had returned into the parlour with Mr Easy, when Jack returned from his expedition.
Jack greeted Captain Wilson, whom he had long known; but, as we before observed, he suffered so much pain, that he soon retired with Dr Middleton, and went to bed.
During a week there is room for much reflection, even in a lad of fourteen, although at that age we are not much inclined to think. But Jack was in bed; his eyes were so swollen with the stings of the bees that he could neither read nor otherwise amuse himself; and he preferred his own thoughts to the gabble of Sarah, who attended him; so Jack thought, and the result of his cogitations we shall soon bring forward.
It was on the eighth day that Jack left his bed and came down into the drawing-room. He then detailed to his father the adventures which had taken place, which had obliged him to take to his bed.
"You see, Jack," replied his father, "it's just what I told you: the world is so utterly demoralised by what is called social compact, and the phalanx supporting it, by contributing a portion of their unjust possessions for the security of the remainder, is so powerful, that any one who opposes it must expect to pass the life of a martyr; but martyrs are always required previous to any truth, however sublime, being received, and, like Abraham, whom I have always considered as a great philosopher, I am willing to sacrifice my only son in so noble a cause."
"That's all very good on your part, father, but we must argue the point a little. If you are as great a philosopher as Abraham, I am not quite so dutiful a son as Isaac, whose blind obedience, in my opinion, is very contrary to your rights of man: but the fact, in few words, is simply this. In promulgating your philosophy, in the short space of two days, I have been robbed of the fish I caught, and my rod and line—I have been soused into a fish-pond—I have been frightened out of my wits by a bull-dog—been nearly killed by a bull—been stung to death by bees, and twice tumbled into a well. Now, if all that happens in two days, what must I expect to suffer in a whole year? It appears to be very unwise to attempt making further converts, for people on shore seem determined not to listen to reason or argument. But it has occurred to me, that although the whole earth has been so nefariously divided among the few, that the waters at least are the property of all. No man claims his share of the sea—every one may there plough as he pleases, without being taken up for a trespasser. Even war makes no difference; every one may go on as he pleases, and if they meet, it is nothing but a neutral ground on which the parties contend. It is, then, only upon the ocean that I am likely to find that equality and rights of man, which we are so anxious to establish on shore; and therefore I have resolved not to go to school again, which I detest, but to go to sea, and propagate our opinions as much as I can."
"I cannot listen to that, Jack. in the first place, you must return to school; in the next place, you shall not go to sea."
"Then, father, all I have to say is, that I swear by the rights of man I will not go back to school, and that I will go to sea. Who and what is to prevent me? Was not I born my own master, has any one a right to dictate to me as if I were not his equal? Have I not as much right to my share of the sea as any other mortal? I stand upon perfect equality," continued Jack, stamping his right foot on the floor.
What had Mr Easy to offer in reply? He must either, as a philosopher, have sacrificed his hypothesis, or, as a father, have sacrificed his son. Like all philosophers, he preferred what he considered as the less important of the two, he sacrificed his son; but—we will do him justice—he did it with a sigh.
"Jack, you shall, if you wish it, go to sea."
"That, of course," replied Jack, with the air of a conqueror; "but the question is, with whom? Now it has occurred to me, that Captain Wilson has just been appointed to a ship, and I should like to sail with him."
"I will write to him," said Mr Easy, mournfully, "but I should have liked to have felt his head first"; and thus was the matter arranged.
The answer from Captain Wilson was, of course, in the affirmative, and he promised that he would treat Jack as his own son.
Our hero mounted his father's horse, and rode off to Mr Bonnycastle.
"I am going to sea, Mr Bonnycastle."
"The very best thing for you," replied Mr Bonnycastle.
Our hero met Dr Middleton. "I am going to sea, Dr Middleton."
"The very best thing for you," replied the Doctor.
"I am going to sea, mother," said John.
"To sea, John, to sea? no, no, dear John, you are not going to sea," replied Mrs Easy, with horror.
"Yes, I am; father has agreed, and says he will obtain your consent."
"My consent! Oh, my dear, dear boy!"—and Mrs Easy wept bitterly, as Rachel mourning for her children.