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I could not swim ; but one of the midshipmen offered to accompany me, stating that I need not be afraid, if I did fall overboard, of sinking to the bottom, as if I was giddy, my head, at all events, would swim ; so I determined to venture. I climbed up very near to the main-top, but not without missing the little ropes very often, and grazing the skin off my shins. Then 1 came to large ropes stretched out from the mast, so that you must climb them with your head backwards. The midshipman told :ne these were called the cat-harpings, because they were so difficult to climb, that a cat would expostulate if ordered to go out by them. I was afraid to venture, and then he proposed that I should go through lubber's hole, which he said had been made for people like me. I agreed to attempt it, as it appeared more easy, and at last arrived, quite out of breath, and very happy to find myself in the main-top.
The captain of the main-top was there with two other sailors. The midshipman introduced me very politely :—' Mr. Jenkins—Mr. Simple, midshipman,—Mr. Simple, Mr. Jenkins, captain of the main-top. Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Simple has come up with an order for a cocked hat.' The captain of the top replied that he was very sorry that he had not one in store, but the last had been served out to the captain's monkey. This was very provoking. The captain of the top then asked me if I was ready with my footing! *
I replied, 'not very, for I had lost it two or three times when coming up.' He laughed and replied, that I should lose it altogether before I went down ; and that I must hand it out. 'Hand out my footing,' said I, puzzled, and appealing to the midshipman,' What does he mean?' 'He means that you must fork out a seven shilling hit.' I was just as wise as ever, and stared very much; when Mr. Jenkins desired the other men to get half a dozen foxes and make a spread eagle of inc unless he had his pnrkisitc. I never should have found out what it all meant, had not the midshipman, who laughed till he cried, at last informed me that it was the custom to give the men something to drink the first time that I came aloft, and that, if I did not, they would tie me up to the rigging.
Having no money in my pocket, I promised to pay them as soon as I went below; but Mr. Jenkins would not trust inc. I then became very angry, and inquired of him ' if he doubted my honor.' He replied, 'Not in the least, but that he must have the seven shillings before I went below.' 'Why, Sir,' said I, ' do you know who you are speaking to ? I am an olficcr and a gentleman. Do you know who my grandfather is i'
'O yes,' replied he, 'very well.'
'Then, who is he, Sir ?' replied I very angrily
'Who is he ! why he's the Lord knows who.'
'No,' replied I, 'that's not his name ; he is Lord Privilege.' (I was very much surprised that he knew that my grandfather was a lord.) 'Aml do yon suppose,' continued I, 'that I would forfeit the honor of my family for a paltry seven shillings?'
This observation of mine, and a promise on the part of the midshipman, who said he would be bail for me, satisfied Mr. Jenkins, and he allowed me to go down the rigging. I went to my chest, and paid the seven shillings to one of the topmen who followed me, and then went up on the main-deck, to learn as much as I could of my profession. I asked a great many questions of the midshipmen relative to the guns, and they crowded round me to answer them. One told me they were culled the frigate's teeth, because they stopped the Frenchman's jaw. Another midshipman said that he had been so often in action that he was called the Fire-eater. I asked him how it was that he escaped being killed. He replied that he always made it a rule, upon the first cannon ball coming through the ship's side, to put his head into the hole which it had made ; as by a calculation made by Professor Innman, the odds were 32,647 and some decimals to boot, that another ball would not come in at the same hole. That's what I never should have thought of.
A STRAY LEAF IN THE LIFE OF A GREAT NOVELIST.
'Confound this gout!' pettishly exclaimed Mr. Walton, as he rose from his solitary dinner.
Now, Mr. Walton was a bon trivant, a humorist of the first fashion, a tale-writer (it must be owned) of the first talent, and one whose society was so constantly courted, in all dinner-giving and literary circles, that a lonely meal was a most unusual and unpleasant occurrence to him.
'Well,' continued he, ' I must, per force, content myself with another day of sofa and Quarterly;' for Mr. Walton ranked among the most devoted adherents to the Quarterly creed of politics.
Scarcely had he uttered these words, in a tone half peevish and half resigned, when a servant handed him a letter, bearing an official seal of stupendous dimensions, and marked in the corner, ' private and con
Walton eagerly opened the envelope, and to his no small dismay, learned that the great man on whose smiles he lived, and to whose fortunes and party he was attached (by a snug place), required immediate information on subjects connected with our naval establishments, into the expenditure of which, the great political economist, on the opposite side of the house, intended to make certain inquiries in the course of a night or two. Mr. Walton was requested, not to say commanded, to see the commissioner at Portsmouth as speedily as possible, to investigate facts, and to report progress on his return. It was at the same time delicately hinted, that the expenses of this important mission, would be defrayed by the writer from that convenient and ever-open source, the public purse.
'A journey of seventy-two miles when I'd resolved upon quiet: but in the service of one's country, when it costs one nothing! Well, I must forget the gout, or lose my . Hang it! I can't call on the commissioner in list slippers. Travers! step up to Hoby's, and tell him to send me a pair of boots, somewhat larger than my usual fit; and take
a place in the Portsmouth coach for to-morrow morning; 'tis too late to night for the mail—but d'ye hear? not in my name, as I travel incog.'
Walton made the few arrangements for so short an absence from town, retired earlier than usual to bed, was horrified at the imperative necessity of rising before the sun, found himself booked by his literal servant as ' Mr. Incog,' had the coach to himself, and at six o'clock in the evening, alighted at the George, in High-street.
Travelling without a servant, and with so scanty an allowance of baggage, he was ushered into the coffee-room, of which he found himself the sole occupant, asked for the hill of fare, and was served with the usual delicacies of a coffee-room dinner; cold soup, stale fish, oiled butter, rancid anchovy, flabby veal-cutlet, with mildewed mushroom sauce. Cape and brandy, doing duty for sherry, and a genuine bottle of Southampton port, so well known by the seducing appellation of' Black-strap.' All these luxuries were brought him by a lout of a boy, who looked more like a helper than a waiter.
'Well,' thought Walton,' the sooner I complete my mission the better. I could not bear this sort of thing long. How far is it to the Dockyard, waiter?'
'I don't know; master can tell'e; its no use your going there now, the gates be shut.'
'But I wish to see Sir Henry Grayhurst, the commissioner.'
'He be gone to the Isle of Wight with his family, so I heerd master say.'
'Is he expected back soon?''
'Lord, Sir, how can I tell? if you ask master, he do know.'
'Pleasant and intelligent youth!' sighed Walton,' I'll put him into my next sketch. Well, I've had the bore of this day's journey for nothing, since the man I came to see is absent, as if on purpose to oblige ine. How extremely agreeable! I must' ask master' then. Tell the landlord I want him.'
'Master and missus be gone to the play; it's old Kelly's benefit, and they do go every year.'
'The play! there's comfort in the name; anything is preferable to this lonely, gloomy coffee-room. Send the chambermaid to me.'
An old woman, with a flat tin-candlestick, led the way to a small inconvenient room up numerous flights of stairs, not evincing the slightest sympathy with the limp of our traveller, who, by the way, had nearly forgotten his gout in his annoyances. She assured him that all the best rooms were engaged.
What soothers of irritated feelings are soap and water! Walton washed his handsome face, and aristocratic hands, (novelist-ink had not spoiled them,) g:)t rid of his dusty travelling suit, put Oh a capacious king's-stock with flowing black drapery, and a well-regulated and wellbraided Stultz. His ready-made Hoby's he consigned to ' boots,' having assumed the bas de soie and easy pumos. Leaving word that he should require something for supper, he bent his steps to the theatre.
The acting was sufficiently bad to amuse him, and at a moment when the attention of the audience was directed to the closing scene of the tragedy, and the ladies of the Point were weeping at the distress of the lady in point, the door of an opposite box was opened by the identical lout who had waited on him at dinner. The lad, making his way through a box-full of over-dressed and vulgar-looking people, whispered to a man in a blue coat and powdered head, singling out Walton as though he was the subject of this unexpected communication. The landlord of the ' George,' for it was no less a personage, started up, and instantly left the house, accompanied by the females of his party.
When the curtain fell, a whisper spread from box to box, and during the farce Walton could not help perceiving that he had become a greater attraction in the eyes of the audience than the performers were.
'What the devil does all this mean ?' thought he ; ' have they found out what lam?' Perhaps they never saw a live author before.' Let them stare. If they like to make a lion of me, I'll humor the joke.'
On rising to leave the house, Walton found that the door was thronged with people, who, as he approached, respectfully made way for him, and he overheard sundry sotto rare remarks as he passed—' That's he.'—' Arrived this evening.'—'Incog.'—' Staying at the George?'
Wondering at the extraordinary interest he had excited, congratulating himself on an evidence of fame that Sir Walter himself might have envied, and followed by a crowd, he reached the inn. Three or fbur spruce waiters in their full dress, received him at the gateway, with most obsequious homage. The landlord (his hair re-powdered for the occasion) carrying a silver branch of four wax-lights, stepped up to him with a low bow.
'This way, an' please your , this way. Supper is ready for
Walton, indulging his love of comic adventure, followed his guide with a dignified air into the drawing-room. The splendid chandelier threw a flood of light over a table, covered ' with every delicacy of the season.' His host lamented that the champagne had not been longer in ice, and wasdistrest at having been absent from home when his illustrious guest arrived. Waiters flew about anticipating the asking eye, and, as Mrs. Malaprop would say, ' all was alacrity and adulation.' Walton could not help contrasting the indifference which he encountered at his afternoon meal with the courtesy which graced his evening repast. He made ample amends to his insulted appetite, and regretted that he had no friend to partake in the joke, for he began to find these mysterious attentions too vast for even his literary vanity to swallow. Remembering the purport of his visit, he inquired' how soon the commissioner was expected to return?'
'Sir Henry came back this evening, may it please—'
'I must see him to-morrow early: take care I am called at eight.'
'A carriage shall be in attendance, your—'
'No, no; my visit is of a private nature.'
'I understand, so please and will caution my servants.'
Walton, after having discussed some well-made hishop, and a scgar or two, rang for a night-candle. The attentive landlord, like Monk ?*
Lewis' beautiful spirit, still bearing the silver branch, led the way to the best bed-room. Walton thought of the loftily-situated apartment first allotted to him, and smiled. Dismissing his officious attendant, he retired to rest.
The next morning, somewhat tired by the parade of the past night, he breakfasted in his bed-room, and was preparing for his visit to the dock-yard, when his persevering host entered, beseeching the honor of showing him the way. His otter was accepted; and finding that the champagne had renewed his gouty symptoms, Walton took advantage of his companion's supporting arm. The good man appeared overwhelmed with his condescension, and looked unutterable things, at the various acquaintance he encountered in his way. At the dock gate, Walton left his delighted cicerone, who intimated his amhition to remain there, to have the supreme felicity of showing him the way back.
Some hours rolled away, during which our traveller received the information he had sought, which appeared of so much import to the Right
Honorable , on whose behalf he had made the inquiry, that he
determined on leaving Portsmouth instantly. A footman of the commissioner's was dispatched for a chaise and four, with directions that the hill should be brought at the same time. Down rattled the chaise, and down came waiters, chambermaids, boots, and all' the militia of the inn,'to the dock-yard! Walton, without looking at items, put the amount into the hands of his gratified host, distributed his favors liberally to the domestics, threw a crown-piece at the head of the lout, and stepped into his chaise, amidst huzzas from the many idlers who had joined the Georgians.
'Long life to the Grand 'were the only words the noise of the
wheels permitted him to hear.
He reached London, without any farther adventure, in as short a time as four horses could get over the ground. Arrived at his home, he instantly forwarded the essential documents to his patron; and having disburdened himself of the more weighty affair, fell into a series of conjectures, as to the possible motives for the reverential deference he had met with. Tired with conflicting speculations, between his fond wishes to attribute it all to his literary reputation, and his secret fears that the homage was somewhat too profound, even for a litterateur of his eminence to reckon upon, he kicked off his boots.' Certain characters on the morocco lining attracted his attention. In a moment the mystery was solved. On decyphering them, he discovered no less a title than that of
'the Grand Duke Nicholas!'
for whom the Hoby's had been originally designed—for whom they had proved cither too large, or too small; and/or whom also—our literary diplomatist had been mistaken, from the moment that he consigned them to the polishing hands of the wise waiter at the George!
'Fairly liookcd,' muttered Walton, as he went grumbling up to bed, and hoping the newspapers on the other side might never°get hold of the story.