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Mr. Midshipman Easy (chapter 8)

2006-08-22 18:30

  Chapter 8

  IN WHICH MR. EASY HAS HIS FIRST LESSON AS TO ZEAL IN HIS MAJESTY‘S SERVICE

  As there was no time to lose, our hero very soon bade adieu to his paternal roof, as the phrase is, and found his way down to Portsmouth. As Jack had plenty of money, and was very much pleased at finding himself his own master, he was in no hurry to join his ship, and five or six companions not very creditable, whom either Jack had picked up, or had picked up Jack, and who lived upon him, strongly advised him to put it off until the very last moment. As this advice happened to coincide with Jack‘s opinion, our hero was three weeks at Portsmouth before any one knew of his arrival, but at last Captain Wilson received a letter from Mr. Easy, by which he found that Jack had left home at the period we have mentioned, and he desired the first-lieutenant to make inquiries, as he was afraid that some accident might have happened to him. As Mr. Sawbridge, the first—lieutenant, happened to be going on shore on the same evening for the last time previous to the ship’s sailing, he looked into the Blue Posts, George, and Fountain Inns, to inquire if there was such a person arrived as Mr. Easy. “Oh, yes,” replied the waiter at the Fountain—“Mr. Easy has been here these three weeks.”

  “The devil he has,” roared Mr. Sawbridge, with all the indignation of a first—lieutenant defrauded three weeks of a midshipman; “where is he; in the coffee— room?”

  “Oh dear no, sir,” replied the waiter, “Mr. Easy has the front apartments on the first floor.”

  “Well, then, show me up to the first floor.”

  “May I request the pleasure of your name, sir?” said the waiter.

  “First-lieutenants don‘t send up their names to midshipmen,” replied Mr. Sawbridge; “he shall soon know who I am.”

  At this reply, the waiter walked upstairs, followed by Mr. Sawbridge, and threw open the door.

  “A gentleman wishes to see you, sir,” said the waiter.

  “Desire him to walk in,” said Jack, “and, waiter, mind that the punch is a little better than it was yesterday; I have asked two more gentlemen to dine here.”

  In the meantime Mr. Sawbridge, who was not in his uniform, had entered, and perceived Jack alone, with the dinner—table laid out in the best style for eight, a considerable show of plate for even the Fountain Inn, and everything, as well as the apartment itself, according to Mr. Sawbridge‘s opinion, much more fit for a commander—in—chief than a midshipman of a sloop of war.

  Now Mr. Sawbridge was a good officer, one who had really worked his way up to the present rank, that is to say, that he had served seven—and—twenty years, and had nothing but his pay. He was a little soured in the service, and certainly had an aversion to the young men of family who were now fast crowding into it—and with some grounds, as he perceived his own chance of promotion decrease in the same ratio as the numbers increased. He considered that in proportion as midshipmen assumed a cleaner and more gentlemanly appearance, so did they become more useless, and it may therefore be easily imagined that his bile was raised by this parade and display in a lad, who was very shortly to be, and ought three weeks before to have been, shrinking from his frown. Nevertheless, Sawbridge was a good— hearted man, although a little envious of luxury, which he could not pretend to indulge in himself.

  “May I beg to ask,” said Jack, who was always remarkably polite and gentlemanly in his address, “in what manner I may be of service to you?”

  “Yes, sir, you may—by joining your ship immediately. And may I beg to ask in return, sir, what is the reason you have stayed on shore three weeks without joining her?”

  Hereupon Jack, who did not much admire the peremptory tone of Mr. Sawbridge, and who during the answer had taken a seat, crossed his legs and played with the gold chain to which his watch was secured, after a pause very coolly replied,—

  “And pray, who are you?”

  “Who am I, sir?” replied Sawbridge, jumping out of his chair—“my name is Sawbridge, sir, and I am the first—lieutenant of the Harpy. Now, sir, you have your answer.”

  Mr. Sawbridge, who imagined that the name of the first—lieutenant would strike terror to a culprit midshipman, threw himself back in the chair, and assumed an air of importance.

  “Really, sir,” replied Jack, “what may be your exact situation on board, my ignorance of the service will not allow me to guess, but if I may judge from your behaviour, you have no small opinion of yourself.”

  “Look ye, young man, you may not know what a first—lieutenant is, and I take it for granted that you do not, by your behaviour; but depend upon it, I‘ll let you know very soon. In the meantime, sir, I insist upon it, that you go immediately on board.”

  “I‘m sorry that I cannot comply with your very moderate request,” replied Jack, coolly. “I shall go on board when it suits my convenience, and I beg that you will give yourself no further trouble on my account.”

  Jack then rang the bell; the waiter, who had been listening outside, immediately entered, and before Mr. Sawbridge, who was dumb with astonishment at Jack‘s impertinence, could have time to reply,

  “Waiter,” said Jack, “show this gentleman downstairs.”

  “By the god of war!” exclaimed the first—lieutenant, “but I‘ll soon show you down to the boat, my young bantam; and when once I get you safe on board, I’ll make you know the difference between a midshipman and a first—lieutenant.”

  “I can only admit of equality, sir,” replied Jack; “we are all born equal,—I trust you‘ll allow that.”

  “Equality—damn it, I suppose you‘ll take the command of the ship. However, sir, your ignorance will be a little enlightened by—and—by. I shall now go and report your conduct to Captain Wilson; and I tell you plainly, that, if you are not on board this evening, to—morrow morning, at daylight, I shall send a sergeant and a file of marines, to fetch you.”

  “You may depend upon it, sir,” replied Jack, “that I also shall not fail to mention to Captain Wilson, that I consider you a very quarrelsome, impertinent fellow, and recommend him not to allow you to remain on board. It will be quite uncomfortable to be in the same ship with such an ungentlemanly bear.”

  “He must be mad—quite mad,” exclaimed Sawbridge, whose astonishment even mastered his indignation. “Mad as a March hare—by God.”

  “No, sir,” replied Jack, “I am not mad, but I am a philosopher.”

  “A what?” exclaimed Sawbridge, “damme, what next?—well, my joker, all the better for you, I shall put your philosophy to the proof.”

  “It is for that very reason, sir,” replied Jack, “that I have decided upon going to sea: and if you do remain on board, I hope to argue the point with you, and make you a convert to the truth of equality and the rights of man.”

  “By the Lord that made us both, I‘ll soon make you a convert to the thirty—six articles of war—that is, if you remain on board; but I shall now go to the captain, and report your conduct, sir, and leave you to your dinner with what appetite you may.”

  “Sir, I am infinitely obliged to you; but you need not be afraid of my appetite; I am only sorry, as you happen to belong to the same ship, that I cannot, in justice to the gentlemanly young men whom I expect, ask you to join them. I wish you a very good morning, sir.”

  “Twenty years have I been in the service,” roared Sawbridge, “and, damme,—but he‘s mad—downright, stark, staring mad.” And the first—lieutenant bounced out of the room.

  Jack was a little astonished himself. Had Mr. Sawbridge made his appearance in uniform it might have been different, but that a plain—looking man, with black whiskers, shaggy hair, and old blue frock coat and yellow casimere waistcoat, should venture to address him in such a manner, was quite incomprehensible;—he calls me mad, thought Jack, I shall tell Captain Wilson what is my opinion about his lieutenant. Shortly afterwards, the company arrived, and Jack soon forgot all about it.

  In the meantime, Sawbridge called at the captain‘s lodgings, and found him at home: he made a very faithful report of all that had happened, and concluded his request by demanding, in great wrath, either an instant dismissal or a court—martial on our hero, Jack.

  “Stop, Sawbridge,” replied Captain Wilson, “take a chair: as Mr. Easy says, we must argue the point, and then I will leave it to your better feelings. As for the court—martial, it will not hold good, for Mr. Easy, in the first place, has not yet joined the ship, and in the next place, could not be supposed to know that you were the first—lieutenant, or even an officer, for you went to him out of uniform.”

  “Very true, sir,” replied Sawbridge, “I had forgotten that.”

  “Then, as for his dismissal, or rather, not allowing him to join, Mr. Easy has been brought up in the country, and has never seen anything aquatic larger than a fishpond, perhaps, in his life; and as for the service, or the nature of it, I believe he is as ignorant of it as a child not a year old—I doubt whether he knows the rank of a lieutenant; certainly, he can have no idea of the power of a first—lieutenant, by his treatment of you.”

  “I should think not,” replied Sawbridge, dryly.

  “I do not think, therefore, that conduct which must have proceeded from sheer ignorance, should be so severely punished—I appeal to you, Sawbridge.”

  “Well, sir, perhaps you are right—but still he told me he was a philosopher, and talked about equality and rights of man. Told me that he could only admit of equality between us, and begged to argue the point. Now, sir, if a midshipman is to argue the point every time that an order is given, the service will come to a pretty pass.”

  “That is all very true, Sawbridge; and now you remind me of what never occurred to me at the time that I promised to take Mr. Easy in the ship. I now recollect that his father, who is a distant relation of mine, has some very wild notions in his head, just like what have been repeated by his son on your interview with him. I have occasionally dined there, and Mr. Easy has always been upholding the principles of natural equality and of the rights of man, much to the amusement of his guests, and I confess, at the time, of mine also. I recollect telling him that I trusted he would never be able to disseminate his opinions in the service to which I belonged, as we should have an end of all discipline. I little thought, at the time, that his only son, who has no more occasion to go to sea than the Archbishop of Canterbury, for his father has a very handsome property—I believe seven or eight thousand a year—would ever have sailed with me, and have brought these opinions with him into any ship that I commanded. It is a pity, a great pity—”

  “He never could have brought his pigs to a worse market,” observed Sawbridge.

  “I agree with you, and, as a father myself, I cannot but help feeling how careful we should be, how we inculcate anything like abstract and philosophical ideas to youth. Allowing them to be in themselves correct, still they are dangerous as sharp instruments are in the hands of a child;—allowing them to be erroneous, they are seized upon with an avidity by young and ardent minds, and are not to be eradicated without the greatest difficulty, and very often not until they have accomplished their ruin.”

  “Then you think, sir, that these ideas have taken deep root in this young man, and we shall not easily rid him of them.”

  “I do not say so; but still, recollect they have been instilled, perhaps, from the earliest period, by one from whom they must have been received with all confidence —from a father to a son; and that son has never yet been sufficiently in the world to have proved their fallacy.”

  “Well, sir,” replied Sawbridge, “if I may venture to offer an opinion on the subject, and in so doing I assure you that I only shall from a feeling for the service—if, as you say, these opinions will not easily be eradicated, as the young man is independent, would it not be both better for himself, as well as for the service, that he is sent home again? As an officer he will never do any good for himself, and he may do much harm to others. I submit this to you, Captain Wilson, with all respect; but as your first—lieutenant, I feel very jealous at any chance of the discipline of the ship being interfered with by the introduction of this young man, to whom it appears that a profession is no object.”

  “My dear Sawbridge,” replied Captain Wilson, after taking one or two turns up and down the room, “we entered the service together, we were messmates for many years, and you must be aware that it is not only long friendship but an intimate knowledge of your unrewarded merit, which has induced me to request you to come with me as my first—lieutenant. Now, I will put a case to you, and you shall then decide the question —and moreover, I will abide by your decision.

  “Suppose that you were a commander like myself, with a wife and seven children, and that, struggling for many years to support them, you found yourself, notwithstanding the utmost parsimony, gradually running into debt. That, after many long applications, you had at last succeeded in obtaining employment by an appointment to a fine sloop, and there was every prospect, by prize—money and increased pay, of recovering yourself from your difficulties, if not realizing a sufficient provision for your family. Then suppose that all this prospect and all these hopes were likely to be dashed to the ground by the fact of having no means of fitting yourself out, no credit, no means of paying debts you have contracted, for which you would have been arrested, or anything sufficient to leave for the support of your family during your absence, your agent only consenting to advance one half of what you require. Now, suppose, in this awkward dilemma, without any one in this world upon whom you have any legitimate claim, as a last resource you were to apply to one with whom you have but a distant connection, and but an occasional acquaintance—and that when you had made your request for the loan of two or three hundred pounds, fully anticipating a refusal (from the feeling that he who goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing)—I say, suppose, to your astonishment, that this generous person was to present you with a cheque on his banker for one thousand pounds, demanding no interest, no legal security, and requests you only to pay it at your convenience— I ask you, Sawbridge, what would be your feelings towards such a man?”

  “I would die for him,” replied Sawbridge, with emotion.

  “And suppose, that, by the merest chance, or from a whim of the moment, the son of that man was to be placed under your protection?”

  “I would be a father to him,” replied Sawbridge.

  “But we must proceed a little further: suppose that you were to find the lad was not all that you could wish —that he had imbibed erroneous doctrines, which would probably, if not eradicated, be attended with consequences fatal to his welfare and happiness, would you therefore, on that account, withdraw your protection, and leave him to the mercy of others, who had no claims of gratitude to sway them in his favour?”

  “Most certainly not, sir,” replied Sawbridge; “on the contrary, I would never part with the son until, by precept or otherwise, I had set him right again, and thus had, as far as it was possible, paid the debt of gratitude due to the generous father.”

  “I hardly need say to you, Sawbridge, after what has passed, that this lad you have just come from, is the son, and that Mr. Easy of Forest Hill is the father.”

  “Then, sir, I can only say, that not only to please you, but also from respect to a man who has shown such goodwill towards one of our cloth, I shall most cheerfully forgive all that has passed between the lad and me, and all that may probably take place before we make him what he ought to be.”

  “Thank you, Sawbridge; I expected as much, and am not disappointed in my opinion of you.”

  “And now, Captain Wilson, pray what is to be done?”

  “We must get him on board, but not with a file of marines—that will do more harm than good. I will send a note, requesting him to breakfast with me tomorrow morning, and have a little conversation with him. I do not wish to frighten him: he would not scruple to run back to Forest Hill—now I wish to keep him if I possibly can.”

  “You are right, sir; his father appears his greatest enemy. What a pity that a man with so good a heart should be so weak in the head! Then, sir, I shall take no notice of this at present, but leave the whole affair in your hands.”

  “Do, Sawbridge; you have obliged me very much by your kindness in this business.”

  Mr. Sawbridge then took his leave, and Captain Wilson despatched a note to our hero, requesting the pleasure of his company to breakfast at nine o‘clock the ensuing morning. The answer was in the affirmative, but verbal, for Jack had drunk too much champagne to trust his pen to paper.

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