When London Burned by G. A. Henty
Chapter I. Fatherless
Lad stood looking out of the dormer window in a scantily furnished attic in the high-pitched roof of a house in Holborn, in September 1664. Numbers of persons were traversing the street below, many of them going out through the bars, fifty yards away, into the fields beyond, where some sports were being held that morning, while country people were coming in with their baskets from the villages of Highgate and Hampstead, Tyburn and Bayswater. But the lad noted nothing that was going on; his eyes were filled with tears, and his thoughts were in the little room behind him; for here, coffined in readiness for burial, lay the body of his father.
Sir Aubrey Shenstone had not been a good father in any sense of the word. He had not been harsh or cruel, but he had altogether neglected his son. Beyond the virtues of loyalty and courage, he possessed few others. He had fought, as a young man, for Charles, and even among the Cavaliers who rode behind Prince Rupert was noted for reckless bravery. When, on the fatal field of Worcester, the last hopes of the Royalists were crushed, he had effected his escape to France and taken up his abode at Dunkirk. His estates had been forfeited; and after spending the proceeds of his wife's jewels and those he had carried about with him in case fortune went against the cause for which he fought, he sank lower and lower, and had for years lived on the scanty pension allowed by Louis to the King and his adherents.
Sir Aubrey had been one of the wild, reckless spirits whose conduct did much towards setting the people of England against the cause of Charles. He gambled and drank, interlarded his conversation with oaths, and despised as well as hated the Puritans against whom he fought. Misfortune did not improve him; he still drank when he had money to do so, gambled for small sums in low taverns with men of his own kind, and quarrelled and fought on the smallest provocation. Had it not been for his son he would have taken service in the army of some foreign Power; but he could not take the child about with him, nor could he leave it behind.
Sir Aubrey was not altogether without good points. He would divide his last crown with a comrade poorer than himself. In the worst of times he was as cheerful as when money was plentiful, making a joke of his necessities and keeping a brave face to the world.
Wholly neglected by his father, who spent the greater portion of his time abroad, Cyril would have fared badly indeed had it not been for the kindness of Lady Parton, the wife of a Cavalier of very different type to Sir Aubrey. He had been an intimate friend of Lord Falkland, and, like that nobleman, had drawn his sword with the greatest reluctance, and only when he saw that Parliament was bent upon overthrowing the other two estates in the realm and constituting itself the sole authority in England. After the execution of Charles he had retired to France, and did not take part in the later risings, but lived a secluded life with his wife and children. The eldest of these was of the same age as Cyril; and as the latter's mother had been a neighbour of hers before marriage, Lady Parton promised her, on her death-bed, to look after the child, a promise that she faithfully kept.
Sir John Parton had always been adverse to the association of his boy with the son of Sir Aubrey Shenstone; but he had reluctantly yielded to his wife's wishes, and Cyril passed the greater portion of his time at their house, sharing the lessons Harry received from an English clergyman who had been expelled from his living by the fanatics of Parliament. He was a good and pious man, as well as an excellent scholar, and under his teaching, aided by the gentle precepts of Lady Parton, and the strict but kindly rule of her husband, Cyril received a training of a far better kind than he would ever have been likely to obtain had he been brought up in his father's house near Norfolk. Sir Aubrey exclaimed sometimes that the boy was growing up a little Puritan, and had he taken more interest in his welfare would undoubtedly have withdrawn him from the healthy influences that were benefiting him so greatly; but, with the usual acuteness of children, Cyril soon learnt that any allusion to his studies or his life at Sir John Parton's was disagreeable to his father, and therefore seldom spoke of them.
Sir Aubrey was never, even when under the influence of his potations, unkind to Cyril. The boy bore a strong likeness to his mother, whom his father had, in his rough way, really loved passionately. He seldom spoke even a harsh word to him, and although he occasionally expressed his disapproval of the teaching he was receiving, was at heart not sorry to see the boy growing up so different from himself; and Cyril, in spite of his father's faults, loved him. When Sir Aubrey came back with unsteady step, late at night, and threw himself on his pallet, Cyril would say to himself, "Poor father! How different he would have been had it not been for his misfortunes! He is to be pitied rather than blamed!" And so, as years went on, in spite of the difference between their natures, there had grown up a sort of fellowship between the two; and of an evening sometimes, when his father's purse was so low that he could not indulge in his usual stoup of wine at the tavern, they would sit together while Sir Aubrey talked of his fights and adventures.
"As to the estates, Cyril," he said one day, "I don't know that Cromwell and his Roundheads have done you much harm. I should have run through them, lad--I should have diced them away years ago--and I am not sure but that their forfeiture has been a benefit to you. If the King ever gets his own, you may come to the estates; while, if I had had the handling of them, the usurers would have had such a grip on them that you would never have had a penny of the income."
"It doesn't matter, father," the boy replied. "I mean to be a soldier some day, as you have been, and I shall take service with some of the Protestant Princes of Germany; or, if I can't do that, I shall be able to work my way somehow."
"What can you work at, lad?" his father said, contemptuously.
"I don't know yet, father; but I shall find some work to do."
Sir Aubrey was about to burst into a tirade against work, but he checked himself. If Cyril never came into the estates he would have to earn his living somehow.
"All right, my boy. But do you stick to your idea of earning your living by your sword; it is a gentleman's profession, and I would rather see you eating dry bread as a soldier of fortune than prospering in some vile trading business."
Cyril never argued with his father, and he simply nodded an assent and then asked some question that turned Sir Aubrey's thoughts on other matters.
The news that Monk had declared for the King, and that Charles would speedily return to take his place on his father's throne, caused great excitement among the Cavaliers scattered over the Continent; and as soon as the matter was settled, all prepared to return to England, in the full belief that their evil days were over, and that they would speedily be restored to their former estates, with honours and rewards for their many sacrifices.
"I must leave you behind for a short time, Cyril," his father said to the boy, when he came in one afternoon. "I must be in London before the King arrives there, to join in his welcome home, and for the moment I cannot take you; I shall be busy from morning till night. Of course, in the pressure of things at first it will be impossible for the King to do everything at once, and it may be a few weeks before all these Roundheads can be turned out of the snug nests they have made for themselves, and the rightful owners come to their own again. As I have no friends in London, I should have nowhere to bestow you, until I can take you down with me to Norfolk to present you to our tenants, and you would be grievously in my way; but as soon as things are settled I will write to you or come over myself to fetch you. In the meantime I must think over where I had best place you. It will not matter for so short a time, but I would that you should be as comfortable as possible. Think it over yourself, and let me know if you have any wishes in the matter. Sir John Parton leaves at the end of the week, and ere another fortnight there will be scarce another Englishman left at Dunkirk."
"Don't you think you can take me with you, father?"
"Impossible," Sir Aubrey said shortly. "Lodgings will be at a great price in London, for the city will be full of people from all parts coming up to welcome the King home. I can bestow myself in a garret anywhere, but I could not leave you there all day. Besides, I shall have to get more fitting clothes, and shall have many expenses. You are at home here, and will not feel it dull for the short time you have to remain behind."
Cyril said no more, but went up, with a heavy heart, for his last day's lessons at the Partons'. Young as he was, he was accustomed to think for himself, for it was but little guidance he received from his father; and after his studies were over he laid the case before his master, Mr. Felton, and asked if he could advise him. Mr. Felton was himself in high spirits, and was hoping to be speedily reinstated in his living. He looked grave when Cyril told his story.
"I think it is a pity that your father, Sir Aubrey, does not take you over with him, for it will assuredly take longer to bring all these matters into order than he seems to think. However, that is his affair. I should think he could not do better for you than place you with the people where I lodge. You know them, and they are a worthy couple; the husband is, as you know, a fisherman, and you and Harry Parton have often been out with him in his boat, so it would not be like going among strangers. Continue your studies. I should be sorry to think that you were forgetting all that you have learnt. I will take you this afternoon, if you like, to my friend, the Cure of St. Ursula. Although we differ on religion we are good friends, and should you need advice on any matters he will give it to you, and may be of use in arranging for a passage for you to England, should your father not be able himself to come and fetch you."
Sir Aubrey at once assented to the plan when Cyril mentioned it to him, and a week later sailed for England; Cyril moving, with his few belongings, to the house of Jean Baudoin, who was the owner and master of one of the largest fishing-boats in Dunkirk. Sir Aubrey had paid for his board and lodgings for two months.
"I expect to be over to fetch you long before that, Cyril," he had said, "but it is as well to be on the safe side. Here are four crowns, which will furnish you with ample pocket-money. And I have arranged with your fencing-master for you to have lessons regularly, as before; it will not do for you to neglect so important an accomplishment, for which, as he tells me, you show great aptitude."
The two months passed. Cyril had received but one letter from his father. Although it expressed hopes of his speedy restoration to his estates, Cyril could see, by its tone, that his father was far from satisfied with the progress he had made in the matter. Madame Baudoin was a good and pious woman, and was very kind to the forlorn English boy; but when a fortnight over the two months had passed, Cyril could see that the fisherman was becoming anxious. Regularly, on his return from the fishing, he inquired if letters had arrived, and seemed much put out when he heard that there was no news. One day, when Cyril was in the garden that surrounded the cottage, he heard him say to his wife,--
"Well, I will say nothing about it until after the next voyage, and then if we don't hear, the boy must do something for his living. I can take him in the boat with me; he can earn his victuals in that way. If he won't do that, I shall wash my hands of him altogether, and he must shift for himself. I believe his father has left him with us for good. We were wrong in taking him only on the recommendation of Mr. Felton. I have been inquiring about his father, and hear little good of him."
Cyril, as soon as the fisherman had gone, stole up to his little room. He was but twelve years old, and he threw himself down on his bed and cried bitterly. Then a thought struck him; he went to his box, and took out from it a sealed parcel; on it was written, "To my son. This parcel is only to be opened should you find yourself in great need, Your Loving Mother." He remembered how she had placed it in his hands a few hours before her death, and had said to him,--
"Put this away, Cyril. I charge you let no one see it. Do not speak of it to anyone--not even to your father. Keep it as a sacred gift, and do not open it unless you are in sore need. It is for you, and you alone. It is the sole thing that I have to leave you; use it with discretion. I fear that hard times will come upon you."
Cyril felt that his need could hardly be sorer than it was now, and without hesitation he broke the seals, and opened the packet. He found first a letter directed to himself. It began,--
"MY DARLING CYRIL,--I trust that it will be many years before you open this parcel and read these words. I have left the enclosed as a parting gift to you. I know not how long this exile may last, or whether you will ever be able to return to England. But whether you do or not, it may well be that the time will arrive when you may find yourself in sore need. Your father has been a loving husband to me, and will, I am sure, do what he can for you; but he is not provident in his habits, and may not, after he is left alone, be as careful in his expenditure as I have tried to be. I fear then that the time will come when you will be in need of money, possibly even in want of the necessaries of life. All my other trinkets I have given to him; but the one enclosed, which belonged to my mother, I leave to you. It is worth a good deal of money, and this it is my desire that you shall spend upon yourself. Use it wisely, my son. If, when you open this, you are of age to enter the service of a foreign Prince, as is, I know, the intention of your father, it will provide you with a suitable outfit. If, as is possible, you may lose your father by death or otherwise while you are still young, spend it on your education, which is the best of all heritages. Should your father be alive when you open this, I pray you not to inform him of it. The money, in his hands, would last but a short time, and might, I fear, be wasted. Think not that I am speaking or thinking hardly of him. All men, even the best, have their faults, and his is a carelessness as to money matters, and a certain recklessness concerning them; therefore, I pray you to keep it secret from him, though I do not say that you should not use the money for your common good, if it be needful; only, in that case, I beg you will not inform him as to what money you have in your possession, but use it carefully and prudently for the household wants, and make it last as long as may be. My good friend, Lady Parton, if still near you, will doubtless aid you in disposing of the jewels to the best advantage. God bless you, my son! This is the only secret I ever had from your father, but for your good I have hidden this one thing from him, and I pray that this deceit, which is practised for your advantage, may be forgiven me. YOUR LOVING MOTHER."
It was some time before Cyril opened the parcel; it contained a jewel-box in which was a necklace of pearls. After some consideration he took this to the Cure of St. Ursula, and, giving him his mother's letter to read, asked him for his advice as to its disposal.
"Your mother was a thoughtful and pious woman," the good priest said, after he had read the letter, "and has acted wisely in your behalf. The need she foresaw might come, has arisen, and you are surely justified in using her gift. I will dispose of this trinket for you; it is doubtless of considerable value. If it should be that your father speedily sends for you, you ought to lay aside the money for some future necessity. If he does not come for some time, as may well be--for, from the news that comes from England, it is like to be many months before affairs are settled--then draw from it only such amounts as are needed for your living and education. Study hard, my son, for so will you best be fulfilling the intentions of your mother. If you like, I will keep the money in my hands, serving it out to you as you need it; and in order that you may keep the matter a secret, I will myself go to Baudoin, and tell him that he need not be disquieted as to the cost of your maintenance, for that I have money in hand with which to discharge your expenses, so long as you may remain with him."
The next day the Cure informed Cyril that he had disposed of the necklace for fifty louis. Upon this sum Cyril lived for two years.
Things had gone very hardly with Sir Aubrey Shenstone. The King had a difficult course to steer. To have evicted all those who had obtained possession of the forfeited estates of the Cavaliers would have been to excite a deep feeling of resentment among the Nonconformists. In vain Sir Aubrey pressed his claims, in season and out of season. He had no powerful friends to aid him; his conduct had alienated the men who could have assisted him, and, like so many other Cavaliers who had fought and suffered for Charles I., Sir Aubrey Shenstone found himself left altogether in the cold. For a time he was able to keep up a fair appearance, as he obtained loans from Prince Rupert and other Royalists whom he had known in the old days, and who had been more fortunate than himself; but the money so obtained lasted but a short time, and it was not long before he was again in dire straits.
Cyril had from the first but little hope that his father would recover his estates. He had, shortly before his father left France, heard a conversation between Sir John Parton and a gentleman who was in the inner circle of Charles's advisers. The latter had said,--
"One of the King's great difficulties will be to satisfy the exiles. Undoubtedly, could he consult his own inclinations only, he would on his return at once reinstate all those who have suffered in their estates from their loyalty to his father and himself. But this will be impossible. It was absolutely necessary for him, in his proclamation at Breda, to promise an amnesty for all offences, liberty of conscience and an oblivion as to the past, and he specially says that all questions of grants, sales and purchases of land, and titles, shall be referred to Parliament. The Nonconformists are at present in a majority, and although it seems that all parties are willing to welcome the King back, you may be sure that no Parliament will consent to anything like a general disturbance of the possessors of estates formerly owned by Royalists. In a vast number of cases, the persons to whom such grants were made disposed of them by sale to others, and it would be as hard on them to be ousted as it is upon the original proprietors to be kept out of their possession. Truly it is a most difficult position, and one that will have to be approached with great judgment, the more so since most of those to whom the lands were granted were generals, officers, and soldiers of the Parliament, and Monk would naturally oppose any steps to the detriment of his old comrades.
"I fear there will be much bitter disappointment among the exiles, and that the King will be charged with ingratitude by those who think that he has only to sign an order for their reinstatement, whereas Charles will have himself a most difficult course to steer, and will have to govern himself most circumspectly, so as to give offence to none of the governing parties. As to his granting estates, or dispossessing their holders, he will have no more power to do so than you or I. Doubtless some of the exiles will be restored to their estates; but I fear that the great bulk are doomed to disappointment. At any rate, for a time no extensive changes can be made, though it may be that in the distance, when the temper of the nation at large is better understood, the King will be able to do something for those who suffered in the cause.
"It was all very well for Cromwell, who leant solely on the Army, to dispense with a Parliament, and to govern far more autocratically than James or Charles even dreamt of doing; but the Army that supported Cromwell would certainly not support Charles. It is composed for the most part of stern fanatics, and will be the first to oppose any attempt of the King to override the law. No doubt it will erelong be disbanded; but you will see that Parliament will then recover the authority of which Cromwell deprived it; and Charles is a far wiser man than his father, and will never set himself against the feeling of the country. Certainly, anything like a general reinstatement of the men who have been for the last ten years haunting the taverns of the Continent is out of the question; they would speedily create such a revulsion of public opinion as might bring about another rebellion. Hyde, staunch Royalist as he is, would never suffer the King to make so grievous an error; nor do I think for a moment that Charles, who is shrewd and politic, and above all things a lover of ease and quiet, would think of bringing such a nest of hornets about his ears."
When, after his return to England, it became evident that Sir Aubrey had but small chance of reinstatement in his lands, his former friends began to close their purses and to refuse to grant further loans, and he was presently reduced to straits as severe as those he had suffered during his exile. The good spirits that had borne him up so long failed now, and he grew morose and petulant. His loyalty to the King was unshaken; Charles had several times granted him audiences, and had assured him that, did it rest with him, justice should be at once dealt to him, but that he was practically powerless in the matter, and the knight's resentment was concentrated upon Hyde, now Lord Clarendon, and the rest of the King's advisers. He wrote but seldom to Cyril; he had no wish to have the boy with him until he could take him down with him in triumph to Norfolk, and show him to the tenants as his heir. Living from hand to mouth as he did, he worried but little as to how Cyril was getting on.
"The lad has fallen on his feet somehow," he said, "and he is better where he is than he would be with me. I suppose when he wants money he will write and say so, though where I should get any to send to him I know not. Anyhow, I need not worry about him at present."
Cyril, indeed, had written to him soon after the sale of the necklace, telling him that he need not distress himself about his condition, for that he had obtained sufficient money for his present necessities from the sale of a small trinket his mother had given him before her death, and that when this was spent he should doubtless find some means of earning his living until he could rejoin him. His father never inquired into the matter, though he made a casual reference to it in his next letter, saying that he was glad Cyril had obtained some money, as it would, at the moment, have been inconvenient to him to send any over.
Cyril worked assiduously at the school that had been recommended to him by the Cure, and at the end of two years he had still twenty louis left. He had several conversations with his adviser as to the best way of earning his living.
"I do not wish to spend any more, Father," he said, "and would fain keep this for some future necessity."
The Cure agreed with him as to this, and, learning from his master that he was extremely quick at figures and wrote an excellent hand, he obtained a place for him with one of the principal traders of the town. He was to receive no salary for a year, but was to learn book-keeping and accounts. Although but fourteen, the boy was so intelligent and zealous that his employer told the Cure that he found him of real service, and that he was able to entrust some of his books entirely to his charge.
Six months after entering his service, however, Cyril received a letter from his father, saying that he believed his affairs were on the point of settlement, and therefore wished him to come over in the first ship sailing. He enclosed an order on a house at Dunkirk for fifty francs, to pay his passage. His employer parted with him with regret, and the kind Cure bade him farewell in terms of real affection, for he had come to take a great interest in him.
"At any rate, Cyril," he said, "your time here has not been wasted, and your mother's gift has been turned to as much advantage as even she can have hoped that it would be. Should your father's hopes be again disappointed, and fresh delays arise, you may, with the practice you have had, be able to earn your living in London. There must be there, as in France, many persons in trade who have had but little education, and you may be able to obtain employment in keeping the books of such people, who are, I believe, more common in England than here. Here are the sixteen louis that still remain; put them aside, Cyril, and use them only for urgent necessity."
Cyril, on arriving in London, was heartily welcomed by his father, who had, for the moment, high hopes of recovering his estates. These, however, soon faded, and although Sir Aubrey would not allow it, even to himself, no chance remained of those Royalists, who had, like him, parted with their estates for trifling sums, to be spent in the King's service, ever regaining possession of them.
It was not long before Cyril perceived that unless he himself obtained work of some sort they would soon be face to face with actual starvation. He said nothing to his father, but started out one morning on a round of visits among the smaller class of shopkeepers, offering to make up their books and write out their bills and accounts for a small remuneration. As he had a frank and pleasant face, and his foreign bringing up had given him an ease and politeness of manner rare among English lads of the day, it was not long before he obtained several clients. To some of the smaller class of traders he went only for an hour or two, once a week, while others required their bills and accounts to be made out daily. The pay was very small, but it sufficed to keep absolute want from the door. When he told his father of the arrangements he had made, Sir Aubrey at first raged and stormed; but he had come, during the last year or two, to recognise the good sense and strong will of his son, and although he never verbally acquiesced in what he considered a degradation, he offered no actual opposition to a plan that at least enabled them to live, and furnished him occasionally with a few groats with which he could visit a tavern.
So things had gone on for more than a year. Cyril was now sixteen, and his punctuality, and the neatness of his work, had been so appreciated by the tradesmen who first employed him, that his time was now fully occupied, and that at rates more remunerative than those he had at first obtained. He kept the state of his resources to himself, and had no difficulty in doing this, as his father never alluded to the subject of his work. Cyril knew that, did he hand over to him all the money he made, it would be wasted in drink or at cards; consequently, he kept the table furnished as modestly as at first, and regularly placed after dinner on the corner of the mantel a few coins, which his father as regularly dropped into his pocket.
A few days before the story opens, Sir Aubrey had, late one evening, been carried upstairs, mortally wounded in a brawl; he only recovered consciousness a few minutes before his death.
"You have been a good lad, Cyril," he said faintly, as he feebly pressed the boy's hand; "far better than I deserve to have had. Don't cry, lad; you will get on better without me, and things are just as well as they are. I hope you will come to your estates some day; you will make a better master than I should ever have done. I hope that in time you will carry out your plan of entering some foreign service; there is no chance here. I don't want you to settle down as a city scrivener. Still, do as you like, lad, and unless your wishes go with mine, think no further of service."
"I would rather be a soldier, father. I only undertook this work because I could see nothing else."
"That is right, my boy, that is right. I know you won't forget that you come of a race of gentlemen."
He spoke but little after that. A few broken words came from his lips that showed that his thoughts had gone back to old times. "Boot and saddle," he murmured. "That is right. Now we are ready for them. Down with the prick-eared knaves! God and King Charles!" These were the last words he spoke.
Cyril had done all that was necessary. He had laid by more than half his earnings for the last eight or nine months. One of his clients, an undertaker, had made all the necessary preparations for the funeral, and in a few hours his father would be borne to his last resting-place. As he stood at the open window he thought sadly over the past, and of his father's wasted life. Had it not been for the war he might have lived and died a country gentleman. It was the war, with its wild excitements, that had ruined him. What was there for him to do in a foreign country, without resource or employment, having no love for reading, but to waste his life as he had done? Had his wife lived it might have been different. Cyril had still a vivid remembrance of his mother, and, though his father had but seldom spoken to him of her, he knew that he had loved her, and that, had she lived, he would never have given way to drink as he had done of late years.
To his father's faults he could not be blind; but they stood for nothing now. He had been his only friend, and of late they had been drawn closer to each other in their loneliness; and although scarce a word of endearment had passed between them, he knew that his father had cared for him more than was apparent in his manner.
A few hours later, Sir Aubrey Shenstone was laid to rest in a little graveyard outside the city walls. Cyril was the only mourner; and when it was over, instead of going back to his lonely room, he turned away and wandered far out through the fields towards Hampstead, and then sat himself down to think what he had best do. Another three or four years must pass before he could try to get service abroad. When the time came he should find Sir John Parton, and beg him to procure for him some letter of introduction to the many British gentlemen serving abroad. He had not seen him since he came to England. His father had met him, but had quarrelled with him upon Sir John declining to interest himself actively to push his claims, and had forbidden Cyril to go near those who had been so kind to him.
The boy had felt it greatly at first, but he came, after a time, to see that it was best so. It seemed to him that he had fallen altogether out of their station in life when the hope of his father's recovering his estates vanished, and although he was sure of a kindly reception from Lady Parton, he shrank from going there in his present position. They had done so much for him already, that the thought that his visit might seem to them a sort of petition for further benefits was intolerable to him.
For the present, the question in his mind was whether he should continue at his present work, which at any rate sufficed to keep him, or should seek other employment. He would greatly have preferred some life of action,--something that would fit him better to bear the fatigues and hardships of war,--but he saw no prospect of obtaining any such position.
"I should be a fool to throw up what I have," he said to himself at last. "I will stick to it anyhow until some opportunity offers; but the sooner I leave it the better. It was bad enough before; it will be worse now. If I had but a friend or two it would not be so hard; but to have no one to speak to, and no one to think about, when work is done, will be lonely indeed."
At any rate, he determined to change his room as soon as possible. It mattered little where he went so that it was a change. He thought over various tradesmen for whom he worked. Some of them might have an attic, he cared not how small, that they might let him have in lieu of paying him for his work. Even if they never spoke to him, it would be better to be in a house where he knew something of those downstairs, than to lodge in one where he was an utter stranger to all. He had gone round to the shops where he worked, on the day after his father's death, to explain that he could not come again until after the funeral, and he resolved that next morning he would ask each in turn whether he could obtain a lodging with them.
The sun was already setting when he rose from the bank on which he had seated himself, and returned to the city. The room did not feel so lonely to him as it would have done had he not been accustomed to spending the evenings alone. He took out his little hoard and counted it. After paying the expenses of the funeral there would still remain sufficient to keep him for three or four months should he fall ill, or, from any cause, lose his work. He had one good suit of clothes that had been bought on his return to England,--when his father thought that they would assuredly be going down almost immediately to take possession of the old Hall,--and the rest were all in fair condition.
The next day he began his work again; he had two visits to pay of an hour each, and one of two hours, and the spare time between these he filled up by calling at two or three other shops to make up for the arrears of work during the last few days.
The last place he had to visit was that at which he had the longest task to perform. It was at a ship-chandler's in Tower Street, a large and dingy house, the lower portion being filled with canvas, cordage, barrels of pitch and tar, candles, oil, and matters of all sorts needed by ship-masters, including many cannon of different sizes, piles of balls, anchors, and other heavy work, all of which were stowed away in a yard behind it. The owner of this store was a one-armed man. His father had kept it before him, but he himself, after working there long enough to become a citizen and a member of the Ironmongers' Guild, had quarrelled with his father and had taken to the sea. For twenty years he had voyaged to many lands, principally in ships trading in the Levant, and had passed through a great many adventures, including several fights with the Moorish corsairs. In the last voyage he took, he had had his arm shot off by a ball from a Greek pirate among the Islands. He had long before made up his differences with his father, but had resisted the latter's entreaties that he should give up the sea and settle down at the shop; on his return after this unfortunate voyage he told him that he had come home to stay.
"I shall be able to help about the stores after a while," he said, "but I shall never be the man I was on board ship. It will be hard work to take to measuring out canvas and to weighing iron, after a free life on the sea, but I don't so much mind now I have had my share of adventures; though I dare say I should have gone on for a few more years if that rascally ball had not carried away my arm. I don't know but that it is best as it is, for the older I got the harder I should find it to fall into new ways and to settle down here."
"Anyhow, I am glad you are back, David," his father said.
"You are forty-five, and though I don't say it would not have been better if you had remained here from the first, you have learnt many things you would not have learnt here. You know just the sort of things that masters of ships require, and what canvas and cables and cordage will suit their wants. Besides, customers like to talk with men of their own way of thinking, and sailors more, I think, than other men. You know, too, most of the captains who sail up the Mediterranean, and may be able to bring fresh custom into the shop. Therefore, do not think that you will be of no use to me. As to your wife and child, there is plenty of room for them as well as for you, and it will be better for them here, with you always at hand, than it would be for them to remain over at Rotherhithe and only to see you after the shutters are up."
Eight years later Captain Dave, as he was always called, became sole owner of the house and business. A year after he did so he was lamenting to a friend the trouble that he had with his accounts.
"My father always kept that part of the business in his own hands," he said, "and I find it a mighty heavy burden. Beyond checking a bill of lading, or reading the marks on the bales and boxes, I never had occasion to read or write for twenty years, and there has not been much more of it for the last fifteen; and although I was a smart scholar enough in my young days, my fingers are stiff with hauling at ropes and using the marling-spike, and my eyes are not so clear as they used to be, and it is no slight toil and labour to me to make up an account for goods sold. John Wilkes, my head shopman, is a handy fellow; he was my boatswain in the Kate, and I took him on when we found that the man who had been my father's right hand for twenty years had been cheating him all along. We got on well enough as long as I could give all my time in the shop; but he is no good with the pen--all he can do is to enter receipts and sales.
"He has a man under him, who helps him in measuring out the right length of canvas and cables or for weighing a chain or an anchor, and knows enough to put down the figures; but that is all. Then there are the two smiths and the two apprentices; they don't count in the matter. Robert Ashford, the eldest apprentice, could do the work, but I have no fancy for him; he does not look one straight in the face as one who is honest and above board should do. I shall have to keep a clerk, and I know what it will be--he will be setting me right, and I shall not feel my own master; he will be out of place in my crew altogether. I never liked pursers; most of them are rogues. Still, I suppose it must come to that."
"I have a boy come in to write my bills and to make up my accounts, who would be just the lad for you, Captain Dave. He is the son of a broken-down Cavalier, but he is a steady, honest young fellow, and I fancy his pen keeps his father, who is a roystering blade, and spends most of his time at the taverns. The boy comes to me for an hour, twice a week; he writes as good a hand as any clerk and can reckon as quickly, and I pay him but a groat a week, which was all he asked."
"Tell him to come to me, then. I should want him every day, if he could manage it, and it would be the very thing for me."
"I am sure you would like him," the other said; "he is a good-looking young fellow, and his face speaks for him without any recommendation. I was afraid at first that he would not do for me; I thought there was too much of the gentleman about him. He has good manners, and a gentle sort of way. He has been living in France all his life, and though he has never said anything about his family--indeed he talks but little, he just comes in and does his work and goes away--I fancy his father was one of King Charles's men and of good blood."
"Well, that doesn't sound so well," the sailor said, "but anyhow I should like to have a look at him."
"He comes to me to-morrow at eleven and goes at twelve," the man said, "and I will send him round to you when he has done."
Cyril had gone round the next morning to the ships' store.
"So you are the lad that works for my neighbour Anderson?" Captain Dave said, as he surveyed him closely. "I like your looks, lad, but I doubt whether we shall get on together. I am an old sailor, you know, and I am quick of speech and don't stop to choose my words, so if you are quick to take offence it would be of no use your coming to me."
"I don't think I am likely to take offence," Cyril said quietly; "and if we don't get on well together, sir, you will only have to tell me that you don't want me any longer; but I trust you will not have often the occasion to use hard words, for at any rate I will do my best to please you."
"You can't say more, lad. Well, let us have a taste of your quality. Come in here," and he led him into a little room partitioned off from the shop. "There, you see," and he opened a book, "is the account of the sales and orders yesterday; the ready-money sales have got to be entered in that ledger with the red cover; the sales where no money passed have to be entered to the various customers or ships in the ledger. I have made out a list--here it is--of twelve accounts that have to be drawn out from that ledger and sent in to customers. You will find some of them are of somewhat long standing, for I have been putting off that job. Sit you down here. When you have done one or two of them I will have a look at your work, and if that is satisfactory we will have a talk as to what hours you have got disengaged, and what days in the week will suit you best."
It was two hours before Captain Dave came in again. Cyril had just finished the work; some of the accounts were long ones, and the writing was so crabbed that it took him some time to decipher it.
"Well, how are you getting on, lad?" the Captain asked.
"I have this moment finished the last account."
"What! Do you mean to say that you have done them all! Why, it would have taken me all my evenings for a week. Now, hand me the books; it is best to do things ship-shape."
He first compared the list of the sales with the entries, and then Cyril handed him the twelve accounts he had drawn up. Captain David did not speak until he had finished looking through them.
"I would not have believed all that work could have been done in two hours," he said, getting up from his chair. "Orderly and well written, and without a blot. The King's secretary could not have done better! Well, now you have seen the list of sales for a day, and I take it that be about the average, so if you come three times a week you will always have two days' sales to enter in the ledger. There are a lot of other books my father used to keep, but I have never had time to bother myself about them, and as I have got on very well so far, I do not see any occasion for you to do so, for my part it seems to me that all these books are only invented by clerks to give themselves something to do to fill up their time. Of course, there won't be accounts to send out every day. Do you think with two hours, three times a week, you could keep things straight?"
"I should certainly think so, sir, but I can hardly say until I try, because it seems to me that there must be a great many items, and I can't say how long it will take entering all the goods received under their proper headings; but if the books are thoroughly made up now, I should think I could keep them all going."
"That they are not," Captain David said ruefully; "they are all horribly in arrears. I took charge of them myself three years ago, and though I spend three hours every evening worrying over them, they get further and further in arrears. Look at those files over there," and he pointed to three long wires, on each of which was strung a large bundle of papers; "I am afraid you will have to enter them all up before you can get matters into ship-shape order. The daily sale book is the only one that has been kept up regularly."
"But these accounts I have made up, sir? Probably in those files there are many other goods supplied to the same people."
"Of course there are, lad, though I did not think of it before. Well, we must wait, then, until you can make up the arrears a bit, though I really want to get some money in."
"Well, sir, I might write at the bottom of each bill 'Account made up to,' and then put in the date of the latest entry charged."
"That would do capitally, lad--I did not think of that. I see you will be of great use to me. I can buy and sell, for I know the value of the goods I deal in; but as to accounts, they are altogether out of my way. And now, lad, what do you charge?"
"I charge a groat for two hours' work, sir; but if I came to you three times a week, I would do it for a little less."
"No, lad, I don't want to beat you down; indeed, I don't think you charge enough. However, let us say, to begin with, three groats a week."
This had been six weeks before Sir Aubrey Shenstone's death; and in the interval Cyril had gradually wiped off all the arrears, and had all the books in order up to date, to the astonishment of his employer.