Jimmy Fitzgerald by Anonymous

Jimmy Fitzgerald and the old Lieutenant had both entered the navy in equally humble situations, at an early age: the friends of the latter, eventually, procured his advancement; but Fitzgerald, whose relations were poor, never had the luck to be rated on any ship's books in a higher station than that of an able seaman. The difference of rank had not the effect of diminishing the respect and affection which the Lieutenant and Fitzgerald bore towards each other: in their manhood they were upon as familiar terms, so far as naval etiquette would permit, as when in their boyhood they had been equals. The Lieutenant had saved his friend's life, at the risk of his own, in the Mediterranean; and, to judge from appearances, he was, if possible, more partial to Jimmy Fitzgerald than the Old Irish Boy was to him. The preserver frequently is found to display more affection towards the preserved, than the preserved either exhibits or feels towards his preserver.

No two men could be much more unlike each other than the Lieutenant and Jimmy Fitzgerald. The former had received a tolerable education before he went to sea; he had taken every opportunity to improve himself while in the service; from the period of his retiring, he had read much on general subjects; and he was, at the time of his taking possession of his nephew's cottage, a very well informed man. Jimmy Fitzgerald, on the contrary, scarcely knew how to read when he left his native village; he had picked up but a slight smattering of such knowledge as is to be obtained from books, in his progress through life; but he possessed a finer mind and greater powers of observation than his friend; and the Old Irish Boy was, perhaps, superior to the better educated Lieutenant, in mental riches, discrimination, and eloquence, when they again met, after an interval of many years' separation, under the roof of the former. Jimmy Fitzgerald's style rose with his subject; and he occasionally found himself at such an elevation, that it was a mystery how he had been able to attain it. The Lieutenant was always level in his discourse: he neither descended so low, nor rose so high as his friend; nor did he, like Fitzgerald, ever presume to discuss any but commonplace subjects. Jimmy occasionally indulged in such daring flights, that he toppled down headlong from an altitude which he was unable to support; a disgrace to which the more sober and matter-of-fact Lieutenant never subjected himself. The one sedulously avoided the utterance of anything new; the other, if it had been in his power, would rarely have said anything that was old. The Lieutenant was circumspect, and the Old Boy ambitious: the former was stiff, constrained, and rather stately in his language; the latter free, careless, and Hibernically vernacular. Jimmy Fitzgerald was poor, almost dependant on the exertions of a niece and her two sons for support, and so afflicted in his nether extremities, that he could not move from his chair without assistance; but he was always merry, and rarely complained. The Lieutenant possessed a competency, he enjoyed a most robust state of health, his legs, and the arm which the enemies of his country had left him, were still in full vigour; but he frequently repined at his poverty, occasional slight attacks of head-ache, and at being compelled to do the work of two hands with one.

Notwithstanding the difference in their temperaments, the two friends had rarely disagreed; and Orestes and Pylades, or Damon and Pythias, could not have exhibited more affection towards each other, after a long separation, than Jimmy Fitzgerald and the Lieutenant did, when the latter entered the Old Irish Boy's cabin. My relation had, to use his own expression, been roaming about, here and there and everywhere, for a number of years; and so little positive inclination did he feel for passing the remainder of his life in one place, that he would, probably, have declined his nephew's well-meant offer, had not Jimmy Fitzgerald's cabin been within ten minutes' walk of the cottage, and the sea been visible from two of its four front windows. The village was principally occupied by fishermen; but there were two or three respectable families resident in the neighbourhood: to these the old Lieutenant had letters of introduction; so that he felt satisfied, on entering upon his tolerably neat, but humble abode, that he should not be at a loss for society, even if it were possible for him ever to grow tired of that of his friend Fitzgerald.

After a great number of mutual inquiries had been answered, and many expressions of reciprocal friendship had been uttered, Jimmy Fitzgerald drew forth a little tub of pothien from beneath the bed, with his crutch,—which was of no other use to him but to perform this and similar offices,—and protested by several saints, whose names have escaped my memory, that we should have a jovial night of it. "Many's the pitcher of good drink," he exclaimed, "the Lieutenant and I have helped one another to empty: though, I'll say this for him, he'd always thirty-one points and a half more love for sobriety than ever Jimmy Fitzgerald could boast; and at that same time, when he'd make mouths at a third can, and draw back from a fourth, as he would from a dog that was going to snap at him, I drank, and drank,—more shame to me for it,—as though I'd declared war against spirits, and wished to exterminate them,—rum, in particular,—from the face of the earth. I think I'm a better man than I was long ago: no thanks to me, for that, though, perhaps; for I'm out of the way of temptation; and if I'd the pay of an admiral, I couldn't enjoy myself as I did long ago. It's wrong of us to brag of our virtue, when we've no appetite left in us for sin:—that's a saying I stole from the priest, because it plazed me. You'll like Father Killala mightily, Lieutenant, when you come to know him; as you soon will, won't you? And noticing him reminds me of telling you, that while you're here, I'll engage you'll never get reproached for being a Protestant."

"Toleration, Jimmy—"

"Is it toleration?" exclaimed Fitzgerald, interrupting the Lieutenant; "why then, in toleration, Father Killalas flock are all lambkins. I'll add to that,—because, I know you'll like to hear it—we're as quiet as mice in these parts: we've no fighting, nor fairs, nor wren-feasts; and as few ghosts or goblins, Banshees, Lepreghauns, or white women on horseback, as you'd wish: for we don't give such cattle much encouragement. Don't that plaze you, Lieutenant?"

"It does,—it does; and I have no doubt but that I shall pass my days peacefully and pleasantly in your village, my good old friend. Jimmy Fitzgerald and I," continued the Lieutenant, addressing me with unusual animation, "have fought and bled side by side; we were confined together, for four years, in a French prison, from which we escaped in company; we had but one tobacco-box between us, for fifteen months; and we accidentally fell in love with the same woman. Jimmy acted most magnanimously on that occasion: as soon as he discovered that I was his rival, he instantly resigned his pretensions in my favour."

"And you were quite as polite to me, Lieutenant," said Jimmy, "and I don't forget it to you to this day. You insisted, you know, as strongly as I did: so that as each was resolute in not cutting out his friend, the darling delight of our hearts got neither of us; and she's now living,—an ould maid, as I'm tould,—near upon a mile and a half this side of Thurles."

"Is it possible?" exclaimed the Lieutenant.

"It's as true as you're born, if Corney Carolan is to be believed on his oath. I wouldn't take his word; but when a man swears to what he says, it's not dacent to discredit him, is it?"

"Certainly not," replied the Lieutenant. "And so Peggy is living within a mile and a half of Thurles, is she?—unmarried, too, you say?"

"She is; and I don't think I'd be doing my duty if I didn't tell you. I'll just take this present opportunity of saying, too, that as you think of settling, and as you're still well-looking, and I'm broke down out-and-out, so that she wouldn't look upon me,—I'd sacrifice nothing,—that is, I wouldn't intirely brake my heart if you wint and married her."

"James Fitzgerald," said the Lieutenant, "you are still the noble fellow you were thirty years ago. You have forestalled me on this occasion: I assure you that I was just working myself up to say to you what you have said to me. You are still a bachelor, Jimmy, and, as far as I am concerned, Miss Margaret M'Carthy is quite at your service."

"Thank you kindly, and good luck to you for this and all that's past," said Jimmy; "but, to spake my mind,—I never cared much about Peg."

"Nor I, upon my honour!" exclaimed the Lieutenant.

"I was glad of an excuse to be rid of her," quoth Fitzgerald.

"Precisely my own case, I protest," said the Lieutenant.

"And I never cared one half so little for her, as I do just now."

"We coincide on this point to a tittle."

"Then what becomes of our mutual devotion, Lieutenant? It was all moonshine, you see."

"Not exactly," replied the Lieutenant; "man can look back on past occurrences, and see circumstances in their true light—"

"Better than he can when they're under his nose?" interrupted Fitzgerald. "Is it that you mane?"

"It is: passion and prejudice, as philosophy teaches us—"

"Hould your tongue, Lieutenant," said Fitzgerald; "for I think I can find a shorter way for us out of the bog, than your jack-o-lantern philosophy will light us to. The truth is, we were young and foolish that time; we thought we loved the young woman, and we didn't: so there's an end of Peg. My blessings be on her for all that, though! She never did me harm; and one of us, may be, was wrong in not marrying her."

"She told me to my face,—truth is a jewel, Jimmy Fitzgerald," said the Lieutenant, "she told me, calmly and resolutely, when I informed her that you were as deeply in love with her as myself, that we had mistaken innocent flirting for affection; and that, were a formal proposal made to her, she should indignantly reject it; 'for,' said she, 'I would not have either of you, if one was a Rear Admiral, and the other a Major of Marines.' That was her precise expression."

"Oh! Time, Time!" exclaimed Jimmy; "what a fine auld fellow you are, to be sure! How you open our eyes, and bring things to light! If it wasn't for you, Truth might often go hide her head."

"I think," said the Lieutenant, rather gaily, "that if I wanted a wife, I might probably find one who would suit me better than Peggy, among your neighbours, friend Fitzgerald. And, by-the-by, as I am coming to live among them, I should be glad if you would afford me a little insight to their various characters, circumstances, and histories. I am well aware of your capability to do so:—when I found you on board the Janus, after we had parted company for more than seven years, you did me incalculable benefit, by giving me a descriptive portrait of every soul in the ship; from the cook's boy up to the captain. Will you oblige me?"

"I will, in that or anything else that's in the power o' me," replied the Old Boy. "If I devoted one half o' my life to you, since I was twenty, I'd still be your debtor for the other half: for didn't you save the whole of it at the risk of your own?—You did, then; and I'll never—"

"Psha, psha, Fitzgerald! you know what strong objections I have to your dwelling on that topic."

"Go along with you, and don't be prating so, sir," said Jimmy; "I won't put up with your taking the liberty of doing a fine thing for me, and then bidding me not spake of it. My bits of gratitude, now and then, goes for the interest; but I'll never be able to pay off the debt. Still, though the one is out of my power to do, I'd not be aisy in my own mind if I neglected the other that isn't: so that, after all, may be, when we think we're doing great things, by acting as we should to others, we're just egged on to it, by the fear of not being on good terms with ourselves. You've often tould me, Lieutenant, I should be your Corporal Trim,—the man you and I read about, long ago, in Jack Flanagan's bit of a book, aboard the Bellerophon: and I would be so, but my legs took to their heels and deserted me, you know; and so I couldn't, could I? Did you ever get hould of a book, since I saw you, with the middle and both ends of that story in it?—If you did, as we'd only the middle and a bit o' the beginning in Jack Flanagan's greasy library, I'd be glad if you'd tell it me."

"I will, with pleasure, Fitzgerald, when—"

"When I've described my neighbours to you, is it? Well, then, I'll do that, I think, before we part, if the whiskey houlds out, and it don't get much the better of us. But it sha'n't, shall it?—for we'll put ourselves upon short allowance, and drink as we ought, to the renewal of our acquaintance, when I'm done. I'll tell you, before I begin, that you couldn't pick out any nine in the whole barony, knows half so much about the people that's in it, as myself; though I'm fast moored here, like a Trinity-house buoy on a sand-bank: but though I see little, I hear much; and as I can't go to any body, why, every body comes to me."

"I am grieved to the heart, Jimmy Fitzgerald," said the Lieutenant, "to behold you so fettered by your infirmities; confined, if I may use the expression, like a pig in a coop—"

"Liberty, Lieutenant," interrupted the Old Irish Boy, "is only comparative at the best; and none of us gets our fill of it. Going about from one place to another isn't freedom, as I think you'll own: so why need I cry out? If it was, nobody, as I said, while ago, has as much as he wishes of it. I'd be delighted to be able to go get mass once a week, and to crawl a quarter of a mile now and then; but my infirmities prevent me: so I don't have my wish. But I'm only like the rest o' the world; and, therefore, I ought to be contented; though, I'll own, I'm not so, exactly. One man sighs to have a jaunt into the country, sometimes,—but his wife won't let him leave the town he lives in; another thinks he'd be happy if he could p'rambulate about in foreign parts,—but his pocket keeps him at home; even that mighty conqueror, Alexander the Great, if there's truth in the song that's made about him, found the globe itself too little for his desires; and you know, well enough, that little Snookenhausen used to be telling us at Malta, of an ould philosopher, in ancient times, who fell out with his own bread and butter, like a big baby as he was, because he couldn't have another world for a play-ground, so as he might play trap-ball with this. There's none of us but strains the cable by which we're moored, as tight as we well can; and many's the man tries, all his life, to cut it, and sheer off into the main; but he can't. If you tie up a horse in a field, he'll not care half so much about the rich grass that's under his nose, as he will for a few dry blades, which his rope won't let him reach; and he'll be trying for them, when he might be filling his belly with better. If I am, as you say, shut up here like a pig in a coop,—and it's true enough,—I've the comfort of knowing, that be, who thinks himself free, and brags about his liberty, has a ring in his nose, and, may be, two or three other incumbrances, which prevent him, although he's adrift, from enjoying his freedom, or doing as he likes, much more than I can.—But now for my neighbours—"