SHOWS SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE FALSE STEP,
AND INTRODUCES THE READER TO PECULIAR COMPANY
Our hero soon discovered that the
sergeant was an old campaigner, having been out in
Egypt at the beginning of the war, and fought at the
famous battle of Tel-el-Kebir.
In his grave and undemonstrative way
and quiet voice, this man related some of his experiences,
so as not only to gain the attention of his companion
in arms, but to fascinate all who chanced to be within
earshot of him not the least interested
among whom, of course, was our friend Miles.
As the sergeant continued to expatiate
on those incidents of the war which had come under
his own observation, three points impressed themselves
on our hero: first, that the sergeant was evidently
a man of serious, if not religious, spirit; second,
that while he gave all due credit to his comrades
for their bravery in action, he dwelt chiefly on those
incidents which brought out the higher qualities of
the men, such as uncomplaining endurance, forbearance,
etcetera, and he never boasted of having given “a
thorough licking” to the Egyptians, nor spoke
disparagingly of the native troops; lastly, that he
seemed to lay himself out with a special view to the
unflagging entertainment of his young comrade.
The reason for this last purpose he
learned during a short halt at one of the stations.
Seeing the sergeant standing alone there, Miles, after
accosting him with the inevitable references to the
state of the weather, remarked that his comrade seemed
to be almost too young for the rough work of soldiering.
“Yes, he is young enough, but
older than he looks,” answered the sergeant.
“Poor lad! I’m sorry for him.”
“Indeed! He does not seem
to me a fit subject for pity. Young, strong,
handsome, intelligent, he seems pretty well furnished
to begin the battle of life especially
in the army.”
“`Things are not what they seem,’”
returned the soldier, regarding his young questioner
with something between a compassionate and an amused
look. “`All is not gold that glitters.’
Soldiering is not made up of brass bands, swords,
and red coats!”
“Having read a good deal of
history I am well aware of that,” retorted Miles,
who was somewhat offended by the implication contained
in the sergeant’s remarks.
“Well, then, you see,”
continued the sergeant, “all the advantages that
you have mentioned, and which my comrade certainly
possesses, weigh nothing with him at all just now,
because this sudden call to the wars separates him
from his poor young wife.”
“Wife!” exclaimed Miles;
“why, he seems to me little more than a boy
except in size, and perhaps in gravity.”
“He is over twenty, and, as
to gravity well, most young fellows would
be grave enough if they had to leave a pretty young
wife after six months of wedded life. You see,
he married without leave, and so, even if it were
a time of peace, his wife would not be recognised by
the service. In wartime he must of course leave
her behind him. It has been a hard job to prevent
him from deserting, and now it’s all I can do
to divert his attention from his sorrow by stirring
him up with tales of the recent wars.”
At this point the inexorable bell
rang, doors were banged, whistles sounded, and the
journey was resumed.
Arrived at Portsmouth, Miles was quickly
involved in the bustle of the platform. He had
made up his mind to have some private conversation
with the sergeant as to the possibility of entering
her Majesty’s service as a private soldier,
and was on the point of accompanying his military
travelling companions into the comparative quiet of
the street when a porter touched his cap
“Any luggage, sir?”
“Luggage? a no no
It was the first moment since leaving
home that the thought of luggage had entered into
his brain! That thought naturally aroused other
thoughts, such as lodgings, food, friends, funds, and
the like. On turning to the spot where his military
companions had stood, he discovered that they were
gone. Running to the nearest door-way he found
it to be the wrong one, and before he found the right
one and reached the street the two soldiers had vanished
from the scene.
“You seem to be a stranger here,
sir. Can I direct you?” said an insinuating
voice at his elbow.
The speaker was an elderly man of
shabby-genteel appearance and polite address.
Miles did not quite like the look of him. In
the circumstances, however, and with a strangely desolate
feeling of loneliness creeping over him, he did not
see his way to reject a civil offer.
“Thank you. I am indeed
a stranger, and happen to have neither friend nor
acquaintance in the town, so if you can put me in the
way of finding a respectable lodging a a
cheap one, you will greatly oblige me.”
“With pleasure,” said the man, “if
you will accompany ”
“Stay, don’t trouble yourself
to show me the way,” interrupted Miles; “just
name a house and the street, that will ”
“No trouble at all, sir,”
said the man. “I happen to be going in
the direction of the docks, and know of excellent
as well as cheap lodgings there.”
Making no further objection, Miles
followed his new friend into the street. For
some time, the crowd being considerable and noisy,
they walked in silence.
At the time we write of, Portsmouth
was ringing with martial music and preparations for
At all times the red-coats and the
blue-jackets are prominent in the streets of that
seaport; for almost the whole of our army passes through
it at one period or another, either in going to or
returning from “foreign parts.”
But at this time there was the additional bustle resulting
from the Egyptian war. Exceptional activity prevailed
in its yards, and hurry in its streets. Recruits,
recently enlisted, flocked into it from all quarters,
while on its jetties were frequently landed the sad
fruits of war in the form of wounded men.
“Have you ever been in Portsmouth
before?” asked the shabby-genteel man, on reaching
a part of the town which was more open and less crowded.
“Never. I had no idea
it was so large and bustling,” said Miles.
“The crowding and bustling is
largely increased just now, of course, in consequence
of the war in Egypt,” returned the man.
“Troops are constantly embarking, and others
returning. It is a noble service! Men
start in thousands from this port young, hearty, healthy,
and full of spirit; they return those of
them who return at all sickly, broken-down,
and with no spirit at all except what they soon get
poured into them by the publicans. Yes; commend
me to the service of my Queen and country!”
There was a sneering tone in the man’s
voice which fired his companion’s easily roused
“Mind what you say about our
Queen while in my company,” said Miles
sternly, stopping short and looking the man full in
the face. “I am a loyal subject, and will
listen to nothing said in disparagement of the Queen
or of her Majesty’s forces.”
“Bless you, sir,” said
the man quickly, “I’m a loyal subject myself,
and wouldn’t for the world say a word against
her Majesty. No more would I disparage her troops;
but, after all, the army ain’t perfect, you know.
Even you must admit that, sir. With all
its noble qualities there’s room for improvement.”
There was such an air of sincerity or
at least of assumed humility in the man’s
tone and manner that Miles felt it unjustifiable to
retain his indignation. At the same time, he
could not all at once repress it, and was hesitating
whether to fling off from the man or to forgive him,
when the sound of many voices, and of feet tramping
in regular time, struck his ear and diverted his attention.
Next moment the head of a regiment, accompanied by
a crowd of juvenile admirers, swept round the corner
of the street. At the same instant a forest
of bayonets gleamed upon the youth’s vision,
and a brass band burst with crashing grandeur upon
his ear, sending a quiver of enthusiasm into the deepest
recesses of his soul, and stirring the very marrow
in his bones!
Miles stood entranced until the regiment
had passed, and the martial strains were softened
by distance; then he looked up and perceived that
his shabby companion was regarding him with a peculiar
“I think you’ve a notion
of being a soldier,” he said, with a smile.
“Where is that regiment going?”
asked Miles, instead of answering the question.
“To barracks at present; to
Egypt in a few days. There’ll be more
followin’ it before long.”
It was a distracting as well as an
exciting walk that Miles had through the town, for
at every turn he passed couples or groups of soldiers,
or sailors, or marines, and innumerable questions
sprang into and jostled each other in his mind, while,
at the same moment, his thoughts and feelings were
busy with his present circumstances and future prospects.
The distraction was increased by the remarks and comments
of his guide, and he would fain have got rid of him;
but good-feeling, as well as common-sense, forbade
his casting him off without sufficient reason.
Presently he stopped, without very
well knowing why, in front of a large imposing edifice.
Looking up, he observed the words soldiers’
Institute in large letters on the front of it.
“What sort of an Institute is that?” he
“Oh! it’s a miserable
affair, where soldiers are taken in cheap, as they
say, an’ done for,” returned the shabby
man hurriedly, as if the subject were distasteful
to him. “Come along with me and I’ll
show you places where soldiers ay, and
civilians too can enjoy themselves like
gentlemen, an’ get value for their money.”
As he spoke, two fine-looking men
issued from a small street close to them, and crossed
the road one a soldier of the line, the
other a marine.
“Here it is, Jack,” exclaimed
the soldier to his friend; “Miss Sarah Robinson’s
Institoot, that you’ve heard so much about.
Come an’ I’ll show you where you can
write your letter in peace ”
Thus much was overheard by Miles as
they turned into a side-street, and entered what was
obviously one of the poorer districts of the town.
“Evidently that soldier’s
opinion does not agree with yours,” remarked
Miles, as they walked along.
“More’s the pity!”
returned the shabby man, whose name he had informed
his companion was Sloper. “Now we are getting
among places, you see, where there’s a good
deal of drinking going on.”
“I scarcely require to be told
that,” returned Miles, curtly; for he was beginning
to feel his original dislike to Mister Sloper intensified.
It did not indeed require any better
instructor than eyes and ears to inform our hero that
the grog-shops around him were full, and that a large
proportion of the shouting and swearing revellers inside
were soldiers and seamen.
By this time it was growing dark,
and most of the gin-palaces were beginning to send
forth that glare of intense and warm light with which
they so knowingly attract the human moths that constitute
“Here we are,” said Sloper,
stopping in front of a public-house in a narrow street.
“This is one o’ the respectable
lodgin’s. Most o’ the others are
disreputable. It’s not much of a neighbourhood,
“It certainly is not very attractive,”
said Miles, hesitating.
“You said you wanted a cheap
one,” returned Sloper, “and you can’t
expect to have it cheap and fashionable, you know.
You’ve no occasion to be afraid. Come
The arguments of Mr Sloper might have
failed to move Miles, but the idea of his being afraid
to go anywhere was too much for him.
“Go in, then,” he said, firmly, and followed.
The room into which he was ushered
was a moderately large public-house, with a bar and
a number of tables round the room, at which many men
and a few women were seated; some gambling, others
singing or disputing, and all drinking and smoking.
It is only right to say that Miles was shocked.
Hitherto he had lived a quiet and comparatively innocent
country life. He knew of such places chiefly
from books or hearsay, or had gathered merely the
superficial knowledge that comes through the opening
of a swing-door. For the first time in his life
he stood inside a low drinking-shop, breathing its
polluted atmosphere and listening to its foul language.
His first impulse was to retreat, but false shame,
the knowledge that he had no friend in Portsmouth,
or place to go to, that the state of his purse forbade
his indulging in more suitable accommodation, and
a certain pride of character which made him always
determine to carry out what he had resolved to do all
these considerations and facts combined to prevent
his acting on the better impulse. He doggedly
followed his guide to a small round table and sat
Prudence, however, began to operate
within him. He felt that he had done wrong;
but it was too late now, he thought, to retrace his
steps. He would, however, be on his guard; would
not encourage the slightest familiarity on the part
of any one, and would keep his eyes open. For
a youth who had seen nothing of the world this was
a highly commendable resolve.
“What’ll you drink?” asked Mr Sloper.
Miles was on the point of saying “Coffee,”
but, reflecting that the beverage might not be readily
obtainable in such a place, he substituted “Beer.”
Instead of calling the waiter, Mr
Sloper went himself to the bar to fetch the liquor.
While he was thus engaged, Miles glanced round the
room, and was particularly struck with the appearance
of a large, fine-looking sailor who sat at the small
table next to him, with hands thrust deep into his
trousers-pockets, his chin resting on his broad chest,
and a solemn, owlish stare in his semi-drunken yet
manly countenance. He sat alone, and was obviously
in a very sulky frame of mind a condition
which he occasionally indicated through a growl of
As Miles sat wondering what could
have upset the temper of a tar whose visage was marked
by the unmistakable lines and dimples of good-humour,
he overheard part of the conversation that passed between
the barman and Mr Sloper.
“What! have they got hold o’
Rattling Bill?” asked the former, as he drew
“Ay, worse luck,” returned
Sloper. “I saw the sergeant as I came along
lead him over to Miss Robinson’s trap confound
“Don’t you go fur to say
anything agin Miss Robinson, old man,” suddenly
growled the big sailor, in a voice so deep and strong
that it silenced for a moment the rest of the company.
“Leastways, you may if you like, but if you
do, I’ll knock in your daylights, an’ polish
up your figur’-head so as your own mother would
mistake you fur a battered saucepan!”
The seaman did not move from his semi-recumbent
position as he uttered this alarming threat, but he
accompanied it with a portentous frown and an owlish
wink of both eyes.
“What! have you joined
the Blue Lights?” asked Sloper, with a smile,
referring to the name by which the religious and temperance
men of the army were known.
“No, I ha’n’t.
Better for me, p’r’aps, if I had.
Here, waiter, fetch me another gin-an’-warer.
An’ more o’ the gin than the warer, mind.
Heave ahead or I’ll sink you!”
Having been supplied with a fresh
dose of gin and water, the seaman appeared to go to
sleep, and Miles, for want of anything better to do,
accepted Sloper’s invitation to play a game of
“Are the beds here pretty good?”
he asked, as they were about to begin.
“Yes, first-rate for the money,”
“That’s a lie!”
growled the big sailor. “They’re
bad at any price stuffed wi’ cocoa-nuts
Mr Sloper received this observation
with the smiling urbanity of a man who eschews war
at all costs.
“You don’t drink,”
he said after a time, referring to Miles’s pot
of beer, which he had not yet touched.
Miles made no reply, but by way of
answer took up the pot and put it to his lips.
He had not drunk much of it when the
big seaman rose hurriedly and staggered between the
two tables. In doing so, he accidentally knocked
the pot out of the youth’s hand, and sent the
contents into Mr Sloper’s face and down into
his bosom, to the immense amusement of the company.
That man of peace accepted the baptism
meekly, but Miles sprang up in sudden anger.
The seaman turned to him, however,
with a benignantly apologetic smile.
“Hallo! messmate. I ax
your parding. They don’t leave room even
for a scarecrow to go about in this here cabin.
I’ll stand you another glass. Give us
There was no resisting this, it was
said so heartily. Miles grasped the huge hand
that was extended and shook it warmly.
“All right,” he said,
laughing. “I don’t mind the beer,
and there’s plenty more where that came from,
but I fear you have done some damage to my fr ”
“Your friend. Out
with it, sir. Never be ashamed to acknowledge
your friends,” exclaimed the shabby man, as
he wiped his face. “Hold on a bit,”
he added, rising; “I’ll have to change
my shirt. Won’t keep you waitin’
“Another pot o’ beer for
this ’ere gen’lem’n,” said
the sailor to the barman as Sloper left the room.
Paying for the drink, he returned
and put the pot on the table. Then, turning
to Miles, he said in a low voice and with an intelligent
“Come outside for a bit, messmate.
I wants to speak to ’ee.”
Miles rose and followed the man in much surprise.
“You’ll excuse me, sir,”
he said, when a few yards away from the door; “but
I see that you’re green, an’ don’t
know what a rascally place you’ve got into.
I’ve been fleeced there myself, and yet I’m
fool enough to go back! Most o’ the parties
there except the sailors an’ sodgers are
thieves an’ blackguards. They’ve
drugged your beer, I know; that’s why I capsized
it for you, and the feller that has got hold o’
you is a well-known decoy-duck. I don’t
know how much of the ready you may have about you,
but this I does know, whether it be much or little,
you wouldn’t have a rap of it in the mornin’
if you stayed the night in this here house.”
“Are you sure of this, friend?”
asked Miles, eyeing his companion doubtfully.
“Ay, as sure as I am that my name’s Jack
“But you’ve been shamming
drunk all this time. How am I to know that you
are not shamming friendship now?”
“No, young man,” returned
the seaman with blinking solemnity. “I’m
not shammin’ drunk. I on’y wish
I was, for I’m three sheets in the wind at this
minute, an’ I’ve a splittin’ headache
due i’ the mornin’. The way as you’ve
got to find out whether I’m fair an’ above-board
is to look me straight in the face an’ don’t
wink. If that don’t settle the question,
p’r’aps it’ll convince you w’en
I tells you that I don’t care a rap whether
you go back to that there grog-shop or not. Only
I’ll clear my conscience leastways,
wot’s left of it by tellin’
ye that if you do you you’ll
wish as how you hadn’t supposin’
they leave you the power to wish anything at all.”
“Well, I believe you are a true man, Mister
“Don’t Mister me, mate,” interrupted
“My name’s Jack Molloy,
at your service, an’ that name don’t require
no handle either Mister or Esquire to
prop it up.”
The way in which the sailor squared
his broad shoulders when he said this rendered it
necessary to prop himself up. Seeing which, Miles
afforded the needful aid by taking his arm in a friendly
“But come, let us go back,”
he said. “I must pay for my beer, you
“Your beer is paid for, young
man,” said Molloy, stopping and refusing to
move. “I paid for it, so you’ve
on’y got to settle with me. Besides,
if you go back you’re done for. And you’ve
no call to go back to say farewell to your dear friend
Sloper, for he’ll on’y grieve over the
loss of your tin. As to the unpurliteness o’
the partin’ he won’t break
his heart over that. No you’ll
come wi’ me down to the Sailors’ Welcome
near the dock-gates, where you can get a good bed for
sixpence a night, a heavy blow-out for tenpence, with
a splendid readin’-room, full o’ rockin’
chairs, an’ all the rest of it for nothin’.
An there’s a lavatory that’s
the name that they give to a place for cleanin’
of yourself up a lavatory where
you can wash yourself, if you like, till your skin
comes off! W’en I first putt up at the
Welcome, the messmate as took me there said
to me, says he, `Jack,’ says he, `you was always
fond o’ water.’ `Right you are,’
says I. `Well,’ says he, `there’s a place
in the Sailors’ Welcome where you can
wash yourself all day, if you like, for nothing!’
“I do b’lieve it was that
as indooced me to give in. I went an’ saw
this lavatory, an’ I was so took up with it that
I washed my hands in every bason in the place one
arter the other an’ used up ever so
much soap, an’ would you believe
it? my hands wasn’t clean after all!
Yes, it’s one the wery best things in Portsm’uth,
is Miss Robinson’s Welcome ”
“Miss Robinson again!” exclaimed Miles.
“Ay wot have you
got to find fault wi’ Miss Robinson?” demanded
the sailor sternly.
“No fault to find at all,”
replied Miles, suffering himself to be hurried away
by his new friend; “but wherever I have gone
since arriving in Portsmouth her name has cropped
“In Portsmouth!” echoed
the sailor. “Let me tell you, young man,
that wherever you go all over the world, if there’s
a British soldier there, Miss Sarah Robinson’s
name will be sure to crop up. Why, don’t
you know that she’s `The Soldiers’ Friend’?”
“I’m afraid I must confess
to ignorance on the point yet, stay, now
you couple her name with `The Soldier’s Friend,’
I have got a faint remembrance of having heard it
before. Have I not heard of a Miss Weston, too,
in connection with a work of some sort among sailors?”
“Ay, no doubt ye have.
She has a grand Institoot in Portsm’uth too,
but she goes in for sailors only all
over the kingdom w’ereas Miss Robinson
goes in for soldiers an’ sailors both, though
mainly for the soldiers. She set agoin’
the Sailors’ Welcome before Miss Weston
began in Portsm’uth, an’ so she keeps it
up, but there ain’t no opposition or rivalry.
Their aims is pretty much alike, an’ so they
keep stroke together wi’ the oars. But
I’ll tell you more about that when you get inside.
Here we are! There’s the dock-gates, you
see, and that’s Queen Street, an’ the
Welcome’s close at hand. It’s
a teetotal house, you know. All Miss Robinson’s
Institoots is that.”
“Indeed! How comes it,
then, that a man excuse me `three
sheets in the wind,’ can gain admittance?”
“Oh! as to that, any sailor
or soldier may get admittance, even if he’s
as drunk as a fiddler, if he on’y behaves his-self.
But they won’t supply drink on the premises,
or allow it to be brought in ’cept
inside o’ you, of coorse. Cause why? you
can’t help that leastwise not without
the help of a stomach-pump. Plenty o’ men
who ain’t abstainers go to sleep every night
at the Welcome, ’cause they find the beds
and other things so comfortable. In fact, some
hard topers have been indooced to take the pledge
in consekince o’ what they’ve heard an’
seen in this Welcome, though they came at first
only for the readin’-room an’ beds.
Here, let me look at you under this here lamp.
Yes. You’ll do. You’re something
like a sea-dog already. You won’t object
to change hats wi’ me?”
“Why?” asked Miles, somewhat amused.
“Never you mind that, mate.
You just putt yourself under my orders if you’d
sail comfortably before the wind. I’ll
arrange matters, an’ you can square up in the
As Miles saw no particular reason
for objecting to this fancy of his eccentric friend,
he exchanged his soft cap for the sailor’s straw
hat, and they entered the Welcome together.