Cannon Family, the Journey to Boulogne

When Alexander the Great was gazetted commander-in-chief of the Macedonian forces, and was concocting the eighteen manœuvres at the Horse-guards of that celebrated country; when he was about fighting Darius, Xerxes, and Porus; when Cæsar was invading Gaul and Britain; when the Benedictine monks were compiling "L'Art de verifier les dates;" when Sterne was writing Tristram Shandy; when Burton was anatomizing melancholy; when the companions of Columbus were puzzling their brains to find out how an egg could stand on end; when Mrs. Glass was concocting her cookery-book, and Bayle his dictionary; their minds were as smooth and as calm as a fish-pond, a milk-bowl, a butter-boat, an oil-cruet, compared with the speculative and prospective anxieties of all the Cannons as they were rattled on towards Dover, on their way to the land of promise, where milk and honey were to be found flowing,—longevity in apothecaries' shops,—modesty purchased at milliners' counters,—and decorum taught by opera-dancers. In these Utopian dreams, England was considered an uninhabitable region of fogs, mists, tyranny, corruption, consumption, and chilblains; the fate of Nineveh was denounced on London,—the modern Babylon; and, had it been burning from Chelsea bun-house to Aldgate pump, and from the Elephant and Castle to the Wheatsheaf at Paddington, the Cannons would not have dared to cast "a lingering look behind them" without dreading the lot of the Lots.

After their due share of impositions, thanks and curses, maledictions or valedictions, as they had been "genteel" or "shabby" with waiters, chambermaids, boots, porters, postilions, and hostlers on the road, the party arrived at Dover, and of course "put up," or rather, were "put down," at the Ship. But here fresh reasons for abhorring England were in store. When the waiters saw the arms of the Cannons on their panels, and the dragon, and the motto "Crepo," they all crowded round the travellers; but, like many apparently good things in this world, the inside of the fruit did not appear as attractive as its external bloom; and as the Cannons tumbled out, or jumped out, or rolled out, or staggered out of their vehicles, with all sorts of parcels and bundles, in brown and whity-brown paper, and pocket-handkerchiefs of silk and of cotton, without any of those neat and elegant cases containing all sorts of necessary articles for travellers in health or in sickness, and which form an invariable part of fashionable travellers' luggage, the waiters and the lookers-on seemed to consider the Cannons with looks that, without much knowledge of physiognomy, might have been interpreted "These people have no business here." They were reluctantly shown into a parlour, and to bed-rooms at the top of the house, with the usual formal apology, "Sorry, ma'am, we can't afford better accommodation; our house is quite full: the Duke of Scratchenburg and his suet is just come over from Germany, and the Prince of Hesse Humbuginstein is hourly looked for. Coming—going—coming—oh, Lord, what a life! going—going directly!"

The Cannons were hungry; dinner was ordered immediately. Now it was the height of presumption—nay, of impudence—on the part of a hungry citizen, without courier or valet de chambre, or supporters to his arms, to make use of such an aristocratic adverb. Immediately implies servitude, slavery, servility, at the nod of a master,—ay, and of an accidental master, an interloper in command. Is a free-born Englishman to run helter-skelter up and down stairs at the risk of breaking his neck, to hurry the cook, to expose himself to a forfeit of one shilling (not being a gentleman) by swearing and cursing in the teeth of the 19 Geo. 2. c. 21, when the cook tells the officious waiter not to bother him, or, if the weather is hot and the fire is fierce, bids him, by a natural association of ideas, to go to h—; and all this because an ex-tallow-chandler is hungry, and wants an immediate dinner! Forbid it, glorious constitution! forbid it, bill of rights!

Old Commodus Cannon pulled the bell until the rope remained in his hand unconnected with its usual companion; for be it known for the information of impatient voyagers, that in modest apartments the said ropes are only attached by slender ties, which give way when vigorously jerked, that servants may not be disturbed. At last a waiter, bearing in his knitted brows the apprehension of a miserable shilling "tip" on departure, came in to inform the party that dinner would be served as soon as possible, but that the Duke of Scratchenburg and Prince Hesse Humbuginstein's dinners busied every hand in the house; but, if the gentlemen chose, there was a hot joint serving up in the coffee-room.

Cannon was outrageous, and swore that he would go to another hotel.

"You are perfectly welcome to do so, sir, if you like."

"I'll represent your behaviour to all our friends!" exclaimed Mrs. Cannon.

"None of our acquaintance shall ever put up in this house," added Miss Cannon.

"Then, ladies," replied the waiter, with a ludicrous heavy sigh, "we shall be obliged to shut up shop!"

At last an apology for a dinner was served; beefsteaks, potatoes, and a gooseberry tart. No oyster sauce!—the last oyster had been served to his Grace! No fish!—the last turbot had been served to his Serene Highness!

"Your port wine and your sherry are execrable!"

"His Grace thought them excellent."

Cannon was bubbling over, but he philosophized over a glass of punch; and his family comforted themselves, over a cup of tea, with the thoughts of their speedy departure from "horrible England."

Peter Cannon complained in the coffee-room of the treatment they had experienced, and he felt not a little annoyed when his interlocutor, a perfect stranger, observed that "they would have been much more comfortable had they put up at a second or third-rate hotel." They seemed created for wanton insult. Cornelius Cannon strolled out to inquire if there was anything to be seen in Dover; an insolent groom told him that, if he would go up to the Castle, he might see "a rum cannon" that carried a ball to Calais. Had he been a gentleman, Cornelius must have called him out, for he fancied that the term "rum cannon" had been a personality.

The next morning the packet was to sail. Here again fresh outrages were heaped upon them. They were asked for the keys of their trunks, to be examined at the custom-house!

"Why, what the deuce do they fancy I can have to export?" exclaimed Commodus Cannon.

"Why, sir, perhaps it might be some machinery."

There was something wantonly offensive in the insinuation that a man like Mr. Commodus Cannon should smuggle out a steam-engine, an improved loom, or a paper-mill, in his luggage! What could have been the cause of all these indignities? Simply this, as it was subsequently discovered: Sam Surly, being hungry, and not over nice, despite a brown and gold-laced red-collared livery, and military cockade, had gone to the tap to enjoy a pull of half-and-half; and, unaccustomed to travel, had gone into the kitchen for some "victuals," instead of joining the board of the other under-gentlemen in the house. On the other hand, Sukey Simper, both for the sake of comfort and economy, had brought with her a bottle of rum, and some loaf-sugar wrapped up in brown paper, and, having been shown to her attic quarters, forthwith prepared a potation to refresh herself after her journey: neither being aware that it is part and parcel of a servant's duty in a respectable family to run up a heavy score at their master's expense. Now, Sam Surly had also picked up an old Yorkshire acquaintance, with whom he repaired to another eating-house, where, over a bowl of generous humpty-dumpty, Sam was prevailed upon to take charge of a small parcel of little articles for a present at Boulogne, and, to avoid paying freight, he was recommended to conceal the said trifles in his capacious corduroy unmentionables.

As Messrs. Cannons were perambulating the streets of Dover, they observed sundry gentlemen, some of them lords, wearing sailors' jackets and hats, and they therefore determined to turn out in a marine costume; for which purpose they hied to a Jew slop-seller for their outfit. Mr. Cannon, senior, donned a pea-coatie, with a pair of ample blue trousers, and a glazed hat with a jaunty riband; while his sons soon strutted about the town in yacht-club uniforms, with their hands knowingly thrust in the pockets of their jackets, resplendent with anchored buttons. They felt satisfied that they had produced "the desired effect," for every one stared at them as they stalked along in "rank entire," Commodus Cannon leading the van, and the ladies—enraptured at the appearance of the male part of the family—bringing up the rear. They were certainly annoyed by the impertinent observations of the vulgar people, boys and girls, who, with the usual English bad taste, did not know better,—who would titter, and exclaim, "I say, there goes the horse-marines!"

"No, no," cried another; "it's the famous Sea Cook and his sons wot uncovered the Sandwich Islands!"

"I say, commodore, how are they all in the Fleet?" roared out a costermonger.

"Poor old gentleman! his eyebrows are worn out, looking out for squalls through a grating?" said a fourth.

While a boatswain sang out, and whistled in Cannon's ear,

"Yer, yer! man the sides! there's the flying Dutchman coming on board!"

"Sing out for Captain Yokell, cockswain!" bellowed an impertinent sailor.

Now, strange to say, these observations, which might have offended some sensitive persons, highly gratified our travellers. They had already obtained what they so ardently desired—notoriety, and had a chance of seeing their names in print; for, even when a man is abused and ridiculed, if it is in print, the sting carries with it its own antidote. He becomes public property; he is something; "There goes that confounded ass, Mr. Such-a-one! there goes that rum cove, Mr. What's-his-name!" Then, if he can but get himself caricatured, he is a made man. Were it not for the gratification derived from such publicity, would so many people walk, and talk, and dress, or undress, in the absurd manner we daily witness in our lounges? A certain lord was honoured with an hebdomadary flare-up by a certain weekly paper as regularly as church-bells are rung on the sabbath. It was expected that his lordship would have purchased the editor's silence,—absurd expectation! One might as well expect that a jolly prebend would decline sitting in half-a-dozen stalls at the same time. No, no; the editor abused on until he was tired of abusing gratis; when his lordship was so much annoyed that he paid to have scurrilous articles inserted, forwarded by himself.

Two packets were about starting, a French one and an English one. The Cannons were resolved to punish their ungrateful countrymen, and embarked under the colours of France. A numerous French family were repairing on board; and, as the gentlemen wore a red riband in their button-holes, our party concluded they were noblemen. The two families were grouped near each other; and the French, with their usual condescension, honoured the Cannons with their countenance, conversing as well as persons scarcely acquainted with each other's language can conveniently converse.

The morning was fine; but lowering clouds and a white sun would have induced experienced mariners to expect a fresh breeze. With great volubility of execrations the Gaul got under weigh, and paddled on slowly, while the English packet shot by like a dart. The French captain smiled at this swiftness, and, shrugging up his shoulders, exclaimed,

"Ces Anglais! ça n'a pas d'expérience!—nous verrons tout à l'heure!" he added, rubbing his hands with delight.

The influence of dress is wonderful. A certain costume seems to impart to the wearer, ideas pertaining to the class of society which he then personates. A lawyer's wig and gown make a man fancy that he could plead, and he regrets that he was not brought up to the bar. A civilian, who attends a fancy ball in a splendid uniform, is inspired with courageous ideas, which a free potation of refreshment fans into a martial ardour. Now the Cannons did truly consider themselves sailors. The young men walked up and down the deck boldly, endeavouring to show how they could tread a plank or a seam on "sea legs" without staggering, although there was no more motion than under Kew-bridge; and then they would cast a knowing eye at the compass as they passed the binnacle, to ascertain if the helmsman steered judiciously, although the compass was as little known to them as the Koran. Then they would suddenly stop, and look at the sky; then suck their fingers, and hold them up, to see which way the wind blew; and, when their cigars were out they would whistle or hum "Rule Britannia!" or, "You gentlemen of England, who live at home at ease," while they were lighting other havannahs.

Old Cannon was equally busy; but he was seated amongst the ladies, encouraging them against sea-sickness, which he said was all nonsense, and, if they were very sick, recommended them most particularly to turn their faces to the wind, and to keep their veils before them not to see the sea. Then to the French gentlemen he endeavoured to describe the battles of the Nile and of Trafalgar; and the Frenchmen of course concluded from his age, language, and appearance, that he was at least an admiral.

A "cat's-paw," as the sailors call it, had now ruffled the surface of the water, and the vessel commenced heaving; ere long, most of the passengers assisted the packet in conjugating the verb "heave;" when, strange to say, the powers of the pea-jacket and the anchor-buttons were exhausted, and all the Cannons were drawn out,—a broadside of unutterable misery. Old Cannon roared out "he was a-dying," and begged they would send for a doctor; and while he was rolling, and twisting, and twining upon the deck in agony, the cabin-boy was cleansing him with a wet swab. As to the Miss Cannons, they were assisted below,—not by their brothers, who, with dismay in their countenances, were "holding on" at every thing and every one they could catch, until a sudden regurgitation made them rush in desperation to the bulwark, with closed eyes and extended arms. Strange to say, the French gentlemen were not sick! possibly their red riband was more effectual than blue jackets; but they indulged their mirth at the expense of old Cannon, exclaiming,

"Mais, voyez donc, ce pauvre Monsieur de Trafalgar!"

It now was blowing fresh, and, to add to their misery, the paddles, by some mismanagement of the engineer, got obstructed, and the vessel was completely water-logged.

The French passengers got frightened, and began shaking old Cannon, roaring out,

"Monsieur de Trafalgar, à la manœuvre! à la manœuvre!"

"Oh Lord! oh Lord!" exclaimed the old man in a piteous tone, "are we arrived?"

"No, sare! we sall all arriver down to de bottom. Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!"

"Monsieur de Trafalgar, you do see! vat is de matter!" exclaimed a poor Frenchwoman, who had rolled over him.

The captain swore that it all arose from their having an English steam-engine, which his owner had insisted upon. Fortunately for the party, there happened to be an English sailor on board, who had all the while been sleeping on the bows, and who started at the uproar and the loud curses of the French crew: every one giving an advice which no one followed and all contradicted. He jumped down below, and in a few moments all was right again. When he returned upon deck, the captain, with a smile of importance, observed,

"I do suppose, sare, dat you have been vere long time in France; dat is de metod of which we do make use in circonstances similar."

"Circumstances similar!" exclaimed Jack, as he thrust a quid in his cheek, "then, why the h—didn't you do it yourself, you beggar?" and off he went to roost, as the Frenchman, pale with rage, muttered a "sacré Godam!"

Soon, however, the harbour of Boulogne was made, and the crowd of its idle inhabitants were congregated as usual on the pier, to variegate the sameness of their amusements by the arrival of fresh food for curiosity and gossip regularly supplied by the packets. Unfortunately it was low water, and the steamer could not get in; it therefore became necessary that the passengers should be landed on the backs of fisherwomen, who are always ready saddled on these occasions for the carriage of voyagers. Great were the cries and the shrieks of the Miss Cannons and their mamma when thus mounted; but old Cannon, recovered from his sickness, seemed quite delighted. He jumped upon the shoulders of a fat old woman, who staggered under the weight, with a "'Cré chien, qu'il est lourd!" But Mr. Cannon was not satisfied with his natural weight, and, wishing to show the natives that he could ride à l'Anglaise, he stuck his knees in the sides of his biped steed, and began rising in his saddle, despite the tottering Boulonnaire, who was roaring out, "'Cré Dieu, Monsieur l'Anglais! est-ce que vous étes enragé! Nom d'un Dieu! vous m'ereintes! Ah Jesus, je n'en puis plus!" and, suiting the action to the word, down she rolled in the mud, pitching her rider head over heels, amidst convulsive roars of international laughter.

This accident did not halt the cavalcade, and Cannon's affectionate spouse and children endeavoured in vain to rein in their chargers. On they trotted until they landed them at the pier, leaving Cannon in the hands of the fisherwoman, who not only insisted upon her fare in the most vehement language, but on compensation for the damage occasioned by her fall, which she justly attributed to his bad riding.

The old gentleman, soused to the skin, was most anxious to reach some hotel where he could put on dry clothes; but he was in France,—and plans of comfort are not of easy execution in that land of freedom. He was stopped with his whole generation at the custom-house, where fresh annoyances awaited them. It had never occurred to him that in pacific times a passport was required, and he had neglected this necessary measure. In vain he roared out that his name was Cannon. "Were you the pope's park of artillery," replied the insolent scrivener of the police, "you must be en règle." While this warm discussion was going on, Commodus heard loud shrieks in a room into which his wife and daughters had been politely pushed. He asked for admittance in vain, bawling out that they were the Miss Cannons. It was indeed his astonished young ladies, whom a custom-house female official insisted upon searching. Another more terrific alarm shook his nerves; a terrible fracas took place at the door, and he thought he heard the voice of Sam Surly cursing the entire French nation in the most eloquent Yorkshire dialect. Alas! it was he; but in what a degraded situation,—what a disgraceful condition for a free-born British yeoman! and yet we are at peace with the Gaul! Sam was stretched upon the ground, surrounded by what appeared to Cannon to be soldiers, with drawn swords, threatening his life, while he was emphatically denouncing their limbs. But, oh, horror! another soldier was pulling off his corduroys in presence of the multitude; while another, and another, and another were drawing out of them about two hundred yards of bobbinet! This operation over, the douanier proceeded to draw out a specification, or procès verbal, not only regarding the seizure, but a black eye and a bloody nose that Sam had inflicted on "des soldats Français," for which his life alone could atone; but an English gentleman standing by, assured Cannon that a napoleon would manage these braves, if they had been half kicked to death. Money settled the business, and all the party proceeded toward the town, surrounded by a crowd of curious people in roars of laughter; the male part of the family were swearing most copiously, the ladies crying most piteously, and Sam Surly offering to box any one for a pot of porter.

The name of Cannon had passed from mouth to mouth, and had reached Stubb's corner before the party. This celebrated laboratory of reputation and crucible of character is simply the front of a circulating library,—a very emporium of works of fiction. A group of idlers were, as usual, assembled at this saluting battery, who loaded so soon as the approach of what a wag called the battering train was announced.

This spot proved to the Cannon family a second baptismal fount, for, as they passed by, they all received cognominations according to their external appearance, which ever after have stuck to them. Commodus Cannon, a short, plump, dapper man, was called the Mortar; Mrs. Cannon, also of respectable embonpoint, and of a tournure between an apple dumpling and a raspberry bolster-pudding, was named the Howitzer; Miss Molly, a tall slight figure, was favoured with the appellation of the Culverin; Biddy, a squat cherub-looking girl, was basely named the Pateraro; Lucy, who had rather a cast in each eye, which had induced the wits of Muckford to christen her Miss Wednesday (as they pretended that she looked both ways to Sunday,)—Miss Lucy, those pernicious sponsors called the Swivel; Kitty, a stout, short, beautiful creature, in whose form graceful undulations made up for length, they nicknamed the Carronade. The senior of the junior Cannons was a Short Nine; George, a Four Pounder; Cornelius, a Cohorn; Peter, a Long Six; and Oliver, a Pétard, the most horrible and degrading patronymic that could be bestowed upon any poor traveller in France.

At last, after passing under this volley from Fort Stubb, they all arrived, more dead than alive, at a hotel. Here, to their additional comfort, they were informed that half of the ladies' things that had not been made up were seized, or, in other words, made over to the douaniers. Exhausted and despairing, they asked for some soup, expecting a bowl of mock-turtle or of gravy. A potage de vermicelle was served up, the sight of which was not very encouraging for digestive organs just recovering from an inverted peristaltic motion. Cannon tasted it, and swore it was nothing but "hot water and worms." Miss Molly told him he ought to be ashamed of himself, before strangers, not to know wermichelly. Cannon swore lustily that they might swallow the wormy-jelly themselves, and asked for some other potage. A soupe maigre, made of sorrel and chervil, followed. Cannon had scarcely tasted the sour mixture, when he swore he was poisoned with oxalic acid, and roared out for a doctor, when he was informed to his utter dismay that all the doctors in the town had struck.

Doctors strike!—never heard of such a thing. To be sure, they may strike a death-blow now and then; but doctors striking was a new sort of a conspiracy. The French waiters only shrugged up their shoulders with a "Que voulez vous, monsieur!" a most tantalizing reply to a man who cannot get anything that he wants.

An English resident in the room explained matters. "We have, sir," he said, "several British practitioners in this place: many of them are men of considerable merit; but the learned body have just been thrown into a revolution by a Scotch physician, a Dr. M'Crusoe. The usual fee here, is a five-franc piece, or four shillings and twopence English; a sum so very small that many English are ashamed to tender it. M'Crusoe therefore proposed to his brethren that they should claim a higher remuneration."

"Jantlemen," he said, "it's dero-gatory tul the deegnety of a pheeseecian like huz, who hae received a leeberal eeducation, mare aspeecially mysel', wha grauduated at Mo-dern Authens, tul accep' sic a pautry fee as four an' tippence. No maun intertains mare contemp' for siller than aw do; but the varry least we aught tul expec' is ten fraunks for day veesits, an' eleven fraunks for nighet calls; fare from the varry heegh price of oil and caundles, at the varry lowest caulculation, it costs me mare than ten baubees per noctem to keep my noghcturnal lamp in pro-per trim. An' aw therefore houp in this deceesion we wull support each eather ho-nestly and leeberally. Aw need na remind jantlemen of yere erudeetion of the wee bit deformed body Æsop's fable, o' the bundle o' stucks, or o' the faucees of the Ro-man leectors, union cone-stitutes straingth. Therefore aw repeat it, aw trust ye wull enforce this raigulation like men o' indepaindence, an' conscious of the deegnity o' science."

All the doctors acquiesced in the expediency of his project, and to that effect signed a resolution, with which M'Crusoe walked off, and read the document with a loud and audible voice, as sternly as a magistrate could read the riot act, at Stubb's corner. The indignation of the community knew no bounds; their wrath foamed and bubbled like the falls of Niagara; they swore by the heads of Galen and Esculapius that they would rather die of the pip, expire in all the agonies of hepatitis, gastritis, enteritis, and all the itises that were ever known, than give one centime more than five francs; nay, in their fury, they swore they would throw themselves into the hands of French doctors, and swallow a gallon of tisane a day for a fifteen-pence fee; and hundreds of letters were sent off to Scotland for cheap doctors.

This was what Dr. M'Crusoe wanted: he immediately circulated himself in every hole and corner to inform the public that,

"In consequence of illeeberality o' ma breethren, under exusting cercumstaunces, aw feel mysel' called upon by pheelauntropy and humaunity to tak' whatever ma patients can afford to gie me."

Such was the state of the faculty of Boulogne when Cannon swore he was poisoned. A French doctor came and ordered him four grains of tartar emetic in a gallon of hot water; and as French doctors are very kind and attentive to their patients, acting both as physicians and nurses, Cannon's attendant had the extreme benevolence to remain with him until he had not only swallowed, but restored, every minim of this bounteous potation, which really amounted to the full capacity that Cannon possessed of containing fluids.

Whether there was anything deleterious or not in the soupe à l'oreille, it is difficult to say; but the ladies were afflicted all night with what physicians call tormina, and tenesmus, and intus-susceptio, and iliac passion, and borborygma in their epigastric and their hypochondriac regions; for all and several of which, the French doctor duly irrigated them with hot water and syrup of gum, threatening them with a cuirasse de sangsues if they were not better in the morning, as he said that they all laboured under an entero-epiplo-hydromphalo-gastrite: while poor Cannon, writhing under the effect of l'eau émétisée was denounced as being threatened with entero-epiplomphale, entero-merocèle, entero-sarcocèle, and entero-ischiocèle. Sick as they all were, they looked upon the native practitioner as a very learned man, and gladly gave thirty sous a head for so much information, when an impudent English quack would have asked them ten francs for merely telling them that they had what is vulgarly called the mulligrubs.

After an intolerable night, Morpheus was shedding his poppies over the exhausted travellers, when they were all roused by the most alarming cries; and Miss Lucy Cannon and Molly Cannon were dragged out of their beds by two French gentlemen, who had just jumped out of theirs, and, clasped in their arms, were forthwith carried out into the court-yard.