At all events, the question now became one of less interest, as the scandal was of less importance; and as Ben had made known his determination to resent any remarks upon the subject, not a word more was said, at all events when he was present. In due time I was christened, and so completely was my mother reinstalled in the good graces of her mistress, that as Captain Delmar had volunteered to stand my sponsor, the Honourable Miss Delmar gave the necessary female security; at the particular request of my mother, the captain consented that I should bear his own Christian name, and I was duly registered in the church books as Percival Keene.
There is no security in this world. The frigate, therefore, was paid off, and recommissioned by another captain who had friends in Parliament.
As Ben Keene belonged to the marine corps, he could not, of course, remain as valet to Captain Delmar, but was ordered, with the rest of the detachment, to the barracks at Chatham; my mother, although she was determined that she would not live at barracks, was not sorry to leave the Hall, where she could not fail to perceive that she was, from her imprudent conduct, no longer treated with the respect or cordiality to which she had been previously accustomed.
She was most anxious to quit a place in which her disgrace was so well known; and Captain Delmar having given her his advice, which coincided with her own ideas, and also a very munificent present to enable her to set up housekeeping, took his departure from the Hall. My mother returned to her room as the wheels of his carriage rattled over the gravel of the drive, and many were the bitter tears which she shed over her unconscious boy. The following day the Honourable Miss Delmar sent for her; as usual, commenced with a tedious lecture, which, as before, was wound up at parting with a handsome present.
The day after my mother packed up her trunks, and with me in her arms set off to Chatham, where we arrived safely, and immediately went into furnished lodgings. My mother was a clever, active woman, and the presents which she had at different times received amounted to a considerable sum of money, over which her husband had never ventured to assert any claim.
Indeed, I must do Ben Keene the justice to say that he had the virtue of humility. He felt that his wife was in every way his superior and that it was only under peculiar circumstances that he could have aspired to her. He was, therefore, submissive to her in everything, consenting to every proposal that was made by her, and guided by her opinion. In a short time my mother became quite the rage, and it was a mystery how so pretty and elegant a person could have become the wife of a private marine.
Beatrix Cuddly Creatures - Percival (Dinosaur)
It was however, ascribed to her having been captivated with the very handsome person and figure of her husband, and having yielded to her feelings in a moment of infatuation. The ladies patronised her circulating library; the officers and gentlemen purchased her stationery. My mother then added gloves, perfumery, canes, and lastly cigars, to her previous assortment and before she had been a year in business, found that she was making money very fast, and increasing her customers every day.
My mother had a great deal of tact; with the other sex she was full of merriment and fond of joking, consequently a great favourite; towards her own sex her conduct was quite the reverse; she assumed a respectful, prudish air, blended with a familiarity which was never offensive; she was, therefore, equally popular with her own sex, and prospered in every sense of the word.
Had her husband been the least inclined to have asserted his rights, the position which she had gained was sufficient to her reducing him to a state of subjection. She had raised herself, unaided, far above him; he saw her continually chatting and laughing with his own officers, to whom he was compelled to make a respectful salute whenever they passed by him; he could not venture to address her, or even to come into the shop, when his officers were there, or it would have been considered disrespectful towards them; and as he could not sleep out of barracks, all his intercourse with her was to occasionally slink down by the area, to find something better to eat than he could have in his own mess, or obtain from her an occasional shilling to spend in beer.
Ben, the marine, found at last that somehow or another, his wife had slipped out of his hands; that he was nothing more than a pensioner on her bounty a slave to her wishes, and a fetcher and carrier at her command, and he resigned himself quietly to his fate, as better men have done before.
I think that the reader will agree with me that my mother showed in her conduct great strength of character. She had been compelled to marry a man whom she despised, and to whom she felt herself superior in every respect; she had done so to save her reputation. That she had been in error is true but situation and opportunity had conspired against her; and when she found out the pride and selfishness of the man to whom she was devoted, and for whom she had sacrificed so much,—when her ears were wounded by proposals from his lips that she should take such a step to avoid the scandal arising from their intimacy—when at the moment that he made such a proposition, and the veil fell down and revealed the heart of man in its selfishness, it is not to be wondered that, with bitter tears, arising from wounded love, anger, and despair at her hopeless position, she consented.
After having lost all she valued, what did she care for the future? It was but one sacrifice more to make, one more proof of her devotion and obedience. But there are few women who, like my mother, would have recovered her position to the extent that she did. Had she not shown such determination, had she consented to have accompanied her husband to the barracks, and have mixed up with the other wives of the men, she would have gradually sunk down to their level; to this she could not consent.
Having once freed herself from her thraldom, he immediately sunk down to his level, as she rose up to a position in which, if she could not ensure more than civility and protection, she was at all events secure from insult and ill-treatment. Such was the state of affairs when I had arrived at the important age of six years, a comic-looking, laughing urchin, petted by the officers, and as fall of mischief as a tree full of monkeys. My grandmother had never seen my mother since the interview which she had had with her at Madeline Hall shortly after her marriage with Ben the marine.
Latterly, however, they had corresponded; for my mother, who was too independent to seek her mother when she was merely the wife of a private marine, now that she was in flourishing circumstances had first tendered the olive branch, which had been accepted, as soon as my grandmother found that she was virtually separated from her husband. As my grandmother found it rather lonely at the isolated house in which she resided, and Amelia declared herself bored to death, it was at last agreed that my grandmother and my aunt Amelia should both come and take up their residence with my mother, and in due time they arrived.
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Milly, as my aunt was called, was three years younger than my mother, very pretty and as smart as her sister, perhaps a little more demure in her look, but with more mischief in her disposition. My grandmother was a cross, spiteful old woman; she was very large in her person, but very respectable in her appearance. I need not say that Miss Amelia did not lessen the attraction at the circulating library, which after her arrival was even more frequented by the officers than before.
My aunt Milly was very soon as fond of me as I was of mischief; indeed it is not to be wondered at, for I was a type of the latter. I soon loved her better than my mother, for she encouraged me in all my tricks. My mother looked grave, and occasionally scolded me; my grandmother slapped me hard and rated me continually; but reproof or correction from the two latter were of no avail; and the former, when she wished to play any trick which she dared not do herself, employed me as her agent; so that I obtained the whole credit for what were her inventions, and I may safely add, underwent the whole blame and punishment; but that I cared nothing for; her caresses, cakes, and sugar-plums, added to my natural propensity, more than repaid me for the occasional severe rebukes of my mother, and the vindictive blows I received from the long fingers of my worthy grandmother.
Moreover, the officers took much notice of me, and it must be admitted, that, although I positively refused to learn my letters, I was a very forward child.
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My great patron was a Captain Bridgeman, a very thin, elegantly-made man, who was continually performing feats of address and activity; occasionally I would escape with him and go down to the mess, remain at dinner, drink toasts, and, standing on the mess-table, sing two or three comic songs which he had taught me.
I sometimes returned a little merry with the bumpers, which made my mother very angry, my old grandmother to hold up her hands, and look at the ceiling through her spectacles, and my aunt Milly as merry as myself. Before I was eight years old, I had become so notorious, that any prank played in the town, any trick undiscovered, was invariably laid to my account; and many were the applications made to my mother for indemnification for broken windows and other damage done, too often, I grant, with good reason, but very often when I had been perfectly innocent of the misdemeanour.
At last I was voted a common nuisance, and every one, except my mother and my aunt Milly, declared that it was high time that I went to school. One evening the whole of the family were seated at tea in the back parlour. Whether my mother thought that this was an innuendo reflecting upon any portion of her own life, I cannot tell; but she replied very tartly.
Deary me, I have dropped my needle. My grandmother rose, and turned round and round, looking for her needle, which, strange to say, she could not find; she opened her snuff-box, and took a pinch to clear her optics. I thought proper to obey the order and pretended to be very diligent in my search. A minute afterwards, Ben the marine first tapped gently, and then opened the door and came in; for at that late hour the officers were all at dinner, and the shop empty.
I had fresh snuff this morning. The old woman screamed, and threw herself back; in so doing, she fell over the chair upon which she had been sitting, and, somehow or another, tripped me up, and lay with all her weight upon me. I had been just attempting to make my escape during the confusion—for my mother and Milly were equally frightened—when I found myself completely smothered by the weight of my now almost senseless granny, and, as I have before mentioned, she was a very corpulent woman.
How long my granny might have remained there groaning I cannot tell; probably, as I was somewhat a spoiled child before this, it might have ended in her completely finishing me; but she was roused up from her state of half syncope by a vigorous attack from my teeth, which, in the agony of suffocation, I used with preternatural force of jaw from one so young. I bit right through everything she had on, and as my senses were fast departing, my teeth actually met with my convulsive efforts.
My granny, roused by the extreme pain, rolled over on her side, and then it was that my mother and aunt, who supposed that I had made my escape from the room, discovered me lifeless, and black in the face. They ran to me, but I still held on with my teeth, nor could I be separated from my now screaming relative, until the admission of fresh air, and a plentiful sprinkling of cold water brought me to my senses, when I was laid on the sofa utterly exhausted.
A few days brought to light what was the result of various whisperings and consultations. It was on a fine Monday morning, that Ben made his appearance at an unusually early hour; my cap was put on my head, my cloak over my shoulders; Ben took me by the hand, having a covered basket in the other, and I was led away like a lamb to the butcher. I never was at school myself. This was not a very satisfactory explanation.
I made no further inquiries, and we continued our way in silence until we arrived at the school door; there was a terrible buzz inside. Ben tapped, the door opened, and a volume of hot air burst forth, all the fresh air having been consumed in repeating the fresh lessons for the day.
Keen teeth, at all events. I certainly never had been before so much awed during my short existence as I was with the appearance of my pedagogue, who sat before me somewhat in the fashion of a Roman tribune, holding in his hand a short round ruler, as if it were his truncheon of authority.
I had not been a minute in the school before I observed him to raise his arm; away went the ruler whizzing through the air, until it hit the skull of the lad for whom it was intended at the other end of the schoolroom. The boy, who had been talking to his neighbour, rubbed his poll, and whined. The rest of the contents are confiscated for my sole use, and your particular benefit.
I was afraid of him, it is true, for his severity to the other boys convinced me that he would have little mercy upon me, if I dared to thwart him; but indignation soon began to obtain the mastery over my fears and I began to consider if I could not be even with him for his barefaced robbery of my dinner; and then I reflected whether it would not be better to allow him to take my food if I found out that by so doing he treated me well; and I resolved, at all events, to delay a little.
Hold your tongue. You see the wheat and the chaff will come together, and you must pick the latter out of the former at any seasonable future opportunity. Now, then, Mr Keene, we must come to another part of our history. Tommy Goskin put down his book, and came up to his master with a good deal of doubt in his countenance. Poor Tommy held it out, and roared lustily at the first blow, wringing his fingers with the smart. Tommy received a blow on his left hand, which was followed up with similar demonstrations of suffering.
And now Master Keene, we come to the third and last, which is the birch for the tail—here it is—have you ever had a taste?
Spencer Perceval - Person - National Portrait Gallery
Walter Puddock hesitated a few seconds, and then, without venturing a word of remonstrance, let down his trousers. Shame upon you, Walter Puddock, to disgrace your preceptor so, and make him tell a lie to young Master Keene. Walter Puddock, as soon as he was on the back of Phil Mooney, received a dozen cuts with the rod, well laid on.