THE BLUE PAVILIONS
FATHER AND SON.
Tristram, meanwhile, was lying in darkness on board the Good Intent, a frigate of twenty-six guns, converted for the nonce into a transport-ship to accommodate three companies of his Majesty's Second Household Regiment, the Coldstreams. To this regiment the Earl had thought fit to attach him at first, not only on account of his fine inches, but also to keep him out of his father's way, being unwilling that the two should meet until he had visited the Blue Pavilions and endeavoured to bring Captain Barker and Captain Runacles to terms.
It cannot be said that his first acquaintance with military life had lifted Tristram's spirits. The frigate—to which he had been conveyed without further resistance—struck him as smelling extremely ill below decks; and he was somewhat dashed by the small amount of room at his service. Moreover, the new suit into which he was promptly clapped, though brilliant in colour, had been made for a smaller man, and obstructed his breathing, which would have been difficult enough in any case. On the gun-deck, where he found himself, it was impossible to stand upright and equally impossible to lie at length, every foot of room between the tiers of nine-pounders being occupied by kits, knapsacks, chests and mattresses littered about in all conceivable disorder, and the intervals between these bridged by the legs of his brothers-in-arms. As the Coldstreams were an exceedingly well-grown regiment, and for the most part deeply absorbed just then in dicing, quarrelling, chuck-penny and lively discussions on the forthcoming campaign, Tristram had found the utmost difficulty in avoiding the sheaves of legs between him and the empty mattress assigned for his use. In his dejection of spirits it was a comfort to find that none of his future comrades turned a head to observe him. He cast himself down on the mattress and gave vent to a profound sigh.
"Alas, Sophia!" he ingeminated, "how liable to misconception—though doubtless wise on the whole—are the rulings of Providence, which in one short hour has torn me from your soft embrace to follow a calling which I foresee I shall detest!"
Unluckily this emotion, though warranted by his circumstances, proved too great for the ready-made suit which he wore. At the first sigh two buttons burst from his jacket, one of which flew a full twelve inches and gently struck the cheek of a Dutch sergeant who was taking forty winks upon the adjacent mattress.
"Vat the devil for?" exclaimed Sergeant Klomp, opening his eyes and glaring upon the recruit.
"I beg your pardon," said Tristram.
"Zat was in fon, hey?"
"On the contrary—"
"Vat for, if not?"
"It was accidental, I assure you. I was unbosoming myself—"
"So; I will deach you to onbosom yourself of his Majesty's buttons. Agsidental! You shall not be agsidental to me!" Sergeant Klomp rolled his eyes, and, picking up his cane, which lay beside him, rose to his feet and advanced with menace on his face.
Tristram hastily applied his syllogism. "It is right," he said to himself, "to resist when molested in a peaceful occupation. Sighing is a peaceful occupation. Therefore I must resist this man." In obedience to this valid conclusion he hit Sergeant Klomp in the stomach as he advanced, caught the cane out of his hand and belaboured him the entire length of the gun-deck. It was impossible to do this without discommoding the legs of the company and annoying them beyond measure. And consequently, at the end of ten minutes, Tristram found himself in irons in the lazarette, condemned to pass the night with two drunken men, whose snores were almost comforting in the pitchy darkness; for, as he told himself, human propinquity, if not exactly sympathy, is the first step towards it. He had been listening to this snoring for four hours, when a hatchway above him was lifted, and a lantern shone down into the lazarette. It was carried by a corporal, who came cautiously down the ladder, lighting the footsteps of an officer who followed and held a handkerchief to his nose, for the smell of the bilge was overpowering.
"Pah!" exclaimed this officer, as he arrived at the ladder's foot, and peered around. "Set the light down on the floor and leave us. What a hole!"
He waited whilst the corporal re-ascended the ladder and disappeared; then, picking up the lantern, held it aloft and let its rays shine full on Tristram's face.
"Ah," he said, after regarding our hero in silence for a few seconds, "it is unmistakable!" And with that he sighed heavily.
"Pardon me, sir," said Tristram, "but the sight of me appears to cause you sorrow."
"On the contrary, it fills me with joy."
"I am glad to hear you say so, because, as I am fastened here in these irons, it would have been out of my power to relieve you of my presence. Since you are glad, however—"
"—You would do me a great favour by saying why."
"Because—look at me, dear lad—because you are my only son!"
"In that I really think you must be mistaken. There are two gentlemen yonder in the corner who at present are asleep. Are you quite sure one of these is not the object of your search?"
"Quite sure, my dear lad. It is unmistakable, as I said. You are Tristram?"
"I am; though I don't see why it should be unmistakable."
"Those eyes—that voice! It is impossible you should not be Margaret's son!"
"My mother's name was Margaret," Tristram answered; "that's true enough. She died when I was born."
"Tristram," said his visitor, lowering the lantern and bowing his head, "I was her unworthy husband, and am your father, Roderick Salt."
"That would certainly be plausible, but for one difficulty."
"What is it?"
"My father was drowned some months before I was born."
"You are mistaken. He was partially drowned, but not quite."
"I admit that alters the case."
"Shall I tell you how it happened?"
"By all means, sir; for I think the story must be interesting. At the same time I ought to warn you that I already possess a father, on whom you can scarcely improve."
"To whom do you refer?"
"He is called Captain Barker by those who love him less than I."
"Is it he, then, that has brought you up? Curse him!"
Tristram opened his eyes. "Why should you curse him?" he asked.
"Because he has stolen your love from me."
"But—excuse me—it is only this moment that I have heard you were competing for it."
"He has told you evil concerning me."
"On the contrary, he has never uttered your name. It was my nurse who told me one day that you were drowned; and even this turns out to be a mistake, as you were about to prove."
"My son, your words and bearing cut me to the heart. It is no less than I have deserved, perhaps; though, could you know all, I am sure you would judge me leniently. But at least I can give you some small proof of my love. Let me first release you from those irons."
He set the lantern on the floor, drew a small key from his pocket and unlocked his son's fetters.
"Thank you. That is decidedly more agreeable," said Tristram, stretching his stiffened limbs.
"You were suffering before I came?"
"Why, truly," Tristram replied, shrugging his shoulders as he glanced around; "I find military life duller than I expected. And since this is the first night I have spent from home—"
"My poor boy! Doubtless, too, you were brooding on what would happen to-morrow morning."
"Say rather on what happened this morning," corrected Tristram, his thoughts reverting to Sophia.
"But surely the prospect of to-morrow's punishment—"
"Oh, will there be a punishment to-morrow?"
"Why, you kicked a sergeant from one end of his Majesty's ship to the other! Did you imagine you could do that with impunity?"
"I assure you he deserved it."
"Nevertheless, you would have been flogged on deck to-morrow had I not come with a pardon."
"You astonish me: and really you have been very kind to me. Still, it would have been quite unjust."
Captain Salt regarded his son quietly for a moment or two. In truth he was somewhat staggered by this simplicity.
"You wish to escape from this service?" he asked.
"I dislike it more and more. Besides—"
"Tell me your desires; for, believe me, my son, I have no dearer wish than to further them."
Tristram held out a hand and took his father's.
"Forgive me, sir, for my coldness just now. Remember that I had never seen, had scarcely heard of, you before. You are very good to me. I believe, by looking in your eyes, that you love me; and I believe—I know—that in time I should love you greatly in return. But you must pardon that which I am going to say. Sir, I cannot help loving best those who have dealt lovingly with me all my life. I was homesick—" he broke off, as a lump rose in this throat.
"You shall go home," said Captain Salt.
Still holding his hand, Tristram stared at him incredulously.
"Why should you doubt me, my son? Do you think I despise those feelings, or can neglect them? No; I honour them, though bitterly regretting that, as fate has willed it, they can never be entertained for me."
"Don't say that, my father."
"Why should I blink the truth?" Captain Salt turned and brushed away a fictitious tear. "No, Tristram; you shall go back to those you love better. I only ask you to be patient for a few days; for, indeed, I have but a certain amount of influence with those who enlisted you to-day against your will. Listen. Early to-morrow the squadron sets sail. If the wind holds we shall be within the Maese by Sunday morning. As soon as your regiment disembarks you shall be a free man: for not till then shall I have an opportunity of speaking with his Majesty. The squadron will be returning at once to this port, and I trust you may return with it. In the meantime you must give me your word to remain where you are; for though the punishment is remitted, you are still under arrest. I have seen your captain, however, and you will find matters made very light for you. The sentry will bring you food and drink."
He stopped, for Tristram had fallen on one knee and was passionately kissing his hand.
"How ill you must think of me!" he murmured; "and how can I thank you?"
"By keeping one tender thought or two for a father who held aloof from you, while it was for your good, and came to you when, for the first time, you wanted him. Mine has been a hard life, Tristram, and not altogether a good one. By asking you to share it, I had done you Heaven knows what injury."
This was true enough, and it struck the speaker as so pathetic that he managed even to squeeze up a tear.
"But come," he went on, with a sudden change to vivacity, "tell me how you happened into this scrape?"
And so, with the lantern between them casting long spokes of light on the ship's timbers, the rafters and the two drunken sleepers in the corner, father and son sat and talked for the better part of an hour; at the end of which time Captain Salt, who dexterously managed to do nine-tenths of the listening, was pretty well posted in the affairs of the Blue Pavilions and their inmates, and knew almost as much of Tristram's past history as if he had spent a day with the thirty-seven green volumes. It was past two in the morning when he arose to return to his own ship.
At parting he kissed Tristram on both cheeks. "Farewell, dear lad!" he said, with a manner that was admirably paternal. "We shall not meet again till the ships cast anchor in the Maese. Meanwhile steel your heart and look forward to a better fortune."
He picked up the lantern and, climbing the ladder, nodded back reassuringly as he lifted the hatch. At the same time he was secretly a good deal perplexed; for in all that he had learnt there was nothing to throw light on the Earl's words. "Now, why the devil is the lad to be looked after?" he wondered. For in fact Tristram had said nothing of the inheritance. And the reason for this was the very simple one that he himself knew nothing about it, Captain Barker and Captain Runacles having long ago agreed to keep it a secret from him until he should come of age. They had arrived at this resolution after many weeks of discussion, and beyond a doubt their wisdom had been justified in the course of the last hour.
There was no perplexity visible, however, in the kindly smile which Tristram beheld and returned with interest. A moment after he was left in blank darkness. But, being by this time tired out, as well as greatly comforted, he curled himself up on the bare floor, and within five minutes had dropped off into a dreamless sleep.
It was morning when he awoke, though he could not tell the hour; for the only light that reached his prison was filtered through the hatch above, which somebody had kindly tilted open. The sounds that woke him were those of feet moving to and fro in the captain's cabin overhead, and, far forward in the ship, the clatter of boots as the soldiers turned out. He looked about him and made two discoveries. In the first place, his two drunken companions had vanished, or had been removed; and secondly, their place was taken by a loaf and a tin pannikin.
He reached out a hand for these, and began without hesitation the first meal in his life of which the green volumes were to keep no record. With less hunger he might have found it nauseous; for the bread was incredibly mouldy and had been gnawed all round the crust by rats, while the liquor in the pannikin was a mixture of fiery rum and unclean water. The first gulp fetched the tears; but, after sputtering a bit, he managed to swallow a good half of it. As he breakfasted he heard a deal of muffled shouting above, and then a distant clanking sound that was unfamiliar. The Good Intent was weighing anchor.
These noises, however, did not trouble Tristram, who was minded by this time to bear his fortune with hardihood. Only the thought of Sophia vexed him while he ate, and he sighed once or twice with a violence that set the rats scampering. Then it struck him that his morning prayers were unsaid, and, scrambling on his knees, he committed himself to the care of Heaven, and afterwards felt still easier at heart. Also, being a prudent youth in some respects, he decided to reserve half of the loaf in case no more should be brought for the day; and, because his hunger was excessive, it took some time to decide on the amount to be set aside. Indeed, he was still discussing this with himself when the Good Intent shook with the roar of the royal salute.
For the moment Tristram imagined that he must be in the midst of a sea-fight at the very leat. But his apprehensions were presently distracted by the motions of the ship under him—motions which at length became erratic and even alarming. For the Good Intent was not only heaving up and down, but seemed to be tearing forward in a series of vehement rushes, with intervals of languid indecision. Tristram's stomach soon began to abhor these intervals, and in a little while he found himself wondering to what end he had set aside half a loaf from his breakfast. For, as it seemed to him, he was going to die, and the sooner the better.
"Decidedly," he thought, "my breakfast was poisoned, else I could never feel like this."
The Good Intent took another lurch forward, and a clammy sweat broke out on both sides of his forehead.
"If I have enemies so wicked," sighed he, "may God forgive them!" And, uttering this Christian wish, he fell forward with his forehead against the boards.
A little past noon the sentry brought him a fresh loaf, with a plate of fat bacon and another pannikin. The sea being choppy, by this time the vessel echoed from end to end with groans and lamentations.
"Is it a massacre?" Tristram asked, sitting up and regarding the man with wild eyes. But the sight of the bacon, which was plentifully doused with vinegar, conquered him afresh. The sentry chuckled and went away.
To be short, our hero passed two-and-twenty hours in this extremity of wretchedness, and was only aroused, early next morning, by a corporal who thrust his head in at the hatchway and bade him arise and come on deck with all speed, as the regiment was about to disembark. And, as a matter of fact, when Tristram tottered up the ladder into the fresh air which swept the deck, he found that, though he had been beyond remarking any difference in the ship's motion, she was now lying at anchor, and within a cable's length from a desolate shore, which began in sandhills and ended in mist.
The rain was pouring perpendicularly from a leaden sky and drenching the decks. The soldiers, in their great-coats, huddled together as they waited for the boats, and shrugged their shoulders to keep the drops from trickling down the napes of their necks. Somebody gave Tristram a great-coat and knapsack, and pointed out the group to which he was to attach himself. He obeyed, though scarcely aware of what he did: for his head was light, his hunger was ravenous, and his legs were trembling beneath him. A soldier cursed close by, and he cursed too, echoing the man's words without knowing why. Another man slapped him on the back, mistaking him for a crony, and begged his pardon. "It really makes no difference," said Tristram politely, and at once fell to wondering if this remark were absurd or no. Beyond the grey veils of rain he spied, now and then, a cluster of red roofs and a steeple close beside the shore.
"What place is that yonder?" he asked the man who stood at his elbow.
"Vlaardingen," said the fellow gruffly. It was Sergeant Klomp, and Tristram turned it over in his mind whether to offer an apology or no. While he was still debating, a brisk young officer came along and called out:
"Get ready, boys. This is our turn."
In less than a minute after, for no apparent reason, the crowd around Tristram surged forward to the bulwarks, and he was carried along with the rush. Then he found himself swaying unsteadily down a flight of steps and calling to the men behind not to hustle and precipitate him into one or other of the two longboats that lay below. Into the nearer of these his company swept him, and poured in at his heels until the gunwale was nearly level with the water. The rowers pushed off in the nick of time, and pulled their freight slowly across the sullen tide, while the rain beat down relentlessly.
As they neared the shore, a landing-stage, or low jetty, of sunk piles disengaged itself from the mist. This was the sole object that diversified the melancholy line of sandbanks, and towards it they were steered, Tristram looking eagerly out under the peak of his cap, from which a rivulet of water was by this time coursing down his nose.
Half a dozen grey figures were standing on the jetty, and, as the soldiers scrambled up its dripping steps, one of them advanced and touched Tristram by the elbow. It was his father.
"Safe and sound, my boy? Parbleu! but it's easy to see you're no accomplished sailor; but that's all the better."
Tristram was feeling too faint to contest this, though it appeared to him to be disputable.
"Let us get ahead of this mob," his father went on. "Come, use your best foot—it's no great distance."
He struck off the sodden track and dived into the mist, Tristram following close at his heels. Their way lay over hillocks and hollows of sand in which they sank ankle-deep at every step. In two minutes they lost sight of the regiment, and were walking with their faces set, as it seemed, towards a wall of grey atmosphere, impenetrable by the eye. After five minutes of this Tristram groaned. He had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, and his limbs were weak as water.
"Courage, my son! A few paces more."
Almost as he spoke a building loomed out of the mist, and they found themselves before a doorway, over which hung the sign of "The Four Seasons." A sentry, who stood beside the entrance, presented arms and let them pass. Captain Salt led the way indoors and up a rickety staircase to the right, on the first landing of which they found two pages in waiting.
"Say that Captain Salt desires to see his Majesty."
One of the pages tapped at the door, and, having delivered the message, commanded them to enter. The place in which Tristram now found himself was a low-browed room, smelling highly of sawdust and stale tobacco. It was bisected by a long table of clean white deal, at the end of which were seated three gentlemen whose attire bespoke a considerable estate. All three looked up as the pair entered, and in the centre our hero at once recognised his Majesty, with the Earl of Marlborough upon his left hand, and upon his right a general of a plain but shrewd and honest countenance, who glanced at Captain Salt for a moment and resumed the writing upon which he was engaged.
King Willliam set down the bundle of papers that he had been conning with a sour expression, as if tasting bad wine, and ordered the Captain to come forward, which he did, with a profound salute.
"I have examined the lists, Captain Salt. They tally with other information which my admirals and generals have been able to give me; though, as they have not your advantages, their knowledge is of necessity scantier."
Beneath his words there lurked a contempt which made the Captain wince.
"Your Majesty, I have endeavoured to do my duty—such as it is."
"You say well. The disgrace lies with those who make it necessary."
"I am glad your Majesty should regard it in that light."
"Rest assured that I do, and admit the magnitude of the service you have done us. I understand you have come for your reward."
"Say rather that I have brought it."
"I ask no reward, your Majesty, but the discharge of this young recruit." As he spoke Captain Salt drew Tristram forward from the doorway, where he was standing awkwardly.
"This is very extraordinary. I expected some request for money, I will confess."
"There are some things which rank above money," said the Captain with feeling.
"We are told so," replied William drily. "But might I ask for an instance or two?"
"There is paternal love. Your Majesty, this young man is my son." The Captain, at this point, brushed away a tear with the back of his hand.
"Why—but surely I remember his face?"
"That is probable: for you yourself, sire, did him the honour to enlist him, no longer ago than last Friday."
"I remember the occasion. But it did not then appear—at least, to my recollection—that he was a son of yours, Captain Salt."
"Will your Majesty be good enough to note the likeness between us?"
"I do not doubt your word. I merely remark that the two gentlemen who then interceded for him omitted to mention his parentage."
"Their names, I believe—"
"They were two gallant but wrong-headed gentlemen of his late Majesty's navy—Captain John Barker and Captain Jeremiah Runacles."
"It is to those gentlemen, who have guarded him from his infancy, that I would restore this young man."
"This is very magnanimous conduct."
"A father, sire, may for his son's good disregard his own yearnings. I would, with permission, escort him back to Harwich and assure myself of his happiness. Your Majesty need have no doubt of my return with the next transport."
"Indeed, Captain Salt, I myself should advise you, for your own safety, to be out of the way until this small storm has blown over. Present yourself as soon as you return. Sir," he continued, addressing Tristram, "you are discharged from my service, which, I must say, has not bettered your looks. Return to your guardians and, if they will allow you, cultivate some small amount of loyalty."
"I thank your Majesty very heartily," Tristram replied ingenuously, "and I regret if the plant has, until now, found no place in our garden."
"The squadron will sail again for England at midnight," said William with a faint smile; then, turning to the Earl of Marlborough, "My lord, will you write out the order?"
At this moment one of the pages entered with a note for the King.
"Let him come in," said William, after opening it and running his eye over the contents; then, addressing Captain Salt, "I fear this puts an end to our conversation for the time. If you will wait below, the necessary papers shall be brought to you. Farewell, young man; and when you embrace them, assure Captain Barker and Captain Runacles that I have still some hope of their finding a better mind."
They bowed and withdrew, giving place to the newcomer, who entered at that moment—an old gentleman in a suit of dark blue edged with silver. As he passed them in the doorway his eyes scanned Tristram narrowly, and he appeared to hesitate for a moment as if desirous of putting a question to the youth.
Unconscious of this look, Tristram followed his father down the stairs of the auberge. They had hardly reached the bottom, however, when a voice called from the landing above, and the Earl of Marlborough descended after them.
"Here are the papers," he said. "But, young sir, would you mind waiting here for a minute or two while I speak with your father in private?"
With this he opened a door upon the left and led the way through a dark passage to a covered skittle-alley at the back of the house. It was a deserted and ramshackle arcade and offered the poorest cover from the rain, which dripped through the roof and drifted under the eaves. The skittles lay here and there, as if the last player, weary of the game, had been tossing them about at haphazard. Here the Earl paused, looked around him, and began in a low voice.
"My friend, I regret to perceive that you begin to act without instructions."
"In what way?"
"You propose to return at once to Harwich with this son of yours."
"Certainly, my lord. It appears to me that I have deserved a holiday by this week's work."
"You shall take one; but not at Harwich just yet."
"And why not at Harwich?"
"For two reasons. In the first place you do no good, but harm, in returning thither at this moment. Understand that I am only asking you to defer the visit for a week or two. At present I am awaiting certain necessary information, without which you will hardly lay your hands on the good fortune I intend for you."
"You are mysterious, my lord. This boy of mine—"
"Will bring you wealth and dignity, I promise, if you allow me to conduct the affair. If not—"
"What is the other reason?"
"The other reason," replied the Earl, looking down and moving a skittle gently with the toe of his boot—"the other reason is that I require you to spend the first part of your holiday elsewhere."
"Where may that be?"
"At Saint Germains."
"My lord, you risk my neck with much composure!"
"There is no risk at all, unless—"
"Pray finish your sentence."
"—Unless you refuse," said the Earl significantly.
"Proceed, my lord." Captain Salt's face flushed scarlet; then a sweat broke out on his temples, where an instant before the veins had swelled with rage.
"There is nothing to prevent your starting at once. You have altered the fuses, I suppose?"
"And made all the arrangements?"
"Nothing is omitted. The guns will be fired twenty minutes too soon, at ten minutes after nine. As William knows nothing about the signal, and has made his dispositions for half-past nine, the poor fellows will have some fun for their pains, after all."
"Excellent!" said the Earl smiling. "It only remains for you to start. Here are the papers; I advise you to keep them carefully sorted. This, in cipher, is for James. It is full of promises; and in addition, to keep his spirits up, you can give him an account of the mutiny, pointing out how near it came to success. A boat shall take you to Sevenbergen; after that you know the road—the usual one. The word is Modena. You will take your son with you, of course, and persuade him (if you can) that he is travelling back to Harwich by the shortest road."
"That will be difficult."
"From Paris return to Dunkirk, and there await a letter from me. By that time I hope to be able to send you information, on the strength of which you may at once sail for Harwich. Meanwhile guard that young man as the apple of your eye.…"
We will return to the subject of this amiable advice. Tristram had been kicking his heels for ten minutes or more in the draughty passage, and wondering if he should ever know the taste of food again, when the door opened on the landing above, and the old gentleman in blue and silver descended the stairs from his audience. He was clearly in something of a hurry, and strode past our hero as if unaware of his presence, but turned on his heel at the end of the passage and came swiftly back.
"I ask your pardon, young man," he began, in a quick, foreign voice, "but I thought I heard his Majesty speaking to you of a Captain Runacles as I entered the room. Forgive me if I seem too inquisitive, but do you happen to know Captain Jeremiah Runacles?"
"I know no reason, sir, against my answering. I know him well, and love him."
"Ha? Where does he live?"
"He keeps hale?"
"In excellent health for his age."
"Could he still answer for himself with a small-sword?—I mean not with a young adversary, but, say, with a man of my age?"
"I have not the slightest doubt of it, sir." Tristram stared at the old gentleman, who was of a tall unwieldy figure, short bull neck and choleric complexion.
"You will see him again shortly?"
"With God's help I shall see him in three days' time."
"Then I'd be obliged by your taking him a message from me. Tell him, sir, that I, Captain Van Adrienssen, may be heard of at The Hague at any time, and have not forgotten a certain promise of his (to cut my comb) which he uttered at one time when our ships lay alongside off the Texel. Assure him that, though night parted us, I still retain the boot which he flung at my head and into my ship. Say that I have been waiting ever since for the man who fits that boot, and warn him that we are both well stricken in years and have little time left in which to try conclusions. You have that by heart?"
Tristram did so.
"Very well; now be careful to deliver it."
And, nodding his head sharply, the old gentleman hurried away on his business just as the Earl and Captain Salt returned from their colloquy.