The Bold Venture
The little fisher-town of Portstephen comprised two strings of houses
facing each other at the bottom of a narrow valley, down which the
merest trickle of a stream decanted into the harbour. The street was so
narrow that it was at intervals alone that sufficient space was accorded
for two wheeled vehicles to pass one another, and the road-way was for
the most part so narrow that each house door was set back in the depth
of the wall, to permit the foot-passenger to step into the recess to
avoid being overrun by the wheels of a cart that ascended or descended
The inhabitants lived upon the sea and its produce. Such as were not
fishers were mariners, and but a small percentage remained that were
neither--the butcher, the baker, the smith, and the doctor; and these
also lived by the sea, for they lived upon the sailors and fishermen.
For the most part, the seafaring men were furnished with large families.
The net in which they drew children was almost as well filled as the
seine in which they trapped pilchards.
Jonas Rea, however, was an exception; he had been married for ten years,
and had but one child, and that a son.
"You've a very poor haul, Jonas," said to him his neighbour, Samuel
Carnsew; "I've been married so long as you and I've twelve. My wife has
had twins twice."
"It's not a poor haul for me, Samuel," replied Jonas, "I may have but
one child, but he's a buster."
Jonas had a mother alive, known as Old Betty Rea. When he married, he
had proposed that his mother, who was a widow, should live with him.
But man proposes and woman disposes. The arrangement did not commend
itself to the views of Mrs. Rea, junior--that is to say, of Jane,
Betty had always been a managing woman. She had managed her house, her
children, and her husband; but she speedily was made aware that her
daughter-in-law refused to be managed by her.
Jane was, in her way, also a managing woman: she kept her house clean,
her husband's clothes in order, her child neat, and herself the very
pink of tidiness. She was a somewhat hard woman, much given to grumbling
and finding fault.
Jane and her mother-in-law did not come to an open and flagrant quarrel,
but the fret between them waxed intolerable; and the curtain-lectures,
of which the text and topic was Old Betty, were so frequent and so
protracted that Jonas convinced himself that there was smoother water in
the worst sea than in his own house.
He was constrained to break to his mother the unpleasant information
that she must go elsewhere; but he softened the blow by informing her
that he had secured for her residence a tiny cottage up an alley, that
consisted of two rooms only, one a kitchen, above that a bedchamber.
The old woman received the communication without annoyance. She rose to
the offer, for she had also herself considered that the situation had
become unendurable. Accordingly, with goodwill, she removed to her new
quarters, and soon made the house look keen and cosy.
But, so soon as Jane gave indications of becoming a mother, it was
agreed that Betty should attend on her daughter-in-law. To this Jane
consented. After all, Betty could not be worse than another woman, a
And when Jane was in bed, and unable to quit it, then Betty once more
reigned supreme in the house and managed everything--even her
But the time of Jane's lying upstairs was brief, and at the earliest
possible moment she reappeared in the kitchen, pale indeed and weak, but
resolute, and with firm hand withdrew the reins from the grasp of Betty.
In leaving her son's house, the only thing that Betty regretted was the
baby. To that she had taken a mighty affection, and she did not quit
till she had poured forth into the deaf ear of Jane a thousand
instructions as to how the babe was to be fed, clothed, and reared.
As a devoted son, Jonas never returned from sea without visiting his
mother, and when on shore saw her every day. He sat with her by the
hour, told her of all that concerned him--except about his wife--and
communicated to her all his hopes and wishes. The babe, whose name was
Peter, was a topic on which neither weaned of talking or of listening;
and often did Jonas bring the child over to be kissed and admired by his
Jane raised objections--the weather was cold and the child would take a
chill; grandmother was inconsiderate, and upset its stomach with
sweetstuff; it had not a tidy dress in which to be seen: but Jonas
overruled all her objections. He was a mild and yielding man, but on
this one point he was inflexible--his child should grow up to know,
love, and reverence his mother as sincerely as did he himself. And these
were delightful hours to the old woman, when she could have the infant
on her lap, croon to it, and talk to it all the delightful nonsense that
flows from the lips of a woman when caressing a child.
Moreover, when the boy was not there, Betty was knitting socks or
contriving pin-cases, or making little garments for him; and all the
small savings she could gather from the allowance made by her son, and
from the sale of some of her needlework, were devoted to the same
As the little fellow found his feet and was allowed to toddle, he often
wanted to "go to granny," not much to the approval of Mrs. Jane. And,
later, when he went to school, he found his way to her cottage before he
returned home so soon as his work hours in class were over. He very
early developed a love for the sea and ships.
This did not accord with Mrs. Jane's ideas; she came of a family that
had ever been on the land, and she disapproved of the sea. "But,"
remonstrated her husband, "he is my son, and I and my father and
grandfather were all of us sea-dogs, so that, naturally, my part in the
boy takes to the water."
And now an idea entered the head of Old Betty. She resolved on making a
ship for Peter. She provided herself with a stout piece of deal of
suitable size and shape, and proceeded to fashion it into the form of a
cutter, and to scoop out the interior. At this Peter assisted. After
school hours he was with his grandmother watching the process, giving
his opinion as to shape, and how the boat was to be rigged and
furnished. The aged woman had but an old knife, no proper carpentering
tools, consequently the progress made was slow. Moreover, she worked at
the ship only when Peter was by. The interest excited in the child by
the process was an attraction to her house, and it served to keep him
there. Further, when he was at home, he was being incessantly scolded by
his mother, and the preference he developed for granny's cottage caused
many a pang of jealousy in Jane's heart.
Peter was now nine years old, and remained the only child, when a sad
thing happened. One evening, when the little ship was rigged and almost
complete, after leaving his grandmother, Peter went down to the port.
There happened to be no one about, and in craning over the quay to look
into his father's boat, he overbalanced, fell in, and was drowned.
The grandmother supposed that the boy had returned home, the mother that
he was with his grandmother, and a couple of hours passed before search
for him was instituted, and the body was brought home an hour after
that. Mrs. Jane's grief at losing her child was united with resentment
against Old Betty for having drawn the child away from home, and
against her husband for having encouraged it. She poured forth the vials
of her wrath upon Jonas. He it was who had done his utmost to have the
boy killed, because he had allowed him to wander at large, and had
provided him with an excuse by allowing him to tarry with Old Betty
after leaving school, so that no one knew where he was. Had Jonas been a
reasonable man, and a docile husband, he would have insisted on Peter
returning promptly home every day, in which case this disaster would not
have occurred. "But," said Jane bitterly, "you never have considered my
feelings, and I believe you did not love Peter, and wanted to be rid of
The blow to Betty was terrible; her heart-strings were wrapped about the
little fellow; and his loss was to her the eclipse of all light, the
death of all her happiness.
When Peter was in his coffin, then the old woman went to the house,
carrying the little ship. It was now complete with sails and rigging.
"Jane," said she, "I want thickey ship to be put in with Peter. 'Twere
made for he, and I can't let another have it, and I can't keep it
"Nonsense," retorted Mrs. Rea, junior. "The boat can be no use to he,
"I wouldn't say that. There's naught revealed on them matters. But I'm
cruel certain that up aloft there'll be a rumpus if Peter wakes up and
don't find his ship."
"You may take it away; I'll have none of it," said Jane.
So the old woman departed, but was not disposed to accept discomfiture.
She went to the undertaker.
"Mr. Matthews, I want you to put this here boat in wi' my gran'child
Peter. It will go in fitty at his feet."
"Very sorry, ma'am, but not unless I break off the bowsprit. You see the
coffin is too narrow."
"Then put'n in sideways and longways."
"Very sorry, ma'am, but the mast is in the way. I'd be forced to break
that so as to get the lid down."
Disconcerted, the old woman retired; she would not suffer Peter's boat
to be maltreated.
On the occasion of the funeral, the grandmother appeared as one of the
principal mourners. For certain reasons, Mrs. Jane did not attend at the
church and grave.
As the procession left the house, Old Betty took her place beside her
son, and carried the boat in her hand. At the close of the service at
the grave, she said to the sexton: "I'll trouble you, John Hext, to put
this here little ship right o' top o' his coffin. I made'n for Peter,
and Peter'll expect to have'n." This was done, and not a step from the
grave would the grandmother take till the first shovelfuls had fallen on
the coffin and had partially buried the white ship.
When Granny Rea returned to her cottage, the fire was out. She seated
herself beside the dead hearth, with hands folded and the tears coursing
down her withered cheeks. Her heart was as dead and dreary as that
hearth. She had now no object in life, and she murmured a prayer that
the Lord might please to take her, that she might see her Peter sailing
his boat in paradise.
Her prayer was interrupted by the entry of Jonas, who shouted: "Mother,
we want your help again. There's Jane took bad; wi' the worrit and the
sorrow it's come on a bit earlier than she reckoned, and you're to come
along as quick as you can. 'Tisn't the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken
away, but topsy-turvy, the Lord hath taken away and is givin' again."
Betty rose at once, and went to the house with her son, and again--as
nine years previously--for a while she assumed the management of the
house; and when a baby arrived, another boy, she managed that as well.
The reign of Betty in the house of Jonas and Jane was not for long. The
mother was soon downstairs, and with her reappearance came the departure
of the grandmother.
And now began once more the same old life as had been initiated nine
years previously. The child carried to its grandmother, who dandled it,
crooned and talked to it. Then, as it grew, it was supplied with socks
and garments knitted and cut out and put together by Betty; there ensued
the visits of the toddling child, and the remonstrances of the mother.
School time arrived, and with it a break in the journey to or from
school at granny's house, to partake of bread and jam, hear stories,
and, finally, to assist at the making of a new ship.
If, with increase of years, Betty's powers had begun to fail, there had
been no corresponding decrease in energy of will. Her eyes were not so
clear as of old, nor her hearing so acute, but her hand was not
unsteady. She would this time make and rig a schooner and not a cutter.
Experience had made her more able, and she aspired to accomplish a
greater task than she had previously undertaken. It was really
remarkable how the old course was resumed almost in every particular.
But the new grandson was called Jonas, like his father, and Old Betty
loved him, if possible, with a more intense love than had been given to
the first child. He closely resembled his father, and to her it was a
renewal of her life long ago, when she nursed and cared for the first
Jonas. And, if possible, Jane became more jealous of the aged woman, who
was drawing to her so large a portion of her child's affection. The
schooner was nearly complete. It was somewhat rude, having been worked
with no better tool than a penknife, and its masts being made of
On the day before little Jonas's ninth birthday, Betty carried the ship
to the painter.
"Mr. Elway," said she, "there be one thing I do want your help in. I
cannot put the name on the vessel. I can't fashion the letters, and I
want you to do it for me."
"All right, ma'am. What name?"
"Well, now," said she, "my husband, the father of Jonas, and the
grandfather of the little Jonas, he always sailed in a schooner, and the
ship was the Bold Venture."
"The Bonaventura, I think. I remember her."
"I'm sure she was the Bold Venture."
"I think not, Mrs. Rea."
"It must have been the Bold Venture or Bold Adventurer. What sense
is there in such a name as Boneventure? I never heard of no such
venture, unless it were that of Jack Smithson, who jumped out of a
garret window, and sure enough he broke a bone of his leg. No, Mr.
Elway, I'll have her entitled the Bold Venture."
"I'll not gainsay you. Bold Venture she shall be."
Then the painter very dexterously and daintily put the name in black
paint on the white strip at the stern.
"Will it be dry by to-morrow?" asked the old woman. "That's the little
lad's birthday, and I promised to have his schooner ready for him to
sail her then."
"I've put dryers in the paint," answered Mr. Elway, "and you may reckon
it will be right for to-morrow."
That night Betty was unable to sleep, so eager was she for the day when
the little boy would attain his ninth year and become the possessor of
the beautiful ship she had fashioned for him with her own hands, and on
which, in fact, she had been engaged for more than a twelvemonth.
Nor was she able to eat her simple breakfast and noonday meal, so
thrilled was her old heart with love for the child and expectation of
his delight when the Bold Venture was made over to him as his own.
She heard his little feet on the cobblestones of the alley: he came on,
dancing, jumping, fidgeted at the lock, threw the door open and burst in
with a shout--
"See! see, granny! my new ship! Mother has give it me. A real
frigate--with three masts, all red and green, and cost her seven
shillings at Camelot Fair yesterday." He bore aloft a very magnificent
toy ship. It had pennants at the mast-top and a flag at stern. "Granny!
look! look! ain't she a beauty? Now I shan't want your drashy old
schooner when I have my grand new frigate."
"Won't you have your ship--the Bold Venture?"
"No, granny; chuck it away. It's a shabby bit o' rubbish, mother says;
and see! there's a brass cannon, a real cannon that will go off with a
bang, on my frigate. Ain't it a beauty?"
"Oh, Jonas! look at the Bold Venture!"
"No, granny, I can't stay. I want to be off and swim my beautiful
Then he dashed away as boisterous as he had dashed in, and forgot to
shut the door. It was evening when the elder Jonas returned home, and he
was welcomed by his son with exclamations of delight, and was shown the
"But, daddy, her won't sail; over her will flop in the water."
"There is no lead on the keel," remarked the father. "The vessel is
built for show only."
Then he walked away to his mother's cottage. He was vexed. He knew that
his wife had bought the toy with the deliberate intent of disappointing
and wounding her mother-in-law; and he was afraid that he would find the
old lady deeply mortified and incensed. As he entered the dingy lane, he
noticed that her door was partly open.
The aged woman was on the seat by the table at the window, lying forward
clasping the ship, and the two masts were run through her white hair;
her head rested, partly on the new ship and partly on the table.
"Mother!" said he. "Mother!"
There was no answer.
The feeble old heart had given way under the blow, and had ceased to
* * * * *
I was accustomed, a few summers past, to spend a couple of months at
Portstephen. Jonas Rea took me often in his boat, either mackerel
fishing, or on excursions to the islets off the coast, in quest of wild
birds. We became familiar, and I would now and then spend an evening
with him in his cottage, and talk about the sea, and the chances of a
harbour of refuge being made at Portstephen, and sometimes we spoke of
our own family affairs. Thus it was that, little by little, the story of
the ship Bold Venture was told me.
Mrs. Jane was no more in the house.
"It's a curious thing," said Jonas Rea, "but the first ship my mother
made was no sooner done than my boy Peter died, and when she made
another, with two masts, as soon as ever it was finished she died
herself, and shortly after my wife, Jane, who took a chill at mother's
funeral. It settled on her chest, and she died in a fortnight."
"Is that the boat?" I inquired, pointing to a glass case on a cupboard,
in which was a rudely executed schooner.
"That's her," replied Jonas; "and I'd like you to have a look close at
I walked to the cupboard and looked.
"Do you see anything particular?" asked the fisherman.
"I can't say that I do."
"Look at her masthead. What is there?"
After a pause I said: "There is a grey hair, that is all, like a
"I mean that," said Jonas. "I can't say whether my old mother put a hair
from her white head there for the purpose, or whether it caught and
fixed itself when she fell forward clasping the boat, and the masts and
spars and shrouds were all tangled in her hair. Anyhow, there it be, and
that's one reason why I've had the Bold Venture put in a glass
case--that the white hair may never by no chance get brushed away from
it. Now, look again. Do you see nothing more?"
"Can't say I do."
"Look at the bows."
I did so. Presently I remarked: "I see nothing except, perhaps, some
bruises, and a little bit of red paint."
"Ah! that's it, and where did the red paint come from?"
I was, of course, quite unable to suggest an explanation.
Presently, after Mr. Rea had waited--as if to draw from me the answer he
expected--he said: "Well, no, I reckon you can't tell. It was thus. When
mother died, I brought the Bold Venture here and set her where she is
now, on the cupboard, and Jonas, he had set the new ship, all red and
green, the Saucy Jane it was called, on the bureau. Will you believe
me, next morning when I came downstairs the frigate was on the floor,
and some of her spars broken and all the rigging in a muddle."
"There was no lead on the bottom. It fell down."
"It was not once that happened. It came to the same thing every night;
and what is more, the Bold Venture began to show signs of having
"Run against her. She had bruises, and had brought away some of the
paint of the Saucy Jane. Every morning the frigate, if she were'nt on
the floor, were rammed into a corner, and battered as if she'd been in a
"But it is impossible."
"Of course, lots o' things is impossible, but they happen all the same."
"Well, what next?"
"Jane, she was ill, and took wus and wus, and just as she got wus so it
took wus as well with the Saucy Jane. And on the night she died, I
reckon that there was a reg'lar pitched sea-fight."
"But not at sea."
"Well, no; but the frigate seemed to have been rammed, and she was on
the floor and split from stem to stern."
"And, pray, has the Bold Venture made no attempt since? The glass case
is not broken."
"There's been no occasion. I chucked what remained of the Saucy Jane
into the fire."
Previous: The Merewigs