Read CHAPTER VIII. - POOR TOM BOWLING. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on

Master Archibald’s advice to me ­to escape down to the water-side and conceal myself on shipboard ­though acute enough in its way, took no account of certain difficulties none the less real because a soldier would naturally overlook them.  To hide in a ship’s hold you must first get on board of her unobserved, which in broad daylight is next to impossible.  Moreover, to reach Cattewater I must either fetch a circuit through purlieus where every householder knew me and every urchin was a nodding acquaintance, or make a straight dash close by the spot where by this time Mr. Trapp would be getting anxious ­if indeed Southside Street and the Barbican were not already resounding with the hue and cry.  No:  if friendly vessel were to receive and hide me, she lay far off, across the heart of the town, amid the shipping of the Dock.  Yonder, too, Miss Plinlimmon resided.

If you think it absurd that my thoughts turned to her, whose weak arms could certainly shield no one from the clutches of the law, I beg you to remember my age, and that I had never known another protector.  She, at least, would hear me and never doubt my innocence.  She must hear, too, of Archie’s danger.

That to reach her, even if I eluded pursuit to the Hospital gate, I must run the gauntlet of Mr. George ­who would assuredly ask questions ­and possibly of Mr. Scougall, scarcely occurred to me.  To reach her ­to sob out my story in her arms and hear her voice soothing me ­this only I desired for the moment; and it seemed that if I could only hear her voice speaking, I might wake and feel these horrors dissolve like an evil dream.  Meanwhile I ran.

But at the end of a lane leading into Treville Street, and as I leapt aside to avoid colliding with the hind-wheels of a hackney-coach drawn in there and at a standstill close by the kerb, to my unspeakable fright I felt myself gripped by the jacket-collar.

“Hi!  Bring-to and ’vast kicking, young coal-dust!  Where’re ye bound, hey?  Answer me, and take your black mop out of a gentleman’s weskit.”

“To ­to Dock, sir,” I stammered.  “Let me go, please:  I’m in a hurry.”

My captor held me out at arm’s length and eyed me.  He was a sailor, and rigged out in his best shore-going clothes ­tarpaulin hat, blue coat and waistcoat, and a broad leathern belt to hold up his duck trousers, on which my sooty head had left its mark.  He grinned at me good-naturedly.  I saw that he had been drinking.

“In a hurry?  And what’s your hurry about?  Business?”

“Ye ­es, sir.”

“’Stonishing what spirit boys’ll put into work nowadays!  I’ve seen boys run for a leg o’ mutton, and likewise I’ve seen ’em run when they’ve broken ship; but on the path o’ duty, my sonny, you’ve the legs of any boy in my ex-perience.  Well, for once, you’ll put pleasure first.  I’m bound for Dock or thereabouts myself, and under convoy.”  He waved his hand up the street, where twelve or fifteen hackney-coaches stood in line ahead.

“If you please, sir ­”

He threw open the coach door.  “Jump in.  The frigate sets the rate o’ sailing.  That’s Bill.”

I hesitated, rebellious.

“That’s Bill.  Messmate o’ mine on the Bedford, and afore that on the Vesuvius bomb.  There, sonny ­don’t stand gaping at me like a stuck pig:  I never expected ye to know him!  And now the time’s past, and ye’ll go far afore finding a better.  Bill Adams his name was; but Bill to me, always, and in all weathers.”  Here for a moment he became maudlin.  “Paid off but three days agone, same as myself, and now ­cut down like a flower!  He’s the corpse, ahead, in the first conveyance.”

“Is this a funeral, sir?”

“Darn your eyes, don’t it look like one?  And after the expense I’ve been to!” He paused, eyed me solemnly, opened his mouth, and pointed down it with his forefinger.  “Drink done it.”  His voice was impressive.  “Steer you wide of the drink, my lad; or else drop down on it gradual.  If drink must be your moorings, don’t pick ’em up too rash.  ‘A boiled leg o’ mutton first,’ says I, persuasive; ’and turnips,’ and got him to Symonds’s boarding-house for the very purpose, Symonds being noted.  And Symonds ­I’ll do him that justice ­says the same.  Symonds says ­”

But at this point a young woman ­and pretty, too, though daubed with paint ­thrust her hat and head out of a window, three carriages away, and demanded to know what in the name of Moses we were waiting for.

“Signals, my dear.  The flagship’s forra’d; and keep your eye lifting that way, if you please.  I’m main glad you fell in with us,” he went on affably, turning to me; “because you round it up nicely.  Barring the sharks in black weepers, you’re the only mourning-card in the bunch, and I’ll see you get a good position at the grave.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it.  We’re doin’ our best.  When poor Bill dropped down in Symonds’s” ­he jerked his thumb towards the boarding-house door ­“Symonds himself was for turning everyone out.  Very nice feeling he showed, I will say.  ‘Damn it, here’s a go!’ he says; ’and the man looked healthy enough for another ten year, with proper care!’ ­and went off at once to stop the fiddlers and put up the shutters.  But, of course, it meant a loss to him, the place being full at the time; and I felt a sort of responsibility for having introduced Bill.  So I went after him and says I, ’This is a most unforeseen occurrence.’  ‘Not a bit,’ says he; ’accidents will happen.’  I told him that the corpse had never been a wet blanket; it wasn’t his nature; and I felt sure he wouldn’t like the thought.  ’If that’s the case, says Symonds, ’I’ve a little room at the back where he’d go very comfortable ­quite shut off, as you might say.  We must send for the doctor, of course, and the crowner can sit on him to-morrow ­that is, if you feel sure deceased wouldn’ think it any disrespect.’  ‘Disrespect?’ says I.  ’You don’t know Bill.  Why, it’s what he’d arsk for!’ So there we carried him, and I sent for the undertaker same time as the doctor, and ordered it of oak; and next morning, down I tramped to Dock and chose out a grave, brick-lined, having heard him say often, ’Plymouth folk for wasting, but Dock folk for lasting.’  I won’t say but what, between whiles, we’ve been pretty lively at Symonds’s; and I won’t say ­Hallo!  Here’s more luck!  Your servant, sir!”

He stepped forward ­leaving me shielded and half hidden by the coach door ­and accosted a stranger walking briskly up the pavement towards us with a small valise in his hand; a gentlemanly person of about thirty-five or forty, in clerical suit and bands.

“Eh?  Good-morning!” nodded the clergyman affably.

“Might I arsk where you’re bound?” Then, after a pause, “My name’s Jope, sir; Benjamin Jope, of the Bedford, seventy-four, bo’sun’s mate ­now paid off.”

The clergyman, at first taken aback by the sudden question, recovered his smile.  “And mine, sir, is Whitmore ­the Reverend John Whitmore ­ bound just now in the direction of Dock.  Can I serve you thereabouts?”

Mr. Jope waved his hand towards the coach door.  “Jump inside!  Oh, you needn’t be ashamed to ride behind Bill!”

“But who is Bill?” The Rev. Mr. Whitmore advanced to the coach door like a man in two minds.  “Ah, I see ­a funeral!” he exclaimed as a mute advanced ­assailed from each coach window, as he passed, with indecorous obloquy ­to announce that the cortege was ready to start.  For the last two minutes heads had been popping out at these windows ­heads with dyed ringlets and heads with artificially coloured noses ­and their owners demanding to know if Ben Jope meant to keep them there all day, if the corpse was expected to lead off the ball, and so on; and I, cowering by the coach step, had shrunk from their gaze as I flinched now under Mr. Whitmore’s.

“Hallo!” said he, and gave me (as I thought) a searching look.  “What’s this?  A chimney-sweep?”

“If your Reverence will not object?”

I turned my eyes away, but felt that this clergyman was studying me.  “Not at all,” said he quietly after a moment’s pause.  “Is he bound for Dock, too?”

“He said so.”

“Eh?  Then we’ll see that he gets there.  After you, youngster!” To my terror the words seemed charged with meaning, but I dared not look him in the face.  I clambered in and dropped into a seat with my back to the driver.  He placed himself opposite, nursing the valise on his knees.  Ben Jope came last and slammed-to the door after him.

“Way-ho!” he shouted.  “Easy canvas!” and with that plumped down beside me, and took off his tarpaulin hat, extracted a handkerchief, and carefully wiped his brow and the back of his neck.

“Well!” he sighed.  “Bill’s launched, anyhow.”

“Shipmate?” asked the clergyman.

“Messmate,” answered Mr. Jope; and, opening his mouth, pointed down it with his forefinger.  “Not that a better fellow ever lived.”

“I can quite believe it,” said Mr. Whitmore sympathetically.  He had a pleasant voice, but somehow I did not want to catch his eye.  Instead I kept my gaze fastened upon the knees of his well-fitting pantaloons.  No divine could have been more correctly attired, and yet there was a latent horsiness about his cut.  I set him down for a sporting parson from the country, and wondered why he wore clothes so much superior to those of the Plymouth parsons known to me by sight.

“Just listen to that now!” exclaimed Mr. Jope.  A cornet in one of the coaches ahead had struck up Tom Bowling, and before we reached the head of the street from coach after coach the funeral party broke into song: 

    “Here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling,
        The darling of his crew-ew;
     No more he’ll hear the te ­empest how ­wow ­ling,
        For death has broach’d him to. 
     His form was of the ­e ma ­hanliest beau ­eau ­ty ­”

“I wouldn’t say that, quite,” observed Mr. Jope pensively.  “To begin with, he’d had the small-pox.”

De gustibus nil nisi bonum,” Mr. Whitmore observed soothingly.

“What’s that?”


“Wonderful!  Would ye mind saying it again?”

The words were obligingly repeated.

“Wonderful!  And what might be the meaning of it, making so bold?”

“It means ‘Speak well of the dead.’”

“Well, we’re doing of it, anyhow.  Hark to ’em ahead there!”

The cortege, in fact, was attracting general attention.  Folks on the pavement halted to watch and grin as we went by:  one or two, catching sight of familiar faces within the coaches, waved their handkerchiefs or shouted back salutations:  and as we crawled out of Old Town Street and past St. Andrew’s Church a small crowd raised three cheers for us.  And still above it the cornet blared and the mourners’ voices rose uproarious: 

    “His friends were many and true-hearted,
        His Poll was kind and fair;
     And then he’d sing so blithe and jolly,
        Ah, many’s the time and oft! 
     But mirth is turned to melanchol ­ol ­y ­
        For Tom is gone aloft.”

“Bill couldn’t sing a note,” Mr. Jope murmured:  “but as you say, sir ­Would you oblige us again?” Again the Latin was repeated, and he swung round upon me.  “Think of that, now!  Be you a scholar, hey? ­read, write and cipher?  How would you spell ‘sojer’ for instance?”

The question knocked the wind out of me, and I felt my face whitening under the clergyman’s eyes.

“Soldier ­S.O.L.D.I.E.R,” I managed to answer, but scarce above a whisper.

“Very good:  now make a rhyme to it.”

“I ­please, sir, I don’t know any rhymes.”

“Well, that’s honest, anyway.  Now I’ll tell you why I asked.”  He turned and addressed Mr. Whitmore.  “I’m Cornish born, sir; from Saltash, up across the river.  Afore I went to sea there was a maid livin’ next door to us that wanted to marry me.  Well, when she found I wasn’t to be had, she picked up with a fellow from the Victualling Yard and married he, and came down to Dock to live.  Man’s name was Babbage, and they hadn’t been married six months afore he tumbled into a brine-vat and was drowned.  ‘That’s one narrow escape to me,’ I said.  Next news I had was a letter telling me she’d a boy born, and please would I stand godfather?  I didn’t like to say no, out of respect to her family.  So I wrote home from Gibraltar that I was agreeable, only it must be done by proxy and she mustn’t make it no precedent.  That must be ten years back; and what with one thing and another I never set eyes ’pon mother or child till yesterday when ­ having to run down to Dock to order Bill’s grave ­I thought ’twould be neighbourly to drop ’em a visit.  I found the boy growed to be a terrible plain child, about the size of this youngster.  I didn’t like the boy at all.  So I says to his mother, ’I s’pose he’s clever?’ ­for dang it! thinks I, he must be clever to make up for being so plain-featured as all that.  ’Benjy’ ­she’d a-called him Benjamin after me ­’Benjy’s the cleverest child for his age that ever you see,’ she says.  ‘Why,’ says she, ’he’ll pitch-to and make up a rhyme ‘pon anything!’ ‘Can he so?’ I says, pulling a great crown-piece out of my pocket (not that I liked the cut of his jib, but the woman had been hinting about my being his godfather):  ’Now, my lad, let’s see if you’re so gifted as your mother makes out.  There’s a sojer now passin’ the window.  Make a rhyme ’pon he, and you shall have the money.’  What d’ye think that ghastly boy did?  ‘Aw, that’s easy,’ he says ­”

     ’Sojer, sojer,
      Diddy, diddy, dodger!’

“‘Now hand me over the money,’ he says.  I could have slapped his ear.”

Almost as he ended his simple story, the procession came to a halt:  the strains of Tom Bowling changed into noisy ­and, on the part of the ladies, very unladylike ­expostulations.  Mr. Jope started forward and leaned out of the window.

“I think,” said the Rev. Mr. Whitmore, “we have arrived at the toll-gate.”

“D’ye mean to say the sharks want to take toll on Bill?”

“Likely enough.”

“On Bill?  And him a-going to his long home?  Here ­hold hard!” Mr. Jope leapt out into the roadway and disappeared.

Upon us two, left alone in the coach, there fell a dreadful silence.  Mr. Whitmore leaned forward and touched my knee; and I met his eye.

The face I looked into was thin and refined; clean-shaven and a trifle pale as if with the habit of study.  A slight baldness by the temples gave the brow unusual height.  His eyes I did not like at all:  instead of soothing the terror in mine they seemed to be drinking it in and tasting it and calculating.

“I passed by the Barbican just now,” said he; “and heard some inquiries about a small chimney-sweep.”

He paused, as if waiting.  But I had no speech in me.

“It was a very strange story they were telling ­a very dreadful and strange story:  still when I came upon you I saw, of course, it was incredible.  Boys of your size” ­he hesitated and left the sentence unfinished.  “Still, you may have seen something ­hey?”

Again I could not answer.

“At any rate,” he went on, “I gave you the benefit of the doubt and resolved to warn you.  It was a mistake to run away:  but the mischief’s done.  How were you proposing to make off?”

“You ­you won’t give me up, sir?”

“No, for I think you must be innocent ­of what they told me, at least.  I feel so certain of it that, as you see, my conscience allows me to warn you.  In the first place, avoid the Torpoint Ferry.  It will without doubt be watched.  I should make for the docks, hide until night, and try to stow myself on shipboard.  Secondly” ­he put out a hand and softly unfastened the coach door ­“I am going to leave you.  Our friend Mr. Jope is engaged, I see, in an altercation with the toll-keeper.  He seems a good-natured fellow.  The driver (it may help you to know) is drunk.  Of course, if by ill-luck they trace me out, to question me, I shall be obliged to tell what I know.  It amounts to very little:  still ­I have no wish to tell it.  One word more:  get a wash as soon as you can, and by some means acquire a clean suit of clothes.  I may be then unable to swear to you:  may be able to say that your face is as unfamiliar to me as it was ­or as mine was to you ­when Mr. Jope introduced us.  Eh?” His look was piercing.

“Thank you, sir.”

He picked up his valise, nodded, and after a swift glance up the street and around at the driver, to make sure that his head was turned, stepped briskly out upon the pavement and disappeared around the back of the coach.