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The History of Little Peter, the Ship Boy   By: (1814-1880)

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Little Peter, the Ship Boy, by W.H.G. Kingston. Peter's mother lies dying in the first chapter, and gives him her own Bible. Peter's father had already died at sea, and the only family income had been what Peter earned looking after a farmer's sheep. After the death the little house had to be sold to settle debts, leaving virtually nothing. Peter decides to go to sea, and makes his way to a nearby port, where, against advice, he takes a place as a ship's boy in a coasting brig carrying cargoes of coals. The Captain is very unkind to him, as are most of the rest of the crew, but Peter is buoyed up only by his Bible which he contrives to carry with him at all times. In a gale the brig starts to sink and the Captain and crew abandon her in the ship's boat, leaving Peter on board as he had been sent below to get food for the crew, and was forgotten. However, the sinking brig grounds inside the tail of a bank, where she is sheltered from the gale. After a couple of days he is seen and rescued by the crew of the "Primrose", where he is taken on, again as a ship's boy.

One of the crew is a grumpy old man called Simon Hixon. After a long time Peter and Simon become more friendly. There is an accident and the vessel is cast up on a rock fairly near an island. The Captain is injured as he had been the last to leave the sinking vessel.

Eventually there is a rescue by a passing ship, and life begins to go uphill for Peter after that. We won't spoil the story for you, but it is a very well told tale, written not long before Kingston's death, at the very height of his powers.




"Are you better, mother, to day?" asked little Peter, as he went up to the bed on which Widow Gray lay, in a small chamber of their humble abode.

"I trust so, my boy," she answered, in a doubtful tone, as she gazed fondly on the ruddy, broad, honest face of her only child, and put aside the mass of light hair which clustered curling over his brow, to imprint on it a loving kiss. "I tried to get up to help Betsy when she came to tidy the house, but did not feel strong enough; and the doctor, who looked in soon after, said I had better stay quiet, and gave me some stuff which I trust may do me good. Betsy kindly stopped and put everything to rights, but since she went I have felt lonely, and have been longing for you to come home."

Betsy was an old woman who lived nearly half a mile off, on the hill side. She had known Mary Gray from her childhood, and came every day, without fee or reward, to assist her during the grievous illness from which she had long been suffering, while little Peter was away tending Farmer Ashton's sheep on the neighbouring downs.

Widow Gray's cottage stood towards the bottom on the sloping side of some lofty downs, which extended far away east and west, as well as a considerable distance southward towards the ocean, which was, as the crow flies, about ten miles off from the highest point above it. The hill formed one side of a valley, through which flowed a sparkling stream bordered by trees, with here and there scattered about the cottages of the hamlet of Springvale. Far away at the lower end rose amid the trees the slender spire of the little church. On the other side of the valley was a further succession of open downs, crossed only by a single road a considerable distance, off, so that a more secluded nook than Springvale could not be found for many a mile round.

The widow's cottage gave signs of decay, though it was evident that such attempts as required no expense had been made to keep it in repair. The holes in the roof had been stuffed full of furze and grass, kept down by heavy stones from being blown off by the wind; the broken panes in the windows were replaced by pieces of board or stout paper; and rough stakes filled up the spaces where the once neat palings had given way... Continue reading book >>

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