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Text - "Sunk at Sea" R.M. Ballantyne


He was born with a thirst for adventure that nothing could quench, and with a desire to rove that nothing could subdue. Even in babyhood, when his limbs were fat and feeble, and his visage was round and red, he displayed his tendency to wander in ways and under circumstances that other babies never dreamt of. He kept his poor mother in a chronic fever of alarm, and all but broke the heart of his nurse, long before he could walk, by making his escape from the nursery over and over again, on his hands and knees; which latter bore constant marks of being compelled to do the duty of feet in dirty places. Baby Will never cried. To have heard him yell would have rejoiced the hearts of mother and nurse, for that would have assured them of his being near at hand and out of mischief-at least not engaged in more than ordinary mischief. But Baby Will was a natural philosopher from his birth. He displayed his wisdom by holding his peace at all times, except when very hard pressed by hunger or pain, and appeared to regard life in general in a grave, earnest, inquiring spirit. Nevertheless, we would not have it understood that Will was a slow, phlegmatic baby. By no means. His silence was deep, his gravity profound, and his earnestness intense, so that, as a rule, his existence was unobtrusive. But his energy was tremendous. What he undertook to do he usually did with all his might and main-whether it was the rending of his pinafore or the smashing of his drum! We have said that he seldom or never cried, but he sometimes laughed, and that not unfrequently; and when he did so you could not choose but hear, for his whole soul gushed out in his laugh, which was rich, racy, and riotous. He usually lay down and rolled when he laughed, being quite incapable of standing to do it-at least during the early period of babyhood. But Will would not laugh at everything. You could not make him laugh by cooing and smirking and talking nonsense, and otherwise making an ass of yourself before him. Maryann, the nurse, had long tried that in vain, and had almost broken her heart about it. She was always breaking her heart, more or less, about her charge, yet, strange to say, she survived that dreadful operation, and ultimately lived to an extreme old age! "Only think," she was wont to say to Jemima Scrubbins, her bosom friend, the monthly nurse who had attended Will's mother, and whose body was so stiff, thin, and angular, that some of her most intimate friends thought and said she must have been born in her skeleton alone-"Only think, Jemimar, I give it as my morial opinion that that hinfant 'asn't larfed once-no, not once-durin' the last three days, although I've chirruped an' smiled an' made the most smudgin' faces to it, an' heaped all sorts o' blandishments upon it till-. Oh! you can't imagine; but nothink's of any use trying of w'en you can't do it; as my 'usband, as was in the mutton-pie line, said to the doctor the night afore he died-my 'art is quite broken about it, so it is." To which Jemima was wont to reply, with much earnestness-for she was a sympathetic soul, though stiff, thin, and angular-"You don't say so, Maryhann! P'raps it's pains." Whereupon Maryann would deny that pains had anything to do with it, and Jemima would opine that it was, "koorious, to say the least of it." No, as we have said, Baby Will would not laugh at everything. He required to see something really worth laughing at before he would give way, and when he did give way, his eyes invariably disappeared, for his face was too fat to admit of eyes and mouth being open at the same time. This was fortunate, for it prevented him for a little from seeing the object that tickled his fancy, and so gave him time to breathe and recruit for another burst. Had it been otherwise, he would certainly have suffocated himself in infancy, and this, his veracious biography, would have remained unwritten! To creep about the house into dangerous and forbidden places, at the risk of life and limb, was our hero's chief delight in early childhood. To fall out of his cradle and crib, to tumble down stairs, and to bruise his little body until it was black and blue, were among his most ordinary experiences. Such mishaps never drew tears, however, from his large blue eyes. After struggling violently to get over the rail of his crib, and falling heavily on the floor, he was wont to rise with a gasp, and gaze in bewilderment straight before him, as if he were rediscovering the law of gravitation. No phrenologist ever conceived half the number of bumps that were developed on his luckless cranium. We make no apology to the reader for entering thus minutely into the character and experiences of a baby. That baby is the hero of our tale. True, it is as a young man that he is to play his part; but a great philosopher has told us that he always felt constrained to look upon children with respect; and a proverb states that, "the child is the father of the man." Without either pinning our faith to the philosopher or the proverb, we think it both appropriate and interesting to note the budding genius of the wanderer whose footsteps we are about to follow. Baby Will's mother was a gentle and loving, but weak woman. His father, William Horace Osten by name, was a large, hearty, affectionate, but coarse man. He appreciated his wife's gentle, loving nature, but could not understand her weakness. She admired her husband's manly, energetic spirit, but could not understand his roughness. He loved the baby, and resolved to "make a man of him." She loved the baby, and wished to make him a "good boy." In the furtherance of their designs the one tried to make him a lion, the other sought to convert him into a lamb. Which of the two would have succeeded can never be known. It is probable that both would have failed by counteracting each other, as is no uncommon experience when fathers and mothers act separately in such a matter. If the one had succeeded, he would have made him a bear. The other, if successful, would have made him a nincompoop. Fortunately for our hero, a higher power saved him, and, by training him in the school of adversity, made him both a lion and a lamb. The training was very severe and prolonged, however. It was long before the lion would consent to lie down in the same breast with the lamb. Certainly it was not during the season of childhood. The lion appeared to have it all his own way during that interesting epoch, and the father was proportionately gratified, while the mother was dismayed. Boyhood came, and with it an increased desire to rove, and a more fervent thirst for adventure. At school our hero obtained the name that stuck to him through life-"Wandering Will." The seaport town in the west of England in which he dwelt had been explored by him in all its ramifications. There was not a retired court, a dark lane, or a blind alley, with which he was unfamiliar. Every height, crag, cliff, plantation, and moor within ten miles of his father's mansion had been thoroughly explored by Will before he was eight years of age, and his aspiring spirit longed to take a wider flight. "I want to go to sea, father," said he one evening after tea, looking in his father's face with much more of the leonine gaze than the father had bargained for. His training up to that point had been almost too successful! This was not the first time that the boy had stated the same wish; his gaze, therefore, did not quail when his father looked up from his newspaper and said sternly-"Fiddlesticks, boy! hold your tongue."

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