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Mr. Midshipman Easy (part 2 chapter 3)

2006-08-22 18:30

  Chapter 3

  IN WHICH OUR HERO SETS OFF ON ANOTHER CRUISE, IN WHICH HE IS NOT BLOWN OFF SHORE

  Gascoigne and our hero were neither of them in uniform, and they hastened to Nix Mangare stairs, where they soon picked up the padrone of a speronare. They went with him into a wine shop, and with the assistance of a little English from a Maltese boy, whose shirt hung out of his trousers, they made a bargain, by which it was agreed that, for the consideration of two doubloons, he would sail that evening and land them at Gergenti or some other town in Sicily, providing them with something to eat and gregos to sleep upon.

  Our two midshipmen then went back to the tavern from which they had set off to fight the duel, and ordering a good dinner to be served in a back room, they amused themselves with killing flies, as they talked over the events of the day, and waited for their dinner.

  As Mr. Tallboys did not himself think proper to go on board till the evening, and Mr. Biggs also wished it to be dark before he went up the ship‘s side, the events of the duel did not transpire till the next morning. Even then it was not known from the boatswain or gunner, but by a hospital mate coming on board to inform the surgeon that there was one of their men wounded under their charge, but that he was doing very well.

  Mr. Biggs had ascended the side with his face bound up.

  “Confound that Jack Easy,” said he, “I have only till it was dark, and there had waited till the padrone came to them.

  “What shall we do with the pistols, Easy?”

  “Take them with us, and load them before we go— we may want them: who knows but there may be a mutiny on board of the speronare?—I wish we had Mesty with us.”

  They loaded the pistols, took a pair each and put them in their waists, concealed under their clothes—divided the ammunition between them, and soon afterwards the padrone came to tell them all was ready.

  Whereupon Messrs. Gascoigne and Easy paid their bill and rose to depart, but the padrone informed them that he should like to see the colour of their money before they went on board. Jack, very indignant at the insinuation that he had not sufficient cash, pulled out a handful of doubloons, and tossing two to the padrone, asked him if he was satisfied.

  The padrone untied his sash, put in the money, and with many thanks and protestations of service, begged our young gentlemen to accompany him: they did so, and in a few minutes were clear of Nix Mangare stairs, and, passing close to his majesty‘s ship Harpy, were soon out of the harbour of Vallette.

  Of all the varieties of vessels which float upon the wave, there is not, perhaps, one that bounds over the water so gracefully or so lightly as a speronare, or any one so picturesque and beautiful to the eye of those who watch its progress.

  The night was clear, and the stars shone out brilliantly as the light craft skimmed over the water, and a fragment of a descending and waning moon threw its soft beams upon the snow-white sail. The vessel, which had no deck, was full of baskets, which had contained grapes and various fruits brought from the ancient granary of Rome, still as fertile and as luxuriant as ever. The crew consisted of the padrone, two men, and a boy; the three latter, with their gregos, or night greatcoats with hoods, sitting forward before the sail, with their eyes fixed on the land as they flew past point after point, thinking perhaps of their wives, or perhaps of their sweethearts, or perhaps not thinking at all.

  The padrone remained aft at the helm, offering every politeness to our two young gentlemen, who only wished to be left alone. At last they requested the padrone to give them gregos to lie down upon, as they wished to go to sleep. He called the boy to take the helm, procured them all they required, and then went forward. And our two midshipmen laid down looking at the stars above them, for some minutes, without exchanging a word. At last Jack commenced.

  “I have been thinking, Gascoigne, that this is very delightful. My heart bounds with the vessel, and it almost appears to me as if the vessel herself was rejoicing in her liberty. Here she is capering over the waves instead of being tied by the nose with a cable and anchor.”

  “That‘s a touch of the sentimental, Jack,” replied Gascoigne; “but she is no more free than she was when at anchor, for she now is forced to act in obedience to her steersman, and go just where he pleases. You may just as well say that a horse, if taken out of the stable, is free, with the curb, and his rider on his back.”

  “That‘s a touch of the rational, Ned, which destroys the illusion. Never mind, we are free, at all events. What machines we are on board of a man-of-war! We walk, talk, eat, drink, sleep, and get up, just like clockwork; we are wound up to go the twenty-four hours, and then wound up again; just like old Smallsole does the chronometers.”

  “Very true, Jack; but it does not appear to me, that, hitherto, you have kept very good time: you require a little more regulating,” said Gascoigne.

  “How can you expect any piece of machinery to go well, so damnably knocked about as a midshipman is?” replied our hero.

  “Very true, Jack; but sometimes you don‘t keep any time, for you don’t keep any watch. Mr. Asper don‘t wind you up. You don’t go at all.”

  “No; because he allows me to go down; but still I do go, Ned.”

  “Yes, to your hammock—but it‘s no go with old Smallsole, if I want a bit of caulk. But, Jack, what do you say—shall we keep watch to-night?”

  “Why, to tell you the truth, I have been thinking the same thing—I don‘t much like the looks of the padrone —he squints.”

  “That‘s no proof of anything, Jack, except that his eyes are not straight; but if you do not like the look of him, I can tell you that he very much liked the look of your doubloons—I saw him start, and his eyes twinkled, and I thought at the time it was a pity you had not paid him in dollars.”

  “It was very foolish in me; but at all events he has not seen all.

  “He saw quite enough, Ned.”

  “Very true, but you should have let him see the pistols, and not have let him see the doubloons.”

  “Well, if he wishes to take what he has seen, he shall receive what he has not seen—why, there are only four of them?”

  “Oh, I have no fear of them, only it may be as well to sleep with one eye open.”

  “When shall we make the land?”

  “To-morrow evening with this wind, and it appears to be steady. Suppose we keep watch and watch, and have our pistols out ready, with the greatcoats just turned over them, to keep them out of sight?”

  “Agreed—it‘s about twelve o’clock now—who shall keep the middle watch?”

  “I will, Jack, if you like it.”

  “Well, then, mind you kick me hard, for I sleep devilish sound. Good night, and keep a sharp lookout.”

  Jack was fast asleep in less than ten minutes; and Gascoigne, with his pistols lying by him all ready for each hand, sat up at the bottom of the boat.

  There certainly is a peculiar providence in favour of midshipmen compared with the rest of mankind; they have more lives than a cat—always in the greatest danger, but always escaping from it.

  The padrone of the vessel had been captivated with the doubloons which Jack had so foolishly exposed to his view, and he had, moreover, resolved to obtain them. At the very time that our two lads were conversing aft, the padrone was talking the matter over with his two men forward, and it was agreed that they should murder, rifle, and then throw them overboard.

  About two o‘clock in the morning, the padrone came aft to see if they were asleep, but found Gascoigne watching. He returned aft again and again, but found the young man still sitting up. Tired of waiting, anxious to possess the money, and not supposing that the lads were armed, he went once more forward and spoke to the men. Gascoigne had watched his motions; he thought it singular, that with three men in the vessel, the helm should be confided to the boy—and at last he saw them draw their knives. He pushed our hero, who woke immediately. Gascoigne put his hand over Jack’s mouth, that he might not speak, and then he whispered his suspicions. Jack seized his pistols—they both cocked them without noise, and then waited in silence, Jack still lying down while Gascoigne continued to sit up at the bottom of the boat. At last Gascoigne saw the three men coming aft—he dropped one of his pistols for a second, to give Jack a squeeze of the hand, which was returned, and as Gascoigne watched them making their way through the piles of empty baskets he leaned back as if he was slumbering. The padrone, followed by the two men, was at last aft—they paused a moment before they stepped over the strengthening plank, which ran from side to side of the boat between them and the midshipmen, and as neither of them stirred they imagined that both were asleep—advanced and raised their knives, when Gascoigne and Jack, almost at the same moment, each discharged their pistols into the breast of the padrone and one of the men, who was with him in advance, who both fell with the send aft of the boat, so as to encumber the midshipmen with the weight of their bodies. The third man started back. Jack, who could not rise, from the padrone lying across his legs, took a steady aim with his second pistol, and the third man fell. The boy at the helm, who, it appeared, either was aware of what was to be done, or seeing the men advance with their knives, had acted upon what he saw, also drew his knife and struck at Gascoigne from behind; the knife fortunately, after slightly wounding Gascoigne on the shoulder, had shut on the boy‘s hand— Gascoigne sprang up with his other pistol, the boy started back at the sight of it, lost his balance, and fell overboard.

  Our two midshipmen took a few seconds to breathe.

  “I say, Jack?” said Gascoigne at last, “did you ever—”

  “No, I never—” replied Jack.

  “What‘s to be done now?”

  “Why, as we‘ve got possession, Ned, we had better put a man at the helm—for the speronare is having it all her own way.”

  “Very true,” replied Gascoigne; “and as I can steer better than you, I suppose it must be me.”

  Gascoigne went to the helm, brought the boat up to the wind, and then they resumed their conversation.

  “That rascal of a boy gave me a devil of a lick on the shoulder; I don‘t know whether he has hurt me—at all events it’s my left shoulder, so I can steer just as well. I wonder whether the fellows are dead.”

  “The padrone is, at all events,” replied Jack. “It was as much as I could do to get my legs from under him—but we‘ll wait till daylight before we see to that— in the meantime, I’ll load the pistols again.”

  “The day is breaking now—it will be light in half an hour or less. What a devil of a spree, Jack!”

  “Yes, but how can one help it? We ran away because two men are wounded—and now we are obliged to kill four in self-defence.”

  “Yes, but that is not the end of it; when we get to Sicily what are we to do? we shall be imprisoned by the authorities—perhaps hung.”

  “We‘ll argue that point with them,” replied Jack.

  “We had better argue the point between ourselves, Jack, and see what will be the best plan to get out of our scrape.”

  “I think that we just have got out of it—never fear but we‘ll get out of the next. Do you know, Gascoigne, it appears to me very odd, but I can do nothing but there’s a bobbery at the bottom of it.”

  “You certainly have a great talent that way, Jack. Don‘t I hear one of these poor fellows groan?”

  “I should think that not impossible.”

  “What shall we do with them?”

  “We will argue that point, Ned—we must either keep their bodies or we must throw them overboard. Either tell the whole story or say nothing about it.”

  “That‘s very evident; in short, we must do something, for your argument goes no further. But now let us take up one of your propositions.”

  “Well then, suppose we keep the bodies on board, run into a seaport, go to the authorities, and state all the facts, what then?”

  “We shall prove, beyond all doubt, that we have killed three men, if not four; but we shall not prove that we were obliged so to do, Jack. And then we are heretics—we shall be put in prison till they are satisfied of our innocence, which we never can prove, and there we shall remain until we have written to Malta, and a man-of-war comes to redeem us, if we are not stabbed, or something else in the meantime.”

  “That will not be a very pleasant cruise,” replied Jack. “Now let‘s argue the point on the other side.”

  “There is some difficulty there—suppose we throw their bodies overboard, toss the baskets after them, wash the boat clean, and make for the first port. We may chance to hit upon the very spot from which they sailed, and then there will be a pack of wives and children, and a populace with knives, asking us what has become of the men of the boat?”

  “I don‘t much like the idea of that,” said Jack.

  “And if we don‘t have such bad luck, still we shall be interrogated as to who we are, and how we were adrift by ourselves.”

  “There will be a difficulty about that again—we must swear that it is a party of pleasure, and that we are gentlemen yachting.”

  “Without a crew or provisions—yachts don‘t sail with a clean-swept hold, or gentlemen without a spare shirt—we have nothing but two gallons of water and two pairs of pistols.”

  “I have it,” said Jack—“we are two young gentlemen in our own boat who went out to Gozo with pistols to shoot seamews, were caught in a gale, and blown down to Sicily—that will excite interest.”

  “That‘s the best idea yet, as it will account for our having nothing in the boat. Well then, at all events, we will get rid of the bodies; but suppose they are not dead—we cannot throw them overboard alive—that will be murder.”

  “Very true,” replied Jack, “then we must shoot them first, and toss them overboard afterwards.”

  “Upon my soul, Easy, you are an odd fellow: however, go and examine the men, and we‘ll decide that point by-and-by—you had better keep your pistol ready cocked, for they may be shamming.”

  “Devil a bit of sham here, anyhow,” replied Jack, pulling at the body of the padrone, “and as for this fellow you shot, you might put your fist into his chest. Now for the third,” continued Jack, stepping over the strengthening piece—“he‘s all among the baskets. I say, my cock, are you dead?” and Jack enforced his question with a kick in the ribs. The man groaned. “That’s unlucky, Gascoigne; but, however, I‘ll soon settle him,” said Jack, pointing his pistol.

  “Stop, Jack,” cried Gascoigne, “it really will be murder.”

  “No such thing, Ned; I‘ll just blow his brains out, and then I’ll come aft and argue the point with you.”

  “Now do oblige me by coming aft and arguing the point first. Do, Jack, I beg of you—I entreat you.”

  “With all my heart,” replied Jack, resuming his seat by Gascoigne; “I assert, that in this instance killing‘s no murder. You will observe, Ned, that by the laws of society, any one who attempts the life of another has forfeited his own; at the same time, as it is necessary that the fact should be clearly proved and justice be duly administered, the parties are tried, convicted, and then are sentenced to the punishment.”

  “I grant all that.”

  “In this instance the attempt has been clearly proved; we are the witnesses, and are the judges and jury, and society in general, for the best of all possible reasons, because there is nobody else. These men‘s lives being therefore forfeited to society, belong to us; and it does not follow because they were not all killed in the attempt, that therefore they are not now to be brought out for punishment. And as there is no common hangman here, we, of course, must do this duty as well as every other. I have now clearly proved that I am justified in what I am about to do. But the argument does not stop there—self-preservation is the first law of nature, and if we do not get rid of this man, what is the consequence? —that we shall have to account for his being wounded, and then, instead of judges, we shall immediately be placed in the position of culprits, and have to defend ourselves without witnesses. We therefore risk our lives from a misplaced lenity towards a wretch unworthy to live.”

  “Your last argument is strong, Easy, but I cannot consent to your doing what may occasion you uneasiness hereafter when you think of it.”

  “Pooh! nonsense—I am a philosopher.”

  “Of what school, Jack? Oh, I presume you are a disciple of Mesty‘s. I do not mean to say that you are wrong, but still hear my proposition. Let us lower down the sail, and then I can leave the helm to assist you. We will clear the vessel of everything except the man who is still alive. At all events, we may wait a little, and if at last there is no help for it, I will then agree with you to launch him overboard, even if he is not quite dead.”

  “Agreed; even by your own making out, it will be no great sin. He is half dead already—I only do half the work of tossing him over, so it will be only quarter murder on my part, and he would have shown no quarter on his.” Here Jack left off arguing and punning, and went forward and lowered down the sail. “I‘ve half a mind to take my doubloons back,” said Jack, as they launched over the body of the padrone, “but he may have them—I wonder whether they’ll ever turn up again.”

  “Not in our time, Jack,” replied Gascoigne.

  The other body, and all the basket lumber, etc., were then tossed over, and the boat was cleared of all but the man who was not yet dead.

  “Now let‘s examine the fellow, and see if he has any chance of recovery,” said Gascoigne.

  The man lay on his side; Gascoigne turned him over, and found that he was dead.

  “Over with him, quick,” said Jack, “before he comes to life again.”

  The body disappeared under the wave—they again hoisted the sail, Gascoigne took the helm, and our hero proceeded to draw water and wash away the stains of blood; he then cleared the boat of vine leaves and rubbish, with which it was strewed, swept it clean fore and aft, and resumed his seat by his comrade.

  “There,” said Jack, “now we‘ve swept the decks, we may pipe to dinner. I wonder whether there is anything to eat in the locker?”

  Jack opened it, and found some bread, garlic, sausages, a bottle of aquadente, and a jar of wine.

  “So the padrone did keep his promise, after all.”

  “Yes, and had you not tempted him with the sight of so much gold, might now have been alive.”

  “To which I reply, that if you had not advised our going off in a speronare, he would now have been alive.”

  “And if you had not fought a duel, I should not have given the advice.”

  “And if the boatswain had not been obliged to come on board without his trousers at Gibraltar, I should not have fought a duel.”

  “And if you had not joined the ship, the boatswain would have had his trousers on.”

  “And if my father had not been a philosopher, I should not have gone to sea; so that it is all my father‘s fault, and he has killed four men off the coast of Sicily, without knowing it—cause and effect. After all, there’s nothing like argument; so having settled that point, let us go to dinner.”

  Having finished their meal, Jack went forward and observed the land ahead; they steered the same course for three or four hours.

  “We must haul our wind more,” said Gascoigne; “it will not do to put into any small town: we have now to choose, whether we shall land on the coast and sink the speronare, or land at some large town.”

  “We must argue that point,” replied Jack.

  “In the meantime, do you take the helm, for my arm is quite tired,” replied Gascoigne: “you can steer well enough: by-the bye, I may as well look at my shoulder, for it is quite stiff.” Gascoigne pulled off his coat, and found his shirt bloody and sticking to the wound, which, as we before observed, was slight. He again took the helm, while Jack washed it clean and then bathed it with aquadente.

  “Now take the helm again,” said Gascoigne; “I‘m on the sick list.”

  “And as surgeon—I‘m an idler,” replied Jack; “but what shall we do?” continued he; “abandon the speronare at night and sink her, or run in for a town?”

  “We shall fall in with plenty of boats and vessels, if we coast it up to Palermo, and they may overhaul us.”

  “We shall fall in with plenty of people if we go on shore, and they will overhaul us.”

  “Do you know, Jack, that I wish we were back and alongside of the Harpy; I‘ve had cruising enough.”

  “My cruises are so unfortunate,” replied Jack; “they are too full of adventure; but then, I have never yet had a cruise on shore. Now, if we could only get to Palermo, we should be out of all our difficulties.”

  “The breeze freshens, Jack,” replied Gascoigne; “and it begins to look very dirty to windward. I think we shall have a gale.”

  “Pleasant—I know what it is to be short-handed in a gale; however, there‘s one comfort, we shall not be blown off shore this time.”

  “No, but we may be wrecked on a lee shore. She cannot carry her whole sail, Easy; we must lower it down, and take in a reef; the sooner the better, for it will be dark in an hour. Go forward and lower it down, and then I‘ll help you.”

  Jack did so, but the sail went into the water, and he could not drag it in.

  “Avast heaving,” said Gascoigne, “till I throw her up and take the wind out of it.”

  This was done; they reefed the sail, but could not hoist it up: if Gascoigne left the helm to help Jack, the sail filled; if he went to the helm and took the wind out of the sail, Jack was not strong enough to hoist it. The wind increased rapidly, and the sea got up; the sun went down, and with the sail half hoisted, they could not keep to the wind, but were obliged to run right for the land. The speronare flew, rising on the crest of the waves with half her keel clear of the water: the moon was already up, and gave them light enough to perceive that they were not five miles from the coast, which was lined with foam.

  “At all events, they can‘t accuse us of running away with the boat,” observed Jack; “for she’s running away with us.”

  “Yes,” replied Gascoigne, dragging at the tiller with all his strength; “she has taken the bit between her teeth.”

  “I wouldn‘t care if I had a bit between mine,” replied Jack; “for I feel devilish hungry again. What do you say, Ned?”

  “With all my heart,” replied Gascoigne; “but, do you know, Easy, it may be the last meal we ever make.”

  “Then I vote it‘s a good one—but why so, Ned?”

  “In half an hour, or thereabouts, we shall be on shore.”

  “Well, that‘s where we want to go.”

  “Yes, but the sea runs high, and the boat may be dashed to pieces on the rocks.”

  “Then we shall be asked no questions about her or the men.”

  “Very true, but a lee shore is no joke; we may be knocked to pieces, as well as the boat—even swimming may not help us. If we could find a cove or sandy beach, we might, perhaps, manage to get on shore.”

  “Well,” replied Jack, “I have not been long at sea, and, of course, cannot know much about these things. I have been blown off shore, but I never have been blown on. It may be as you say, but I do not see the great danger—let‘s run her right up on the beach at once.”

  “That‘s what I shall try to do,” replied Gascoigne, who had been four years at sea, and knew very well what he was about.

  Jack handed him a huge piece of bread and sausage.

  “Thank ye, I cannot eat.”

  “I can,” replied Jack, with his mouth full.

  Jack ate while Gascoigne steered; and the rapidity with which the speronare rushed to the beach was almost frightful. She darted like an arrow from wave to wave, and appeared as if mocking their attempts as they curled their summits almost over her narrow stern. They were within a mile of the beach, when Jack, who had finished his supper, and was looking at the foam boiling on the coast, exclaimed,—

  “That‘s very fine—very beautiful, upon my soul!”

  “He cares for nothing,” thought Gascoigne; “he appears to have no idea of danger.”

  “Now, my dear fellow,” said Gascoigne, “in a few minutes we shall be on the rocks. I must continue at the helm, for the higher she is forced up the better chance for us; but we may not meet again, so if we do not, goodbye, and God bless you.”

  “Gascoigne,” said Jack, “you are hurt and I am not; your shoulder is stiff, and you can hardly move your left arm. Now I can steer for the rocks as well as you. Do you go to the bow, and there you will have a better chance. By-the-bye,” continued he, picking up his pistols, and sticking them into his waist, “I won‘t leave them, they’ve served us too good a turn already. Gascoigne, give me the helm.”

  “No, no, Easy.”

  “I say yes,” replied Jack, in a loud, authoritative tone, “and what‘s more, I will be obeyed, Gascoigne. I have nerve, if I haven’t knowledge, and at all events I can steer for the beach. I tell you, give me the helm. —Well, then, if you won‘t—I must take it.”

  Easy wrested the tiller from Gascoigne‘s hand, and gave him a shove forward.

  “Now do you look out ahead, and tell me how to steer.”

  Whatever may have been Gascoigne‘s feelings at this behaviour of our hero’s, it immediately occurred to him, that he could not do better than to run the speronare to the safest point, and that therefore he was probably more advantageously employed, than if he were at the helm. He went forward and looked at the rocks, covered at one moment with the tumultuous waters, and then pouring down cascades from their sides as the waves recoiled. He perceived a chasm right ahead, and he thought if the boat was steered for that, she must be thrown up so as to enable them to get clear of her, for, at every other part, escape appeared impossible.

  “Starboard a little—that‘ll do. Steady—port it is— port.—Steer small, for your life, Easy. Steady now— mind the yard don’t hit your head—hold on.”

  The speronare was at this moment thrown into a large cleft in a rock, the sides of which were nearly perpendicular; nothing else could have saved them, as, had they struck the rock outside, the boat would have been dashed to pieces, and its fragments have disappeared in the under-tow. As it was, the cleft was not four feet more than the width of the boat, and as the waves hurled her up into it, the yard of the speronare was thrown fore and aft with great violence, and had not Jack been warned, he would have been struck overboard without a chance of being saved; but he crouched down and it passed over him. As the water receded, the boat struck, and was nearly dry between the rocks, but another wave followed, dashing the boat further up, but, at the same time, filling it with water. The bow of the boat was now several feet higher than the stern, where Jack held on; and the weight of the water in her, with the force of the returning waves, separated her right across abaft the mast. Jack perceived that the after-part of the boat was going out again with the wave; he caught hold of the yard which had swung fore and aft, and as he clung to it, the part of the boat on which he had stood disappeared from under him, and was swept away by the returning current.

  Jack required the utmost of his strength to maintain his position until another wave floated him, and dashed him higher up: but he knew his life depended in holding on to the yard, which he did, although under water, and advanced several feet. When the wave receded, he found footing on the rock, and still clinging, he walked till he had gained the fore-part of the boat, which was wedged firmly into a narrow part of the cleft. The next wave was not very large, and he had gained so much that it did not throw him off his legs. He reached the rock, and as he climbed up the side of the chasm to gain the ledge above, he perceived Gascoigne standing above him, and holding out his hand to his assistance.

  “Well,” says Jack, shaking himself to get rid of the water, “here we are, ashore at last—I had no idea of anything like this. The rush back of the water was so strong that it has almost torn my arms out of their sockets. How very lucky I sent you forward with your disabled shoulder. By-the-bye, now that it‘s all over, and you must see that I was right, I beg to apologize for my rudeness.”

  “There needs no apology for saving my life, Easy,” replied Gascoigne, trembling with the cold; “and no one but you would ever have thought of making one at such a moment.”

  “I wonder whether the ammunition‘s dry,” said Jack; “I put it all in my hat.”

  Jack took off his hat, and found the cartridges had not suffered.

  “Now then, Gascoigne, what shall we do?”

  “I hardly know,” replied Gascoigne.

  “Suppose, then, we sit down and argue the point.”

  “No, I thank you, there will be too much cold water thrown upon our arguments—I‘m half dead; let us walk on.”

  “With all my heart,” said Jack; “it‘s devilish steep, but I can argue up hill or down hill, wet or dry—I’m used to it—for, as I told you before, Ned, my father is a philosopher, and so am I.”

  “By the Lord! you are,” replied Gascoigne, as he walked on.

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