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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Yarn of Old Harbour Town > CHAPTER III THE OFFER
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 The small amount of work in the shape of discharging and receiving cargo which was being done on the wharves of Old Harbour, had come to a pause when the labourers' dinner-hour struck, and but three or four figures were visible upon the tar-black platforms along which the little ships were moored. Of these one was a brig and the other a schooner, and one was the Minorca, a handsome coppered barque of five hundred tons built by the French, and, as we have heard, taken from that people.  
The sails of these vessels had been furled, and the bright April breeze blowing from the sea sang in their clean rigging. A couple of planks communicated between the Minorca's gangway and the wharf, and at the wharf-end of these planks stood a man of a seafaring aspect, apparently belonging to the barque.
As Lucy advanced holding her dog lest[Pg 49] the creature should skip in a fit of excitement into the water, the man viewed her as though on catching her eye, or receiving the encouragement of a look of recognition, he was prepared to salute her. Perhaps she did not heed him, but on drawing close to the vessel, she looked at him, and thanks to that gracious gift which by creating opportunities for tact, helps more to render the individual beloved or popular than perhaps any other quality, she immediately recollected the man, and not only the man, but his name, as Mr John Eagle, mate of the Minorca, who, when the vessel was last in harbour and she had gone on board of her with her father, had been introduced to her by Captain Acton.
He was a man of rough appearance whose hand had been in the tar-bucket for most of his life—a hard, reserved man, shy, so ignorant that he read with difficulty, and wrote his name as painfully as a hand tortured with gout inscribes with the pen.
"How do you do, Mr Eagle?" exclaimed Lucy.
He stiffened himself, and saluted her by a flourish of his hand to his brow, and answered: "Just about middling, thank you, Miss."
"I am sorry you are not better than middling," she said.
[Pg 50]
"It's the rheumatics. It's got into my feet and my shoulders. It's a pain as no spirits can stand up against."
"Are you doing anything to ease your suffering?"
"I drinks a drop of rum when it comes on very bad. I've given up rubbing. I've been rubbed till I've scarce got any skin left."
"I'll speak to Miss Acton. I am sure she will have something that is good for rheumatism, and if she has I will send it you."
"I thank you, Miss," said he, with an incredulous smile. "Was you going on board?"
"No. What a big ship she looks compared with the other two! It is difficult to think of her alone in the middle of the sea. I can only imagine her lying at a wharf with protecting hills on each side. Does she sail fast?"
"Give her a good breeze and she can find her legs, but she ain't to be compared with the Aurora."
"She will be arriving shortly, I think."
"Doo any day, Miss, unless she's been nabbed, but the vessel that's going to take the Aurora 'ull want more than wings."
"When does the Minorca sail?"
"Early next month, I believe, ma'am."
[Pg 51]
Her eyes reposed thoughtfully upon the hull of the ship, mounting presently in a stealing way to the heights, and her colour seemed to deepen slightly to the impulse of a romantic mood or fancy.
"If there was nothing to fear from the enemy's ships," she said, "and if the sea was always calm and the breeze gentle and mild, I believe I might wish to make a voyage in the Minorca to the West Indies."
"You'd be taken all care of, ma'am."
"But the sleeping berths are very little, and I am certain that the motion of the ship——" She shook her head and smiled, and then saying, "Good morning, Mr Eagle. If my aunt has a remedy for the rheumatism I will send it you," she returned the way she had come, mounted the steps, gained the bridge, and proceeded home.
Meanwhile, Mr Lawrence had gone about three-quarters of a mile and was now approaching his father's home. The Admiral's cottage was in a lane off the main road. It was such an umbrageous retreat as Cowper, had he been in earnest, would have hastened to when he sighed for some boundless contiguity of shade. It stood in a little land protected by hedges and walls full of orchards. The Admiral lived in the heart of groves of cherry, plum, apple, pear, and other fruitful trees which presently,[Pg 52] in this month of April, would make the scene round about as beautiful as driven snow shone upon by the sun, with almond-white flowers.
The Admiral missed the sea; he was near it, nay, in heavy weather within sound of it, but not a glimpse of the blue deep could be caught through the windows. He had retired on a pension and on trifling private means which rendered this retreat the fittest he could have chosen for the convenience of his purse and for the simple tastes of his life. Here he lived with an old servant and a young girl, and now with his son; but he was always hoping that this last obligation would not be continuous, though the prospect of getting anything to do in such an obscure corner of the earth as Old Harbour Town was as remote as the possibility of Mr Lawrence ever becoming Prime Minister of England. Yet a secret hope, an indeterminable dream, one of those imaginations which make blessed the possessors of the sanguine temperament, buoyed the Admiral. Who could tell? Something might happen! Walter might fall in with a man who should prove a friend, even in that very haunt, "The Swan," which seemed obnoxious to his interests. Thus the old fellow would reason without logic, or even knowing what he was talking to himself about.
His mind was full of his son as he sat this[Pg 53] day at his dinner, which was put every afternoon punctually at half-past one upon the table whether Mr Lawrence was at home or whether he was not. The window at which the Admiral was wont of a pleasant evening to sit with his pipe was open; the room was small, with a low ceiling, but one should say a very dream of comfort to a nautical man. Its walls were embellished with pictures of sea-fights, of frigates engaging forts, of encounters between line-of-battle ships. A handsome telescope, a gift for some deed of valour, lay in brackets over the small, richly-carved sideboard.
The Admiral sat at table before a meal that betokened total neglect on his part of all thought of digestion. The dinner in short, so far as it had been served, consisted of a round of boiled beef, carrots and turnips, and a dish of potatoes smoking in their jackets, a stout loaf of black crust, a dish of fine yellow butter, and at Sir William's elbow was a silver mug with a thick glass bottom, just filled foaming to the brim from a cask of the very best ale at that time brewed in England, and in those days a glass of fine ale was a more delicious draught, more thirst-quenching, more appealing to all the secret feelings of the interior than the finest liquor that has been drunk since, call it what you will.
[Pg 54]
Just as the Admiral was cutting a second helping for himself from the round of beef, which being English was choicely tasted, he heard his son's footsteps in the passage outside, and after a short interval, during which Mr Lawrence fitted himself for the dinner table, that gentleman walked in. He was almost immediately followed by the old housekeeper with hot plates. She was very fond of Mr Lawrence. She would listen for his footsteps. He was still "Master Walter" with her, and would remain so. She had once, on hearing of his money troubles, offered to lend him from her slender savings. But whatever may have been his character he was a sailor in this: he would not take money from a woman.
The Admiral viewed his son critically. The walk home, followed by a sousing of the face in cold water, had helped to attenuate the lingering fumes in the young man's brains, and on the whole his mind was about as steady as could be expected in one who was always more or less under the influence of drink.
"Have you dined?" asked Sir William.
"No, sir."
This question will not appear strange when it is understood that Mr Lawrence occasionally took a seat at an ordinary at "The Swan," served half an hour after noon.
[Pg 55]
The Admiral cut a plate of meat, and the pair fell to their dinner, the housekeeper reappearing to place such another silver tankard foaming full as graced Sir William's elbow, at the side of Mr Lawrence.
"I met Miss Acton as I was coming home," said Mr Lawrence, "and she said she had left you and her father talking about me."
"Captain Acton and I were talking about you this morning," said the Admiral. "I was lamenting your inability to procure a berth of any sort, and told him that I could see no hope for you whilst you continued to hang about Old Harbour Town, and to lounge in and out of 'The Swan.'"
"You'll admit, sir, that my failure to obtain employment has not been due to neglect in searching for it."
"But what is to be hoped for in a place like this? Here are no industries; there is nothing doing, you cannot turn smacksman or start as a pilot."
"I am extremely anxious to relieve you of the burden of maintaining me, and my fixed intention, if I can procure nothing to do between this and next month, is to work my passage out before the mast to the United States. If it should come to the backwoods, I am ready. I confess this life grows [Pg 56]insupportable, and the more burthensome to me because it is a tax upon you, sir."
The Admiral buried half his face in his tankard, and after wiping the froth from his lips and looking earnestly at the round of beef as though he deliberated within himself whether he should take another slice, he said: "I am happy to say that I have good news for you. An opportunity has been offered which will do away with the need of your shipping before the mast and seeking your fortune in America. The Minorca, as you doubtless know, is in want of a captain. I was speaking about you to Captain Acton this morning, and regretting, as I must continue to regret whilst I have the capacity of a sigh—I do not say a tear—left in me, that you should relinquish the Service in which, had you behaved with prudence, you were eminently calculated to make a shining figure."
The gallant old officer paused and looked at his son, and any one could have easily seen that he was equally moved by pain and pride. Indeed the man who sat opposite to him was one who by manly beauty of face, worn as it was by weather and excess, by vigorous bearing of shapely person, and by a story which, brief as it was, was as full of the stars of gallant deeds as a short scope of wake is[Pg 57] alive with the brilliant pulses of the sea-glow, was one, let it be repeated, whom many a father's heart would rejoice in, and approve of, bitterly as it must deplore those lamentable, if fashionable, weaknesses, gambling and a love of what Dibdin calls the "flowing can."
Mr Lawrence had closed his knife and fork and swallowed half his tankard of ale, when the Admiral halted in his speech. He regarded his father with eager earnestness. But the Admiral was not to be interrupted in his further disclosure. Having ascertained that his son wished for no more beef, he went to the fire-place and pulled a bell-rope, and it was not until the housekeeper had removed the joint and vegetables and replaced them by a dish of Norfolk dumplings with white sauce sweetened and brandied—a homely dish of which Sir William was uncommonly fond—that the old gentleman proceeded.
"I may now tell you," said he, "that Captain Acton this morning, on my expressing my regret that you could not obtain employment, most handsomely and liberally made you the offer of the command of a ship, the Minorca."
Mr Lawrence's face lighted up, but the expression was curious; it was composite; it seemed to be lacking in the elementary quality[Pg 58] of exultation or rejoicing which naturally would have been sought for or expected.
"He is very kind," said he. "I should like the berth."
"He proposes that you should take the vessel out to the West Indies and bring her home. He pays twelve pounds a month, and gives a commission on the earnings of the ship. What do you say?"
"Why, sir, of course I accept without hesitation, and feel most deeply obliged."
"It is a step," continued the Admiral, "that may lead to other and even better things. But first and foremost it finds you in employment, and will put some money into your pocket, and relieve the pressure which not only you but I am made to feel. I do not choose that Mr Greyquill should visit me. Yet he calls to enquire after you."
"He is a very impertinent old man, and why he should call here to see me when he knows that every day I am within a stone's throw of his office, I cannot tell. He'll get his head broke if he troubles you, sir."
"Captain Acton wishes to see you at eight o'clock this evening. You'll be there?"
"Oh, depend upon it. This is a great offer. He is extremely obliging."
"And I must hope," said the Admiral, "since this opportunity has been brought[Pg 59] about by me, that you will do me the justice to take care to present yourself in such a state as shall not excite his resentment, or, which is worse, result in the cancellation of his offer."
The old gentleman spoke with sternness, and held his eyes fastened upon his son, who cried: "Oh sir, I am not such a fool as to run any risks with this stroke of fortune."
"You will present yourself at eight," said the Admiral a little more softly, "and I have no doubt whatever that you will receive the offer which will be properly executed to-morrow. I believe that the Minorca sails early next month. You will have time to obtain the few clothes you may require. The dress of the Merchant sailor is inexpensive. Indeed, a man in the Merchant Service dresses as he pleases. It is a warm voyage, and you'll find a few white clothes useful. I do not suppose you'll be expected to know anything about stowage and the like. But you will pick up what you want as you go. Captain Acton spoke of the mate as a respectable, though illiterate man. He doubtless understands his part, and little more will be expected from you than the navigation of the ship to her port, a careful attention to your owner's interests, and a strict execution of such commands as you may receive with regard[Pg 60] to obtaining a freight and matters of that sort, of which I confess I am ignorant."
Sir William now rose from the table and went to an armchair at the open window, upon the seat or ledge of which stood a jar of tobacco, some clay pipes, and a little machine for firing a match dipped in brimstone, a very ingenious contrivance as old as the days of the second Charles: namely, a little pistol-shaped fire-maker whose trigger struck a full and brilliant spark from the flint and kindled the tinder. He filled his pipe and lighted it, and sat in conversation with his son, in whom the particular humour or mood would have been extremely hard to settle by the most sagacious of critical observers. He was speedy in answering his father, and his language did not show much abstraction of mind; but even the Admiral noticed that there was an undercurrent of thought in his son which was pursuing a very different course from the stream as it appeared on the surface.
Sir William, however, was a man not in the habit of taking long or deep views. His son was thinking of his good luck, of his meeting that evening with Captain Acton, of the opportunities for advancement which now lay before him, and these reflections would naturally colour his manner and make him[Pg 61] appear somewhat strange to those who knew him best.
Captain Acton received Mr Lawrence in his library, a small but very elegant room. It was lighted by wax candles on the table and wax candles on the chimney-piece. Its walls were covered with valuable books in finely carved cases. Captain Acton was reading when Mr Lawrence was announced. He immediately put down his book and rose. It would have been easy to see that he was struck by and pleased with the fine figure and handsome face of Mr Lawrence as he strode through the doorway, bowing with dignity and grace as he advanced. Of course the Captain was perfectly well acquainted with Mr Lawrence; he had been to his house to dinner on more than one occasion with Sir William; they had met at the Admiral's house and out-of-doors.
Yet Captain Acton appeared to find in Mr Lawrence this evening a quality of bearing, a character of masculine beauty which had not certainly before impressed him to anything like the same degree. He had carefully dressed himself; his manner betokened complete self-possession; his handsome eyes shone clear and steady, and his face exhibited a mind whose command over itself was complete. The worn look partly due to dissipation, partly due to the hard life of the sea which[Pg 62] was often injuriously visible by daylight, was now concealed in the soft veil of light shed by the wax candles. They shook hands, and seated themselves.
"Your father has doubtless acquainted you with my object in asking you to call upon me this evening."
"He has, sir."
"Are you willing to accept the command of the Minorca?"
"I am indeed, and have no words in which to convey my thanks to you for your kindness."
"Oh, say no more, sir, about that. I am pleased with the idea of a Naval officer being in charge of my ship."
And here Captain Acton again viewed the face and form of the young man with a pleasure and satisfaction the other could scarcely miss, though it was delicately tempered by Acton's natural gravity and his well-bred air. And now for a short time the conversation wholly referred to the business part of the compact. Captain Acton named the terms, stated the nature of the voyage and his expectations, spoke of the cargo and the consignees, and of his agent at Kingston. Mr Lawrence listened with intelligence, and the questions which he put were all to the point.
"The rig of the vessel," said Captain Acton,[Pg 63] "is unusual. She is called a barque. The idea of fore and aft canvas only upon the mizzen-mast is French. I am told that rig is very handy in stays. Do you know the ship, sir?"
"I was never on board of her, but I know her very well. I admire her figure, though I do not think she is so finely moulded as your schooner, the Aurora."
"Oh, certainly not, and as a consequence the Aurora sails two feet to the Minorca's one. That schooner is almost due. She is commonly very punctual. She earns more money than the Minorca. No doubt all will have been well with her until she enters the Chops. But the Western squadrons have done great work. They have swept the French corsairs off the narrow waters and huddled the lily-livered rogues into their own ports. The Minorca is lightly armed: four eighteen-pounder carronades, for her business is to run and not to chase. You'll have to keep a bright look-out, sir. Your business must be to give your heels to everything that stirs your suspicion."
"I assure you, sir," said Mr Lawrence, with a smile which added a freshness to his beauty by that light, "that I have no idea of taking command of your ship with a view to a French prison."
[Pg 64]
After some further conversation to this effect, during which it was manifest that Captain Acton was very well satisfied with the generous resolution he had formed that morning to offer the command of the Minorca to Sir William's son, he left his chair and conducted Mr Lawrence to the drawing-room.
Wax candles burning purely and softly in sconces and candelabra illuminated an interior of singular elegance and rich in luxury. Lucy started from the piano, the sounds of which had been audible outside before the gentleman opened the door. Her beauty, her costume were in exquisite keeping with the objects which filled that room, the repository of the tasteful and sumptuous selections of several generations of Actons. Lucy's garb was the picturesque attire of that age: the neck and a portion of the bosom were exposed; a handsome medallion brooch decorated the bust; the arms were bare to above the elbows; the girdle gave her gown a waist just under the bosom. In that light all that was tender and lovely in her gained in softness, sweetness, and delicacy. Her rich bloom had the divine tenderness of the flush of sunset when in the east the velvet deeps are enriched with the diamond-throb of the first of the stars.
Not far from the large old-fashioned hearth[Pg 65] beside a little table on which stood a work-basket, sat in a tall-backed arm-chair fit for a queen to be crowned in, a figure that must have carried the memory of a middle-aged or old man of that time well back into the past century. She was Miss Acton, Lucy's Aunt Caroline, sister of Captain Acton, a lady of about seventy years of age, who trembled with benevolence and imaginary alarms, who was always doing somebody good, and was now at work upon some baby clothing for an infant that had been born a week or two before.
She belonged to a race whose extinction Francis Grose lamented. She was what was termed an antiquated gentlewoman whose dress was a survival of the fashion of two if not three earlier generations: consisting of a stiff-starched cap and hood, a little hoop and a rich silk damask gown with large flowers. She acted as housekeeper to her brother, and the keys of the cupboards jingled at her side. She was choice in her stores, which included cordial waters, cherry and raspberry brandy, Daffy's Elixir, pots of currant jelly and raspberry jam, and her stock also comprised salves, electuaries, and purges for the poor. When she walked she leaned, perhaps a little affectedly, on an ivory-handled crutch stick, and a fat pug dog rolled in her wake. This pug now snored alongside of her, and the[Pg 66] little terrier slept with its paws upon the pug's stomach.
Mr Lawrence was extremely easy. There was nothing of the embarrassment in the presence of ladies which is often visible even in well-bred men who have fallen from their estate, and pass their days in liquor and in looking in and out of such haunts as "The Swan." Indeed, his well-governed behaviour had something of a pre-determined air as of a man who acts a part and with all the resolution of his soul means to carry it through, though he may be obstructed by physical pain or by mental distress.
After a few airy nothings of salutation and the like had been exchanged and all were seated, Captain Acton said: "Lucy, I am now to introduce Mr Lawrence to you in a new character; he is the captain of the Minorca."
"What is that you say?" cried Aunt Caroline, starting in her chair and peering over her gold-rimmed glasses at Mr Lawrence.
"I have given Mr Lawrence the command of my ship, sister," said Captain Acton.
"The news does not surprise me," said Lucy. "I think I told you this morning, sir, that Sir William wished to see you. Do you like the idea of commanding the Minorca?"
"Very much indeed, madam. My inclination leans wholly towards the Merchant Service.[Pg 67] I would rather command the Minorca than a line-of-battle ship."
He smiled faintly, as though he guessed she would not believe this, and she could not miss the expression of bitterness in his smile which, as she was well acquainted with the story of his career, she perfectly understood. In truth she felt a little grieved for him. It was pitiful to think of so handsome and gallant a young fellow descending from the lofty platform of the King's Service to take charge of a poor little Merchant vessel whose one officer, a mate, was as ignorant and common a fellow as any that could be found in the 'tween decks of a man-of-war, remote from the society of the ward and gun rooms, though on board the Minorca Mr Eagle would be Mr Lawrence's associate.
"Are you not afraid to take the command of a ship, sir?" enquired Miss Acton, who continued to peer at Mr Lawrence over her glasses.
"Afraid, madam!"
"Afraid, sister!" echoed Captain Acton. "Your question reminds me of a story of Lord Howe: a lieutenant having reported the ship on fire returned, and said that his lordship need not feel afraid as the fire was out. 'Afraid!' exclaimed Howe, 'How does a man feel when he is afraid? I need not ask how he looks!'"
[Pg 68]
"It is such a very serious undertaking," said Miss Acton. "I cannot imagine a more responsible position than that of captain of a ship. If she sinks or is consumed by fire or strikes upon the rocks and the people perish, the captain, whether he survives or not, is answerable. If he dies with the people he goes before God, who judges him. It is dreadful. If I commanded a ship and lost lives, I could never sleep. I should not know what to do for seeing the spirits of the dead. I should feel that they all looked to me to return them their lives, and how terrible it must be to feel helpless when you are pleaded to by spirits who wring their hands and wail."
Mr Lawrence viewed the old lady with silent astonishment.
"If all thought like you, aunt," said Lucy, "we should get no captains at all for our ships, and how delighted the French would be to learn that our men-of-war could not leave port because captains were not to be got."
She received a smile full of perception of her point from Mr Lawrence.
"Well, I did not think of it in that way," said Miss Acton, who was active again with her needle and talking at her work. "Of course we must have captains for our men-of-war. I hope there is no fresh news of invasion."
[Pg 69]
"Nothing more since the privateersman was run in," said Captain Acton.
"Oh, aunt, whilst I think of it," cried Lucy, "poor Mr Eagle, the mate of the Minorca, is suffering badly from rheumatism in his ankles. He can hardly stand. I told him that I would ask you to send him something to ease him."
"I am sure I do not know what is good for rheumatism," said Miss Acton, with the petulance that attends a sudden anxiety of benevolence. "It is a most troublesome disease. You may rub and rub, and you only make it fly to another place, and often rubbing takes the skin off. I will send him some sulphur to put in his stockings, and I will see what else there is to be done for the poor man." And here, looking over her glasses again at Mr Lawrence, she said: "Pray, can you tell me how Mrs Bigg is, sir?"
"Mrs Bigg, ma'am! I never heard of her."
"She lives at Uphill Cottage, and lay in of a very fine baby a fortnight yesterday, and has done very poorly since. You cannot tell me how she does?"
"I cannot, madam."
At this moment the door was opened and the butler entered with a large sparkling silver tray of refreshments—wines and spirits, and cakes of several kinds. But Mr Lawrence would take nothing. He had done very well,[Pg 70] he said. He had supped handsomely with his father off a round of cold boiled beef. The hospitality of the tray was not pressed upon him; Miss Lucy took some wine and water, and a small draught of cordial waters was placed beside Miss Acton.
"Your father was telling me a few days ago," said Captain Acton, "of a narrow escape of yours, sir."
"I have met with several. To which did he refer?"
"To that of the punt in which you attempted to sail from Plymouth to Falmouth."
Mr Lawrence smiled. When his smile was dictated by some honest or candid emotion, free from irritation or contempt, or any of the passions which make merriment forced and alarming, the expression gave a particular pleasure to the beholder. It was full of heart, and seemed to lighten his beauty of much of its burden of wear and tear.
"What was the story, sir?" asked Lucy.
"A story of foolhardiness, madam, largely due to my difficulty in foreseeing issues."
The remark appeared to impress Captain Acton, who fastened his eyes upon the speaker.
"I had made up my mind to go from Plymouth to Falmouth in a small punt. She was fourteen feet long. When I had got some distance away, my hat was blown [Pg 71]overboard. I secured the tiller a-lee, threw off my clothes, and jumped after my hat. As I was returning with the hat the sail filled, the boat got way on her and sailed some distance before she came up in the wind. I had almost reached her when she filled again. This happened three or four times. At length I managed by a frantic struggle to catch a hold of the rudder, but I was so exhausted that it was long before I had strength to get into the boat."
This tale induced Captain Acton to indulge in the recital of a hair-breadth escape of his own, but a flow of exciting anecdotes was arrested by Miss Acton declaring that she was not strong enough to bear to hear such horrid, moving stories, particularly just a little before bed-time.
Lucy was somewhat puzzled by Mr Lawrence. His behaviour was cool, gentleman-like, distant, cautious, entirely sober, and for the most part he expressed himself with a high degree of intelligence. She could not but remember that in the morning when, to be sure, he might be said to have been "flown with wine and insolence," he had, with a passion which assuredly borrowed nothing of heat from liquor, plucked a daisy and bade her put it to her sweet lips and return it to him, and he had then concealed the little[Pg 72] flower in his pocket as the only sacred treasure he possessed. This evening his bearing was on the whole as formal and collected as though she was but an acquaintance in whose company he could sit without being overcome by her charms. The passion of the morning was genuine and sincere, drink or no drink; the behaviour this evening was calculated and extraordinary. Perhaps in the delicate candlelight she might not catch every expression of eye, every movement of mouth, every shade of change in the expression of the whole face, so that she would justly imagine she had missed through defective illumination the impassioned look, the swift pencilling by rapture of the lineaments which her maiden's intuition gave her eloquently and convincingly to know must be the secret homage of his heart, let him mask his handsome and worn face as he would.
"I wish, madam," said he, "that you would return to the piano at which we interrupted you.
"Papa will not thank me for making a noise."
"Oh, my dear, don't say that. I am quite sure that if you will play, Mr Lawrence will afterwards sing, and I shall be charmed to hear you, sir, for I recollect your sweet and powerful voice both here and at your father's."
[Pg 73]
"There is little that I would not do to oblige you, sir," answered Mr Lawrence, and going to the piano he stood beside it, as though waiting for Lucy to seat herself at the instrument.
"Lucy, my dear," exclaimed Miss Acton, "play 'Now, Goody, Please to Moderate,' or 'My Lodging is on the Cold Ground,' or 'Sally in our Alley.' I do not care which. They are all very beautiful, and I know no song, brother, that carries me back like 'Sally in our Alley.' Do you remember how finely our father used to sing it? He was at Dr Burney's one night, sir," said she, talking to Mr Lawrence, "when a famous Italian singer of that day—who was it now?—she was as yellow as a guinea, and her hoops were so large there were many doors she could not pass through—who was it now? But no matter; after my father had sung she stepped over to him, and curtsying as though she would sit before him, she said: 'I have often heard this song sung and thought nothing of it. But now, sir, I shall ever regard it as the loveliest composition in English music.'"
"Ay, father had a very fine voice, to be sure," said Captain Acton, "and so has Mr Lawrence."
Lucy had now taken her seat at the piano,[Pg 74] and as the airs her aunt desired were well known to her, she played them from ear, whilst Miss Acton in her stiff-backed chair, kept time, with much facial demonstration of enjoyment, with her starched cap and hood.
"Will you now sing us a song, Mr Lawrence?" exclaimed Captain Acton.
"With the greatest pleasure. What should it be?" As Miss Acton loved "Sally in our Alley," he would be happy to sing it.
Lucy touched the keys.

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