Recollections of John Pounds: Meeting Mr. Lemon by Reverend Henry Hawkes
Some weeks after, going to the Chapel one Sunday morning, I saw some one standing talking with the Secretary of the Congregation that I had not seen before. He was standing with his back to me; a square-shouldered man, about medium height, well-proportioned, strong-looking, erect and firm on his feet, with a prepossessing ease.
As I came up to them, the Secretary said, “Let me introduce you to Mr. Lemmon; many years a Member of the Congregation;” and explained, that he was master of a trading vessel, and was consequently very much away from Portsmouth. “Yes,” Mr. Lemmon said, in a pleasant manly voice, “that is the reason I have not been able to speak to you before.
I only returned from Jersey last night.” Conversing with them a few minutes, my approaching duties required me to bid them Good Morning. But I said to Mr. Lemmon; “If you will favour me with your address, I shall be happy to call on you.” He said, he lived in the lower part of St. Mary’s Street; the third house from the sally-port, on the right hand side of the street going towards the walls. As I left them, saying, I hoped soon to see him again, he gave me a smile, that assured me of an excellent spirit.
There was something of Mr. Lemmon’s appearance and manner that pleased me at once, and left a very pleasing impression to dwell upon. Though there was evidently not much culture, and his living in the lower part of St. Mary’s Street implied that he was in but a lowly condition of life; there was a native dignity about him; a manly openness of countenance and expression, intelligent, and expressive of good feeling, an ingenious self-possession, that made it a delight to converse with him.
His eye was bright, observant, and penetrating. His dark ruddy complexion, sun-burnt and weather-beaten, seemed to tell of years of faithful endurance in his sea-faring life. His manner was respectful, and with manly self-respect, somewhat elevated; but nothing assuming; no undue self-assertion. His conversation was ready and flowing, well expressed, with a clear utterance. A pleasant propriety pervaded all he did and said; imbued with a gentle urbanity.
I was so much interested in him, that the next morning I called on the Secretary, desiring to know more about him. He told me, Mr. Lemmon had been for some years a widower; that he had now living with him, in his small house, several grown-up daughters, and some little grandchildren; and though they only had one room, and that a small one, for their sitting-room, in which they chiefly lived; there was always an appearance of comfort and propriety; go in when you might. His means must be small, for such a family; but all showed good management. The grown-up daughters were industrious, in a humble way; and there was a prevailing good spirit in everything about them.
“Has he always led a sea-faring life?”
“No. When a youth, he was employed at the Arsenal at Woolwich; in the foundry department. There he continued for some years; faithful to all his duties; respected and trusted by those under whom he served. From Woolwich he was honourably transferred to the Gun Wharf at Portsmouth. Here he gained the like esteem and confidence by his constant good conduct; and continued in this employ till near the end of the war; when he entered the merchant service; and worked his way on, till he became master of a small trading vessel; the Elisabeth.
He has now pursued this sea-faring life nearly twenty years; and is still in full vigour of life. He has been master of several trading vessels, one after another; respected and trusted by all who have had any dealings with him. Going from port to port, he has seen a good deal of various society, in a small way; and has gained considerable knowledge by it, and practical experience.”
That afternoon, I went to call upon Mr. Lemmon. It was between three and four o’clock. I readily found his house; the third door from the sally-port. The street door opened directly into their sitting-room; with three steps down from the level of the street to the floor. Mr. Lemmon was at home; and his three grown-up daughters were with him in the room, and several of his little grandchildren. The room was indeed a small one, and seemed to serve as kitchen as well as sitting-room. But there was an air of comfort and cheerfulness about it.
Though there were so many persons in it, there was no appearance of crowding or inconvenience. The daughters were quietly at work, and the children were amusing themselves quite at their ease. Mr. Lemmon placed me in what I felt sure was his own arm-chair, in a quiet comer beside the fire; just opposite the window; which was a large one in proportion to the room.
It was very clean and bright. All the furniture was bright and well dusted; every thing in the room looked clean, and well arranged. I was glad to see along the window-sill a row of flower-pots, with healthy plants; geraniums, a fuchsia, a rose-tree, and some mignionette; all showing good management.
“I think I see a little friend there I’ve seen before.”
“Our Lizzie! Yes, she told us you had been to see the school.”
“And I had the pleasure of hearing her read.”
Just then the street-door burst forcibly open, and in came John Pounds, holding a large kettle in his out-stretched hand; no hat or coat on, his shirt sleeves rolled back above the elbows, neck and chest bare. “I’se come to borrow your fire to boil my kettle:” – and he strode across the floor, and put it on the fire, – all in a moment. All smiled. “Yer sarvent, Sir. I’se not know
“How do you do, Mr. Pounds?”
“I’se very well, thank God! I’se come, ye sees, Sir, to boil my kettle. My fire’s gone out; and I always knows I’se a fire here to boil my kettle.”
“Yes, Johnny; and in any house you like to go into, all the neighbourhood round;” Mr. Lemmon said, with a warm heart. “They’re all glad to see him come in, Sir, and to do any thing for him they can; to show their love and gratefulness for all the kind things he always doing for them.”
“No more o’ that, Lemmon. It’s for us all to live neighbourly-like, and help one another all us can. Ye sees, Sir, Lemmon an me’s known one another before, We’s ben boy’s together.”
“Aye, Johnny, almost babes together. For when I was a babe in arms, you were not a very big boy;” – with a smile of pleasantry.
“No; about six or seven, I s’pose.”
“That’s it, Johnny; only six years difference between us.”
“Yes, Sir; we’s ben play-fellows together; Lemmon an me. An when I’se brought home on a stretcher out o’ the Dockyard, – a heap o’ broken bones, an out o’joint; Lemmon’s soon wi’me then; little lad as he was then. Only eight or nine, Lemmon?” “That’s all.” And he stays wi’ me, night an day; and does for me like a nurse, he does.”
“Ah, Johnny, that was a bad job for you; that fall into dry dock.”
I’se not know that, Lemmon. I’se a lively young chap then; full o’ fun; up to every dodge. And who’s know, but I’se ben like many another young chap, – gay an thoughtless, – wi’ their larkings and their foolery? But they broken bones quiets me a bit. An I’se rubbed on very well, I has; thank the Lord!”
“Mr. Pounds I’m admiring the size of your tea-kettle! It covers the fire, and partly the hobs on both sides! And it seems to be quite full: judging from the bubbling about the lid!”
“Why, ye sees, Sir, it isn’t all for me like. Many’s the poor little thing’s belly’s empty when they comes to me; – poor things! – an they’s have no tea at all, if I’se not give ’em some o’ mine. An I likes ’em to have plenty. Yer sarvant, Sir.” And he whisked the kettle off the fire, and strode to the door. “Are you going Mr. Pounds?” “Kettle boils.” And the old man was instantly gone; pulling the door to after him with lively energy.
“How full of life and vigour he is!”
“Yes!” said his friend. “Old age does not do much to lessen his activity; nor his lameness and great deformity; – poor, dear Johnny!” And the friend’s face coloured; and a tear started to his manly eye; and he hung down his head, for a few moments. Resuming with a tremulous voice; – “He’s active in his usefulness as ever.”
“How old is he?”
“Nearer seventy than sixty. It is written in their old Family Bible, that he was born in the year 1766; the 17th June; – this very month!”
“You said Mr. Lemmon you were only six years younger, You bear your age well.”
“I have very much to be thankful for; – bless the Lord! – I’ve never abused a good constitution. I’ve enjoyed life; but I never gave in to those mad pranks that make a wreck of life; – a misery, and a disgrace,
“It was in this house, Sir, that Johnny was born. His father was living here then, He was a carpenter in the Dockyard. After that, they removed to another house, nearly opposite; where they lived many years. That house was afterwards pulled down to make way for the building of a larger one; that which you see there, on the other side of the street. It was then that Johnny went and took that poor little weather-boarded thing a few doors farther up the street; and there he has lived ever since.”
“What schooling had he?”
“Not much of that. He was apprenticed to the Dockyard at twelve years of age; and after that he had no more schooling. And what he had before was very little; and that little, but of a very humble sort. For his father had but small means for a growing family. And schools for children of small means were not so good then, as they are now. No Lancastrian schools then; no National schools. Oh, the blessings provided for children now!
“When poor Johnny began to get better from his fall into the dry dock, and could work a little, they put him apprentice to a shoe-maker; for it was clear he was too much crippled ever to go back to the Dockyard; and by that he has maintained himself.”
“How long has he been in that house he now lives in?”
“It was 1803 that he first went into it; the year of the threatened invasion!”
“Has he kept his school there all that time?”
“No; the latter sixteen or seventeen years. We can’t say just how long. There was no exact time when we could say it began. It came on very gently and easily at first.
“Lar, Sir! there’s no telling the good our dear old friend has always been doing in that little shop of his; – poor little bit of a thing as it is. You’d be astonished; – the hundreds of poor children he has taught there; and many he has clothed and fed. And they all love him; and would do any thing for him. He’s the friend of all the neighbourhood round. None of the neighbours, but respect John Pounds; and wish him well. But he never seems to think of this.
He only thinks how he can do them good. And he’s been like a doctor among them! If any’s sick; he goes and sees all about it, and learns what they want, that would do them good; and he goes home and makes basins of gruel, and takes it to them; and nice hot broth; or cooks them a good beef-steak, – at his own little fire; or a mutton-chop; – and takes it to them hot! – and all so kindly! – to look at him; great, coarse, ugly fellow, – as a stranger might think him; – striding along, with his long legs; – half doubled down, from his accident; – no coat on, – no hat on; – his hair all rough and bristling out; as you saw it just now! – And so dark and dingy too.
More so than need be; and we’ve often told him so; and said, we wished he’d use more soap and water. But it’s all to no purpose. It’s his way; and it won’t alter now.
“But to see him going with his nice things, – so quick and lively, striding along! – hot, and well cooked, and all by his own hands! – Night or day, it makes no difference to Johnny! Hot weather or cold, wet or dry; all the same to him; if any poor sufferer wants his aid. And he’ll sit by them, and talk with them, and comfort them! – Yes, like a loving Pastor, he will! And he makes it all so plain, and simple, and pleasant; and it’s all so full of heart! They can all understand it, and feel it comforting to them! And he’ll do for them any kind thing, – like a nurse; – so thoughtfully, and tenderly! – rough as he looks.
Nothing comes amiss to Johnny; if he can but do any poor creature good by it. Nothing’s too good, or too nice, for him to go and buy for them, as far as his poor earnings will let him; – if it’s the thing his poor sufferer needs. And if it wants special care in the cooking and preparing; he’ll do it all himself; and all with nicest care. And then he’ll take it to them; all so kind and pleasant; – it’s a blessing to see him come in!
“But, – for himself, – he’s all as sparing. He never indulges himself in any of these nice things. His way of living is the plainest and simplest possible. No one ever hears of John Pounds cooking a dainty dinner for himself. Except at Christmas!
– On Christmas day, he always likes to have his roast-beef and plum-pudding! – and plenty of it! – But all the neighbourhood are welcome to come and share it with him! – But all the rest of the year, – all is hard with Johnny. No indulging himself in the way of eating and drinking: – that he may have the more of his little means, – to bless others with! – He often makes me think of our Divine Master: – ‘who went about doing good!’ ”
“And, no doubt, – he has often felt that blessedness, spoken of by our Saviour: – ‘It is more blessed to give, than receive.’ ”
“ Ah, yes! – dear Johnny!” Mr. Lemmon said, with full heart.