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Chapter Seven.
Encounter my new uncle—Aunt Bretta’s home—Happy meeting—Settle at home—A description of my uncle—Old Jerry Vincent—His stories—The smoke-worms, and his cruise round the Isle of Wight.

On reaching Portsmouth, I buttoned my money tight up in my pockets, for, thought I, “I’ll have no land-sharks taking it from me in the way many poor fellows have lost all the profits of their toils.” I had no difficulty in finding my way through the gate under the ramparts to Southsea Common, and then I turned to the left till I reached a number of small, neat little houses. The fine big mansions and great hotels which stand there now were not built in those days. I walked up and down for some time trying to discover the house my aunt lived in from what Miss Rundle had told me, but I could not make up my mind to knock at any door by chance to inquire. At last I saw a stout, fine sailor-like looking man come stumbling along the road on a wooden leg. I looked at his face. He had a round, good-natured countenance, somewhat weather-beaten, with kind-looking eyes, and a firm mouth, full of fine white teeth.

“You’re the man who will give me a civil answer at all events, and maybe help me to find my aunt, so I’ll just speak to you,” I thought to myself. “Please, sir,” said I, stepping up to him, “can you tell me if a young woman called Bretta Wetherholm lives any way handy here?” He looked at me very hard as I spoke, with some surprise in his countenance. Then I recollected myself; “that was her name, I mean, sir,” said I; “it’s now Mrs Kelson, I am told. Her husband is Tom Kelson. Yes, that’s his name.”

“I think I can show you the house, young man,” said the stranger, casting his eye all over me. “You are a stranger here.”

“Yes, sir,” said I, “this is the first time I have been at Portsmouth. I’ve been knocking about at sea all my life. There are very few days in which I have set foot in England since I was a little boy.”

“Just paid off from a ship, I suppose.”

“Yes, sir,” said I, “a few days ago.”

“Ah, I see, come round from Plymouth,” he remarked, stumping on at a pace which kept me at a quick walk.

I always addressed him as sir, for I thought very likely he was a post-captain, or perhaps an admiral. I did not like, therefore, to say that I had just come from Guernsey, as he would at once have guessed that I had been serving on board a privateer, and I knew that many officers did not at all like the calling. I therefore said, “I beg pardon, sir, but I fear that I am taking you out of your way.”

“Not in the least, young man,” he answered in a good-natured tone. “Your way is my way.”

“Well, you are indeed a very civil, kind gentleman,” I thought. Then all of a sudden I remembered the land-sharks I had been warned against, but when I looked in his face I felt certain that he was not one of them.

“And so you have heard speak of Tom Kelson,” said he, looking at me.

“Not much, sir,” I answered. “There’s a lady down at Plymouth whom I know, Miss Rundle, who just spoke about him, and told me about my aunt’s marriage, and how she didn’t quite think—”

“Oh, never mind what Miss Molly Rundle thought,” said he, laughing, as he pushed open the door of a house and walked in. “You’ll find Mrs Kelson in there,” and he pointed to a parlour on one side of the passage. “Here, Bretta, come down; here’s a young man come to see you. Who he is I don’t know. He’s a friend of Molly Rundle’s, that is all I can make out,” I heard my new friend hail at the foot of the stairs.

I found myself in a very pretty, neat little sitting-room, with the picture of a ship over the mantelpiece, and lumps of coral and large shells, and shell flowers, on it, and bows and arrows, and spears and models of eastern craft, and canoes from the Pacific, and some stuffed birds and snakes, and, indeed, all sorts of curious things arranged in brackets on the walls, or nailed up against them, or filling the shelves of cabinets. Indeed, the room was a perfect museum, only much better arranged than museums generally are. I had some little time to look about me. “Well, Aunt Bretta is comfortably housed at all events,” I thought to myself.

At last the door opened, and a portly fair dame, with fair hair and a pleasant smile on her countenance, entered the room. “Who are you inquiring for, young man?” said she, dropping a sort of curtsey.

I looked at her very hard without answering. “Yes, it must be Aunt Bretta,” I thought. “But if it is her, she is a good deal changed. And yet I don’t know. Those kind eyes and that smile are just the same. Oh, yes, it is her.”

“Aunt Bretta,” I exclaimed, running towards her; “don’t you know me? I’m Willand Wetherholm, your nephew!”

“You my nephew! I heard that without doubt he was dead. Yet let me look at you, boy!” she exclaimed, taking both my hands and fixing her eyes on my countenance. “Yes, you are Willand—you are my own dear boy—welcome, welcome back to life, and to one who loved you as her own son!” And she flung her arms round my neck and burst into tears. “Oh, Willand, had but dear mother been alive, how it would have done her heart good to see you! She never ceased talking of you, and always felt sure that you would come back when you could.”

I will not describe the scene any farther. I pretty nearly cried too—indeed I am not certain that I did not, but they were tears of happiness, and not yet entirely of happiness. There was sorrow for one I had lost—regret for my own obstinacy and thoughtlessness, and many other emotions mingled with the satisfaction of finding myself under the roof of one in whom I had the most perfect confidence, who I knew loved me sincerely. I think I have said it before, but if not, I now urge those who are blessed with real friends, to prize the lore their hearts bestow as a jewel above price, which wealth cannot purchase, and which, let them wander the world round, they may never find again.

After my aunt and I had sat a little time, in came the fine old gentleman I had met. I now guessed who he must be. He very quickly understood who I was. “You are not the first seaman I have known who has been lost for years, and has at last turned up again when he was least expected,” said he; “but welcome, Willand, I’m very glad to see you, and to own you for my nephew.” He very soon gave evidence of the sincerity of his words, for a kinder, better-hearted man I never met, and I felt thankful that Aunt Bretta had married a man so well worthy of her.

My uncle accompanied me back to the inn where I had left my chest and bag, and we got a porter to carry them to his house; and now, for the first time since I went to sea, I found myself settled with my relations quietly on shore. I had been very happy with the La Mottes, but still they were strangers. My kind aunt never seemed tired of trying to find out what would please me. She had done something to spoil me as a boy—it appeared as if there was a great probability of her spoiling me as a man. We had much to talk about. I told her of my falling in with the old lady at Plymouth, and of my visit to my grandmother’s tomb. I found that Miss Rundle had never written to her, or if she had written, the letter had not reached her.

“I suspect that she was afraid I might answer her letter, and she did not like the idea of having to pay the return postage. It shows that she does not consider my friendship worth ninepence.”

Still I was surprised that Miss Rundle had not written, as she had so positively promised to do. I could not exactly make it out. I found that my aunt knew nothing of old Mrs Sandon and her niece. She was very much interested with my description of the young lady. “So, Willand,” said she, “I hope you will go back to Plymouth and find her out again. There are very many good girls in the world, but, like sweet violets, they often bloom unseen, and it is not so easy to find them. From what you tell me of her, and I can bring her clearly before my mind’s eye, she is just the sort of person to make a man a good wife, and I hope that you may be able to win her.” Now, when my aunt spoke thus, I laughed, and said that I had not thought of settling, and that it was not likely I should win a young lady like her, who was a great deal too good to be the wife of a foremast man like me, and anything else I never expected to be.

“You need not say that, Willand,” replied Aunt Bretta. “I have something to say to you on that subject. You must know, Willand, that your father left some money to your grandmother for her life, and afterwards it was to go to you; but when you were supposed to be dead I took possession of it. Now, my dear boy, that you have come back, your uncle and I have been preparing to give it up to you. It is yours by every law of right, so do not say a word about it. We can manage very well without it.”

“Indeed, I will not deprive you of a farthing of it, dear aunt!” I exclaimed. “I would rather go to sea for a dozen years longer and never come back again, than take the bread out of your mouths. I won’t take it, so don’t be pressing it on me. I have got plenty without it. There, take care of that.” And I gave her the cash I had been carrying in my pocket. “You can make me your heir, if you like, and I hope it will be a very long time before I come into my fortune.”

My uncle soon after came in, and we had a long talk over the matter. I succeeded at last in making them keep the money. The fact was, I knew myself better than they knew me, and I felt pretty certain that some day or other I might spend it all, and nobody would be the better for it. This affair settled, we lived together still more pleasantly than ever, for they had it off their minds, and I felt that I had done what was right. I found that my uncle had once been what Miss Rundle called a common sailor—that is to say, he had been mate of a merchantman, and had been pressed on board a man-of-war, where he had obtained a warrant as boatswain. While acting as such, he had lost his leg. After he had recovered he got command of a large merchantman, for he was a good navigator as well as a first-rate seaman. He was not very refined, according to some people’s notions, I dare say, nor were some of his acquaintance. He valued them, as he did all things, for their sterling qualities, and cared very little for their outside. A good many of his old friends and shipmates used to look in on him, and I was much struck by the kind and hospitable way in which my aunt always received them. “They are my husband’s friends, and I inquire no further,” she used to say. “I know that he will never ask anybody I shall not be glad to receive.”

Scarcely an evening passed without our having one or more guests, and this made it very pleasant. Just as we were sitting down to tea one evening, a ring was heard, and on my uncle’s opening the door (I found that he always did that sort of work), I heard him exclaim, “Come in, Jerry! come in, old boy! There is only my nephew here, and he won’t be sorry to hear you talk, I’m sure.” There was a shuffling and cleaning of shoes, and then my uncle ushered in as odd a looking old man as I ever saw. He was of diminutive figure, very wizened and wiry, with long grizzly hair and small bright eyes, with a wonderfully roguish expression in them.

“This is Jerry Vincent, an old shipmate of mine, nephew,” observed my uncle, as he placed a chair for the old man. “He can tell you more curious things than most people when he has a mind. Can you not, Jerry?”

Our guest nodded, and his eyes twinkled curiously.

“Sarvant, missus; sarvant, all,” said he, pulling a lock of his hair and putting his tarpaulin hat under the seat which had been offered him. “Why, old ship, I’ve seen some rum things in the course of my life, and I don’t forget them, like some does,” he remarked, smoothing down his hair with his long, rough, bony hand.

I told him that I should much like to hear some of his adventures, but he did not become loquacious till my aunt had served him out three or four cups of tea, into which she poured, as if it was a usual thing, a few drops of cordial, a proceeding which always made the old man’s eyes twinkle cheerily. During the course of conversation, I found that Jerry Vincent was not only peculiar in his appearance but in his habits also. He never by any chance, from choice, slept in a bed. When at sea, a caulk on a locker was the only rest he took, and most of his nights, in summer, were passed under the thwarts of his boat. My uncle told a story of him, to the effect that one cold winter’s night he had gone to sleep under his boat, which had been hauled up and turned over on the beach, and that when he awoke in the morning his dog had been frozen to death, while he was only a little stiff in the neck. At all events, it was evident that he was a very hardy old man.

“There are many like to hear my yarns,” he observed. “Now, for example, there was a gentleman down here from Lunnon, and he used to go out in my boat off to Spithead, and sometimes across to the Wight. One day I thought I would try one of my yarns on him, so I spun it off the reel. He said, when I had finished, that it was a very good one, though it was very short, and when he stepped out of the boat he tipped me half-a-crown. The next day I took him out again, and spun him another yarn rather tougher than the first, and he gave me three shillings. Ho, ho, thought I to myself. If you pay according to the toughness of a yarn, I’ll give you something worth your money. Well, the third day down he came, and said he wanted to go across to Cowes, if the tide would suit, and I told him it would; and now, I thought, here’s a fine time for spinning a long yarn. I’ll give you a tough one, and no mistake. Well, I spun away, and my eye if it didn’t beat the two others hollow! We had a pretty quick run to the Wight and back, and just before I landed him, ‘I hope you liked the story, sir,’ says I. ‘Very much,’ says he. ‘And by the by, I should pay you for it. Here’s a couple of shillings.’ I looked at the coin with disdain. ‘Pardon, sir,’ says I; ‘that story’s worth five shillings if it’s worth a penny, and I can take nothing less.’

“‘Are you in earnest, my man?’ says he. ‘Yes, sir,’ says I; ‘the story, if written down, would be worth ten times the money.’

“‘Then you are an extortionate old scoundrel, without a scrap of a conscience,’ says he. ‘Hard words, sir,’ says I; ‘but it can’t be helped. We poor fellows must submit to great people.’ But all I could say wouldn’t do. He vowed that he would never give me anything again, and what is more, he never did, and never again would take my boat.”

“Served you right too, old ship,” said my uncle. “You learned by that, I hope, that moderation is the best policy. But heave ahead. You are not to charge us at the rate of a shilling a fathom for your yarns, remember that.”

Old Jerry cocked his eye with a knowing wink, and began. “Well then, one morning after I had been sleeping up at my uncle’s, for some reason or other—it might have been that I’d had a drop too much the night afore, but I can’t say, as it’s some time ago—I don’t score those things down in my log, d’ye see—I was going down the street with my boat-hook in my hand—I know that I had the boat-hook because I took it up with me. It was rather dusky, so to speak, because the sun wasn’t up, nor would be for some hours to come, when, as I was passing a house with a deep porch before the door, what should I see but a big pair of fiery eyes glaring out at me like hot coals from a grate in a dark room. Never in all my life did I see such fierce red sparklers, but I never was a man to be daunted at anything, not I, so I gripped my boat-hook firmly in both hands and walked towards it. I wasn’t given to fancy things, and I had never seen any imps of Satan, or Satan himself, and never wished to see them, so I thought this might be a dog or a cat, maybe, troubled with sore eyes, which made them look red. On I marched, therefore, as steady as a judge or a grenadier on parade, when, just as I got near the door, a dark shaggy form rose up right before me, the eyes glowing redder and hotter than ever. It grew, and it grew, and grew, every moment getting taller and bigger, till it reached right up to the top of the house. I kept looking at it, thinking when it would have done growing; but as for running away, even if I had had any fancy for running, I knew that it would have come after me and would overhaul and gobble me up, in a quarter less no time, so I stood where I was, considering what would happen next. At last, thinks I to myself, you are not going to look at me in that way whatever you are; so, shutting my eyes, for I couldn’t for the life of me bear its glare any longer, I made a desperate dash at it with my boat-hook. You should have heard the hullabaloo there was, and I found the boat-hook dragged right out of my hands. I opened my eyes just in time to see the monster, big as he was, bolt right through the door, carrying my boat-hook with him. I rushed after him to try and get it back, for it was a new ash one I had bought but a few days before, and I did not want to lose it, but I only knocked my head a hard rap against the door, and though I looked about everywhere I never could find it from that day to this; and that, mates, mind you, is the circumstantial and voracious way Jerry Vincent lost his boat-hook.” And the old man gave one of his comical and expressive winks, and a pull at the glass of swisell which my uncle had placed by his side.

“Don’t you all acknowledge that that story was well worth half-a-crown to a Lonnoner, seeing as how it was quite new, and he could never have heard it afore? Of course you’ll all agree with me, now, to my mind, those Lonnoners are generally such know-nothing sort of chaps, though they think themselves so wise that they never will believe what you tell ’em. They are just like the old lady whose nevy had just come from sea. When he told her that he’d seen flying-fish scores of times, she said he was trying to hoax her, and wouldn’t listen to him, but when he said he’d been up the Red Sea, and that the water there was the colour of a soldier’s coat, she said that she had no doubt about that, and that she was glad to listen to him when he spoke the truth. But,” continued Jerry, who had now got into his talkative vein, “what I have been telling you is as nothing to what happened to me soon after then. I had been ill for some time, and could not tell what was the matter with me, when I happened one day to go to Portsdown fair. I thought the walk would do me good, and I wanted to see some of the fun going on. Well, after I had been to see the beasts and the raree shows, and the tumblers, and theatres, and conjurers, and taken a turn in a roundabout, on a wooden horse, which I found more easy to ride than a real one, because, do ye see, the wooden one never kicks, while, to speak the truth, whenever I’ve got on a regular-built animal, he to a certainty has shied up his stern and sent me over his bows, sometimes right into a hedge, or a ditch, or a pond, or through a window, into a shop, or parlour, I happened to catch sight of a man standing at the end of an outlandish sort of a cart or a van, painted all over with red and yellow, and blue and gold, with a sort of a Chinaman’s temple at one end of it.

“‘Now, ladies and gentlemen,’ says he, for he was a very polite sort of a chap, ‘here’s the universal ’lixier of life; it cures all complaints, and takes a man, if he has a mind to it and has proper faith in what it will do for him, right clear away to the end of the world. It’s as infallible as the Pope of Rome and all his cardinals, and is patronised by all the first haristocracy and clergy in the country. Only one shilling a bottle, ladies and gentlemen; taken how you will and when you will—it’s all the same—in a glass of grog, a bowl of punch, or a basin of pap; for old or young, for boys or girls, it will cure them all, and they will never feel ill again as long as they continue to take it. Take enough of it, and take it long enough, and you will see the wonders it will work.’

“On hearing all this, I asked of those who were looking on, who the chap was, and they told me he was the celebrated Doctor Gulliman, who was going to send all the old regular practitioners to the right about, and it was wonderful what good he did, and how much more he would do if people would but trust him. I afterwards found out that the fellow who told me this was a friend of the doctor’s, and stood there on purpose to say a good word in his favour, though he pretended to have nothing at all to do with him.

“Well, thinks I to myself, maybe he’ll know how to cure me; so I made bold and went up to him.

“When he saw me he stooped down from his carriage, and says he, ‘Well, my good fellow, what’s the matter with you? But never mind; whatever it is I’ll cure you. Trust Doctor Gulliman for that.’

“I didn’t much fancy having to tell my complaint among so many hearers. You see my modesty stood in my way.

“‘Come, come, tell me all about it, my good man,’ says he in an encouraging tone.

“So I put my hand on my bread-basket, and told him that I was troubled with pains in them parts, and that for the life of me I couldn’t get well, though there was seldom a night I didn’t take half-a-dozen tumblers of grog to set me to rights.

“‘Put out your tongue, my man,’ says he.

“I stuck it out so that from where he stood he could look right down my throat.

“‘Oh, oh! my dear man, I guessed what it was that ails you. But never fear, I’ll cure you in a jiffy. You’re troubled with smoke-worms. That’s it. And they are very dangerous things if you don’t get rid of them, mind that. You see this invaluable stuff which I hold in my hand. If you want to get cured you must take six bottles of it. I don’t say but that it would be safer for you if you took twelve. But do as you like about that. Mix each of them in a stiff glass of grog. You may take three a day if you like, and then come back to me for more. At the end of three days—trust the word of an honest man and a true friend of the whole human race—you will be clear of them all, and every complaint you have at the same time.’

“Well,” thinks I to myself, “‘in for a penny, in for a pound,’ though there is a difference between the shilling my friend in the crowd said I should have to pay and the twelve shillings the doctor demands. But then, to be sure, the stuff can’t be unpleasant, and the grog, at all events, is no bad thing. ‘Well, doctor,’ says I, ‘I’ll take the twelve bottles, but I should like to know what the stuff you give me is made of?’

“‘What!’ he sings out, drawing himself up and looking as proud as a prince. ‘What! Do you just imagine for one quarter of a moment that I would tell you, or any man like you, alive on this terrestrial sphere, what my infallible Obfucastementi-scoposis is composed of? No; not to satisfy the gaping curiosity of twenty such wretched creatures as you are would I reveal that golden, all-important, mysterious secret. If you are not content, go! Give me back my invaluable ’lixier and cut.’

“‘Yes, doctor,’ says I, going to give him the twelve bottles, ‘and just do you in return hand me out my twelve shillings.’

“‘Your twelve shillings! you audacious rascal. Here’s a man asks me for twelve shillings in exchange for my ’lixier, which is worth twelve pounds at least. Ladies and gentlemen, he ain’t fit to be among such as you. Hoot him—hoot him—hiss him—kick him out from among you.’

“On this my friend in the crowd, who advised me to buy the stuff, began to hoot and to hiss and to shove me about, and others followed his example, till I saw that there was no use of attempting to hold my own, and I wasn’t sorry to be able to get clear of them, and to bolt with a whole skin on my body, though two of the bottles were broken in the row.

“I got home at last, not over well pleased with Doctor Gulliman and the way I had been treated. However, as I had paid for my whistle, I thought I might as well try if the stuff would do me any good. As soon as I got into Portsmouth I bought a bottle of old rum; for, thinks I to myself, if I am to take the stuff, the sooner I begin the better.

“When I reached my boat, I recollected that I was engaged to go out to Spithead to bring on shore an officer from one of the ships lying there, so I stowed away a glass and a can of water, not forgetting the rum and ’lixier, and shoved off. I just paddled down the harbour, for I was in no hurry, and the ebb was making strong. At last says I to myself, just as I got off the kickers, ‘I’ll just take a bottle of the ’lixier and see how I feel after it.’ So I got a bottle, and poured it out, and put in some old rum, just on the top of it, to take the taste away, and then I took the can of water, but I found that there was a hole at the bottom of it, and that most of the water had leaked out. So, do you see, I was obliged to be very careful of the water, and couldn’t put much of it at a time in the glass. If I had, you see, I shouldn’t have had any of the precious fluid, as they calls it, left for another glass. Well, I tossed off the liquid, and when I had smacked my lips, I began to think much better of the doctor. His stuff, you see, wasn’t so bad after all. Thinks I to myself, ‘If one glass is good, two must be better; so, before I take to the oars again, I’ll have another.’ Somehow the second was even better than the first. Then it struck me all of a heap like, that the doctor said I should take three bottles of his stuff in a day; so, as it was now getting towards sundown, thinks I, ‘The sooner I takes the third the better.’

“Howsomedever, when I came to look at the can, I found that every drop of water had leaked out, so I had no help for it but to fill the tumbler up with the rum. I can’t say it tasted bad, though it was, maybe, rather stiffish. Well, as the tide was sending me along nicely, I didn’t get out the oars again, but sat in the boat meditating like, when all of a sudden I felt myself very queer in the inside, and pains came on just for all the world as if I had swallowed a score or two of big mackerel, and they were all kicking and wriggling about in my bread-basket. ‘They are the smoke-worms the doctor told me about,’ thinks I. ‘They don’t like the taste of his stuff, that’s the truth of it.’ Well, I felt queerer and queerer, and Southsea Castle began to spin round and round, and the kickers went dancing up and down, and the ships in the harbour were all turning summersets, and every sort of circumvolution and devilment you could think of took place. Thinks I to myself, ‘There’s something in that doctor’s stuff, there’s no doubt about that, though whether its worth a shilling a bottle is another matter.’ Just then I felt more queer than ever. ‘Heugh! heugh!’ There was a rattling and a kicking, and such commotion in my inside, and up came what I soon knew was the smoke-worms right out of my mouth, and overboard they went as I put my head over the gunwale. There was a bushel of them if there was one.

“Never afore nor since have I seen such things, for every mother’s son had hairy backs and forked tails. Yes, gentlemen and ladies, forked tails and hairy backs. Believe Jerry Vincent for the truth of what he says. The moment they got into the water they began to frisk and frolic about as if it was natural to them, and to grow bigger and bigger and bigger, till the first which came up was as big as a frigate’s jolly-boat. I made short work of it, and threw them all up till I felt there wasn’t another morsel of any one of them in my locker. Then thinks I to myself, ‘It’s time to look out sharp, or some of these merry chaps with forked tails will be playing me a trick;’ for you see that they’d already begun to open their mouths very wide, and to splash the water right over me as they whisked about round the boat, just like sharks in the West Indies. So I got out my oars pretty sharp, and began to pull away towards Spithead, thinking to get clear of them, and to carry my freight ashore as I’d engaged to do. But I soon found that the smoke-worms weren’t quite so ready to part company with me, and as my boat began to gather way, they began to swim after her. The big fellow led, and all the others followed. There was hundreds of them, of all sizes, and one little chap, who brought up the rear, was no bigger than a sprat. After me they came with open months and big red eyes, all the hair on their backs standing up, and their tails whisking about like the flukes of a whale in a flurry. Didn’t I just pull for dear life, for I knew what they’d be after if they once grappled me. They would have swallowed me, every one of them. I soon gave up all thoughts of fetching up the ship I was bound for. It would never have done to have gone alongside one of his Majesty’s crack frigates with such a train after me. I should have lost my character, you know. On I pulled; I didn’t spare the oars, depend upon it; but, somehow or other, the way in which the tide set, and the manner in which the brutes dodged me, made me go right out to Spithead, and there I found myself pulling among a whole fleet of men-of-war and Indiamen. The officers and ships’ companies crowded into the hammock nettings and rigging to see me pass, and never have I heard such shouts of laughter as they raised as I pulled by. Neither to the one side nor to the other could I turn; for if I did, as surely one of the beasts would instantly swim up, with open mouth, and make a grab at my oar to keep me going straight ahead. I sung out to the people aboard the ships in mercy’s name to take a shot at some of the bigger brutes, for I thought that I could grapple with the little ones; but either they didn’t or wouldn’t hear me; so away I pulled right out towards the Nab. Thinks I to myself, ‘Perhaps the people in the lightship will lend a helping hand to an old seaman;’ but not a bit of it. When they saw me coming with my train of forked-tailed brutes after me, they sung out that I must sheer off, or they would let fly at me. So there I was fairly at sea, followed by as disagreeable a set of customers as a man ever had astern of him.

“I didn’t bless Doctor Gulliman exactly, for I could not help thinking that somehow or other he had had a hand in the mystification. I now pulled up my larboard oar a little, and found that I was going right round by the Culver cliffs. ‘Well, I’ll get on shore at the back of the Wight anyhow, and do them,’ I thought to myself. But what do ye think; the moment I tried the dodge, the cunning brutes kept edging me off the land, till I saw that there was no hope for me but to go on. All the time they made such a tremendous hissing and splashing and whisking, that you’d have thought a whole ship’s company was washing decks above your head, and heaving water about in bucketsful. It was now night, but there was light enough and to spare to enable me to see the beasts as they kept way with me. I passed Sandown and Ventnor and Steephill, and could see the lights in the houses all along the shore; but as to being able to land, the wriggling brutes in my wake, as I said, took good care that I shouldn’t do that. By the time I got off Saint Catherine’s my arms began to ache a bit, and I felt as if I couldn’t pull another stroke; but when I just lay on my oars to take breath and to knock the drops off my brow, which were falling down heavy enough to swamp the boat, the look of their wicked eyes and big mouths, as they came hissing up open-jawed alongside, set me off again pretty fast. I passed Blackgang Chine, and caught a sight of Brooke, and then I thought I would try to pull into Freshwater Gate, when I would beach the boat, and have a run for my life on shore, for I didn’t think they would come out of the water after me. The truth was that I couldn’t bear the look of them any longer; but the wriggling beasts were up to me, and before I had so much as turned the boat’s head towards the Gate, three or four of the biggest fellows ranged up on my starboard side, and cut me off. I sung out in my rage and disappointment, but this only made matters worse, and my eyes if they didn’t begin to laugh at me, and such a laugh I never did hear before, and hope I never may again. It was like ten thousand donkeys troubled with sore throats trying which would sing out the loudest, and twice as many jackals mocking them, all joined in chorus. At last I got to Scratchell’s Bay. ‘Now’s my time,’ thinks I, ‘if they once get me on a course down Channel, they may drive me right round the world, or over to the coast of America at shortest.’ I knew well the passage through the Needle rocks. The flood was about making. There might be just water for the boat, but none to spare. ‘No odds,’ thinks I. So, while I pretended to be steering for Portland, I shoved the boat round, and then gave way with a will. ‘If I knock the boat to pieces against the rocks, I shall not be worse off than I am now,’ I said to myself, as I pulled for the passage. I just hit it. The keel of the boat grazed over a rock below water; but the tide was running strong, and I shot through like an arrow, and there I was in Alum Bay. Now the passage was too narrow, you see, for the forked-tailed beasts to get through, and they had a good chance of hurting themselves on the rocks if they attempted it; so, if they had been as wise as I took them for, I knew that they would go all the way round the outer Needle rock, and that this would give me a great start. Instead of that, in their eagerness to follow me, what should they do but bolt right at the passage. The big fellow stuck fast, and the little ones couldn’t get by him, and there they were, to my great delight, all knocking their noses against the rocks, and wriggling and hissing and struggling and kicking up such a row, that I thought the people at Milford and Yarmouth, and all along the coast, would be awoke up out of their quiet sleep to wonder what it was all about. However, it would never have done for me to lay on my oars to watch the fun, because I thought it just as likely as not, when the tide rose, that the noisy brutes might shove through and be after me again, so I pulled away as hard as ever right up the Solent, till I got safe back again into Portsmouth harbour. Luckily, I had the whole of the flood with me, or I never could have done it. My arms ached as it was not a little. I moored my boat securely, and as it wasn’t yet daybreak, I lay down in the bottom of the boat, and fell asleep. I never slept so soundly in my life, and no wonder, after the pull I had had.

“When I awoke the sun was shining out brightly, and I heard some one on board a vessel coming up the harbour hail and call somebody or other a drunken old rascal. Who he meant of course I couldn’t tell; that was nothing to me. At last I sat up in my boat, and rubbed my eyes, and there was the doctor’s bottles and the empty rum bottle and the can, without any water in it, just as I left them when I was taken ill. I half expected to see the whole troop of wriggling, twisting, forked-tailed smoke-worms coming up the harbour with the last of the flood; but though I looked out till the tide had done, they didn’t come, and it’s my belief that they knocked themselves about so much against the Needle rocks, that they put about and went down Channel; and all I can say is that I hope that every one of ’em was drowned or came to some other bad end out at sea, and that I may never as long as I live have such a night as the one I spent after taking Doctor Gulliman’s physic. Sarvant, marm and gentlemen, you’ll agree that story is worth five shillings. Howsomedever, I never charges my friends, but gives them all free gratis and for nothing.” And old Jerry gave one of his most knowing winks as he finished off his glass and took up his hat to prepare for his departure.

I ought perhaps to apologise for giving such a story; but it is a fair specimen of the style of narrative in which old seamen of Jerry Vincent’s stamp are apt to indulge, and I have heard many such, though seldom told with so much spirit, during my career at sea.


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