"We certainly are of a perverse nature, as I have often heard the clergyman say, for it appears to me that we always wish to do that which we are told not to do. If my mother had not been always persuading me against going to sea, I really believe I might have stayed at home. I've often thought since, how selfish and unfeeling I must have been. I was too young to know what pain I was giving my mother, and how anxiety was preying upon her, all on my account. Children cannot feel it; if they did, they would do otherwise, for our hearts are seldom hard until we grow older."
"I agree with you, Ready," said Mr. Seagrave. "If children really knew how much their parents suffer when they behave ill, how alarmed they are at any proofs of wickedness in them, they would be much better."
"We never find that out, sir, till it is too late," continued Ready. "Well, sir, I was little more than nine years old, when, on a very windy day, and the water rough, a hawser, by which a vessel was fast to the wharf, was carried away with a violent jerk, and the broken part, as it flew out, struck a person who was at the edge of the wharf, and knocked him into the sea. I heard the crying out, and the men from the wharf and from the ships were throwing ropes to him, but he could not catch hold of them; indeed, he could not swim well, and the water was rough. I caught a rope that had been hauled in again, and leapt off the wharf.
"Young as I was, I swam like a duck, and put the rope into his hands just as he was going down. He clung to it as drowning men only can cling, and was hauled to the piles, and soon afterwards a boat, which had been lowered from the stern of one of the vessels, picked us both up. We were taken to a public-house, and put into bed till dry clothes could be sent for us; and then I found that the person I had saved was my godfather, Mr. Masterman. Everyone was loud in my praise; and, although perhaps I ought not to say it, it was a bold act for so young a boy as I was. The sailors took me home to my mother in a sort of triumphal procession; and she, poor thing, when she heard what I had done, embraced me over and over again, one moment rejoicing at my preservation, and the next weeping bitterly at the thoughts of the danger I had encountered, and the probability that my bold spirit would lead me into still greater."
"But she did not blame you for what you had done?"
"Oh no, William; she felt that I had done my duty towards my neighbour, and perhaps she felt in her own heart that I had returned good for evil; but she did not say so. The next day Mr. Masterman called upon us; he certainly looked very foolish and confused when he asked for his godson, whom he had so long neglected. My mother, who felt how useful he might be to me, received him very kindly; but I had been often told of his neglect of me and my mother, and of his supposed unfair conduct towards my father, and had taken a violent dislike to him; his advances towards me were therefore very coolly received. I felt glad that I had saved him; but although I could not exactly understand my own feelings at the time, I am ashamed to say that my pleasure was not derived from having done a good action, so much as indulging a feeling of revenge in having put one under an obligation who had treated me ill; this arose from my proud spirit, which my mother could not check. So you see, William, there was very little merit in what I had done, as, after I had done it, I indulged those feelings which I ought to have checked."
"I think I could not have helped feeling the same, Ready, under such circumstances," replied William.
"The impulse which induced me to act was good," replied Ready; "but the feeling which I indulged in afterwards took away the whole merit of the deed. I am stating what I believe to be the truth; and an old man like me can look upon the past without bias, but not without regret. Mr. Masterman made but a short visit; he told my mother that he would now take care of me and bring me up to the business of a ship-builder as soon as I was old enough to leave school, and that in the meantime he would pay all my expenses. My poor mother was very grateful, and shed tears of joy; and when Mr. Masterman went away, she embraced me, and said that now she was happy, as I should have a profession on shore and not go to sea. I must do justice to Mr. Masterman; he kept his word and sent money to my mother, so that she became quite cheerful and comfortable, and everyone congratulated her, and she used to fondle me, and say, it was all through me that she was relieved from her distress."