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From Blackwood's Magazine.
THE MAID OF SKER.
MANY WEAK MOMENTS.
NOTHING less than steadfast faith, and an ancient British constitution, can have enabled me to survive this highly-dappled period. It was not in my body only, or legs, or parts I think nothing of, but in my brain that I felt it most, when I had the sense to feel it. And having a brain which has no right to claim exemption from proper work, because of being under average, I happened to take a long time to recover from so many spots striking inwards. An empty-headed man might have laughed at the little drills into his brain-pan; but with me (as with a good bee-hive early in October) there could not be the prick of a brad-awl but went into honey. And so my brain was in a buzz for at least a twelvemonth afterwards.
Therefore I now must tell what happened, rather as it is told to me, than as myself remember it. Only you must not expect such truth, as I always give, while competent.
Being pressed as to what it was, he an
"I go to hell!" Sir Philip exclaimed,
"Your Honour," said Jack, having picked up some of my correct expressions," it is not me; it is God Almighty. I was told afore ever I learned to read, or ever heard of reading, how it was. And so it is in the Bible now. Poor men go to heaven, rich men go to hell. It must be so to be fair for both."
The General had too much sense to attempt to prove the opposite, and would have thought no more about it, if Jack had dropped the subject. But to do this at the proper moment requires great civilization; while on the other hand Jack sought comfort, needless to men of refinement.
Your Honour must go there," he said, with a nod of his head which was meant to settle it; "but there is one of your race, or family"—or whatever word of that sort he employed, for he scarce could have come to any knowledge of things hereditary "who will go to heaven." Many are gone there already many," answered Sir Philip, devoutly; "but tell me whom you mean, Jack. Do you mean my son, the Captain?"
"Him! no, no. I know better than that. It is plain where he must go to."
"Your Captain! you disloyal fellow. Why, you ought to be lashed to the triangles. But who is it you are thinking of?"
After the master of the ship Defence had proved so unable to defend himself, General Sir Philip Bampfylde, with his large and quict mind forbidding all intrusion, opened out a little of his goodness to Jack Wildman. There are men of the highest station, and of noble intellect, who do this, and cannot help it, when they meet a fellow-man with something in him like them. There is no vanity in it, nor even desire to conciliate; only a little touch of something understood between them. And now being brought so to"I know, I know," said Jack, nodding gether perhaps by their common kindli- his head; and no more could Sir Philip ness, and with the door of death wide get out of him. And whenever he tried to open, as it were, before them, the well-born begin again, Jack Wildman was more than and highly-nurtured baronet, and the a match for him, by feigning not to unlowly, neglected, and ignorant savage, derstand, or by some other of the many found (perhaps all the more clearly from tricks which nature supplies for self-decontrast) something harmonious in each fence, to the savage against the civilized. other. At any rate they had a good deal If I had been well, I must have shelled of talk by the side of the lonely river, this poor Jack's meaning out of him; where even the lighters kept aloof, and whereas, on the other hand, but for my hugged to the utmost the opposite shore. illness he might never have spoken. So And the General, finding much amusement it came to pass that he was sent, entirely in poor Jack's queer simplicity, and strange at Sir Philip's cost, and with a handsome remarks upon men and things, would gratuity, to rejoin our Captain in Plymouth often relax without losing any of his ac- Sound, and to carry back Cannibals Dick customed dignity. So while they were and Joe, who had scoured away at great speaking of death one day, Jack looked at speed upon hearing of my sudden misSir Philip with an air of deep compassion fortune. and feeling, and told him with tearful eyes how heartily he was grieved at one thing.
Now I will tell you a very strange thing, and quite out of my experience;
ever after small-pox, which enlarged and filled me with charity, as well as what I had scarcely room for increase of humility. This is, that though Captain Bampfylde had some little spare time at Plymouth, he had such command of himself that he never went near his beloved Isabel. Nothing could have so checked a man of heartiness and bravery, except the strongest power of honour, and a long time of chastisement. There was a lovely young woman, and here a fine though middle-aged man, her husband; they loved one another with heart and soul, and they never met, but through a telescope! It may have been right, or it may have been wrong I should have thought it wrong, perhaps, if the case had been my own but they pledged their honour, and kept it. Drake Bampfylde (like his father) had a strength of trust in Providence. But this trust has no landed security, now that the Lord has found the world so clever, that he need not interfere with it.
famous, but for his usual ill fortune. This had carried him to the East Indies, before the Defence had finished refitting; and there, with none of his old hands near him, he commanded a line-of-battle ship, under Commodore Rainier; and after some hard work, and very fine fighting, drove the brave Dutchmen out of the castle of Trincomalee, in August 1795, which we came to hear of afterwards.
Thus it was that everybody seemed to be scattered everywhere. None of us happened to hold together, except those three poor savages; and they, by a sort of instinct, managed to get over accidents. For they stuck, with that fidelity which is lost by education, to Rodney Bluett, as soon as ever poor Father Davy failed them. But this is a melancholy subject, and must soon be done with.
love, and sense of pretty watchfulness; and the sound of my native tongue as soft as the wool of a nest to my bosom.
Because I was lying in a hammock, slung, by Colonel Lougher's orders, betwixt the very same mooring-posts (at about half-tide in Newton Bay) which truly enabled the sons of Devon to make such a safe job of stealing his rocks. Not only the Colonel but Lady Bluett, who generally led his judgment, felt by this time the pleasure of owing true gratitude to somebody. My fatherly care of the young lieutenant had turned him out so nobly.
Let me, then, not dwell upon this visitation of the Lord for a moment longer than the claims of nation and of kin combine to make it needful. Nor did it seem to matThe 74-gun ship Defence was known to ter much for a long time what became of be the fastest sailer in the British Navy; me. The very first thing I remember, not from her build alone, or balance, but after months of wandering, has something from my careful trim of her sails, and to do with the hush of waves, and the soft knowledge of how to handle her. Hours breath of heaven spread over me. Also and hours I spent aloft, among lifts and kind young voices seemed to be murmurbraces, and clue-garnets, marking the drawing around me, with a dear regard and of every sail, and righting all useless bellying. So that I could now have warranted her the first of our Navy to break the line, if rigged according to my directions, and with me for her master. However (while I lay docked like this, careened I might say, and unlikely ever to carry keel again), the Defence, without my knowledge even, being new-masted, sailed to join the Channel Fleet, with Heaviside acting as her master; and as might have been expected, fell to leeward one knot in three. And even worse than this befell her; for in the second of those two miserable actions under Hotham in the year 1795, when even Nelson could do nothing, the Defence having now another captain as well as a stupid master, actually backed her mizzentopsail, in the rear of the enemy, when the signal was to fill and stand on. How ever, as even that famous ship the Agamemnon did nothing that day, through getting no opportunity, we must forgive poor Heaviside, especially as he was not captain. But the one who ground his teeth the hardest, and could forgive nobody, was the Honourable Rodney Bluett, now first lieutenant of the Defence. By this time every one must desire to know why Captain Bampfylde was not there as he might have been, and might have made himself
It misbecomes me to speak of this; and it misbecame me to speak at all, with the sea-breeze flowing over me, the first words of knowledge that I had spoken for how long I know not. Nothing can be too high, or too low, for human nature at both ends; but I ought to have known better than to do the thing I did.
"Give me a pipe," was all I said; and then I turned away, and cared not whether I got my pipe, or whether the rising tide extinguished me.
"Here is your pipe, sir," came in a beautiful voice from down below me; " and we have the tinder ready. Bunny, let me do it now."
That pipe must have saved my life. | Heaven. For Colonel Lougher and Lady Ererybody said so. It came and went in Bluett, at the very beginning of the frost, curls of comfort through the hollow dying sent down my old friend, Crumpy the butplaces of my head that had not even blood ler, to report upon my condition, and to give enough to call for it; and then it never his candid opinion what was the best thing left my soul uneasy about anything. Ham- to do with me. After that long struggle mock and all must have gone afloat, with now (thanks to a fine constitution and the the rapid rise of the spring, except for death of the only doctor anywhere on our Colonel Lougher's foresight.
side of Bridgend), I had begun to look up Who was it that watched me so, and a little and to know the time of day. would have waited by my side, until the Crumpy felt my pulse, and nodded, and waves were over her? Who was it that ther prescribed the only medicine whieh kept on listening, to let me know, while his own experience in life had ever veriI could not speak? Who was it that fied. Port wine, he said, was the only gave a little bit of a sigh, every now and thing to put me on my legs again. And then, and then breathed hard to smother this he laid before the Colonel with such it? Who was it, or who could it be in the absence of all doubt, that on the very whole wide world, but Bardie ?
same afternoon a low and slow carriage Not only this, but when I began to be was sent for me, and I found myself laid up to real sense again, the kindness of in a very snug room, with the firelight every one around me made me fit for dancing in the reflection of the key of the nothing. In the weakness of expecting wine-cellar. Also here was Bardie flitting all to take advantage of me (as is done in light as a gnat in spring-time, and Bunny health and spirits), all the weakness 1 to be had whenever anybody wanted her. could find was in my friends and neighbors Only her scantling and her tonnage unalways labouring to encourage me. This to fitted her for frigate-service. my mind proves almost the wrongness of What had a poor old fellow like me — expecting people to be worse than we are. as in weak moments I called myself — ever
That winter was the most severe, all done, or even suffered, to deserve to find over Western Europe, known for five-and- the world an Inn of good Samaritans? I fifty years. I well remember the dreadful felt that it was all of pure unreasonable winter A.D. 1740, when the Severn was kindness; the very thing which a man of frozen with a yard of ice, and the whole spirit cannot bear to put up with. I have of the Bristol Channel blocked with ice- felt this often, when our Parson discoursed bergs like great hay-ricks. Twelve peo- about our gracious Lord, and all the things ple were frozen to death in our parish, He did for us.
A man of proper
selfand seven were killed through the ice on respect would like to have had a voice in
The winter of 1795 was nothing it. to be compared to that; nevertheless it This, however (as Hezekiah told us in was very furious, and killed more than the cockpit, after we had pickled him), we could spare of our very oldest inhabi- might be safely attributed to the force of tants.
unregeneracy; while a man who is down And but for the extraordinary kindness in luck, and constitution also, trusts to any of Colonel Lougher, that winter must have stout mortal for a loan of orthodoxy. And killed not only me in my weak and worn- so did I to our Rector Lougher, brother out condition, but also the poor maid of of the Colonel, a gentleman who had Sker, if left to encounter the cold in that bought my fish, and felt my spiritual needs. iceberg. For truly speaking, the poor old To him I listened (for well he read), espehouse was nothing else through that win- cially a psalm to which I could for ever ter. The snow in swirling sheets of storm listen, full of noble navigation, deeper first wrapped it up to the window-sills ; even than our soundings in the Bay of and then in a single night overleaped ga- Biscay. bles, roofs, and chimney tops. Moxy and Every night we used to wonder where Watkin passed a month of bitter cold and Lieutenant Bluett was, knowing as we did darkness, but were lucky enough to have from my descriptions (when the hob was some sheep who kept them warm outside, hot) what it is to be at sea with all the and warmed their insides afterwards. rigging freezing. When the blocks are And after that the thaw came. But all clogged with ice, and make mysterious this time there was nobody in my little groanings, and the shrouds have grown a cottage at Newton but poor Bioger Berk- beard as cold as their own name is, and rolles, and how he kept soul and body to the deck begins to slip; and all the watch, gether is known to none save himself and with ropes to handle, spit upon their
palms, and strike them (dancing with their , Justice Stew, who of course took good care toes the while), one man to another man's, to come after him, did not use an uncivil hoping to see sparks come out. So it is, I word, when he saw what Sir Philip thought can assure you, who have never been at of me. sea, when the barbs of icy spray by a Sir,” said the General to the Squire, freezing wind are driven, like a volley of after shaking hands most kindly with me, langrel-shot raking the ship from stem to "this is a man whom I truly respect. stern, shrivelling blue cheeks and red noses, There seems to be but one opinion about shattering quids from the chattering teeth. him. I call him a noble specimen of your Many a time in these bitter nights, with fellow-countrymen." the roar of east wind through the fir-trees, “Yes, to be sure,” answered Anthony and the rattle of doors in the snow-drift, I Stew : "but my noble fellow-countryinen felt ashamed of my cozy berth, and could say that I am an Irishman.” not hug my comfort, from thinking of my * No doubt whatever about that, your ancient messmates turned to huddled Worship,” was the proper thing for me to icicles.
reply; but the condition of my head forBut all was ordained for the best, no bade me almost to shake it. If it had doubt : for supposing that I had been at pleased the Lord to give me only a dozen sea through the year 1795, or even 1796, holes and scars — which could not matter what single general action was there wor-at my tiine of life — there would not by thy of my presence? It might have been any means have arisen, as all the old otherwise with me there, and in a leading women of Newton said, this sad pressure position. However, even of this I cannot on the brain-pan, and difficulty of coping by any means be certain, for seamen quite even with a man of Anthony Stew's kind. as brave and skilful were afloat at that But, alas ! instead of opening out, the subvery time. However, beyond a few frigate tle plague struck iuwards, leaving not a actions, and matters far away from home, sign outside, but a delicate transparency. at the Cape, or in the East Indies, I did This visit from Sir Philip did not end not hear of anything that I need have without a queer affair, whereof I had no longed much to partake in. So that I did notice then, being set down by all the vilnot repent of accepting a harbour-appoint- lage as only fit to poke about among the ment at Plymouth, which (upon my partial sand-hills, and then to die.
But no one recovery) was obtained for me by Sir could take the church-clock from me, till Philip Bampfylde, an old friend of the the bell should be tolling for me; and as a Port-Admiral there.
matter of duty I drew some long arrears For that good Sir Philip was a little un of salary. easy, after shipping me off last autumn, It seems that Sir Philip drove down one lest he might have behaved with any want day from Pen Coed to look after me, and of gratitude towards me. Of course he having done this with his usual kindness, had done nothing of the kind; for in truth spread word through the children (who I had raved for my country so – as I came throughout our lane abounded) that really to learn long afterwards — that when all none of his money remained for any more the risk of infection was over, the doctor sticks of peppermint. It was high time from Barnstaple said that my only chance for them to think, he said, after ever so of recovering reason lay in the air of my much education, of earning from sevennative land. But at any rate this kind pence to tenpence a-week, for the good of baronet thought himself bound to come the babies they carried. All the children and look after me, in the spring of the gathered round hiin at this fine idea, year when the buds were awake, and the really not believing quite that the purse iron was gone from the soul of the earth of such a gentleman could have nothing again. He had often promised that fine more to say. And the girls bearing babes old tyrant Anthony Stew to revisit him; were concave in the back, while the boys so now be resolved to kill two birds with in the same predicament stuck out clumsily one stone, as the saying is.
where their spines were setting: I had returned to my cottage now, but “ Drive me away,” said Sir Philip to the being still very frail and stupid, in spite groom; “ drive me straight away anyof port wine every day, I conld not keep where : these Welsh children are so clever, the tears from starting, when this good I shall have no chance with them.” and great landowner bent his silver head “ Indeed, your Honour, they is,” said the beneath my humble lintel, and forbade me groom with a grin, as behoved a Welshin his calm majestic manner to think for a man. “ Would your Honour like to go moment of dousing my pipe. And even 'down by the sea, and see our beautiful
water-rocks, and our old annshent plac-of life), anyhow he assuaged his thirst— es ?"
"To be sure," said Sir Philip; "the very thing. We have four hours' time to dinner yet; and I fear I have worn out poor Llewellyn. Now follow the coast-line if you are sure that your master would like it, Lewis, with this young horse, and our weight behind.”
which rum of my quality could not have caused in a really sound constitution, after taking no more than a thimbleful — and then for a moment he sate on a rock, soothed by the purling water, to rest and to look around him. The place has no great beauty, as of a seaside spring in Devonshire, but more of cheer and life about it than their ferny grottoes. The bright water breaks from an elbow of rock, in many veins all uniting, and with
"Your Honour, nothing ever comes amiss to this young horse here. 'Tis tire I should like to see him, for a change, as we do say. And master do always tell me keep salt-out any cliff above them; and then, after water on his legs whenever."
Right!" cried Sir Philip, who loved the spree, being as full of spirits still, when the air took his trouble out of him, as the young horse in the shafts was.
So they drove away over the sands towards Sker, which it is easy enough to do with a good strong horse and a light car behind him. And by this time the neighbourhood had quite forgotten all its dread of sand-storms. In about half an hour they found themselves in a pretty place of grass and furze known as the Lock's Common, which faces the sea over some low cliffs, and at the western end coves down to it. This is some half a mile from Sker House, and a ragged dry wall makes the parish boundary, severing it from Skerland.
"Drive on," cried Sir Philip; "I enjoy all this: I call this really beautiful, and this fine sward reminds me of Devonshire. But they ought to plant some trees here." The driver replied that there was some danger in driving through Sker warren, unless one knew the ground thoroughly, on account of the number of rabbit-holes; and the baronet, with that true regard which a gentleman feels for the horse of a friend, cancelled his order immediately. "But," he continued, "I am so thirsty that I scarcely know what to do. My friend Llewellyn's hospitality is so overpowering. The taste of rum is almost unknown to me; but I could not refuse when he pressed me so. It has made me confoundedly thirsty, Lewis."
Your Honour," said Lewis, "just round that corner, in a little break of the rocks, there is one of the finest springs in Glamorgan, Ffynnon Wen' we call it, the water does be sparkling so."
rushing a very few yards through set stone and loose shingle, loses its self-will upon the soft sand, and spreads a way over a hundred yards of vague wetness and shallow shining.
The mild sun of April was glancing on this, and the tide just advancing to see to it, when the shadow of a slim figure fell on the stones before Sir Philip. So quietly had she slipped along, and appeared from the rocks so suddenly, that neither old man nor young maiden thought of the other until their eyes met.
"What, why, who?" cried the General, with something as much like a start as good conscience and long service had left in him: "who are you? Who are you, my dear?"
For his eyes were fixed on a fair young damsel of some fifteen summers, standing upright, with a pad on her head, and on the pad a red pitcher. Over her shoulders, and down to her waist, fell dark-brown curls abundantly, full of gleaming gold where the sun stole through the rocks to dwell in them. Her dress was nothing but blue Welsh flannel, gathered at the waist and tucked in front, and her beautifully tinted legs and azure-veined feet shone under it.
"Who are you, my pretty creature ?" Sir Bampfylde asked again, while she opened her grey eyes wide at him.
Y Ferch o'r Scer, Syr," she answered shyly, and with the strong guttural tone which she knew was unpleasant to English ears. For it was her sensitive point that she could not tell any one who she was; and her pride (which was manifold) always led her to draw back from questions.
On the other hand the old man's gaze of strong surprise and deep interest faded into mere admiration at the sound of our fine language.
The groom, having no cup to fetch the water, stood by the horse in the little pant or combe; while old Sir Philip went down to the shore, to drink as our first fore- "Fair young Cambrian, I have asked father drank, and Gideon's men in the you rudely, and you are displeased with Bible. Whether he lapped or dipped, I me. Lift your curls, my little dear, and know not (probably the latter, at his time 'let me see your face a while. I remember