Peter the Whaler
by W.H.G. Kingston
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At length I gained courage to ring the door-bell. It was answered by a loud barking of dogs from within, but no sound of a human voice. Again I rang, and after waiting some time, in my impatience I began to knock fiercely with my fists. I stopped, for I heard a window opening, and a voice inquiring from above what I wanted. It was old Molly Finn, the housekeeper. I recognised her in a moment. I told her who I was, and entreated her to tell me where my family were gone.

"Och, ye idle spalpeen, get along with ye, with your lying tales about being Master Peter, who has been dead these two long years or more," she exclaimed, in a voice of anger. "Get along with ye, I say, or I'll let the dogs out on ye."

"If you mean to let Juno and Pluto slip, you are welcome," I answered, my anger beginning to rise. "They'll at least know me, and that's more than you seem inclined to do, Molly."

"Just come nearer here, and let me ax ye a few questions, whoever ye are," she said, in a softer tone.

"Tell me first, Molly, where are my father and mother, and brothers and sisters—are they all alive and well?" I exclaimed.

"Well, then, there's no harm in telling ye thus much; they are all well, and gone to Dublin for Miss Fanny's marriage there to a fine gentleman who's worthy of her. And now, what have ye got to say?"

"Thank Heaven!" I exclaimed, and burst into tears, and sobbed till my heart was like to break. It was the giving way to affections long long pent up, like the icy ocean in winter; within my bosom.

"Och, it must be Master Peter, whether dead or alive!" exclaimed the old woman, disappearing from the window.

I had some notion that bars and bolts were being withdrawn, and in another instant a lantern was flashed in my face. It was instantly thrown down, and I found myself hugged in the dear old creature's arms, and several of my old four-footed favourites leaping up and licking my face, she coming in for some share of the said licking, and thinking it was me all the time returning her kisses.

Tim, the stable-helper, the only other person left on the premises, was now roused up from his early slumbers, and added his congratulations to Molly's. We went inside the house and shut the door, and I rushed round to every room before I could sit down to eat. As may be supposed, there was no great supply of delicacies in the house; but there were potatoes and buttermilk, and bacon and eggs, and what wanted I more?

Molly had actually cooked my supper, and talked of making my bed, before she discovered how badly I was clothed. As for the bed, I begged she would not trouble herself, as I assured her I should have the greatest difficulty in sleeping in one, and I at last persuaded her to let me have a mattress and a blanket on the floor. I did however, contrive to sleep, and awoke to find old Molly sitting by my side.

"Och, the dear boy, there's no doubt of ye now, Master Peter!" she exclaimed. "Ye talked of them all in your sleep, and looked just like yourself, ye did; and I'll stand bail that no one but ye could have done that same."

I got a piece of soap from Molly, and going to a tank there was in the yard under the pump, by Tim's aid I soon made myself cleaner than I had been for a long time; but we had a sad puzzle about the clothes, for my father and brother had left none. Tim had only those he wore on his back and a coarse suit; and money, I found, was scarce with Molly.

After hunting about in every direction, she routed out from an old chest some, with which she came to me in great triumph, saying they were my own; and so I found they were, but they were some I had thrown aside as being far too small before I went to sea. At last I bethought me, that as no money was to be had without much inconveniencing Molly, I would continue my journey as I had begun it; and I would present myself to my family as I was, in the character of a seaman who had known the lost Peter, and had brought some tidings of him, thus breaking gradually to my parents the fact that I was still in existence.

I proposed, however, disguising myself somewhat to prevent their recognising me. Molly liked my plan; so filling a bag with food, and borrowing ten shillings from her to help me on my way with greater speed than I could otherwise have made, I immediately started on the road to Dublin. Travelling sometimes on a car, sometimes in a waggon, where I contrived to get some sound sleep, and oftentimes on foot, in three days I reached the capital of Ireland.

Beggars in rags excite no remark in any part of Ireland; so, scantily clothed and careworn as I was, I passed through the streets unobserved. I was on my way to the house my family had taken, when I observed, walking leisurely along, a person whose figure and gait I felt certain I knew. My heart beat with eagerness. For some time I could not catch a glimpse of his face; so I ran on, and passing him, turned back to meet him. I was not mistaken—it was my kind friend Captain Dean.

My heart beating violently, I walked up to him, and said, calmly enough, "I have sailed with you, Captain Dean; but I don't suppose you remember me, sir."

"No, indeed I do not; though I am not apt to forget those who have been any time with me," he replied, looking at me very hard.

"It's a long time, sir; but perhaps you may remember a lad of the name of Peter Lefroy, to whom you were very kind," I said, my voice faltering as I spoke, for I was longing to inquire after Mary.

"I remember him well, poor lad. He was lost with a whole ship's company in the North Sea, upwards of a year ago. But what do you know of him?" he asked.

"Why, sir, I know that he was wonderfully preserved, and now stands before you, Captain Dean," I exclaimed, no longer able to contain myself. "And tell me, sir, oh tell me—Mary, where is Mary, sir?" I blurted out, feeling that I could not speak again till I heard of her.

"Peter—Peter Lefroy, my good lad!" he ejaculated, seizing my hand and gazing earnestly in my face. "It is you yourself I ought to have known you at once; and Mary—she would know you—she is well, and with your own sisters, for she is to be one of Miss Fanny's bridesmaids. But come along, this will be a day of rejoicing."

Captain Dean, on our way to the house where my family was living, to which he was bound when I stopped him, told me that he had some time back communicated with my father; and that a month ago, having made a voyage to Liverpool, where he was obliged to have his ship repaired, he had come over to Dublin with Mary to show her something of Ireland. He had accidentally met my father, and introducing himself to him, all my family had shown him and Mary the greatest kindness; and he added that my sisters had formed a warm friendship for her.

My heart beat when I heard this; but I did not trust myself to say anything. "And now, Peter," said Captain Dean, as we reached the door, "I will go in and break the joyful news to all hands."

What a tumult was in my heart, as for ten minutes I walked up and down before the house, waiting to be summoned! At length Captain Dean opened the door, and beckoning to me, pulled me in. "They all suspect the truth," he observed. "But I would not tell them till I had got you all ready to show; so now I'll go back and tell them I have brought a lad who will let them know all about the long-lost Peter."

They heard him speak, and guessing what was the case, they came flying down the stairs; and before I had got through the half, I was once more in the loving arms of my truest and best friends. Even my mother did not faint, though she sobbed aloud for very joy that her truant son had returned.

One sweet little girl hung back from the eager crowd. I espied her, and breaking through them, she received a not less affectionate greeting than had my sisters.

With my subsequent life I need not trouble my readers.

"Well, Peter," said my father, after I had been washed and clothed, and had put on once more the appearance of a gentleman, "you have come back, my lad, poorer than you went away, I fear." He made this remark with the kind intention of filling a purse my sisters and Mary had given me.

"No, father," I answered, "I have come back infinitely richer. I have learned to fear God, to worship Him in His works, and to trust to His infinite mercy. I have also learned to know myself, and to take advice and counsel from my superiors in wisdom and goodness."

"Then," said my father, "I am indeed content; and I trust others may take a needful lesson from the adventures of PETER THE WHALER."


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