MY BIRTH AND HOME—MY PRETTY COUSIN—ACCIDENT TO THE “KITTYWICH”—JOURNEY TO GUERNSEY—PLEADING TO BECOME A CRUSOE—MY WISH GRANTED—OUTFIT SECURED—SAIL TO JETHOU.
That Crusoe of Crusoes, Alexander Selkirk, as I am aware, commences his entertaining history with his birth and parentage, and as I am also a Crusoe, although a very minor adventurer, I may as well follow the precedent and declare my nativity.
I was born at the little village of Barton in Norfolk, at the time the guns at Balaclava were mowing down our red coats and tars, where my father had a small house facing the Broad. It was a comfortable old two-storied building, with a thatched roof, through which a couple of dormer windows peered out, like two eyes, over the beautiful green lawn which sloped to the reed-fringed water. My father was in very comfortable circumstances, as he was owner of six large fishing vessels hailing from the port of Great Yarmouth, some ten or twelve miles distant as the crow flies.
[Illustration: The old home at Barton.]
Being born, as it were, on the water (for a distance of a hundred yards matters but little), I was naturally from my birth a young water dog, although they tell me that for some months after I made my bow to the world, milk also played a prominent part in my career.
As I grew into boyhood, of course I had my rowing punt and my rod, and thus gained my first taste for a solitary life, as it frequently happened that I would be away from sunrise to sunset on some little expedition to one or other of the neighbouring Broads. By and bye came the time when I arrived at that rare age for enjoyment, fourteen years. This birthday, the fourteenth, was a red-letter day in my life, as I received two presents, which were in my eyes very valuable ones; my uncle presented me with a beautiful little light gun, and my father handed me over his small sailing boat. Now I was a man! I felt it, and I knew it, and so did my schoolmates, for there was not one of them, who at some time or other, had not felt the effects of my prowess in a striking manner. Still, the drubbings I gave were not always to my credit, for I was a very big and strong lad for my age, and my self-imposed tasks of long rowing trips and other athletic exercises, naturally made me powerful in the arms and chest. Of my brain power I shall say little, as my mind was ever bent on sporting topics when it should have been diving into English history or vulgar fractions. Some new device in fishing gear was always of more consequence to me than any inquiry as to the name of the executioner who gave Charles the I. “chops for breakfast,” as we youngsters used to say, when we irreverently spoke of the decollation of his Majesty.
Still, somehow I stumbled through my schooling till I was sixteen, when I was sent off to my father’s office on the Quay at Yarmouth to take charge of the books, which were an everlasting humdrum record of herrings and the various trawl fish which came in so frequently in our vessels.