Mr. Midshipman Easy/Chapter 3
In which our hero has to wait the issue of an argument.
The reader may observe that, in general, all my first chapters are very short, and increase in length as the work advances. I mention this as a proof of my modesty and diffidence. At first, I am like a young bird just out of its mother's nest, pluming my little feathers and taking short flights. By degrees I obtain more confidence, and wing my course over hill and dale.
It is very difficult to throw any interest into a chapter on childhood. There is the same uniformity in all children until they develop. We cannot, therefore, say much relative to Jack Easy's earliest days; he sucked and threw up his milk while the nurse blessed it for a pretty dear, slept, and sucked again. He crowed in the morning like a cock, screamed when he was washed, stared at the candle, and made wry faces with the wind. Six months passed in these innocent amusements, and then he was put into shorts. But I ought here to have remarked, that Mrs Easy did not find herself equal to nursing her own infant, and it was necessary to look out for a substitute.
Now a commonplace person would have been satisfied with the recommendation of the medical man, who looks but to the one thing needful, which is a sufficient and wholesome supply of nourishment for the child; but Mr Easy was a philosopher, and had latterly taken to craniology, and he descanted very learnedly with the Doctor upon the effect of his only son obtaining his nutriment from an unknown source. "Who knows," observed Mr Easy, "but that my son may not imbibe with his milk the very worst passions of human nature."
"I have examined her," replied the Doctor, "and can safely recommend her."
"That examination is only preliminary to one more important," replied Mr Easy. "I must examine her."
"Examine who, Mr Easy?" exclaimed his wife, who had lain down again on the bed.
"The nurse, my dear."
"Examine what, Mr Easy?" continued the lady.
"Her head, my dear," replied the husband. "I must ascertain what her propensities are."
"I think you had better leave her alone, Mr Easy. She comes this evening, and I shall question her pretty severely. Doctor Middleton, what do you know of this young person?"
"I know, madam, that she is very healthy and strong, or I should not have selected her."
"But is her character good?"
"Really, madam, I know little about her character; but you can make any inquiries you please. But at the same time I ought to observe, that if you are too particular in that point, you will have some difficulty in providing yourself."
"Well, I shall see," replied Mrs Easy.
"And I shall feel," rejoined the husband.
This parleying was interrupted by the arrival of the very person in question, who was announced by the housemaid, and was ushered in. She was a handsome, florid, healthy-looking girl, awkward and naive in her manner, and apparently not over wise; there was more of the dove than of the serpent in her composition.
Mr Easy, who was very anxious to make his own discoveries, was the first who spoke. "Young woman, come this way, I wish to examine your head."
"Oh dear me, sir, it's quite clean, I assure you,". cried the girl, dropping a curtsey.
Doctor Middleton, who sat between the bed and Mr Easy's chair, rubbed his hands and laughed.
In the meantime, Mr Easy had untied the string and taken off the cap of the young woman, and was very busy putting his fingers through her hair, during which the face of the young woman expressed fear and astonishment.
"I am glad to perceive that you have a large portion of benevolence."
"Yes," replied the young woman, dropping a curtsey.
"And veneration also."
"And the organ of modesty is strongly developed."
"Yes, sir," replied the girl with a smile.
"That's quite a new organ," thought Dr Middleton.
"Philoprogenitiveness very powerful."
"If you please, sir, I don't know what that is," answered Sarah, with a curtsey.
"Nevertheless you have given us a practical, illustration. Mrs Easy, I am satisfied. Have you any questions to ask? But it is quite unnecessary."
"To be sure I have, Mr Easy. Pray, young woman, what is your name?"
"Sarah, if you please, ma'am."
"How long have you been married?"
"If you please, ma'am, I had a misfortune, ma'am," replied the girl, casting down her eyes.
"What, have you not been married?"
"No, ma'am, not yet."
"Good heavens! Dr Middleton, what can you mean by bringing this person here?" exclaimed Mrs Easy. "Not a married woman, and she has a child!"
"If you please, ma'am," interrupted the young woman, dropping a curtsey, "it was a very little one."
"A very little one!" exclaimed Mrs Easy.
"Yes, ma'am, very small, indeed, and died soon after it was born."
"Oh, Dr Middleton!—what could you mean, Dr Middleton?"
"My dear madam," exclaimed the Doctor, rising from his chair, "this is the only person that I could find suited to the wants of your child, and if you do not take her I cannot answer for its life. It is true, that a married woman might be procured; but married women, who have a proper feeling, will not desert their own children; and as Mr Easy asserts, and you appear to imagine, the temper and disposition of your child may be affected by the nourishment it receives, I think it more likely to be injured by the milk of a married woman who will desert her own child for the sake of gain. The misfortune which has happened to this young woman is not always a proof of a bad heart, but of strong attachment, and the overweening confidence of simplicity."
"You are correct, Doctor," replied Mr Easy, "and her head proves that she is a modest young woman, with strong religious feeling, kindness of disposition, and every other requisite."
"The head may prove it all for what I know, Mr Easy, but her conduct tells another tale."
"She is well fitted for the situation, ma'am," continued the Doctor.
"And if you please, ma'am," rejoined Sarah, "it was such a little one."
"Shall I try the baby, ma'am?" said the monthly nurse, who had listened in silence. "It is fretting so, poor thing, and has its dear little fist right down its throat."
Dr Middleton gave the signal of assent, and in a few seconds Master John Easy was fixed to Sarah as tight as a leech.
"Lord love it, how hungry it is!—there, there, stop it a moment, it's choking, poor thing!"
Mrs Easy, who was lying on her bed, rose up, and went to the child. Her first feeling was that of envy, that another should have such a pleasure which was denied to herself; the next, that of delight, at the satisfaction expressed by the infant. In a few minutes the child fell back in a deep sleep. Mrs Easy was satisfied; maternal feelings conquered all others, and Sarah was duly installed.
To make short work of it, we have said that Jack Easy in six months was in shorts. He soon afterwards began to crawl and show his legs; indeed, so indecorously, that it was evident that he had imbibed no modesty with Sarah's milk, neither did he appear to have gained veneration or benevolence, for he snatched at everything, squeezed the kitten to death, scratched his mother, and pulled his father by the hair; notwithstanding all which, both his father and mother and the whole household declared him to be the finest and sweetest child in the universe. But if we were to narrate all the wonderful events of Jack's childhood from the time of his birth up to the age of seven years, as chronicled by Sarah, who continued his dry nurse after he had been weaned, it would take at least three volumes folio. Jack was brought up in the way that every only child usually is—that is, he was allowed to have his own way.