The Three Cutters/Chapter V

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“Here we are, Corbett, and now I only wish my venture had been double,” observed Pickersgill; “but I shall not allow business to absorb me wholly—we must add a little amusement. It appears to me, Corbett, that the gentleman’s clothes which lie there will fit you, and those of the good-looking fellow who was spokesman will, I am sure, suit me well. Now let us dress ourselves, and then for breakfast.”

Pickersgill then exchanged his clothes for those of Mr. Hautaine, and Corbett fitted on those of Mr. Ossulton. The steward was summoned up, and he dared not disobey; he appeared on deck, trembling.

“Steward—you will take these clothes below,” said Pickersgill, “and, observe, that I now command this yacht; and during the time that I am on board you will pay me the same respect as you did Lord B—: nay, more, you will always address me as Lord B—. You will prepare dinner and breakfast, and do your duty just as if his lordship was on board, and take care that you feed us well, for I will not allow the ladies to be entertained in a less sumptuous manner than before. You will tell the cook what I say; and now that you have heard me, take care that you obey; if not, recollect that I have my own men here, and if I but point with my finger, overboard you go. Do you perfectly comprehend me?”

“Yes,—sir,” stammered the steward.

“Yes, sir!—what did I tell you, sirrah?—Yes, my lord. Do you understand me?”

“Yes—my lord.”

“Pray, steward, whose clothes has this gentleman put on?”

“Mr.—Mr. Ossulton’s, I think—sir—my lord, I mean.”

“Very well, steward; then recollect, in future you always address that gentleman as Mr. Ossulton.”

“Yes, my lord,” and the steward went down below, and was obliged to take a couple of glasses of brandy to keep himself from fainting.

“Who are they, and what are they, Mr. Maddox?” cried the lady’s-maid, who had been weeping.

“Pirates!—bloody murderous, stick-at-nothing pirates!” replied the steward.

“Oh!” screamed the lady’s-maid, “what will become of us, poor unprotected females?” And she hastened into the cabin, to impart this dreadful intelligence.

The ladies in the cabin were not in a very enviable situation. As for the elder Miss Ossulton (but perhaps, it will be better in future to distinguish the two ladies, by calling the elder simply Miss Ossulton, and her niece, Cecilia), she was sitting with her salts to her nose, agonised with a mixture of trepidation and wounded pride. Mrs. Lascelles was weeping, but weeping gently. Cecilia was sad, and her heart was beating with anxiety and suspense—when the maid rushed in.

“O madam! O miss! O Mrs. Lascelles! I have found it all out!—they are murderous, bloody, do-everything pirates!!!”

“Mercy on us!” exclaimed Miss Ossulton; “surely they will never dare—?”

“Oh, ma’am, they dare anything!—they just now were for throwing the steward overboard; and they have rummaged for all the portmanteaus, and dressed themselves in the gentlemen’s best clothes. The captain of them told the steward that he was Lord B—, and that if he dared to call him anything else, he would cut his throat from ear to ear; and if the cook don’t give them a good dinner, they swear that they’ll chop his right hand off, and make him eat it without pepper or salt!”

Miss Ossulton screamed, and went off into hysterics. Mrs. Lascelles and Cecilia went to her assistance; but the latter had not forgotten the very different behaviour of Jack Pickersgill, and his polite manners, when he boarded the vessel. She did not therefore believe what the maid had reported, but still her anxiety and suspense were great, especially about her father. After having restored her aunt she put on her bonnet, which was lying on the sofa.

“Where are you going, dear?” said Mrs. Lascelles.

“On deck,” replied Cecilia. “I must and will speak to these men.”

“Gracious heaven, Miss Ossulton! Going on deck! Have you heard what Phoebe says?”

“Yes, aunt, I have; but I can wait here no longer.”

“Stop her! Stop her!—she will be murdered!—she will be—she is mad!” screamed Miss Ossulton; but no one attempted to stop Cecilia, and on deck she went. On her arrival she found Jack Pickersgill and Corbett walking the deck, one of the smugglers at the helm, and the rest forward, and as quiet as the crew of the yacht. As soon as she made her appearance Jack took off his hat, and made her a bow.

“I do not know whom I have the honour of addressing, young lady; but I am flattered with this mark of confidence. You feel, and I assure you, you feel correctly, that you are not exactly in lawless hands.”

Cecilia looked with more surprise than fear at Pickersgill. Mr. Hautaine’s dress became him; he was a handsome, fine-looking man, and had nothing of the ruffian in his appearance; unless, like Byron’s Corsair, he was half savage, half soft. She could not help thinking that she had met many with less pretensions, as far as appearance went, to the claims of a gentleman, at Almack’s and other fashionable circles.

“I have ventured on deck, sir,” said Cecilia, with a little tremulousness in her voice, “to request, as a favour, that you will inform me what your intentions may be with regard to the vessel and with regard to the ladies!”

“And I feel much obliged to you for so doing, and I assure you I will, as far as I have made up my own mind, answer you candidly: but you tremble—allow me to conduct you to a seat. In few words, then, to remove your present alarm, I intend that the vessel shall be returned to its owner, with every article in it as religiously respected as if they were church property. With respect to you, and the other ladies on board, I pledge you my honour that you have nothing to fear; that you shall be treated with every respect; your privacy never invaded; and that, in a few days, you will be restored to your friends. Young lady, I pledge my hopes of future salvation to the truth of this; but, at the same time, I must make a few conditions, which, however, will not be very severe.”

“But, sir,” replied Cecilia, much relieved, for Pickersgill had stood by her in the most respectful manner, “you are, I presume, the captain of the smuggler? Pray answer me one question more—What became of the boat with Lord B—? He is my father.”

“I left him in his boat, without a hair of his head touched, young lady; but I took away the oars.”

“Then he will perish!” cried Cecilia, putting her handkerchief to her eyes.

“No, young lady; he is on shore, probably, by this time. Although I took away his means of assisting to capture us, I left him the means of gaining the land. It is not every one who would have done that, after his conduct to us.”

“I begged him not to go,” said Cecilia; “I told him that it was not fair, and that he had no quarrel with the smugglers.”

“I thank you even for that,” replied Pickersgill. “And now, miss—I have not the pleasure of recollecting his lordship’s family name—”

“Ossulton, sir,” cried Cecilia, looking at Pickersgill with surprise.

“Then with your permission, Miss Ossulton, I will now make you my confidant: excuse my using so free a term, but it is because I wish to relieve your fears. At the same time, I cannot permit you to divulge all my intentions to the whole party on board. I feel that I may trust you, for you have courage, and where there is courage there generally is truth; but you must first tell me whether you will condescend to accept these terms?”

Cecilia demurred a moment; the idea of being the confidant of a smuggler rather startled her: but still, her knowledge of what his intentions were, if she might not reveal them, might be important; as, perhaps, she might dissuade him. She could be in no worse position than she was now, and she might be in a much better. The conduct of Pickersgill had been such, up to the present, as to inspire confidence; and, although he defied the laws, he appeared to regard the courtesies of life. Cecilia was a courageous girl, and at length she replied:—

“Provided what you desire me to keep secret will not be injurious to any one, or compromise me in my peculiar situation, I consent.”

“I would not hurt a fly, Miss Ossulton, but in self-defence; and I have too much respect for you, from your conduct during our short meeting, to compromise you. Allow me now to be very candid; and then, perhaps, you will acknowledge that in my situation others would do the same, and, perhaps, not show half so much forbearance. Your father, without any right whatever, interferes with me and my calling: he attempts to make me a prisoner, to have me thrown into jail, heavily fined, and, perhaps, sent out of the country. I will not enter into any defence of smuggling; it is sufficient to say that there are pains and penalties attached to the infraction of certain laws, and that I choose to risk them. But Lord B— was not empowered by Government to attack me; it was a gratuitous act; and had I thrown him and all his crew into the sea, I should have been justified; for it was, in short, an act of piracy on their part. Now, as your father has thought to turn a yacht into a revenue-cutter, you cannot be surprised at my retaliating, in turning her into a smuggler; and as he has mixed up looking after the revenue with yachting, he cannot be surprised if I retaliate, by mixing up a little yachting with smuggling. I have dressed your male companions as smugglers, and have sent them in the smuggling vessel to Cherbourg, where they will be safely landed; and I have dressed myself, and the only person whom I could join with me in this frolic, as gentlemen in their places. My object is twofold; one is to land my cargo, which I have now on board, and which is very valuable; the other is, to retaliate upon your father and his companions for their attempt upon me, by stepping into their shoes, and enjoying, for a day or two, their luxuries. It is my intention to make free with nothing but his lordship’s wines and eatables—that you may be assured of; but I shall have no pleasure if the ladies do not sit down to the dinner-table with us, as they did before with your father and his friends.”

“You can hardly expect that, sir,” said Cecilia.

“Yes, I do; and that will be not only the price of the early release of the yacht and themselves, but it will also be the only means by which they will obtain anything to eat. You observe, Miss Ossulton, the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. I have now told you what I mean to do and what I wish. I leave you to think of it, and decide whether it will not be the best for all parties to consent. You have my permission to tell the other ladies that, whatever may be their conduct, they are as secure from ill-treatment or rudeness as if they were in Grosvenor-Square; but I cannot answer that they will not be hungry, if, after such forbearance in every point, they show so little gratitude as not to honour me with their company.”

“Then I am to understand that we are to be starved into submission?”

“No, not starved, Miss Ossulton; but recollect that you will be on bread and water, and detained until you do consent, and your detention will increase the anxiety of your father.”

“You know how to persuade, sir,” said Cecilia. “As far as I am concerned, I trust I shall ever be ready to sacrifice any feelings of pride to spare my father so much uneasiness. With your permission, I will now go down into the cabin and relieve my companions from the worst of their fears. As for obtaining what you wish, I can only say that, as a young person, I am not likely to have much influence with those older than myself, and must inevitably be overruled, as I have not permission to point out to them reasons which might avail. Would you so far allow me to be relieved from my promise, as to communicate all you have said to me to the only married woman on board? I think I might then obtain your wishes, which, I must candidly tell you, I shall attempt to effect only because I am most anxious to rejoin my friends.”

“And be relieved of my company,” replied Pickersgill, smiling ironically,—“of course you are; but I must and will have my pretty revenge: and although you may, and probably will, detest me, at all events you shall not have any very formidable charge to make against me. Before you go below, Miss Ossulton, I give you my permission to add the married lady to the number of my confidants; and you must permit me to introduce my friend, Mr. Ossulton;” and Pickersgill waved his hand in the direction of Corbett, who took off his hat and made a low obeisance.

It was impossible for Cecilia Ossulton to help smiling.

“And,” continued Pickersgill, “having taken the command of this yacht instead of his lordship, it is absolutely necessary that I also take his lordship’s name. While on board I am Lord B—; and allow me to introduce myself under that name; I cannot be addressed otherwise. Depend upon it, Miss Ossulton, that I shall have a most paternal solicitude to make you happy and comfortable.”

Had Cecilia Ossulton dared to have given vent to her real feelings at that time, she would have burst into a fit of laughter; it was too ludicrous. At the same time, the very burlesque reassured her still more. She went into the cabin with a heavy weight removed from her heart.

In the meantime, Miss Ossulton and Mrs. Lascelles remained below, in the greatest anxiety at Cecilia’s prolonged stay; they knew not what to think, and dared not go on deck. Mrs. Lascelles had once determined at all risks to go up; but Miss Ossulton and Phoebe had screamed and implored her so fervently not to leave them that she unwillingly consented to remain. Cecilia’s countenance when she entered the cabin, reassured Mrs. Lascelles, but not her aunt, who ran to her crying and sobbing and clinging to her, saying, “What have they done to you, my poor, poor Cecilia?”

“Nothing at all, aunt,” replied Cecilia, “the captain speaks very fairly, and says he shall respect us in every possible way, provided that we obey his orders; but if not—”

“If not—what, Cecilia?” said Miss Ossulton, grasping her niece’s arm.

“He will starve us, and not let us go!”

“God have mercy on us!” cried Miss Ossulton, renewing her sobs.

Cecilia then went to Mrs. Lascelles, and communicated to her apart, all that had passed. Mrs. Lascelles agreed with Cecilia that they were in no danger of insult; and as they talked over the matter they at last began to laugh; there was a novelty in it, and there was something so ridiculous in all the gentlemen being turned into smugglers. Cecilia was glad that she could not tell her aunt, as she wished her to be so frightened as never to have her company on board the yacht again; and Mrs. Lascelles was too glad to annoy her for many and various insults received. The matter was therefore canvassed over very satisfactorily, and Mrs. Lascelles felt a natural curiosity to see this new Lord B— and the second Mr. Ossulton. But they had had no breakfast, and were feeling very hungry now that their alarm was over. They desired Phoebe to ask the steward for some tea or coffee. The reply was, that “Breakfast was laid in the cabin, and Lord B— trusted that the ladies would come to partake of it.”

“No, no,” replied Mrs. Lascelles, “I never can, without being introduced to them first.”

“Nor will I go,” replied Cecilia, “but I will write a note, and we will have our breakfast here.” Cecilia wrote a note in pencil as follows:

“Miss Ossulton’s compliments to Lord B—, and, as the ladies feel rather indisposed after the alarm of this morning, they trust that his lordship will excuse their coming to breakfast; but hope to meet his lordship at dinner, if not before that time on deck.”

The answer was propitious, and the steward soon appeared with the breakfast in the ladies’ cabin.

“Well, Maddox,” said Cecilia, “how do you get on with your new master?”

The steward looked at the door, to see if it was closed, shook his head, and then said, with a look of despair, “He has ordered a haunch of venison for dinner, miss, and he has twice threatened to toss me overboard.”

“You must obey him, Maddox, or he certainly will. These pirates are dreadful fellows. Be attentive, and serve him just as if he was my father.”

“Yes, yes, ma’am, I will; but our time may come. It’s burglary on the high seas, and I’ll go fifty miles to see him hanged.”

“Steward!” cried Pickersgill, from the cabin.

“O Lord! He can’t have heard me—d’ye think he did, miss?”

“The partitions are very thin, and you spoke very loud,” said Mrs. Lascelles: “at all events, go to him quickly.”

“Good bye, miss; good bye, ma’am; if I shouldn’t see you any more,” said Maddox, trembling with fear, as he obeyed the awful summons—which was to demand a tooth-pick.

Miss Ossulton would not touch the breakfast; not so Mrs. Lascelles and Cecilia, who ate very heartily.

“It’s very dull to be shut up in this cabin,” said Mrs. Lascelles; “come, Cecilia, let’s go on deck.”

“And leave me!” cried Miss Ossulton.

“There is Phoebe here, aunt; we are going up to persuade the pirates to put us all on shore.”

Mrs. Lascelles and Cecilia put on their bonnets and went up. Lord B— took off his hat, and begged the honour of being introduced to the pretty widow. He handed the ladies to a seat, and then commenced conversing upon various subjects, which at the same time possessed great novelty. His lordship talked about France, and described its ports; told now and then a good anecdote; pointed out the different headlands, bays, towns, and villages, which they were passing rapidly, and always had some little story connected with each. Before the ladies had been two hours on deck they found themselves, to their infinite surprise, not only interested, but in conversation with the captain of the smuggler, and more than once they laughed outright. But the soi-disant Lord B— had inspired them with confidence; they fully believed that what he had told them was true, and that he had taken possession of the yacht to smuggle his goods, to be revenged, and to have a laugh. Now none of these three offences are capital in the eyes of the fair sex, and Jack was a handsome, fine-looking fellow, of excellent manners and very agreeable conversation; at the same time, neither he nor his friend were in their general deportment and behaviour otherwise than most respectful.

“Ladies, as you are not afraid of me, which is a greater happiness than I had reason to expect, I think you may be amused to witness the fear of those who accuse your sex of cowardice. With your permission, I will send for the cook and steward, and inquire about the dinner.”

“I should like to know what there is for dinner,” observed Mrs. Lascelles demurely; “wouldn’t you, Cecilia?”

Cecilia put her handkerchief to her mouth.

“Tell the steward and the cook both to come aft immediately,” cried Pickersgill.

In a few seconds they both made their appearance. “Steward!” cried Pickersgill, with a loud voice.

“Yes, my lord,” replied Maddox, with his hat in his hand.

“What wines have you put out for dinner?”

“Champagne, my lord; and claret, my lord; and Madeira and sherry, my lord.”

“No Burgundy, sir?”

“No, my lord; there is no Burgundy on board.”

“No Burgundy, sir! Do you dare to tell me that?”

“Upon my soul, my lord,” cried Maddox, dropping on his knees, “there is no Burgundy on board—ask the ladies.”

“Very well, sir, you may go.”

“Cook, what have you got for dinner?”

“Sir, a haunch of mut— of venison, my lord,” replied the cook, with his white night-cap in his hand.

“What else, sirrah?”

“A boiled calf’s head, my lord.”

“A boiled calf’s head! Let it be roasted, or I’ll roast you, sir!” cried Pickersgill, in an angry tone.

“Yes, my lord; I’ll roast it.”

“And what else, sir?”

“Maintenon cutlets, my lord.”

“Maintenon cutlets! I hate them—I won’t have them, sir. Let them be dressed à l’ombre Chinoise.”

“I don’t know what that is, my lord.”

“I don’t care for that, sirrah; if you don’t find out by dinner-time, you’re food for fishes—that all; you may go.”

The cook walked off wringing his hands and his night-cap as well—for he still held it in his right hand—and disappeared down the fore-hatchway.

“I have done this to pay you a deserved compliment, ladies; you have more courage than the other sex.”

“Recollect that we have had confidence given to us in consequence of your pledging your word, my lord.”

“You do me, then, the honour of believing me?”

“I did not until I saw you,” replied Mrs. Lascelles, “but now I am convinced that you will perform your promise.”

“You do, indeed, encourage me, madam, to pursue what is right,” said Pickersgill, bowing; “for your approbation I should be most sorry to lose, still more sorry to prove myself unworthy of it.”

As the reader will observe, everything was going on remarkably well.