Chapter III. [XXVII]

“ — Did I tell this,  

who would believe me!”

Measure for Measure.

The time of the interview, related in the close of the preceding chapter, was in the early watches of the night. It now becomes our duty to transport the reader to another, that had place, several hours later, and after day had dawned on the industrious burghers of Manhattan.

There stood, near one of the wooden wharves, which lined the arm of the sea on which the City is so happily placed, a dwelling around which there was every sign that its owner was engaged in a retail commerce, that was active and thriving, for that age and country. Notwithstanding the earliness of the hour, the windows of this house were open, and an individual of a busy-looking face, thrust his head so often from one of the casements, as to show that he already expected the appearance of a second party, in the affair that had probably called him from his bed, even sooner than common. A tremendous rap at the door relieved his visible uneasiness, and hastening to open it, he received his visiter, with much parade of ceremony, and many protestations of respect, in person.

“This is an honor, my Lord, that does not often befal men of my humble condition,” said the master of the house, in the flippant utterance of a vulgar cockney; “but I thought it would be more agreeable to your Lordship, to receive the a — a — here, than in the place where your Lordship, just at this moment, resides. Will your Lordship please to rest yourself, after your Lordship’s walk?”

“I thank you, Carnaby,” returned the other, taking the offered seat, with an air of easy superiority. “You judge with your usual discretion, as respects the place, though I doubt the prudence of seeing him, at all. Has the man come?”

“Doubtless, my Lord; he would hardly presume to keep your Lordship waiting, and much less would I countenance him, in so gross a disrespect. He will be most happy to wait on you, my Lord, whenever your Lordship shall pleass.”

“Let him wait; there is no necessity for haste. He has probably communicated some of the objects of this extraordinary call on my time, Carnaby, and you can break them, in the intervening moments.”

“I am sorry to say, my Lord, that the fellow is as obstinate as a mule. I felt the impropriety of introducing him, personally, to your Lordship, but as he insisted he had affairs that would deeply interest you, my Lord, I could not take upon me to say, what would be agreeable to your Lordship, or what not; and so I was bold enough to write the note.”

“And a very properly expressed note it was, Master Carnaby. I have not received a better worded communication, since my arrival in this colony.”

“I am sure the approbation of your Lordship might justly make any man proud! It is the ambition of my life, my Lord, to do the duties of my station, in a proper manner, and to treat all above me, with a suitable respect, my Lord, and all below me, as in reason bound. If I might presume to think, in such a matter, my Lord, I should say, that these colonists are no great judges of propriety, in their correspondance, or indeed in any thing else.”

The noble visiter shrugged his shoulder, and threw an expression into his look, that encouraged the retailer to proceed.

“It is just what I think myself, my Lord,” he continued simpering; “but then,” he added, with a condoling and patronising air — “how should they know any better! England is but an island, after all, and the whole world cannot be born and educated on the same bit of earth.”

“’Twould be inconvenient, Carnaby, if it lead to no other unpleasant consequence.”

“Almost, word for word, what I said to Mrs. Carnaby myself, no later than yesterday, my Lord, only vastly better expressed. ‘Twould be inconvenient, said I, Mrs. Carnaby, to take in the other lodger, for every body cannot live in the same house, which covers, as it were, the ground taken in your Lordship’s sentiment. I ought to add in behalf of the poor woman, that she expressed, on the same occasion, strong regrets that it is reported your Lordship will be likely to quit us soon, on your return to old England.”

“That is really a subject on which there is more cause to rejoice, than to weep. This imprisoning, or placing within limits, so near a relative of the crown, is an affair that must have unpleasant consequences, and which offends sadly, against all propriety.”

“It is awful, my Lord! If it be not sacrilege, by the law, the greater the shame of the opposition in Parliament, who defeat so many other wholesome regulations, intended for the good of the subject.”

“Faith, I am not sure I may not be driven to join them, myself, bad as they are, Carnaby; for this neglect of ministers, not to call it by a worse name, might goad a man, to even a more heinous measure.”

“I am sure no body could blame, your Lordship, were your Lordship to join any body, or any thing, but the French! I have often told Mrs. Carnaby, as much as that, in our frequent conversations concerning the unpleasant situation, in which your Lordship is just now placed.”

“I had not thought the awkward transaction attracted so much notice,” observed the other, evidently wincing under the allusion.

“It attracts it, only in a proper and respectful way, my Lord: Neither Mrs. Carnaby, nor myself, ever indulges in any of these remarks, but in the most proper and truly English manner.”

“The reservation might palliate a greater error. That word proper is a prudent term, and expresses all one could wish. I had not thought you so intelligent and shrewd a man, Master Carnaby; clever, in the way of business, I always knew you to be, but so apt in reason, and so matured in principle, is what I will confess, I had not expected. Can you form no conjecture of the business of this man?”

“Not in the least, my Lord. I pressed the impropriety of a personal interview, for though he alluded to some business, or other, I scarcely know what, with which he appeared to think your Lordship had some connexion, I did not understand him, and we had like to have parted, without an explanation.”

“I will not see the fellow.”

“Just as your Lordship pleases — I am sure that, after so many little affairs have passed through my hands, I might be safely trusted with this; and I said as much, but as he positively refused to make me an agent, and he insisted that it was so much to your Lordships interests — why, I thought, my Lord, that perhaps — just now — “

“Show him in.”

Carnaby bowed low and submissively, and after busying himself in placing the chairs aside, and adjusting the table more conveniently for the elbow of his guest, he left the room.

“Where is the man I bid you keep in the shop,” demanded the retailer, in a coarse, authoritative voice, when without; addressing a meek and humble-looking lad, who did the duty of clerk. “I warrant me, he is left in the kitchen, and you have been idling about, on the walk! A more heedless and inattentive lad than yourself, is not to be found in America, and the sun never rises, but I repent having signed your indentures. You shall pay for this, you — “

The appearance of the person he sought, cut short the denunciations of the obsequious grocer and the domestic tyrant. He opened the door, and having again closed it, left his two visiters, together.

Though the degenerate descendant of the great Clarendon had not hesitated to lend his office, to cloak the irregular and unlawful trade that was then so prevalent in the American seas, he had paid the sickly but customary deference to virtue, of refusing, on all occasions, to treat personally with its agents. Sheltered behind his official and personal rank, he had soothed his feelings, by tacitly believing that cupidity is less venal, when its avenues are hidden, and that in protecting his station from an immediate contact with its ministers, he had discharged an important, and, for one in his situation, an imperative duty. Unequal to the exercise of virtue itself, he thought he had done enough in preserving some of its seemliness. Though far from paying even this slight hommage to decency, in his more ordinary habits, his pride of rank had, on the subject of so coarse a failing, induced him to maintain an appearance, which his pride of character would not have suggested. Carnaby was much the most degraded and the lowest of those, with whom he ever condescended to communicate directly, and even with him, there might have been some scruple, had not his necessities caused him to stoop so far as to accept pecuniary assistance, from one he both despised and detested.

When the door opened, therefore, the Lord Cornbury rose, and, determined to bring the interview to a speedy issue, he turned to face the individual who entered, with a mien, into which he threw all the distance and hauteur that he thought necessary for such an object. But he encountered, in the mariner of the India- shawl, a very different man from the flattering and obsequious grocer, who had just quitted him. Eye met eye; his gaze of authority receiving a look as steady, if not as curious, as his own. It was evident by the composure of the fine manly frame he saw, that its owner rested his claims on the aristocracy of nature. The noble forgot his acting, under the influence of surprise, and his voice expressed as much of admiration as command when he said —

“This then is the Skimmer of the Seas!”

“Men call me thus; if a life passed on oceans give a claim to the title, it has been fairly earned.”

“Your character — I may say that some portions of your history, are not unknown to me. Poor Carnaby, who is a worthy and an industrious man, with a growing family, dependant on his exertions, has entreated me to receive you, or there might be less apology for this step, than I could wish. Men of a certain rank, Master Skimmer, owe so much to their station, that I rely on your discretion.”

“I have stood in nobler presences, my Lord, and found so little change by the honour, that I am not apt to boast of what I see. Some of princely rank have found their profit, in my acquaintance.”

“I do not deny your usefulness, sir; it is only the necessity of prudence, I would urge. There has been, I believe, some sort of implied contract between us — at least, so Carnaby explains the transaction, for I rarely enter into these details, myself — by which, you may perhaps feel some right to include me in the list of your customers. Men in high places must respect the laws, and yet it is not always convenient, or even useful, that they should deny themselves every indulgence, which policy would prohibit to the mass. One who has seen as much of life as yourself, needs no explanations on this head, and I cannot doubt, but our present interview will have a satisfactory termination.”

The Skimmer scarce deem’d it necessary to conceal the contempt that caused his lip to curl, while the other was endeavouring to mystify his cupidity, and when the speaker was done, he merely expressed an assent, by a slight inclination of the head. The ex-governor saw that his attempt was fruitless, and by relinquishing his masquerade, and yielding more to his natural propensities and tastes, he succeeded better.

“Carnaby has been a faithful agent,” he continued, “and by his reports, it would seem that our confidence has not been misplaced. If fame speaks true, there is not a more dexterous navigator of the narrow seas than thy self, Master Skimmer. It is to be supposed that your correspondents on this coast, too, are as lucrative, as I doubt not they are numerous.”

“He who sells cheap can never want a purchaser. I think your Lordship has no reason to complain of prices.”

“As pointed, as his compass! Well, sir, as I am no longer master, here, may I ask the object of this interview?”

I have come to seek your interest, in behalf of one, who has fallen into the grasp of the Queen’s officers.”

“Hum — the amount of which is, that the cruiser in the bay, has entrapped some careless smuggler. We are none of us immortal, and an arrest is but a legal death, to men of your persuasion in commerce. Interest is a word of many meanings. It is the interest of one man to lend, and of another to borrow; of the creditor to receive, and of the debtor to avoid payment. Then there is interest at court, and interest in court — in short you must deal more frankly, ere I can decide on the purport of your visit.”

“I am not ignorant that the Queen has been pleased to name another governor over this colony, or that your creditors, my Lord, have thought it prudent to take a pledge, for their dues, in your person. Still, I must think, that one, who stands so near the Queen in blood, and who, sooner or later, must enjoy both rank and fortune in the mother country, will not solicit so slight a boon, as that I ask, without success. This is the reason I prefer to treat with you.”

“As clear an explanation as the shrewdest casuist could desire! I admire your succinctness, Master Skimmer, and confess you for the pink of etiquette. When your fortune shall be made, I recommend the court circle as your place of retirement. Governors, creditors, queen, and imprisonment, all as compactly placed, in the same sentence, as if it were the creed written on a thumb nail! Well, sir, we will suppose my interest what you wish it. — Who and what is the delinquent?”

One named Seadrift; a useful and a pleasant youth, who passes much between me and my customers; heedless and merry in his humours, but dear to all in my brigantine, because of tried fidelity, and shrewd wit. We could sacrifice the profits of the voyage, that he were free. To me he is a necessary agent, for his skill in the judgment of rich tissues, and other luxuries that compose my traffic, is exceeding, and I am better fitted to guide the vessel to her haven, and to look to her safety, amid shoals and in tempests, than to deal in these trifles of female vanity.”

“So dexterous a go-between should not have mistaken a tide- waiter for a customer — how befel the accident?”

“He met the barge of the Coquette, at an unlucky moment, and as we had so lately been chased off the coast, by the cruiser, there was no choice but to arrest him.”

“The dilemma is not without embarassment. When once his mind is settled, it is no trifle that will amuse this Mr. Ludlow. I do not know a more literal construer of his orders in the fleet; a man, sir, who thinks words have but a single set of meanings, and who knows as little, as can be imagined, of the difference between a sentiment and a practice.”

“He is a seaman, my Lord, and he reads his instruction, with a seaman’s simplicity. I think none the worse of him, that he cannot be tempted from his duty; for let us understand the right as we will, our service once taken, it becomes us all to do it faithfully.”

A small red spot came and went on the cheek of the profligate Cornbury. Ashamed of his weakness, he affected to laugh at what he had heard, and continued the discourse.

“Your forbearance and charity might adorn a churchman, Master Skimmer!” he answered. “Nothing can be more true, for this is an age of moral truths, as witness the Protestant succession. Men are now expected to perform, and not to profess. Is the fellow of such usefulness that he may not be abandoned to his fate?”

“Much as I doat on my brigantine, and few men set their affections on woman with a stronger love, I would see the beauteous craft degenerate to a cutter for the Queen’s revenue, before I will entertain the thought! But I will not anticipate a long and painful imprisonment, for the youth, since those who are not altogether powerless, already take a deep and friendly concern in his safety.

“You have overcome the Brigadier!” cried the other, in a burst of exultation, that conquered the little reserve of manner he had thought it necessary to maintain; “that immaculate and reforming representative of my royal cousin has bitten of the golden bait, and proves a true colony governor after all!”

“Lord Viscount, no. What we have to hope, or what we have to fear from your successor, is to me a secret.”

“Ply him with promises, Master Skimmer — set golden hopes before his imagination; set gold, itself, before his eyes, and you will prosper. I will pledge my expected Earldom, that he yields! Sir, these distant situations are like so many half-authorized mints, in which money is to be coined, and the only counterfeit is your mimic representative of Majesty. Ply him with golden hopes; if mortal, he will yield!”

“And yet, my Lord, I have met men who preferred poverty and their opinions, to gold and the wishes of others.”

“The dolts were lusi nature!” exclaimed the dissolute Cornbury, losing all his reserve, in a manner that better suited his known and confirmed character. “You should have caged them, Skimmer, and profited by their dulness, to lay the curious under contribution. Don’t mistake me, sir, if I speak a little in confidence. I hope I know the difference between a gentleman and a leveller, as well as another, but trust me, this Mr. Hunter is human, and he will yield if proper appliances are used; — and you expect from me?”

“The exercise of that influence which cannot fail of success; since there is a courtesy between men of a certain station, which causes them to overlook rivalry, in the spirit of their caste. The cousin of Queen Anne can yet obtain the liberty of one, whose heaviest crime is a free trade, though he may not be able to keep his own seat in the chair of the government.”

“Thus far, indeed, my poor influence may yet extend, provided the fellow be not named in any act of outlawry. I would gladly enough, Mr. Skimmer, end my deeds in this hemisphere, with some act of graceful mercy, if — indeed — I saw — the means — “

“They shall not be wanting. I know the law is like any other article of great price; some think that Justice holds the balance, in order to weigh her fees. Though the profits of this hazardous and sleepless trade of mine be much overrated, I would gladly line her scales with two hundred broad pieces, to have that youth again, safe in the cabin of the brigantine.”

As the Skimmer of the Seas thus spoke, he drew, with the calmness of a man who saw no use in circumlocution, a heavy bag of gold from beneath his frock, and deposited it, without a second look at the treasure, on the table. When this offering was made, he turned aside, less by design, than by a careless movement of the body, and when he faced his companion, again, the bag had vanished.

“Your affection for the lad, is touching, Master Skimmer,” returned the corrupt Cornbury; “it were a pity such friendship should be wasted. Will there be proof to insure his condemnation?”

“It may be doubted. His dealings have only been with the higher class of my customers, and with but few of them. The care I now take, is more in tenderness to the youth, than with any great doubts of the result. I shall count you, my Lord, among his protectors, in the event that the affair is noised?”

“I owe it to your frankness — but will Mr. Ludlow content himself with the possession of an inferior, when the principal is so near, and shall we not have a confiscation of the brigantine on our hands?”

“I charge myself, with the care of all else. There was indeed a lucky escape, only the last night, as we lay at a light kedge, waiting for the return of him, who has been arrested. Profitting by the possession of our skiff, the commander of the Coquette, himself, got within the sweep of my hawse — nay, he was in the act of cutting the very fastenings, when the dangerous design was discovered. ‘Twould have been a fate unworthy of the Water Witch, to be cast on shore, like a drifting log, and to check her noble career, by some such a seizure, as that of a stranded waif!”

“You avoided the mischance? — “

“My eyes are seldom shut, Lord Viscount, when danger is nigh. The skiff was seen in time, and watched, for I knew that one in whom I trusted was abroad. — When the movement grew suspicious, we had our means of frightening this Mr. Ludlow, from his enterprise, without recourse to violence.”

“I had not thought him one to be scared from following up a business, like this.”

“You judged him rightly — I may say we judged him rightly. But when his boats sought us, at our anchorage, the bird had flown.”

“You got the brigantine to sea, in season,” observed Cornbury, not sorry to believe that the vessel was already off the coast.

“I had other business. My agent could not be thus deserted, and there were affairs to finish in the city. Our course lay up the bay.”

“Ha! Master Skimmer, ‘twas a bold step, and one that says little for your discretion!”

“Lord Viscount there is safety in courage,” calmly, and perhaps ironically, returned the other. “While the Queen’s captain closed all the outlets, my little craft was floating quietly under the hills of Staten. Before the morning watch was set, she passed these wharves, and she now awaits her captain, in the broad basin, that lies beyond the bend of yonder head-land.”

“This is, a hardiness to be condemned! A failure of wind, a change of tide, or any of the mishaps, common to the sea, may throw you on the mercy of the law, and will greatly embarass all, who feel an interest in your safety.”

“So far as this apprehension is connected with my welfare, I thank you much, my Lord; but trust me, many hazards have left me but little to learn, in this particular. We shall run the Hell Gate, and gain the open sea, by the Connecticut Sound.”

“Truly, Master Skimmer, one has need of nerves to be your confident! Faith in a compact constitutes the beauty of social order; without it, there is no security for interests, nor any repose for character. But faith may be implied, as well as expressed; and when men, in certain situations, place their dependance on others, who should have motives for being wary, the first are bound to respect, even to the details of a most scrupulous construction, the conditions of the covenant. Sir, I wash my hands of this transaction, if it be understood that testimony is to be accumulated, against us, by thus putting your Water Witch in danger of trial before the Admiralty.”

“I am sorry that this is your decision,” returned the Skimmer. “What is done, cannot be recalled, though I still hope it may be remedied. My brigantine now lies within a league of this, and ‘twould be treachery to deny it. Since it is your opinion, my Lord, that our contract is not valid, there is little use in its seal — the broad pieces may still be serviceable, in shielding that youth from harm.”

“You are as literal in constructions, Master Skimmer, as a school boy’s version of his Virgil. There is an idiom in diplomacy, as well as in language, and one who treats so sensibly should not be ignorant of its phrases. Bless me! sir; an hypothesis is not a conclusion, any more than a promise is a performance. That which is advanced by way of supposition, is but the ornament of reasoning, while your gold has the more solid character of demonstration. Our bargain is made.”

The unsophisticated mariner regarded the noble casuist, a moment, in doubt whether to acquiesce in this conclusion, or not, but ere he had decided on his course, the windows of the room were shaken, violently, and then came the heavy roar of a piece of ordnance.

“The morning gun!” exclaimed Cornbury, who started at the explosion, with the sensitiveness of one unworthily employed. — “No! ‘tis an hour past the rising of the sun!”

The Skimmer showed no yielding of the nerves, though it was evident, by his attitude of thought, and the momentary fixedness of his eye, that he foresaw danger was near. Moving to the window, he looked out on the water, and instantly drew back, like one who wanted no further evidence.

“Our bargain then is made,” he said, hastily approaching the Viscount, whose hand he seized, and wrung in spite of the other’s obvious reluctance to allow the familiarity; “our bargain then is made. Deal fairly by the youth, and the deed will be remembered; deal treacherously, and it shall be revenged!”

For one instant longer, the Skimmer held the member of the effeminate Cornbury imprisoned, and then raising his cap, with a courtesy that appeared more in deference to himself than his companion, he turned on his heel, and with a firm but quick step, he left the house.

Carnaby, who entered on the instant, found his guest in a state between resentment, surprise, and alarm. But habitual levity soon conquered other feeling, and finding himself freed from the presence of a man, who had treated him with so little ceremony, the Ex-Governor shook his head, like one accustomed to submit to evils he could not obviate, and assumed the ease and insolent superiority, he was accustomed to maintain in the presence of the obsequious grocer.

“This may be a coral, or a pearl, or any other precious gem of the ocean, Master Carnaby,” he said, unconscious himself that he was, in a manner, endeavouring to cleanse his violated hand, from the touch it had endured, by the use of his handkerchief, “but it is one, on which the salt water hath left its crust. Truly it is to be hoped that I am never again to be blockaded by such a monster, or I may better say, harpooned; for the familiarity of the boatswain is more painful, than any inventions of his brethren of the deep can prove to their relative the leviathan. Has the clock told the hour?”

“’Tis not yet six, my Lord, and there is abundant leisure for your Lordship to return in season, to your Lordship’s lodgings. Mrs. Carnaby has dared to flatter herself, that your Lordship will condescend to honor us, so far as to taste a dish of bohea, under our humble roof.”

“What is the meaning of that gun, Master Carnaby! It gave the alarm to the smuggler, as if it had been a summons from Execution Dock, or a groan from the ghost of Kidd.”

“I never presumed to think, my Lord. I suppose it to be some pleasure of her Majesty’s officers in the fort, and when that is the case, one is quite certain that all is proper, and very English, my Lord.”

“Fore George, sir, English or Dutch, it had the quality to frighten this sea-fowl — this curlew — this albatross from his perch!”

“Upon my duty to your Lordship, your Lordship has the severest wit of any gentleman in her Majesty’s kingdom! But all the nobility and gentry are so witty, that it is quite an honor and an edification to hear them! If it is your Lordship’s pleasure, I will look out of the window, my Lord, and see if there be any thing visible.”

“Do so, Master Carnaby — I confess a little curiosity to know what has given the alarm to my sea-lion — hah! do I not see the masts of a ship, moving above the roofs of yonder line of stores!”

“Well your Lordship has the quickest eye! — And the happiest way of seeing things, of any nobleman in England! Now I should have stared, a quarter of an hour, before I thought of looking over the roofs of those stores, at all; and yet your Lordship looks there, at the very first glance.”

“Is it a ship, or a brig, Master Carnaby — you have the advantage of position, for I would not willingly be seen — speak quickly, dolt; is it ship, or brig?”

“My Lord — ‘tis a brig — or a ship — really I must ask your Lordship, for I know so little of these things — “

“Nay, complaisant Master Carnaby — have an opinion of your own, for one moment, if you please — there is smoke curling upward, behind those masts — “

Another rattling of windows, and a second report removed all doubts on the subject of the firing. At the next instant, the bows of a vessel of war appeared at the opening of a ship-yard, and then came, gun after gun, in view, until the whole broadside and frowning battery of the Coquette were visible.

The Viscount sought no further solution of the reason why the Skimmer had left him so hurriedly. Fumbling, a moment in a pocket, he drew forth a hand, filled with broad pieces of gold. These he appeared about to lay upon the table, but, as it were by forgetfulness, he kept the member closed, and bidding the grocer adieu, he left the house, with as firm a resolution as was ever made by any man, conscious of having done both a weak and a wicked action, of never again putting himself in familiar contact, with so truckling a miscreant.