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The Strange Adventures of Captain Dangerous ;
A NARRATIVE IN PLAIN ENGLISH,
GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA.
CHAPTER THE EIGHTII.
TIIE END OF MY ADVENTURES AMONG THE BLACKS.
ERE I to give vent to that Garrulity which grows upon us Veterans
with Gout and the Gravel, and the kindred Ailments of Age, this Account of my Life would never reach beyond the record of Boyhood. For from the first Flower of my freshest childhood to the time that I hecame toward to the more serious Business of this World, I think I could set down Day by Day, and well-nigh Hour by Hour, all the things that have occurred to me. How is it that I preserve so keen a Remembrance of a little lad's joys and sorrows, when I can scarcely recall how many
times I have suffered Shipwreck in later age, or tell how many Sansfoy Miscreants, caring neither for Heaven or man a Point, I have slain? Nay, from what cause does it proceed that I, upon whom the broken reliques of my Schoolmaster's former Cruelty are yet Green, and who can conjure up all the events that bore upon my Running away into Charlwood Chase, even to the doggish names of the Blacks, their ribald talk, and the fleering of the Women they had about them, find it sore travail to remember what I had for dinner yesterday, what friends I conversed with, what Tavern I supped at, what news I read in the Gazette ? 'But 'tis the knowledge of that overweening Craving to count up the trivial Things of my Youth that warns me to use despatch, even if the chronicle of my after doings be but a short summary or sketch of so many Perils by Land and Sea. And for this manner of the remotest things being the more distinct and dilated upon, let me put it to a Man of keen vision, if, whirling along a High Road in a rapid carriage, he has not marked, first, that the Palings and Milestones close by have passed beneath him
in a confused and jarring swiftness; next, that the Trees, Hedges, &c. of the middleplan (as the limners call it) have moved slower and with more Deliberation, yet somewbat Fitfully, and encroaching on each other's outlines; whereas the extreme distance in Clouds, Mountains, far-off Hill-sides, and the like, have seemed remote, indeed, but stationary, clear, and unchangeable; so that you could count the fissures in the hoar rocks, and the very sheep still feeding on the smooth slopes, even as they fed fifty years ago? And who let his later life have been ever so fortunate) does not preferably dwell on that sharp prospect so clearly yet so light looming through the Long Avenue of years ?
It was not, I will frankly admit, a very righteous beginning to a young life to be hail-fellow well-met with a Gang of Deer-stealers, and to go careering about the King's Forest in quest of Venison which belonged to the Crown. Often have I felt remorseful for so having wronged his Majesty (whom Heaven preserve for the safety of these distraught kingdoms); but what was I, an' it please you, to do? Little Boy Jack was just Little Boy Beggar; and for want of proper Training he became Little Boy Thief. Not that I ever pilfered aught. I was no Candlesnuffer filcher, and, save in the matter of Fat Bucks, the rest of our Gang were, indeed, passing honest. Part of the Venison we killed (mostly with a larger kind of Bird-Bolt, or Arbalest Crossbow, for through fear of the keepers we used as little powder and ball as possible) we ate for our Sustenance; for rogues must eat and drink as well as other folks. The greater portion, however, was discreetly conveyed, in carts covered over with garden-stuff, to the market-towns of Uxbridge, Windsor, and Reading, and sold, under the coat-tail as we called it, to Higglers who were in our secret. Sometimes our Merchandise was taken right into London, where we found a good Market with the Fislimongers dwelling about Lincoln's Inn, and who, as they did considerable traffic with the Nobility and Gentry, of whom they took Park Venison, giving them Fish in exchange, were not likely to be suspected of unlawful dealings, or at least were able to make a colourable pretext of Honest Trade to such Constables and Market Conners who bad a right to question them about their barterings. From the Fishmongers we took sometimes money and sometimes rich apparel—the cast-off clothes, indeed, of the Nobility, birthday suits or the like, which were not good enough for the Players of Drury Lane and Lincoln's Inn, forsooth, to strut about in on their tragedy-boards, and which they had therefore bestowed upon their domestics to sell. For our Blacks loved to quit their bewrayed apparel at supper-time, and to dress themselves as bravely as when I first tasted their ill-gotten meat at the Stag o’ Tyne. From the Higglers, too, we would as willingly take Wine, Strong Waters, and Tobacco, in exchange for our fat and lean, as money; for the Currency of the Realm was then most wofully clipped and defaced, and our Brethren had a wholesome avoidance of meddling with Bank Bills. When, from time to time, one of us ventured to a Markettown, well made-up as a decent Yeoman or Merchant's Rider, 'twas always payment on the Nail and in sounding money for the reckoning: We ran no scores, and paid in no paper.
It was long ere I found out that the Wagon in which I had travelled from the Hercules' Pillars, to be delivered over to Gnawbit, was conducted by one of the most trusted Confederates of our Company; that he took Venison to town for them, and brought them back the Account in specie or needments as they required. And although I am loth to think that the pretty Servant Maid was altogether deceiving me when she told me she was going to see her Grandmother, I fancy that she knew Charlwood Chase, and the gentry that inhabited it, as well as she knew the Pewterer in Panyer Alley. He went a-pewtering no more, if ever he had been 'prentice or done journey-work for that trade, but was neither more nor less than one of the Blacks, and Mistress Sly boots, his Flame, kept him company. Although I hope, I am sure, that they were Married by the Chaplain; for, rough as I am, I had ever a Hatred of Unlawful Passions, and when I am summoned on a Jury, always listen to the King's Proclamation against Vice and Immorality with much gusto and savour.
I stayed with the Blacks in Charlwood Chase until I grew to be a sturdy lad of twelve years of age. I went out with them and followed their naughty courses, and have stricken down many a fat Buck in my time. Ours was the most jovial but the most perilous of lives. The Keepers were always on our track; and sometimes the Sheriff would call out the Posse Comitatis, and he and half the beef-fed tenant-farmers of the country-side would come horsing and hoofing it about the glades to catch us. For weeks together in each year we dared not keep our rendezvous at the Stag, but were fain to hide in Brakes and Hollow Trees, listening to the pursuit as it grew hot and heavy around us; and often with no better Victuals than Pig's-meat and Ditch-water. But then the search would begin to lag; and two or three of the great Squires round about being well terrified by letters written in a liquid designed to counterfeit Blood, with a great Skull and Cross-bones scrawled at the bottom, the whole signed “Captain Night," and telling them that if they dared to meddle with the Blacks their Lives should pay for it, we were left quiet for a season, and could return to our Haunt, there to feast and carouse according to custom. Nor am I slow to believe that some of the tolerance we met with was due to our being known to the County Gentry as stanch Tories, and as stanch detesters of the House of Hanover (I speak, of course, of my companions, for I was of years too tender to have any politics). We never killed a Deer but on the nearest tree some one of us out with his Jack-knife and carved on the bark of it, “Slain by King James's order;" or, if there were no time for so long a legend, or the Beast was stricken in the Open, a simple K. J. (which the Hanover Rats understood well enough, whether cut in the trunk or the turf) sufficed. The Country Gentlemen were then of a very furious way of thinking concerning the Rights of the present Illustrious House to the Throne; but Times do alter, and so likewise do Men's Thoughts and Opinions,
and I dare swear there is no Brunswicker or Church of England man more leal at this present writing than John Dangerous.
Captain Night, to whom I was a kind of Page or Henchman, used me with much tenderness. Whenever at supper the tongues grew too loosened, and wild talk, and of the wickedest, began to jingle among the bottles and glasses, he would bid me Withdraw, and go keep company for a time with Mistress Slyboots. Captain Night was a man of parts and even of letters; and I often wondered why he, who seemed so well fitted to Shine even among the Great, should pass his time among Rogues, and take the thing that was not his. He was often absent from us for many days, sometimes for nigh a month; and would return sunburnt and travel-stained, as though he had been journeying in Foreign Parts. He was always very thoughtful and reserved after these Gaddings about ; and Mistress Sly boots, the Maid, used to say that he was in Love, and bad been playing the gallant to some fine Madam. But I thought otherwise : for at this season it was his custom to bring back a Valise full to the very brim of letters and papers, the which he would take Days to read and re-read, noting and seemingly copying some, but burning the greater portion. At this season he would refrain from joining the Gang, and honourably foreswore his share of their plunder, always giving Mother Drum a broad piece for each night's Supper, Bottle, and Bed. But when his pressing business was over, no man was keener in the chase, or brought down the quarry so skilfully as Captain Night. He loved to have me with him, to talk to and Question me; and it was one day, after I had told him that the Initial letter D was the only clue to my Grandmother's name, which I had seen graven on her Coffin-plate, he must needs tell me that if she were Madam (or rather the Lady) D—, I must needs, as a Kinsman, be D— too, and that he would piece out the name, and call me Dangerous. So that I was Little Boy Jack no more, and John Dangerous I have been from that day to this. Not but what my Ancestry and Belongings might warrant me in assuming another title, than which—so far as lineage counts-Bourbon or Nassau could not rank much higher. But the name of Dangerous has pleased me alway; it has stood me in stead in many a hard pass, and I am content to abide by it now that my locks are gray, and the walls of this my battered old tenement are crumbling into decay.
'Twas I alone that was privileged to stay with Captain Night when he was doing Secretary's work among his papers; for, save when Mistress Slyboots came up to himdiscreetly tapping at the door first, you may be sure—with a cup of ale and a toast, he would abide no other company. And on such days I wore not my Black Disguisement, but the better clothes he had provided for me,-a little Riding Suit of red drugget, silverlaced, and a cock to my hat like a Military Officer,—and felt myself as grand as you please. I never dared speak to him until he spoke to me; but used to sit quietly enough sharpening bolts or twisting bowstrings, or cleaning his Pistols, or furbishing up his Hanger and Belt, or