Mr. Midshipman Easy

Chapter Six

In which Jack makes essay of his father’s sublime
philosophy and arrives very near to truth at last.

Frederick Marryat

THE next morning Master Jack Easy was not only very sore but very hungry, and as Mr. Bonnycastle informed him that he would not only have plenty of cane, but also no breakfast, if he did not learn his letters, Johnny had wisdom enough to say the whole alphabet, for which he received a great deal of praise, the which if he did not duly appreciate, he at all events infinitely preferred to beating. Mr. Bonnycastle perceived that he had conquered the boy by one hour’s well-timed severity. He therefore handed him over to the ushers in the school, and as they were equally empowered to administer the needful impulse, Johnny very soon became a very tractable boy.

It may be imagined that the absence of Johnny was severely felt at home, but such was not the case. In the first place, Dr Middleton had pointed out to Mrs. Easy that there was no flogging at the school, and that the punishment received by Johnny from his father would very likely be repeated—and in the next, although Mrs. Easy thought that she never could have survived the parting with her own son, she soon found out that she was much happier without him. A spoiled child is always a source of anxiety and worry, and after Johnny’s departure, Mrs. Easy found a quiet and repose much more suited to her disposition. Gradually she weaned herself from him, and, satisfied with seeing him occasionally and hearing the reports of Dr Middleton, she at last was quite reconciled to his being at school, and not coming back except during the holidays. John Easy made great progress; he had good natural abilities, and Mr. Easy rubbed his hands when he saw the doctor, saying, “Yes, let them have him for a year or two longer, and then I’ll finish him myself.” Each vacation he had attempted to instil into Johnny’s mind the equal rights of man. Johnny appeared to pay but little attention to his father’s discourses, but evidently showed that they were not altogether thrown away, as he helped himself to everything he wanted, without asking leave. And thus was our hero educated until he arrived at the age of sixteen, when he was a stout, good-looking boy, with plenty to say for himself,—indeed, when it suited his purpose, he could outtalk his father.

Nothing pleased Mr. Easy so much as Jack’s loquacity.—“That’s right; argue the point, Jack—argue the point, boy,” would he say, as Jack disputed with his mother. And then he would turn to the doctor, rubbing his hands, and observe, “Depend upon it, Jack will be a great, a very great man.” And then he would call Jack and give him a guinea for his cleverness; and at last Jack thought it a very clever thing to argue. He never would attempt to argue with Mr. Bonnycastle, because he was aware that Mr. Bonnycastle’s arguments were too strong for him, but he argued with all the boys until it ended in a fight which decided the point; and he sometimes argued with the ushers. In short, at the time we now speak of, which was at the breaking up of the Midsummer holidays, Jack was as full of argument as he was fond of it. He would argue the point to the point of a needle, and he would divide that point into as many as there were days of the year, and argue upon each. In short, there was no end to Jack’s arguing the point, although there seldom was point to his argument.

Jack had been fishing in the river, without any success, for a whole morning, and observed a large pond which had the appearance of being well stocked—he cleared the park palings, and threw in his line. He had pulled up several fine fish, when he was accosted by the proprietor, accompanied by a couple of keepers.

“May I request the pleasure of your name, young gentleman?” said the proprietor to Jack.

Now Jack was always urbane and polite.

“Certainly, sir; my name is Easy, very much at your service.”

“And you appear to me to be taking it very easy,” replied the gentleman. “Pray, sir, may I inquire whether you are aware that you are trespassing?”

“The word trespass, my dear sir,” replied Jack, “will admit of much argument, and I will divide it into three heads. It implies, accordng to the conventional meaning, coming without permission upon the land or property of another. Now, sir, the question may all be resolved in the following. Was not the world made for all? and has any one, or any portion of its inhabitants an exclusive right to claim any part of it, as his property? If you please, I have laid down the proposition, and we will now argue the point.”

The gentleman who accosted Jack had heard of Mr. Easy and his arguments; he was a humorist, and more inclined to laugh than to be angry; at the same time he considered it necessary to show Jack that under existing circumstances they were not tenable.

“But, Mr. Easy, allowing the trespass on the property to be venial, surely you do not mean to say that you are justified in taking my fish; I bought the fish, and stocked the pond, and have fed them ever since. You cannot deny but that they are private property, and that to take them is a theft?”

“That will again admit of much ratiocination, my dear sir,” replied Jack; “but—I beg your pardon, I have a fish.” Jack pulled up a large carp, much to the indignation of the keepers and to the amusement of their master, unhooked it, placed it in his basket, renewed his bait with the greatest sang froid, and then throwing in his line, resumed his discourse. “As I was observing, my dear sir,” continued Jack, “that will admit of much ratiocination. All the creatures of the earth were given to man for his use—man means mankind—they were never intended to be made a monopoly of. Water is also the gift of heaven, and meant for the use of all. We now come to the question how far the fish are your property. If the fish only bred on purpose to please you, and make you a present of their stock, it might then require a different line of argument; but as in breeding they only acted in obedience to an instinct with which they are endowed on purpose that they may supply man, I submit to you that you cannot prove these fish to be yours more than mine. As for feeding with the idea that they were your own, that is not an unusual case in this world, even when a man is giving bread and butter to his children. Further—but I have another bite—I beg your pardon, my dear sir. Ah! he’s off again—“

“Then, Mr. Easy, you mean to say that the world and its contents are made for all.”

“Exactly, sir, that is my father’s opinion, who is a very great philosopher.”

“How then does your father account for some possessing property and others being without it?”

“Because those who are the strongest have deprived those who are weaker.”

“But would not that be always the case even if we were in that state of general inheritance which you have supposed. For instance, allowing two men to chase the same animal, and both to come up to it at the same time, would not the strongest bear it off?”

“I grant that, sir.”

“Well, then, where is your equality?”

“That does not disprove that men were not intended to be equal; it only proves that they are not so. Neither does it disprove that everything was not made for the benefit of all; it only proves that the strong will take advantage of the weak, which is very natural.”

“Oh! you grant that to be very natural.—Well, Mr. Easy, I am glad to perceive that we are of one mind, and I trust we shall continue so. You’ll observe that I and my keepers being three, we are the strong party in this instance, and admitting your argument, that the fish are as much yours as mine, still I take advantage of my strength to repossess myself of them, which is, as you say, very natural.—James, take those fish.”

“If you please,” interrupted Jack, “we will argue that point—“

“Not at all; I will act according to your own arguments—I have the fish, but I now mean to have more—that fishing-rod is as much mine as yours, and being the stronger party, I will take possession of it.—James, William, take that fishing-rod—it is ours.”

“I presume you will first allow me to observe,” replied Jack, “that although I have expressed my opinion that the earth and the animals on it were made for us all, that I never yet have asserted that what a man creates by himself, or has created for him for a consideration, is not his own property.”

“I beg your pardon; the trees that that rod was made from were made for us all, and if you, or any one for you, have thought proper to make it into a rod, it is no more my fault than it is that I have been feeding the fish with the supposition that they were my own. Everything being common, and it being but natural that the strong should take advantage of the weak, I must take that rod as my property, until I am dispossessed by one more powerful. Moreover, being the stronger party, and having possession of this land, which you say does not belong to me more than to you—I also shall direct my keepers to see you off this property. James, take the rod—see Mr. Easy over the park palings. Mr. Easy, I wish you a good morning.”

“Sir, I beg your pardon, you have not yet heard all my arguments,” replied Jack, who did not approve of the conclusions drawn.

“I have no time to hear more, Mr. Easy: I wish you a good morning.” And the proprietor departed, leaving Jack in company with the keepers.

“I’ll trouble you for that rod, master,” said William. James was very busy stringing the fish through the gills upon a piece of osier.

“At all events you will hear reason,” said Jack. “I have arguments—“

“I never heard no good arguments in favour of poaching,” interrupted the keeper.

“You’re an insolent fellow,” replied Jack. “It is by paying such vagabonds as you that people are able to be guilty of injustice.”

“It’s by paying us that the land an’t poached—and if there be some excuse for a poor devil who is out of work, there be none for you, who call yourself a gentleman.”

“According to his ’count, as we be all equal, he be no more a gentleman than we be.”

“Silence, you blackguard, I shall not condescend to argue with such as you: if I did I could prove that you are a set of base slaves, who have just as much right to this property as your master or I have.”

“As you have, I dare say, master.”

“As I have, you scoundrel; this pond is as much my property, and so are the fish in it, as they are of your master, who has usurped the right.”

“I say, James, what do you say, shall we put the young gentleman in possession of his property?” said William, winking to the other.

William took the hint; they seized Jack by the arms and legs, and soused him into the pond. Jack arose after a deep submersion, and floundered on shore blowing and spluttering. But in the meantime the keepers had walked away, carrying with them the rod and line, fish, and tin-can of bait, laughing loudly at the practical joke which they had played our hero.

“Well,” thought Jack, “either here must be some mistake in my father’s philosophy, or else this is a very wicked world. I shall submit this case to my father.”

And Jack received this reply—“I have told you before, Jack, that these important truths will not at present be admitted—but it does not the less follow that they are true. This is the age of iron, in which might has become right—but the time will come when these truths will be admitted, and your father’s name will be more celebrated than that of any philosopher of ancient days. Recollect, Jack, that although in preaching against wrong and advocating the rights of man, you will be treated as a martyr, it is still your duty to persevere; and if you are dragged through all the horse-ponds in the kingdom, never give up your argument.”

“That I never will, sir,” replied Jack; “but the next time I argue it shall be, if possible, with power on my side, and, at all events, not quite so near a pond.”

“I think,” said Mrs. Easy, who had been a silent listener, “that Jack had better fish in the river, and then, if he catches no fish, at all events he will not be soused in the water, and spoil his clothes.”

But Mrs. Easy was no philosopher.

A few days afterwards, Jack discovered, one fine morning, on the other side of a hedge, a summer apple-tree bearing tempting fruit, and he immediately broke through the hedge, and climbing the tree, as our first mother did before him, he culled the fairest and did eat.

“I say, you sir, what are you doing there?” cried a rough voice.

Jack looked down, and perceived a stout, thick-set personage in grey coat and red waistcoat, standing underneath him.

“Don’t you see what I’m about,” replied Jack, “I’m eating apples—shall I throw you down a few?”

“Thank you kindly—the fewer that are pulled the better; perhaps, as you are so free to give them to others as well as to help yourself, you may think that they are your own property!”

“Not a bit more my property than they are yours, my good man.”

“I guess that’s something like the truth; but you are not quite at the truth yet, my lad; those apples are mine, and I’ll trouble you to come down as fast as you please; when you’re down we can then settle our accounts; and,” continued the man, shaking his cudgel, “depend upon it you shall have your receipt in full.”

Jack did not much like the appearance of things.

“My good man,” said he, “it is quite a prejudice on your part to imagine that apples were not given, as well as all other fruit, for the benefit of us all—they are common property, believe me.”

“That’s a matter of opinion, my lad, and I may be allowed to have my own.”

“You’ll find it in the Bible,” says Jack.

“I never did yet, and I’ve read it through and through all, bating the ’Pocryfar.”

“Then,” said Jack, “go home and fetch the Bible, and I’ll prove it to you.”

“I suspect you’ll not wait till I come back again. No, no; I have lost plenty of apples, and have long wanted to find the robbers out; now I’ve caught one I’ll take care that he don’t ’scape without apple-sauce, at all events—so come down, you young thief, come down directly—or it will be all the worse for you.”

“Thank you,” said Jack, “but I am very well here. I will, if you please, argue the point from where I am.”

“I’ve no time to argue the point, my lad; I’ve plenty to do, but do not think I’ll let you off. If you don’t choose to come down, why then you may stay there, and I’ll answer for it, as soon as work is done I shall find you safe enough.”

“What can be done,” thought Jack, “with a man who will not listen to argument? What a world is this!—however, he’ll not find me here when he comes back, I’ve a notion.”

But in this Jack was mistaken. The farmer walked to the hedge, and called to a boy, who took his orders and ran to the farm-house. In a minute or two a large bull-dog was seen bounding along the orchard to his master. “Mark him, Cæsar,” said the farmer to the dog, “mark him.” The dog crouched down on the grass, with his head up, and eyes glaring at Jack, showing a range of teeth, that drove all our hero’s philosophy out of his head.

“I can’t wait here, but Cæsar can, and I will tell you, as a friend, that if he gets hold of you, he’ll not leave a limb of you together—when work’s done I’ll come back.” So saying, the farmer walked off, leaving Jack and the dog to argue the point, if so inclined. What a sad jade must philosophy be, to put her votaries in such predicaments!

After a while the dog laid his head down and closed his eyes as if asleep, but Jack observed, that at the least movement on his part one eye was seen to partially unclose; so Jack, like a prudent man, resolved to remain where he was. He picked a few more apples, for it was his dinner-time, and as he chewed he ruminated.

Jack had been but a few minutes ruminating before he was interrupted by another ruminating animal, no less a personage than a bull, who had been turned out with full possession of the orchard, and who now advanced, bellowing occasionally, and tossing his head at the sight of Cæsar, whom he considered as much a trespasser as his master had our hero. Cæsar started on his legs and faced the bull, who advanced pawing, with his tail up in the air. When within a few yards the bull made a rush at the dog, who evaded him and attacked him in return, and thus did the warfare continue until the opponents were already at some distance from the apple-tree. Jack prepared for immediate flight, but unfortunately the combat was carried on by the side of the hedge at which Jack had gained admission. Never mind, thought Jack, there are two sides to every field, and although the other hedge joined on to the garden near to the farm-house, there was no option. “At all events,” said Jack, “I’ll try it.” Jack was slipping down the trunk, when he heard a tremendous roar; the bull-dog had been tossed by the bull; he was then high in the air, and Jack saw him fall on the other side of the hedge; and the bull was thus celebrating his victory with a flourish of trumpets. Upon which Jack, perceiving that he was relieved from his sentry, slipped down the rest of the tree and took to his heels. Unfortunately for Jack, the bull saw him, and, flushed with victory, he immediately set up another roar, and bounded after Jack. Jack perceived his danger, and fear gave him wings; he not only flew over the orchard, but he flew over the hedge, which was about five feet high, just as the bull drove his head into it. “Look before you leap,” is an old proverb. Had Jack done so, he would have done better; but as there were cogent reasons to be offered in extenuation of our philosopher, we shall say no more, but merely state that Jack, when he got on the other side of the hedge, found that he had pitched into a small apiary, and had upset two hives of bees, who resented the intrusion; and Jack had hardly time to get upon his legs before he found them very busy stinging him in all quarters. All that Jack could do was to run for it, but the bees flew faster than he could run, and Jack was mad with pain, when he stumbled, half-blinded, over the brickwork of a well. Jack could not stop his pitching into the well, but he seized the iron chain as it struck him across the face. Down went Jack, and round went the windlass, and after a rapid descent of forty feet our hero found himself under water, and no longer troubled with the bees, who, whether they had lost scent of their prey from his rapid descent, or being notoriously clever insects, acknowledged the truth of the adage, “leave well alone,” had certainly left Jack with no other companion than Truth. Jack rose from his immersion, and seized the rope to which the chain of the bucket was made fast—it had all of it been unwound from the windlass, and therefore it enabled Jack to keep his head above water. After a few seconds Jack felt something against his legs, it was the bucket, about two feet under the water; Jack put his feet into it and found himself pretty comfortable, for the water, after the sting of the bees and the heat he had been put into by the race with the bull, was quite cool and refreshing.

“At all events,” thought Jack, “if it had not been for the bull, I should have been watched by the dog, and then thrashed by the farmer; but then again, if it had not been for the bull, I should not have tumbled among the bees; and if it had not been for the bees, I should not have tumbled into the well; and if it had not been for the chain, I should have been drowned. Such has been the chain of events, all because I wanted to eat an apple.”

“However, I have got rid of the farmer, and the dog, and the bull, and the bees—all’s well that ends well but how the devil am I to get out of the well?—All creation appears to have conspired against the rights of man. As my father said, this is an iron age, and here I am swinging to an iron chain.”

We have given the whole of Jack’s soliloquy, as it will prove that Jack was no fool, although he was a bit of a philosopher; and a man who could reason so well upon cause and effect, at the bottom of a well up to his neck in water, showed a good deal of presence of mind. But if Jack’s mind had been a little twisted by his father’s philosophy, it had still sufficient strength and elasticity to recover itself in due time. Had Jack been a common personage, we should never have selected him for our hero.

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