Read CHAPTER III. - I AM BOUND APPRENTICE. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

Although holidays were a thing unknown at the Genevan Hospital, yet discipline grew sensibly lighter during Mr. Scougall’s honeymoon, being left to Miss Plinlimmon on the understanding that in emergency she might call in the strong and secular arm of Mr. George.  But we all loved Miss Plinlimmon, and never drove her beyond appealing to what she called our better instincts.

Her dearest aspiration (believe it if you can) was to make gentlemen of us ­of us, doomed to start in life as parish apprentices!  And to this her curriculum recurred whether it had been divagating into history, geography, astronomy, English composition, or religious knowledge.  “The author of the book before me, a B.A. ­otherwise a Bachelor of Arts, but not on that account necessarily unmarried ­ observes that to believe the sun goes round the earth is a vulgar error.  For my part I should hardly go so far:  but it warns us how severely those may be judged who obtrusively urge in society opinions which the wise in their closets have condemned.”  “The refulgent orb ­another way, my dears, of saying the sun ­is in the vicinity of Persia an object of religious adoration.  The Christian nations, better instructed, content themselves with esteeming it warmly, and as they follow its course in the heavens, draw from it the useful lesson to look always on the bright side of things.”  Humble beneficent soul!  I never met another who had learned that lesson so thoroughly.  Once she pointed out to me at the end of her dictation-book a publisher’s colophon of a sundial with the word Finis above it, and, underneath, the words “Every Hour Shortens Life.”  “Now, I prefer to think that every hour lengthens it,” said she, with one of her few smiles; for her cheerfulness was always serious.

Best of all were the hours when she read to us extracts from her album.  “At least,” she explained, “I call it an album.  I ever longed to possess one, adorned with remarks ­moral or sprightly, as the case might be ­by the Choicest Spirits of our Age, and signed in their own illustrious handwriting.  But in my sphere of life these were hard ­nay, impossible ­to come by; so in my dilemma I had recourse to subterfuge, and having studied the career of this or that eminent man, I chose a subject and composed what (as it seemed to me) he would most likely have written upon it, signing his name below ­but in print, that the signatures may not pass hereafter for real ones, should the book fall into the hands of strangers.  You must not think, therefore, that the lines on Statesmanship which I am about to read you, beginning ’But why Statesmans ship?  Because, my lords and gentlemen, the State is indeed a ship, and demands a skilful helmsman’ ­you must not think that they were actually penned by the Right Honourable William Pitt.  But I feel sure the sentiments are such as he would have approved, and perhaps might have uttered had the occasion arisen.”

This puzzled us, and I am not sure that we took any trouble to discriminate Miss Plinlimmon’s share in these compositions from that of their signatories.  Indeed, the first time I set eyes on Lord Wellington (as he rode by us to inspect the breaches in Ciudad Rodrigo) my memory saluted him as the Honourable Arthur Wellesley, author of the passage, “Though educated at Eton, I have often caught myself envying the quaintly expressed motto of the more ancient seminary amid the Hampshire chalk-hills, i.e. Manners makyth man”; and to this day I associate General Paoli with an apostrophe “O Corsica!  O my country, bleeding and inanimate!” etc., and with Miss Plinlimmon’s foot-note:  “N.B. ­The author of these affecting lines, himself a blameless patriot, actually stood godfather to the babe who has since become the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte.  Oh, irony!  What had been the feelings of the good Paoli, could he have foreseen this eventuality, as he promised and vowed beside the font! (if they have such things in Corsica:  a point on which I am uncertain).”

I dwell on these halcyon days with Miss Plinlimmon because, as they were the last I spent at the Genevan Hospital, so they soften all my recollections of it with their own gentle prismatic haze.  In fact, a bare fortnight had gone by since my adventure on the spire when I was summoned to Mr. Scougall’s parlour and there found Miss Plinlimmon in conversation with a tall and very stout man:  and if her eyelids were pink, I paid more attention to the stout man’s, which were rimmed with black ­a more unusual sight.  His neck, too, was black up to a well-defined line; the rest of it, and his cheeks, red with the red of prize beef.

“This is the boy ­hem ­Revel, of whom we were speaking.”  Miss Plinlimmon smiled at me and blushed faintly as she uttered the name.  “Harry, shake hands with Mr. Trapp.  He has come expressly to make your acquaintance.”

Somehow I gathered that this politeness took Mr. Trapp aback; but he held out his hand.  It was astonishingly black.

“Pray be seated, Mr. Trapp.”

“The furniture, ma’am!”

“Ah, to be sure!” Mr. Scougall’s freshly upholstered chairs had all been wrapped in holland coverings pending his return.  “Mr. Trapp, Harry, is a ­a chimney-sweep.”

“Oh!” said I, somewhat ruefully.

“And if I can answer for your character (as I believe I can),” she went on with a wan, almost wistful smile, “he is ready to make you his apprentice.”

“But I had rather be a soldier, Miss Plinlimmon!”

She still kept her smile, but I could read in it that my pleading was useless; that the decision really lay beyond her.

“Boys will be boys, Mr. Trapp.”  She turned to him with her air of gentility.  “You will forgive Harry for preferring a red coat to ­to your calling.” (I thought this treacherous of Miss Plinlimmon.  As if she did not prefer it herself!) “No doubt he will learn in time that all duty is alike noble, whether it bids a man mount the deadly breach or climb a ­or do the sort of climbing required in your profession.”

“I climbed up that spire in my sleep,” said I, sullenly.

“That’s just it,” Mr. Trapp agreed.  “That’s what put me on the track of ye.  ‘Here’s a tacker,’ I said, ’can climb up to the top of Emmanuel’s in his sleep, and I’ve been wasting money and temper on them that won’t go up an ord’nary chimbley when they’re wideawake, ‘ithout I lights a furze-bush underneath to hurry them.’”

“I trust,” put in Miss Plinlimmon, aghast, “you are jesting, Mr. Trapp?”

“Jesting, ma’am?”

“You do not really employ that barbarous method of acceleration?”

“Meaning furze-bushes?  Why, no, ma’am; not often.  Look ye here, young sir,” he continued, dismissing (as of no account) this subject, so interesting to me; “you was wide awake, anyway, when you came down, and that you can’t deny.”

“Harry,” persisted Miss Plinlimmon, “has not been used to harsh treatment.  You will like his manners:  he is a very gentlemanly boy.”

Mr. Trapp stared at her, then at me, then slowly around the room.  “Gentlemanly?” he echoed at length, in a wondering way, under his breath.

“I have used my best endeavours.  Yes, though I say it to his face, you will really ­if careful to appeal to his better instincts ­find him one of Nature’s gentlemen.”

Mr. Trapp broke into a grin of relief; almost you could say that he heaved a sigh.

“Oh, that’s all?” said he.  “Why, Lord love ye, ma’am, I’ve been called that myself before now!”

So to Mr. Trapp I was bound, early next week, before the magistrates sitting in petty sessional division, to serve him and to receive from him proper sustenance and clothing until the age of twenty-one.  And I (as nearly as could be guessed, for I had no birthday) had barely turned ten.  Mr. Scougall arrived in time to pilot me through these formalities and hand me over to Mr. Trapp:  but at a parting interview, throughout which we both wept copiously, Miss Plinlimmon gave me for souvenir a small Testament with this inscription on the fly-leaf: 

                         H. REVEL,
          from his affectionate friend, A. Plinlimmon.

    O happy, happy days, when childhood’s cares
        Were soon forgotten! 
     But now, when dear ones all around are still the same,
        Where shall we be in ten years’ time?

“They were my own composition,” she explained.  Mr. George bade me a gloomier farewell.  “You might come to some good,” he said contemplatively; “and then again you mightn’t.  I ain’t what they call a pessimist, but I thinks poorly of most things.  It’s safer.”

Mr. Trapp was exceedingly jocose as he conveyed me home to his house beside the Barbican, Plymouth; stopping on the way before every building of exceptional height and asking me quizzically how I would propose to set about climbing it.  At the time, in the soreness of my heart, I resented this heavy pleasantry, and to be sure, after the tenth repetition or so, the diversity of the buildings to which he applied it but poorly concealed its sameness.  But, in fact, he was doing his best to be kind, and succeeded in a sort; for it roused a childish scorn in me and so fetched back my heart, which at starting had been somewhere in my boots.

I took it for granted that a sweep must inhabit a dingy hovel, and certainly the crowded filth of the Barbican promised nothing better as we threaded our way among fishermen, fish-jowters, blowzy women, and children playing hop-scotch with the heads of decaying fish.  At the seaward end of it, and close beside the bow-fronted Custom House, we turned aside into an alley which led uphill between high blank walls to the base of the Citadel:  and here, stuck as if it were a marten’s nest under the shadow of the ramparts, a freshly whitewashed cottage overhung the slope, with a sweep’s brush dangling over its doorway and the sign “S.  Trapp, Chimney Sweep in Season.”

While I wondered what might be the season for chimney-sweeps, a small bead-eyed woman emerged from the doorway and shook a duster vigorously:  in the which act catching sight of us, she paused.

“I’ve a-got en, my dear,” said Mr. Trapp much as a man might announce the capture of a fish:  and though he did not actually lift me for inspection his hand seemed to waver over my collar.

But it was Mrs. Trapp, who, after a fleeting glance at me, caught her husband by the collar.

“And you actilly went in that state, you nasty keerless hulks!  O, you heart-breaker!”

Mr. Trapp in custody managed to send me a sidelong, humorous grin.

“My dear, I thought ’twould be a surprise for you ­business taking me that way, and the magistrates being used to worse.”

“You heart-breaker!” repeated Mrs. Trapp.  “And me slaving morn and night to catch up with your messy ways!  What did I tell you the first time you came back from the Hospital looking like a malkin, and with a clean shift of clothes laid out for you and the water on the boil, that I couldn’t have taken more trouble, no, not for a funeral?  Didn’t I tell you ’twas positively lowering?”

“I ha’n’t a doubt you did, my dear.”

“That’s what you are.  You’re a lowering man.  And there by your own account you met a lady, with your neck streaked like a ham-rasher, and me not by ­thank goodness! ­to see what her feelings were; and now ’tis magistrates.  But nothing warns you.  I suppose you thought that as ’twas only fondlings without any father or mother it didn’t matter how you dressed!”

Mrs. Trapp, though she might seem to talk at random, had a wifely knack of dropping a shaft home.  Her husband protested.

“Come, come, Maria ­you know I’m not that sort of man!”

“How do I know what sort of man you are, under all that dirt?  For my part, if I’d been a magistrate, you shouldn’t have walked off with the boy till you’d washed yourself, not if you’d gone down on your hands and knees for it; and him with his face shining all over like a little Moses on the Mount, which does the lady credit if she’s the one you saw; though how they can dress children up like pickle-herrings it beats me.  Your bed’s at the top of the house, child, and there you’ll find a suit o’ clothes that I’ve washed and aired after the last boy.  I only hope you won’t catch any of his nasty tricks in ’em.  Straight up the stairs and the little door to the left at the top.”

“Unless” ­Mr. Trapp picked up courage for one more pleasantry ­“you’d like to make a start at once and go up by way of the chimbley.”

He was rash.  As a pugilist might eye a recovering opponent supposed to be stunned, so Mrs. Trapp eyed Mr. Trapp.

“I thought I told you plain enough,” she said, “that you’re a lowering man.  What’s worse, you’re an unconverted one.  Oh, you nasty, fat, plain-featured fellow!  Go indoors and wash yourself, this instant!”

I spent close upon four years with this couple:  and good parents they were to me, as well as devoted to each other.  Mrs. Trapp may have been “cracked,” as she certainly suffered from a determination of words to the mouth:  but, as a child will, I took her and the rest of the world as I found them.  She began to mother me at once; and on the very next morning took my clothes in hand, snipped the ridiculous tails off the jacket, and sent it, with the breeches, to the dyer’s.  The yellow waistcoat she cut into pin-cushions, two for upstairs and two for the parlour.

Having no children to save for, Mr. Trapp could afford to feed and clothe an apprentice and take life easily to boot.  Mrs. Trapp would never allow him to climb a ladder; had even chained him to terra firma by a vow ­since, as she explained to me once, “he’s an unconverted man.  There’s no harm in ’en; but I couldn’t bear to have him cut off in his sins.  Besides, with such a figure, he’d scatter.”

I recollect it as a foretaste of his kindness that on the first early morning, as he led me forth to my first experiment, we paused between the blank walls of the alley that I might practise the sweep’s call in comparative privacy.  The sound of my own voice, reverberated there, covered me with shame, though it could scarcely have been louder than the cheeping of the birds on the Citadel ramparts above.  “Hark to that fellow, now!” said my master, as the notes of a bugle sang out clear and brave in the dawn.  “He’s no bigger than you, I warrant, and has no more call to be proud of his business.”  In time I grew bold enough and used to begin my “Sweep, Swee ­eep!” at the mouth of the alley to warn Mrs. Trapp of our return.

My first chimney daunted me, though it was a wide one, belonging to a cottage, well fitted with climbing brackets, and so straight that from the flat hearth-stone you could see a patch of blue sky with the gulls sailing across it.  Mr. Trapp instructed me well and I listened, setting my small jaws to choke down the terror:  but, once started, with his voice guiding me from below and growing hollower as I ascended, I found that all came easily enough.  “Bravo!” he shouted up from the far side of the street, whither he had run out to see me wave my brush from the summit.  In a day or two he began to boast of me, and I had to do my young best to live up to a reputation; for the fame of my feat on Emmanuel Church spire had spread all over the Barbican.  Being reckoned a bold fellow, I had to justify myself in fighting with the urchins of my age there; in which, and in wrestling, I contrived to hold my own.  My shame was that I had never learnt to swim.  All my rivals could swim, and even in the winter weather seemed to pass half their time in the filthy water of Sutton Pool, or in running races, stark naked, along the quay’s edge.

Our trade, steady and leisurable until the last week of March, then went up with a rush and continued at high pressure through April and May, so that, dog-tired in every limb, I had much ado to drag myself to bed up the garret stairs after Mrs. Trapp had rubbed my ankles with goose-fat where the climbing-irons galled them.  While this was doing, Mr. Trapp would smoke his pipe and watch and assure me that mine were the “growing-pains” natural to sweeps, and Mrs. Trapp (without meaning it in the least) lamented the fate which had tied her for life to one.  “It being well known that my birthday is the 15th of the month and its rightful motto in Proverbs thirty-one, ’She riseth also while it is yet night and giveth meat to her household and a portion to her maidens’; and me never able to hire a gel at eight pounds a year even!”

“If you did,” retorted Mr. Trapp, “I don’t see you turning out at midnight to feed her.”

Early in June this high-tide of business slackened, and by the close of the second week we were moderately idle.  On Midsummer morning I descended to find, to my vast astonishment, Mr. Trapp seated at table before a bowl of bread and milk and wearing a thick blue guernsey tucked inside his trousers, the waist of which reached so high as to reduce his braces to mere shoulder-straps.  I could not imagine why he, a man given to perspiration, should add to his garments at this season.

Breakfast over, he beckoned me to the door and jerked his thumb towards the lintel.  The usual, sign had been replaced by a shorter one:  “S.  Trapp.  Gone Driving.”

“If folks,” said he, “ha’n’t the foresight to get swept afore Midsummer, I don’t humour ’em.”

“Are ­are you really going for a drive, sir?” I stammered.

“To be sure I am.  I drive every day in the summer.  What do you suppose?”

“It won’t be a chaise and pair, sir?” I hazarded, though even this would not have surprised me.

“Not to-day.  Lord knows what we may come to, but to-day ’tis mackerel and whiting; later on, pilchards.”

He took me down to the quay; and there, sure enough, we stepped on board a boat lying ready, with two men in her, who fended off and began to hoist sails at once.  Mr. Trapp took the helm.  It turned out that he owned a share in the vessel and worked her from Midsummer to Michaelmas with a crew of two men and a boy.  The men were called Isaac and Morgan (I cannot remember their other names), the one extremely old and surly, the other cheerful, curly-haired and active, and both sparing of words.  I was to be the boy.

We baited our hooks and whiffed for mackerel as we tacked out of the Sound.  And by and by we came to what Isaac called the “grounds” (though I could see nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the sea) and cast anchor and weighted our lines differently and caught a few whiting while we ate our dinner.  The wind had fallen to a flat calm.  After dinner Mr. Trapp looked up and said to Isaac: 

“Got a life-belt on board?”

“What in thunder do ’ee want it for?” asked Isaac.

“That’s my business,” said Mr. Trapp.

So Isaac hunted up a belt made of pieces of cork and then was ordered to lash one of the sweeps so that it stuck well outboard.  “Now, my lad,” said Mr. Trapp, turning to me, “you’ve been a very good lad ’pon the whole, and I see you fighting with the tackers down ’pon the quay and holding your own.  But they can swim, and you can’t, and it’s wearing your spirit.  So here’s a chance to larn.  I can’t larn’ ee myself, for the fashion’s come up since I was a youngster.  Can you swim, Morgan?”

Morgan could not; and old Isaac said he couldn’t see the use of it ­ if you capsized, it only lengthened out the trouble.

“Well, then, you must larn yourself,” said Mr. Trapp to me.  “I’ve heard that pigs and men are the only animals it don’t come to by nature.  And that’s a scandal however you look at it.”

So strip I did, and was girt with the belt under my armpits, tied to a rope, and slipped over the side in fear and trembling.  I swallowed a pint or two of salt water and wept (but they could not see this, though they watched me curiously), I dare say, half a pint of it back in tears of fright.  I knew by observation how legs and arms should be worked, but made disheartening efforts to put it into practice.  At length, utterly ashamed, I was hauled out and congratulated:  at which I stared.

“As for the swimmin’,” said Isaac, “I can’t call to mind that I’ve seen worse:  but for pluck, considering the number of sharks at about this season, I couldn’t ask better of his age.”

I had not thought of sharks ­supposed them, indeed, to inhabit the tropics only.  We caught one towards sunset, after it had fouled all our lines, and smashed its head with the unshipped tiller as it came to the surface.  It measured five feet and a little over, and we lashed it alongside the gunwale and carried it home in triumph next morning (having shot the nets at sundown and slept and hauled them up empty at sunrise ­the pilchards being scarce as yet, though a few had been caught off the Eddystone).  I don’t suppose the shark would have interfered with my bath, but I gave myself airs on the strength of him.