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Mr. Midshipman Easy (part 2 chapter 4)

2006-08-22 18:30

  Chapter 4

  IN WHICH OUR HERO FOLLOWS HIS DESTINY AND FORMS A TABLEAU

  Our hero and his comrade climbed the precipice, and, after some minutes‘ severe toil, arrived at the summit, when they sat down to recover themselves. The sky was clear, although the gale blew strong. They had an extensive view of the coast, lashed by the angry waves.

  “It‘s my opinion, Ned,” said Jack, as he surveyed the expanse of troubled water, “that we’re just as well out of that.”

  “I agree with you, Jack; but it‘s also my opinion that we should be just as well out of this, for the wind blows through one. Suppose we go a little farther inland, where we may find some shelter till the morning.”

  “It‘s rather dark to find anything,” rejoined our hero; “but, however, a westerly gale on the top of a mountain with wet clothes in the middle of the night, with nothing to eat or drink, is not the most comfortable position in the world, and we may change for the better.”

  They proceeded over a flat of a hundred yards, and then descended—the change in the atmosphere was immediate. As they continued their march inland, they came to a highroad, which appeared to run along the shore, and they turned into it; for, as Jack said very truly, a road must lead to something. After a quarter of an hour‘s walk, they again heard the rolling of the surf, and perceived the white walls of houses.

  “Here we are at last,” said Jack. “I wonder if any one will turn out to take us in, or shall we stow away for the night in one of those vessels hauled up on the beach?”

  “Recollect this time, Easy,” said Gascoigne, “not to show your money; that is, show only a dollar, and say you have no more, or promise to pay when we arrive at Palermo; and if they will neither trust us nor give to us, we must make it out as we can.”

  “How the cursed dogs bark! I think we shall do very well this time, Gascoigne: we do not look as if we were worth robbing, at all events, and we have the pistols to defend ourselves with if we are attacked. Depend upon it I will show no more gold. And now let us make our arrangements. Take you one pistol, and take half the gold—I have it all in my right-hand pocket—my dollars and pistarenes in my left. You shall take half of them too. We have silver enough to go on with till we are in a safe place.”

  Jack then divided the money in the dark, and also gave Gascoigne a pistol.

  “Now then, shall we knock for admittance?—Let‘s first walk through the village, and see if there’s anything like an inn. Those yelping curs will soon be at our heels; they come nearer and nearer every time. There‘s a cart, and it’s full of straw—suppose we go to bed till tomorrow morning—we shall be warm, at all events.”

  “Yes,” replied Gascoigne, “and sleep much better than in any of the cottages. I have been in Sicily before, and you have no idea how the fleas bite.”

  Our two midshipmen climbed up into the cart, nestled themselves into the straw, or rather Indian corn leaves, and were soon fast asleep. As they had not slept for two nights, it is not to be wondered at that they slept soundly—so soundly, indeed, that about two hours after they had got into their comfortable bed, the peasant, who had brought to the village some casks of wine to be shipped and taken down the coast in a felucca, yoked his bullocks, and not being aware of his freight, drove off without, in any way, disturbing their repose, although the roads in Sicily are not yet macadamized.

  The jolting of the roads rather increased than disturbed the sleep of our adventurers; and, although there were some rude shocks, it only had the effect of making them fancy in their dreams that they were again in the boat, and that she was still dashing against the rocks. In about two hours, the cart arrived at its destination—the peasant unyoked his bullocks and led them away. The same cause will often produce contrary effects: the stopping of the motion of the cart disturbed the rest of our two midshipmen; they turned round in the straw, yawned, spread out their arms, and then awoke. Gascoigne, who felt considerable pain in his shoulder, was the first to recall his scattered senses.

  “Easy,” cried he, as he sat up and shook off the corn leaves.

  “Port it is,” said Jack, half dreaming.

  “Come, Easy, you are not no board now. Rouse and bitt.”

  Jack then sat up and looked at Gascoigne. The forage in the cart was so high round them that they could not see above it; they rubbed their eyes, yawned, and looked at each other.

  “Have you any faith in dreams,” said Jack to Gascoigne, “because I had a very queer one last night.”

  “Well, so had I,” replied Gascoigne. “I dreamt that the cart rolled by itself into the sea, and went away with us right in the wind‘s eye back to Malta; and considering that it never was built for such service, she behaved uncommonly well. Now, what was your dream?”

  “Mine was, that we woke up and found ourselves in the very town from which the speronare had sailed, and that they had found the fore part of the speronare among the rocks, and recognized her, and picked up one of our pistols. That they had laid hold of us, and insisted that we had been thrown on shore in the boat, and asked us what had become of the crew—they were just seizing us, when I awoke.”

  “Your dream is more likely to come true than mine, Easy; but still I think we need not fear that. At the same time, we had better not remain here any longer; and it occurs to me, that if we tore our clothes more, it would be advisable—we shall, in the first place, look more wretched; and, in the next place, can replace them with the dress of the country, and so travel without exciting suspicion. You know that I can speak Italian pretty well.”

  “I have no objection to tear my clothes if you wish,” replied Jack; “at the same time give me your pistol; I will draw the charges and load them again. They must be wet.”

  Having reloaded the pistols and rent their garments, the two midshipmen stood up in the cart and looked about them.

  “Halloo!—why how‘s this, Gascoigne? last night we were close to the beach, and among houses, and now —where the devil are we? You dreamt nearer the mark than I did, for the cart has certainly taken a cruise.”

  “We must have slept like midshipmen, then,” replied Gascoigne: “surely it cannot have gone far.”

  “Here we are, surrounded by hills on every side, for at least a couple of miles. Surely some good genius has transported us into the interior, that we might escape from the relatives of the crew whom I dreamt about,” said Jack, looking at Gascoigne.

  As it afterwards was known to them, the speronare had sailed from the very seaport in which they had arrived that night, and where they had got into the cart. The wreck of the speronare had been found, and had been recognized, and it was considered by the inhabitants that the padrone and his crew had perished in the gale. Had they found our two midshipmen and questioned them, it is not improbable that suspicion might have been excited, and the results have been such as our hero had conjured up in his dream. But, as we said before, there is a peculiar providence for midshipmen.

  On a minute survey, they found that they were in an open space which, apparently, had been used for thrashing and winnowing maize, and that the cart was standing under a clump of trees in the shade.

  “There ought to be a house hereabouts,” said Gascoigne; “I should think that behind the trees we shall find one. Come, Jack, you are as hungry as I am, I‘ll answer for it; we must look out for a breakfast somewhere.”

  “If they won‘t give us something to eat, or sell it,” replied Jack, who was ravenous, clutching his pistol, “I shall take it—I consider it no robbery. The fruits of the earth were made for us all, and it never was intended that one man should have a superfluity and another starve. The laws of equality—”

  “May appear very good arguments to a starving man, I grant, but still, won‘t prevent his fellow creatures from hanging him,” replied Gascoigne. “None of your confounded nonsense, Jack; no man starves with money in his pocket, and as long as you have that, leave those that have none to talk about equality and the rights of man.”

  “I should like to argue that point with you, Gascoigne.”

  “Tell me, do you prefer sitting down here to argue, or to look out for some breakfast, Jack?”

  “Oh, the argument may be put off, but hunger cannot.”

  “That‘s very good philosophy, Jack, so let’s go on.”

  They went through the copse of wood, which was very thick, and soon discovered the wall of a large house on the other side.

  “All right,” said Jack; “but still let us reconnoitre. It‘s not a farmhouse; it must belong to a person of some consequence—all the better—they will see that we are gentlemen, notwithstanding our tattered dress. I suppose we are to stick to the story of the sea-mews at Gozo?”

  “Yes,” replied Gascoigne; “I can think of nothing better. But the English are well received in this island; we have troops at Palermo.”

  “Have we? I wish I was sitting down at the mess-table—but what‘s that? a woman screaming?—Yes, by heavens!—come along, Ned.” And away dashed Jack towards the house, followed by Gascoigne. As they advanced the screams redoubled; they entered the porch, burst into the room from whence they proceeded, and found an elderly gentleman defending himself against two young men, who were held back by an elderly and a young lady. Our hero and his comrade had both drawn their pistols, and just as they burst open the door, the old gentleman who defended himself against such odds had fallen down. The two others burst from the women, and were about to pierce him with their swords, when Jack seized one by the collar of his coat and held him fast, pointing the muzzle of the pistol to his ear: Gascoigne did the same to the other. It was a very dramatic tableau. The two women flew to the elderly gentleman and raised him up; the two asailants being held just as dogs hold pigs by the ear, trembling with fright, with the points of their rapiers dropped, looked at the midshipmen and the muzzles of their pistols with equal dismay; at the same time, the astonishment of the elderly gentleman and the women, at such an unexpected deliverance, was equally great. There was a silence for a few seconds.

  “Ned,” at last said Jack, “tell these chaps to drop their swords or we fire.”

  Gascoigne gave the order in Italian, and it was complied with. The midshipmen then possessed themselves of the rapiers, and gave the young men their liberty.

  The elderly gentleman at last broke the silence.

  “It would appear, signors, that there was an especial interference of Providence, to prevent you from committing a foul and unjust murder. Who these are that have so opportunely come to my rescue, I know not, but thanking them as I do now, I think that you will yourselves, when you are calm, also thank them for having prevented you from committing an act which would have loaded you with remorse and embittered your future existence. Gentlemen, you are free to depart: you, Don Silvio, have indeed disappointed me; your gratitude should have rendered you incapable of such conduct: as for you, Don Scipio, you have been misled; but you both have, in one point, disgraced yourselves. Ten days back my sons were both here— why did you not come then? If you sought revenge on me, you could not have inflicted it deeper than through my children, and at least you would not have acted the part of assassins in attacking an old man. Take your swords, gentlemen, and use them better henceforth. Against future attacks I shall be well prepared.”

  Gascoigne, who perfectly understood what was said, presented the sword to the young gentleman from whom he had taken it—our hero did the same. The two young men returned them to their sheaths, and quitted the room without saying a word.

  “Whoever you are, I owe to you and thank you for my life,” said the elderly gentleman, scanning the outward appearance of our two midshipmen.

  “We are,” said Gascoigne, “officers in the English navy, and gentlemen; we were wrecked in our boat last night, and have wandered here in the dark, seeking for assistance, and food, and some conveyance to Palermo, where we shall find friends, and the means of appearing like gentlemen.”

  “Was your ship wrecked, gentlemen?” inquired the Sicilian, “and many lives lost?”

  “No, our ship is at Malta; we were in a boat on a party of pleasure, were caught by a gale, and driven on the coast. To satisfy you of the truth, observe that our pistols have the king‘s mark; and that we are not paupers, we show you gold.”

  Gascoigne pulled out his doubloons—and Jack did the same, coolly observing,—

  “I thought we were only to show silver, Ned!”

  “It needed not that,” replied the gentleman; “your conduct in this affair, your manners and address, fully convince me that you are what you represent—but were you common peasants, I am equally indebted to you for my life, and you may command me. Tell me in what way I can be of service.”

  “In giving us something to eat, for we have had nothing for many, many hours. After that we may, perhaps, trespass a little more upon your kind offices.”

  “You must, of course, be surprised at what has passed, and curious to know the occasion,” said the gentleman; “you have a right to be informed of it, and shall be, as soon as you are more comfortable; in the meantime, allow me to introduce myself as Don Rebiera de Silva.”

  “I wish,” said Jack, who, from his knowledge of Spanish, could understand the whole of the last part of the Don‘s speech, “that he would introduce us to his breakfast.”

  “So do I,” said Gascoigne; “but we must wait a little— he ordered the ladies to prepare something instantly.”

  “Your friend does not speak Italian,” said Don Rebiera.

  “No, Don Rebiera, he speaks French and Spanish.”

  “If he speaks Spanish, my daughter can converse with him; she has but shortly arrived from Spain. We are closely united with a noble house in that country.”

  Don Rebiera then led the way to another room, and in a short time there was a repast brought in, to which our midshipmen did great justice.

  “I will now,” said the Don, “relate to you, sir, for the information of yourself and friend, the causes which produced this scene of violence, which you so opportunely defeated. But first, as it must be very tedious to your friend, I will send for Donna Clara and my daughter Agnes to talk to him; my wife understands a little Spanish, and my daughter, as I said before, has but just left the country, where, from circumstances, she remained some years.”

  As soon as Donna Clara and Donna Agnes made their appearance and were introduced, Jack, who had not before paid attention to them, said to himself, “I have seen a face like that girl‘s before.” If so, he had never seen many like it, for it was the quintessence of brunette beauty, and her figure was equally perfect; although, not having yet completed her fifteenth year, it required still a little more development.

  Donna Clara was extremely gracious, and as, perhaps, she was aware that her voice would drown that of her husband, she proposed to our hero to walk in the garden, and in a few minutes they took their seats in a pavilion at the end of it. The old lady did not talk much Spanish, but when at a loss for a word, she put in an Italian one, and Jack understood her perfectly well. She told him her sister had married a Spanish nobleman many years since, and that before the war broke out between the Spanish and the English, they had gone over with all their children to see her; that when they wished to return, her daughter Agnes, then a child, was suffering under a lingering complaint, and it was thought advisable, as she was very weak, to leave her under the charge of her aunt, who had a little girl of nearly the same age; that they were educated together at a convent near Tarragona, and that she had only returned two months ago; that she had a very narrow escape, as the ship in which her uncle, and aunt, and cousins, as well as herself, were on board, returning from Genoa, where her brother-in-law had been obliged to go to secure a succession to some property bequeathed to him, had been captured in the night by the English; but the officer, who was very polite, had allowed them to go away next day, and very handsomely permitted them to take all their effects.

  “Oh, oh,” thought Jack; “I thought I had seen her face before; this then was one of the girls in the corner of the cabin—now, I‘ll have some fun!”

  During the conversation with the mother, Donna Agnes had remained some paces behind, picking now and then a flower, and not attending to what passed.

  When our hero and her mother sat down in the pavilion she joined them, when Jack addressed her with his usual politeness.

  “I am almost ashamed to be sitting by you, Donna Agnes, in this ragged dress—but the rocks of your coast have no respect for persons.”

  “We are under great obligations, signor, and do not regard such trifles.”

  “You are all kindness, signora,” replied Jack; “I little thought this morning of my good fortune—I can tell the fortunes of others, but not my own.”

  “You can tell fortunes!” replied the old lady.

  “Yes, madam, I am famous for it—shall I tell your daughter hers?”

  Donna Agnes looked at our hero, and smiled.

  “I perceive that the young lady does not believe me; I must prove my art, by telling her of what has already happened to her. The signora will then give me credit.”

  “Certainly, if you do that,” replied Agnes.

  “Oblige me, by showing me the palm of your hand.”

  Agnes extended her little hand, and Jack felt so very polite, that he was nearly kissing it. However, he restrained himself, and examining the lines—

  “That you were educated in Spain—that you arrived here but two months ago—that you were captured and released by the English, your mother has already told me; but to prove to you that I knew all that, I must now be more particular. You were in a ship mounting fourteen guns—was it not so?”

  Donna Agnes nodded her head.

  “I never told the signor that,” cried Donna Clara.

  “She was taken by surprise in the night, and there was no fighting. The next morning the English burst open the cabin door; your uncle and your cousins fired their pistols.”

  “Holy Virgin!” cried Agnes with surprise.

  “The English officer was a young man, not very good-looking.”

  “There you are wrong, signor; he was very handsome.”

  “There is no accounting for taste, signora; you were frightened out of your wits, and with your cousin you crouched down in the corner of the cabin. Let me examine that little line closer—you had—yes, it‘s no mistake, you had very little clothes on.”

  Agnes tore away her hand and covered her face.

  “E vero, è vero. Holy Jesus! how could you know that?”

  Of a sudden Agnes looked at our hero, and after a minute appeared to recognize him.

  “Oh, mother, ‘tis he—I recollect now, ’tis he!”

  “Who, my child?” replied Donna Clara, who had been struck dumb with Jack‘s astonishing power of fortune-telling.

  “The officer who captured us, and was so kind.”

  Jack burst out into a laughter, not to be controlled for some minutes, and then acknowledged that she had discovered him.

  “At all events, Donna Agnes,” said he at last, “acknowledge that, ragged as I am, I have seen you in a much greater dishabille.”

  Agnes sprang up and took to her heels, that she might hide her confusion, and at the same time go to her father, and tell him who he had as his guest.

  Although Don Rebiera had not yet finished his narrative, this announcement of Agnes, who ran in breathless to communicate it, immediately brought all the parties together, and Jack received their thanks.

  “I little thought,” said the Don, “that I should have been so doubly indebted to you, sir. Command my services as you please, both of you. My sons are at Palermo, and I trust you will allow them the pleasure of your friendship when you are tired of remaining with us.”

  Jack made his politest bow, and then, with a shrug of his shoulders, looked down upon his habiliments, which, to please Gascoigne, he had torn into ribands, as much as to say, We are not provided for a lengthened stay.

  “My brothers‘ clothes will fit them, I think,” said Agnes to her father; “they have left plenty in their wardrobes.”

  “If the signors will condescend to wear them till they can replace their own.”

  Midshipmen are very condescending—they followed Don Rebiera, and condescended to put on clean shirts belonging to Don Philip and Don Martin; also to put on their trousers—to select their best waistcoats and coats—in short, they condescended to have a regular fit-out—and it so happened that the fit-out was not far from a regular fit.

  Having condescended, they then descended, and the intimacy between all parties became so great that it appeared as if they not only wore the young men‘s clothes, but also stood in their shoes. Having thus made themselves presentable, Jack presented his hand to both ladies, and led them into the garden, that Don Rebiera might finish his long story to Gascoigne without further interruption, and resuming their seats in the pavilion, he entertained the ladies with a history of his cruise in the ship after her capture. Agnes soon recovered from her reserve, and Jack had the forbearance not to allude again to the scene in the cabin, which was the only thing she dreaded. After dinner, when the family, according to custom, had retired for the siesta, Gascoigne and Jack, who had slept enough in the cart to last for a week, went out together in the garden.

  “Well, Ned,” said Jack, “do you wish yourself on board the Harpy again?”

  “No,” replied Gascoigne, “we have fallen on our feet at last, but still not without first being knocked about like peas in a rattle. What a lovely little creature that Agnes is! How strange that you should fall in with her again! How odd that we should come here!”

  “My good fellow, we did not come here. Destiny brought us in a cart. She may take us to Tyburn in the same way.”

  “Yes, if you sport your philosophy as you did when we awoke this morning.”

  “Nevertheless, I‘ll be hanged if I’m not right. Suppose we argue the point?”

  “Right or wrong, you will be hanged, Jack; so instead of arguing the point, suppose I tell you what the Don made such a long story about.”

  “With all my heart; let us go to the pavilion.”

  Our hero and his friend took their seats, and Gascoigne then communicated the history of Don Rebiera, to which we shall dedicate the ensuing chapter.

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