Mr. Midshipman Easy/Chapter 24
Our hero plays the very devil.
We must leave the reader to imagine the effect of the next morning's denouement. Everyone was in a fury except Jack, who did nothing but laugh. The captain wanted to return to obtain Miss Hicks, Gascoigne to obtain Azar, and the vice-consul to obtain his liberty—but the wind was foul for their return, and Jack soon gained the captain on his side. He pointed out to him that, in the first place, if he presumed to return, he would forfeit his charter bond; in the second, he would have to pay for all the bullocks that died; in the third, that if he wished to take Miss Hicks as his wife, he must not first injure her character by having her on board before the solemnity; and lastly, that he could always go and marry her whenever he pleased; the brother could not prevent him. All this was very good advice, and the captain became quite calm and rational, and set his studding-sails below and aloft.
As for Gascoigne, it was no use reasoning with him, so it was agreed that he should have satisfaction as soon as they could get on shore again. Mr Hicks was the most violent; he insisted that the vessel should return, while both Jack and the captain refused, although he threatened them with the whole foreign office. He insisted upon having his clothes, but Jack replied that they had tumbled overboard as they pulled from the shore. He then commanded the mate and men to take the vessel back, but they laughed at him and his woman's clothes. "At all events, I'll have you turned out of the service," said he to our hero in his fury. "I shall be extremely obliged to you," said Jack—and Captain Hogg was so much amused with the vice-consul's appearance in his sister's clothes, that he quite forgot his own disappointment in laughing at his intended brother-in-law. He made friends again with Jack, who regained his ascendancy, and ordered out the porter on the capstern-head. They had an excellent dinner, but Mr Hicks refused to join them, which however did not spoil the appetite of Jack or the captain: as for Gascoigne, he could not eat a mouthful, but he drank to excess, looking over the rim of his tumbler, as if he could devour our hero, who only laughed the more. Mr Hicks had applied to the men to lend him some clothes, but Jack had foreseen that, and he was omnipotent. There was not a jacket or a pair of trousers to be had for love or money. Mr Hicks then considered it advisable to lower his tone, and he applied to Captain Hogg, who begged to be excused without he consented to his marriage with his sister, to which Mr Hicks gave an indignant negative. He then applied to Gascoigne, who told him in a very surly tone to go to h—l. At last he applied to our hero, who laughed, and said that he would see him d—d first. So Mr Hicks sat down in his petticoats and vowed revenge. Gascoigne, who had drunk much and eaten nothing, turned in and went to sleep—while Captain Hogg and our hero drank porter on the capstern. Thus passed the first day, and the wind was famously fair—the bullocks lowed, the cocks crew, the sheep baa'd, and the Mary Ann made upwards of two hundred miles. Jack took possession of the other berth in the cabin, and his Majesty's representative was obliged to lie down in his petticoats upon a topsail which lay between decks, with a bullock on each side of him, who every now and then made a dart at him with their horns, as if they knew that it was to him that they were indebted for their embarkation and being destined to drive the scurvy out of the Toulon fleet.
We cannot enter into the details of the passage, which, as the wind was fair, was accomplished in ten days without the loss of a bullock. During this time Mr Hicks condescended to eat without speaking, imagining that the hour of retribution would come when they joined the Admiral. Gascoigne gradually recovered himself, but did not speak to our hero, who continued to laugh and drink porter. On the eleventh morning they were in the midst of the Toulon fleet, and Mr Hicks smiled exultingly as he passed our hero in his petticoats, and wondered that Jack showed no signs of trepidation.
The fleet hove-to, Jack ran under the Admiral's stern, lowered down his boat, and went on board, showed his credentials, and reported his bullocks. The general signal was made, there was a fair division of the spoil, and then the Admiral asked our hero whether the master of the transport had any other stock on board. Jack replied that he had not; but that, having been told by the Governor of Malta that they might be acceptable, he had bought a few sheep and some dozen of fowls, which were much at his service, if he would accept of them. The Admiral was much obliged to the Governor, and also to Jack, for thinking of him, but would not, of course, accept of the stock without paying for them. He requested him to send all of them on board that he could spare, and then asked Jack to dine with him, for Jack had put on his best attire, and looked very much of a gentleman.
"Mr Easy," said the flag-captain, who had been looking at the transport with his glass, "is that the master's wife on board?"
"No, sir," replied Jack; "it's the vice-consul."
"What, in petticoats! the vice-consul?"
"Yes, the vice-consul of Tetuan. He came on board in that dress when the brig was under way, and I considered it my duty not to delay, being aware how very important it was that the fleet should be provided with fresh beef."
"What is all this, Mr Easy?" said the Admiral; "there has been some trick here. You will oblige me by coming into the cabin."
Easy followed the Admiral and flag-captain into the cabin, and then boldly told the whole story how he tricked them all. It was impossible for either of them to help laughing, and when they began to laugh, it was almost as impossible to stop.
"Mr Easy," said the Admiral at last, "I do not altogether blame you; it appears to me the captain of the transport would have delayed sailing because he was in love—and that Mr Gascoigne would have stayed behind because he was infatuated, independent of the ill-will against the English which would have been excited by the abduction of the girl. But I think you might have contrived to manage all that without putting the vice-consul in petticoats."
"I acted to the best of my judgment, sir," replied Jack, very humbly.
"And altogether you have done well. Captain Malcolm, send a boat for the vice-consul."
Mr Hicks was too impatient to tell his wrongs to care for his being in his sister's clothes: he came on board, and although the tittering was great, he imagined that it would soon be all in his favour, when it was known that he was a diplomatic. He told his story, and waited for the decision of the Admiral, which was to crush our hero, who stood with the midshipmen on the lee side of the deck; but the Admiral replied, "Mr Hicks, in the first place, this appears to me to be a family affair concerning the marriage of your sister, with which I have nothing to do. You went on board of your own free will in woman's clothes. Mr Easy's orders were positive, and he obeyed them. It was his duty to sail as soon as the transport was ready. You may forward your complaint if you please, but, as a friend, I tell you that it will probably occasion your dismissal; for these kind of pranks are not understood at the foreign office. You may return to the transport, which, after she has touched at Mahon, will proceed again to Tetuan. The boat is alongside, sir."
Mr Hicks, astonished at the want of respect paid to a vice-consul, shoved his petticoats between his legs, and went down the side amidst the laughter of the whole of the ship's company. Our hero dined with the Admiral, and was well received. He got his orders to sail that night for Minorca, and as soon as dinner was over he returned on board, where he found Captain Hogg very busy selling his porter—Gascoigne walking the deck in a brown study—and Mr Hicks solus abaft, sulking in his petticoats.
As soon as they were clear of the boats, the Mary Ann hoisted her ensign and made sail, and as all the porter was not yet sold, Jack ordered up a bottle.
Jack was much pleased with the result of his explanation with the Admiral, and he felt that, for once, he had not only got into no scrape himself, but that he had prevented others. Gascoigne walked the deck gloomily; the fact was, that he was very unhappy: he had had time to reflect, and now that the first violence had subsided, he felt that our hero had done him a real service, and had prevented him from committing an act of egregious folly; and yet he had summoned this friend to meet him in the field—and such had been his gratitude. He would have given the world to recall what had passed, and to make friends, but he felt ashamed, as most people do, to acknowledge his error; he had, however, almost made up his mind to it, and was walking up and down thinking in what manner he might contrive it, when Jack, who was sitting, as usual, in a chair by the capstern with his porter by him, said to himself, "Now I'll lay my life that Ned wants to make friends, and is ashamed to speak first; I may be mistaken, and he may fly off at a tangent; but even if I am, at all events it will not be I who am wrong—I'll try him." Jack waited till Gascoigne passed him again, and then said, looking kindly and knowingly in his face,
"I say, Ned, will you have a glass of porter?"
Gascoigne smiled, and Jack held out his hand; the reconciliation was effected in a moment, and the subject of quarrel was not canvassed by either party.
"We shall be at Minorca in a day or two," observed Jack, after a while; "now I shall be glad to get there. Do you know, Ned, that I feel very much satisfied with myself; I have got into no scrape this time, and I shall, notwithstanding, have a good story to tell the Governor when I go to Malta."
"Partly at my expense," replied Gascoigne.
"Why, you will figure a little in it, but others will figure much more."
"I wonder what has become of that poor girl," observed Gascoigne, who could not refrain from mentioning her; "what hurts me most is, that she must think me such a brute."
"No doubt of that, Ned,—take another glass of porter."
"Her father gave me this large diamond."
"The old goat—sell it, and drink his health with it."
"No, I'll keep it in memory of his daughter." Here Gascoigne fell into a melancholy reverie, and Jack thought of Agnes.
In two days they arrived at Mahon, and found the Aurora already there, in the command of Captain Wilson. Mr Hicks had persuaded Captain Hogg to furnish him with clothes, Jack having taken off the injunction as soon as he had quitted the Admiral. Mr Hicks was aware that if the Admiral would not listen to his complaint, it was no use speaking to a captain: so he remained on board a pensioner upon Captain Hogg, and after our midshipmen quitted the transport they became very good friends. Mr Hicks consented to the match, and Captain Hogg was made happy. As for poor Azar, she had wandered about until she was tired, in Miss Hicks's dress, and at last returned broken-hearted to her father's, and was admitted by Abdel Faza himself; he imagined it was Miss Hicks, and was in transports—he discovered it was his daughter, and he was in a fury. The next day she went to the zenana of Osman Ali.
When Jack reported himself he did not tell the history of the elopements, that he might not hurt the feelings of Gascoigne. Captain Wilson was satisfied with the manner in which he had executed his orders, and asked him, "whether he preferred staying in the Harpy, or following him into the Aurora."
"Speak frankly, Mr Easy; if you prefer Captain Sawbridge to me, I shall not be affronted."
"No, sir," replied Easy, "I do not prefer Captain Sawbridge to you; you have both been equally kind to me, but I prefer you. But the fact is, sir, that I do not much like to part with Gascoigne or——"
"Or who?" said the captain, smiling.
"With Mesty, sir; you may think me very foolish, but I should not be alive at this moment, if it had not been for him."
"I do not consider gratitude to be foolish, Mr Easy," replied Captain Wilson. "Mr Gascoigne I intend to take with me, if he chooses to come, as I have a great respect for his father, and no fault to find with him, that is, generally speaking; but as for Mesty—why he is a good man, and as you have behaved yourself very well, perhaps I may think of it."
The next day Mesty was included among the boat's crew taken with him by Captain Wilson, according to the regulations of the service, and appointed to the same situation under the master at arms of the Aurora. Gascoigne and our hero were also discharged into the frigate.
As our hero never has shown any remarkable predilection for duty, the reader will not be surprised at his requesting from Captain Wilson a few days on shore, previous to his going on board of the Aurora. Captain Wilson allowed the same licence to Gascoigne, as they had both been cooped up for some time on board of a transport. Our hero took up his quarters at the only respectable hotel in the town, and whenever he could meet an officer of the Aurora, he very politely begged the pleasure of his company to dinner. Jack's reputation had gone before him, and the midshipmen drank his wine and swore he was a trump. Not that Jack was to be deceived, but, upon the principles of equality, he argued that it was the duty of those who could afford dinners to give them to those who could not. This was a sad error on Jack's part; but he had not yet learnt the value of money; he was such a fool as to think that the only real use of it was to make other people happy. It must, however, be offered in his extenuation that he was a midshipman and a philosopher, and not yet eighteen.
At last Jack had remained so long on shore, keeping open house, and the first lieutenant of the Aurora found the officers so much more anxious for leave, now that they were at little or no expense, that he sent him a very polite message, requesting the pleasure of his company on board that evening. Jack returned an equally polite answer, informing the first lieutenant that not being aware that he wished to see him, he had promised to accompany some friends to a masquerade that night, but that he would not fail to pay his respects to him the next day. The first lieutenant admitted the excuse, and our hero, after having entertained half-a-dozen of the Auroras, for the Harpy had sailed two days before, dressed himself for the masquerade, which was held in a church about two miles and a half from Mahon.
Jack had selected the costume of the devil, as being the most appropriate, and mounting a jackass, he rode down in his dress to the masquerade. But, as Jack was just going in, he perceived a yellow carriage, with two footmen in gaudy liveries, draw up, and with his usual politeness, when the footmen opened the door, offered his arm to hand out a fat old dowager covered with diamonds; the lady looked up, and perceiving Jack covered with hair, with his trident and his horns, and long tail, gave a loud scream, and would have fallen had it not been for Captain Wilson, who, in his full uniform, was coming in, and caught her in his arms: while the old lady thanked him, and Captain Wilson bowed, Jack hastily retreated. "I shall make no conquests to-night," thought he; so he entered the church, and joined the crowd; but it was so dense that it was hardly possible to move, and our hero soon got tired of flourishing his trident, and sticking it into people, who wondered what the devil he meant.
"This is stupid work," thought Jack, "I may have more fun outside": so Jack put on his cloak, left the masquerade, and went out in search of adventures. He walked into the open country, about half a mile, until he came to a splendid house, standing in a garden of orange trees, which he determined to reconnoitre. He observed that a window was open and lights were in the room; and he climbed up to the window, and just opened the white curtain and looked in. On a bed lay an elderly person, evidently dying, and by the side of the bed were three priests, one of whom held the crucifix in his hand, another the censer, and a third was sitting at a table with a paper, pen, and ink. As Jack understood Spanish, he listened, and heard one of the priests say:
"Your sins have been enormous, my son, and I cannot give you extreme unction or absolution unless you make some amends."
"I have," answered the moribund, "left money for ten thousand masses to be said for my soul."
"Five hundred thousand masses are not sufficient: how have you gained your enormous wealth? by usury and robbing the poor."
"I have left a thousand dollars to be distributed among the poor on the day of my funeral."
"One thousand dollars is nothing—you must leave all your property to holy church."
"And my children!" replied the dying man, faintly.
"What are your children compared to your salvation?—reply not: either consent, or not only do I refuse you the consolation of the dying, but I excommunicate——"
"Mercy, holy father, mercy!" said the old man, in a dying voice.
"There is no mercy, you are damned for ever and ever. Amen. Now hear: excommunicabo te——"
"Stop—stop—have you the paper ready?"
"Tis here, all ready, by which you revoke all former wills, and endow the holy church with your property. We will read it, for God forbid that it should be said that the holy church received an involuntary gift."
"I will sign it," replied the dying man, "but my sight fails me; be quick, absolve me." And the paper was signed, with difficulty, as the priests supported the dying man. "And now—absolve me."
"I do absolve thee," replied the priest, who then went through the ceremony.
"Now this is a confounded rascally business," said Jack to himself; who then dropped his cloak, jumped upon the window-sill, opened wide the window-curtains with both hands, and uttered a yelling kind of "ha! ha! ha! ha!"
The priests turned round, saw the demon as they imagined dropped the paper on the table, and threw themselves with their faces on the floor.
"Exorciso te," stammered one.
"Ha! ha! ha! ha!" repeated Jack, entering the room, and taking up the paper which he burnt by the flame of the candle. Our hero looked at the old man on the bed; his jaw had fallen, his eyes were turned. He was dead. Jack then gave one more "ha! ha! ha! ha!" to keep the priests in their places, blew out the candles, made a spring out of the window, caught up his cloak, and disappeared as fast as his legs could carry him.
Jack ran until he was out of breath, and then he stopped, and sat down by the side of the road. It was broad moonlight, and Jack knew not where he was: "but Minorca has not many high roads," thought Jack, "and I shall find my way home. Now, let me see,—I have done some good this evening. I have prevented those rogues from disinheriting a family. I wonder who they are; they ought to be infinitely obliged to me. But if the priests find me out, what shall I do? I never dare come on shore again—they'd have me in the inquisition. I wonder where I am," said Jack; "I will get on that hill, and see if I can take a departure."
The hill was formed by the road being cut perpendicularly almost through it, and was perhaps some twelve or fourteen feet high. Jack ascended it, and looked about him. "There is the sea, at all events, with the full moon silvering the waves," said Jack, turning from the road, "and here is the road; then that must be the way to Port Mahon. But what comes here?—it's a carriage. Why, it's the yellow carriage of that old lady with her diamonds, and her two splashy footmen!" Jack was watching it as it passed the road under him, when of a sudden, he perceived about a dozen men rush out, and seize the horses' heads,—a discharge of firearms, the coachman dropped off the box, and the two footmen dropped from behind. The robbers then opened the door, and were hauling out the fat old lady covered with diamonds. Jack thought a second—it occurred to him, that although he could not cope with so many, he might frighten them, as he had frightened one set of robbers already that night. The old lady had just been tumbled out of the carriage-door, like a large bundle of clothes tied up for the wash, when Jack, throwing off his cloak, and advancing to the edge of the precipice, with the full moon behind him throwing out his figure in strong relief, raised his trident, and just as they were raising their knives, yelled a most unearthly "ha, ha, ha, ha!" The robbers looked up, and forgetting the masquerade, for there is a double tremor in guilt, screamed with fear; most of them ran away, and dropped after a hundred yards; others remained paralysed and insensible. Jack descended the hill, went to the assistance of the old lady, who had swooned, and had to put her into the carriage; but although our hero was very strong, this was a work of no small difficulty. After one or two attempts, he lowered down the steps and contrived to bump her on the first, from the first he purchased her on the second, and from the second he at last seated her at the door of the carriage. Jack had no time to be over-polite. He then threw her back into the bottom of the carriage, her heels went up to the top, Jack shoved in her petticoats as fast as he could, for decency, and then shutting the door seized the reins, and jumped upon the box. "I don't know the way," thought Jack, "but we must needs go when the devil drives"; so sticking his trident into the horses, they set off at a rattling pace, passing over the bodies of the two robbers, who had held the reins, and who both lay before him in a swoon. As soon as he had brought the horses into a trot, he slackened the reins, for, as Jack wisely argued, they will be certain to go home if I let them have their own way The horses, before they arrived at the town, turned off, and stopped at a large country house. That he might not frighten the people, Jack had put on his cloak, and taken off his mask and head-piece, which he had laid beside him on the box. At the sound of the carriage-wheels the servants came out, when Jack, in few words, told them what had happened. Some of the servants ran in, and a young lady made her appearance, while the others were helping the old lady out of the carriage, who had recovered her senses, but had been so much frightened that she had remained in the posture in which Jack had put her.
As soon as she was out, Jack descended from the coach-box and entered the house. He stated to the young lady what had taken place, and how opportunely he had frightened away the robbers, just as they were about to murder her relation; and also suggested the propriety of sending after the servants who had fallen in the attack; which was immediately done by a strong and well-armed party collected for the occasion. Jack, having made his speech, made a very polite bow and took his leave, stating that he was an English officer belonging to a frigate in the harbour. He knew his way back, and in half an hour was again at the inn, and found his comrades. Jack thought it advisable to keep his own secret, and therefore merely said, that he had taken a long walk in the country; and soon afterwards went to bed.
The next morning our hero, who was always a man of his word, packed up his portmanteau, and paid his bill. He had just completed this heavy operation, when somebody wanted to speak to him, and a sort of half-clerical, half-legal sort of looking gentleman was introduced, who, with a starched face and prim air, said that he came to request in writing the name of the officer who was dressed as a devil, in the masquerade of the night before.
Jack looked at his interrogator, and thought of the priests and the inquisition. "No, no," thought he, "that won't do; a name I must give, but it shall be one that you dare not meddle with. A midshipman you might get hold of, but it's more than the whole island dare to touch a post-captain of one of his Majesty's frigates." So Jack took the paper and wrote Captain Henry Wilson, of his Majesty's ship Aurora.
The prim man made a prim bow, folded up the paper and left the room.
Jack threw the waiter half a doubloon, lighted his cigar, and went on board.