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Wilson's Border Tales
An Old Tar's Yarn


Some years ago, half a dozen friends and myself visited Greenwich Hospital. Our conductor was a weather-beaten middle-aged tar, whose larboard glim had been douced since boyhood with the small-pox, and his starboard fin was carried away by a chain shot. By the gold lace which he sported on his chapeau, the sleeves of his coat, &c., he appeared to hold the rank of boatswain in the college. He was a communicative old boy; and we felt indebted to his civilities. He, however, spurned the idea of being rewarded with money. "No, blow it!" he exclaimed, "not a tissey, not a single brown—but a drop of grog, gemmen, if you please." So saying, he led the way to a neighbouring tavern, and entrenched himself in a corner of the parlour, with which he seemed intimately familiar. I placed myself at his elbow with the intention of drawing from him some favourite yarn. During the first glass he spoke only of the hospital; during the second, he advanced to actions and bombardments; but, as he finished the third, as if to induce us to call for a fourth, he said, "But it’s of no use talking about battles and them sort of things; gemmen, by your leave, I’ll tell you a bit of a story—it’s a story that has made many a brave fellow waste his salt water; and, by the way, I may say it’s about a countryman of your own, too—for Tom Beaumont was born in Newcastle, and he was a boy, man, and mate, and master of a Shields collier, many a long day.

During our last scuffle with the Yankees, I was master-gunner of as handsome a gun-brig as ever did credit to a dock-yard, or deeped a keel in the water. Love ye, it would have done your eyes good to have seen her skimming before the wind, and breasting the billows as gently as a boy’s first kiss, which only touches the cheek, and that’s all. Then we carried fourteen as pretty guns as ever drove a bullet through a Frenchman’s timbers. Old Tom Beaumont—(God bless him!)—was our commander, and a better soul never cracked a biscuit. He was a hardy seaman to the backbone, an up-right and down-straight fear-nothing; but the kindest-hearted fellow in the world, for all that.

Well, gemmen, as I’m saving—Tom (we always called him Tom, because we loved him) married young, and, for two years he was the happiest dog alive. He had a wife as pretty as an angel, and as good as himself; and a little rogue their son— the very picture of his own face in a button—who was beginning to climb upon his knee and pull his whiskers. Man alive couldn’t desire more—the very scene might make a Dutchman dance, or a Russian happy. After two years fair wind and weather, however, in all mortal reckoning it was reasonable to except squalls. Beaumont had not then joined the navy in a regular way; and at that period he found it necessary to proceed to America, where he had entered into extensive mercantile speculations. Finding that he should be compelled to remain there much longer than he dreamed of, he sent for his wife and child. They sailed—but it proved a last voyage to a new world. However, gemmen, it’s a voyage we must all take, from the admiral down to the cabin boy—that’s one comfort; and may we, by the aid of a good chart, steer clear of the enemy’s leashore and brimstone shoals! Poor Tom’s inquiries were fruitless; no one ever heard of the vessel, and no one ever doubted that all hands were as low as Davy Jones. It was like a shot between wind and water to Beaumont; but he bore up after a way, though it had shivered his mainsheet.

Well,. As I was saying, it was during our last scuffle with the Yankees, more than twenty years after Tom had lost his wife and child—we were returning with the little brig from the West Indies, when I was roused in my hammock by a bustle upon deck, and the cry of ‘A Yankee!’ I sprang up at the glorious news, and through the clear moonlight perceived an impudent-looking lubber bearing upon us full sail, and displaying American colours. ‘Haul to, my lads!’ cried old Beaumont; let them smell powder for breakfast.’ Small time was lost in obeying the order; for we were always in readiness for welcome company. Twice they attempted to board us, but were driven back for their kindness with some score of broken heads, and the loss of some hundred American fingers. After two hours’ hard peppering, Beaumont, seizing a lucky moment, ordered us to throw in a broadside. Every shot told: the Yankee began to stagger, and in a few minutes gave evidence that her swimming days were ended. ‘‘Vast firing!’ cried Beaumont; let us save a brave enemy.’ He repeated the word enemy; and I heard him mutter ‘flesh of our own flesh.’

The vessel was riddled like the lid of a pepper-box, and sank so rapidly that we were able to save only thirty of her crew. Their captain was among the number, and a gallant looking youth he was; but in their last attempt to board us, Beaumont had wounded him on the shoulder with his cutlass. The blood ran down his arm, and poured from his fingers; yet the brave soul never whispered it, nor made a wry face upon the matter, but stood and saw his countrymen attended to. Nature, however, gave way, and he fell upon the deck. Beaumont eagerly raised him in his arms, and conveyed him to his own bed. On examining his wound, the surgeon took the portrait of a beautiful lady from his breast, and handed it to the commander. Poor old Tom gazed upon it for a moment—he started—he uttered a sudden scream—I thought he had gone mad. ‘Do you remember that face?’ he exclaimed. How could I forget it!—to have seen it once was to remember it a hundred years—it was his wife’s! I won’t tire you with a long story," continued the narrator, "for it’s all true, and no yarn.

For several days the gallant young American lay delirious, as the doctor called it. But—I can’t describe it to you, gemmen—had you seen poor old Tom, during all this time! No, hang me, I can’t describe it! The youth also wore upon his finger a diamond ring, upon which were inscribed the names of Beaumont and his long-lost Eleanor. Flesh and blood could not stand the sight—there was the old man keeping watch by the bedside, night and day, weeping like a child, pacing the cabin floor, beating his breast—and sometimes snatching the hand of the poor sufferer to his lips, and calling him his murdered son, and himself the murderer. Then, he would doubt again, and doubt made him worse. At length the doctor declared the invalid out of danger, and said the commander might put to him any question he pleased. I wish I could tell you this scene; but I can’t. However, there sat the full, bursting hearted old boy, the big tears pouring down his cheeks, with the hand of the young American in his; and, sobbing like a child, he inquired, ‘Were you born an American?’ The youth trembled—his heart filled, and he wept, just like old Tom. ‘Alas!’ said he, ‘I know not; I have been educated an American. I only know that I was saved by the good old man who adoped me as his son, and who found me almost lifeless, in the arms of a dying woman, on the raft of a deserted wreck, which the winds had driven on shore. My unfortunate mother could only recommend me to his care, and died.’

The very heart and soul of the old tar wept. ‘And this portrait, and this ring?’ he exclaimed, breathless, and shaking like a yacht in a hurricane. ‘The portrait,’ replied the youth, ‘was a part of what my mother had saved from the wreck, and, as I was told by my foster-father, is a likeness of herself. The ring was taken from her finger, and from the engraving upon it, I have borne the name of Beaumont.’ ‘My son!—my own Tom!’’ child of my Eleanor!’ cried the happy old father, hugging him to his breast. Gemmen, you can imagine the rest," said our one-armed companion; and, raising the fourth glass to his lips, he added, "and by your permission here’s a health to old Tom Beaumont, and his son, Heaven bless them!"


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