The Tory Lover -- Contents
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The Tory Lover by Sarah Orne Jewett

Chapter XLI

AN OFFERED OPPORTUNITY

      "Neither man nor soldier.
     What ignorant and mad malicious traitors!"

     "License, they mean, when they cry Liberty."
 

     The Roscoff fishing smack lay in the Severn, above Avon mouth, and it was broad day when Captain Paul Jones came aboard again, having been rowed down the river by some young Breton sailors whom he had found asleep in the bottom of their boat. There would be natural suspicion of a humble French craft like theirs; but when they had been overhauled in those waters, a day or two before, the owner of the little vessel, a sedate person by the name of Dickson, professed himself to be an Englishman from the Island of Guernsey, with proper sailing papers and due reverence for King George the Third. His crew, being foreigners, could answer no decent Bristol questions, and they were allowed to top their boom for the fishing grounds unmolested, having only put into harbor for supplies.

     The Roscoff lads looked at their true captain with mingled sleepiness and admiration as he took the steersman's place. He presently opened a large knotted bundle handkerchief, and gave them a share of the rich treat of tobacco and early apples within; then, seeing that they kept their right course, he made a pillow of his arm and fell sound asleep.

     As they came under the vessel's side the barking of a little dog on board waked him again with a start. He looked weary enough as he stood to give his orders and watch his opportunity to leap from the boat, as they bobbed about in the choppy sea. All was quiet on deck in the bright sunlight; only the little French dog kept an anxious lookout. The captain gave orders to break out their anchor and be off down channel, and then turned toward the cabin, just as Dickson made his appearance, yawning, in the low companion way.
 

     Dickson had found such life as this on the fisherman very dull, besides having a solid resentment of its enforced privations. None of the crew could speak English save Cooper and Hanscom, who had come to hate him, and would not speak to him at all except in the exercise of duty. He knew nothing of the Breton talk, and was a man very fond of idle and argumentative conversation. The captain had been ashore now for thirty-six long hours, and his offended colleague stood back, with a look of surly discontent and no words of welcome, to let the tyrant pass. The captain took a letter out of his pocket and gave it to him, with a quick but not unfriendly glance, as if half amused by Dickson's own expression of alarm as he turned the folded paper and looked at its unbroken seal. He mumbled something about a tailor's bill, and then insisted that the letter could not be meant for him. He did not seem to know what it would be safe to say.

     "Come below; I wish to speak with you." The captain spoke impatiently, as usual, and had the air of a kingbird which dealt with a helpless crow. "We are in no danger of being overheard. I must speak with you before you read your letter. I have chanced upon some important information; I have a new plan on foot."

     "Certainly, sir," replied Dickson, looking very sour-tempered, but putting a most complaisant alacrity into his voice.

     "The news was given me by a man who succeeded in making his escape from the Mill Prison some months since, and who came to Bristol, where he had old acquaintances; he is now at work in a coppersmith's shop," explained the captain. "He has been able to help some of his shipmates since then, and, under the assumed character of an American Loyalist, has enjoyed the confidence of both parties. 'T will be a dangerous fellow to tamper with; I have heard something of him before. I doubt if he is very honest, but he turns many a good sound penny for himself. Lee believes that all his spies are as trusty as Ford and Thornton, but I can tell you that they are not." The captain's temper appeared to be rising, and Dickson winced a little. "I know of some things that go on unbeknownst to him, and so perhaps do you, Mr. Dickson; this man has advised me of some matters in Bristol this very night, about which I own myself to be curious. He says that there are two men out of the Mill Prison who may be expected in, and are hoping to get safe away to sea. It would be a pretty thing to add a pair of good American sailors to our number without the trouble of formal exchange. So I must again delay our sailing for France, and I shall leave you here to-night, while I go to inspect the fugitives. There are special reasons, too, why I wish to get news from the prison."

     The captain seemed excited, and spoke with unusual frankness and civility. Though Dickson had begun to listen with uneasiness, he now expressed approval of such a plan, but ventured at the same time to give an officious warning that there might be danger of a plot among the Bristol Loyalists. They would make themselves very happy by securing such an enemy as John Paul Jones. But this proof of sagacity and unselfishness on Dickson's part the captain did not deign to notice.

     "I shall pass the day in fishing, and toward night take another anchorage farther up the channel," he continued. "There are reasons why prudence forbids my going into the Avon again by boat, or being seen by day about the Bristol quays. I shall run farther up the Severn and land there, and ride across by Westbury, and over the downs into Bristol, and so return by daybreak. I have bespoken a horse to wait for me, and you will see that a boat is ready to take me off in the morning."

     Dickson received these instructions with apparent interest and an unconscious sigh of relief. He understood that the captain's mind was deeply concerned in so innocent a matter; there was probably no reason for apprehension on his own part. The next moment his spirits fell, and his face took on that evil color which was the one sign of emotion and animosity that he was unable to conceal. There was likely to be direct news now from the Mill Prison; and the grievous nightmare that haunted Dickson's thoughts was the possible reappearance of Roger Wallingford.

     Once or twice he swallowed hard, and tried to gather courage to speak, but the words would not come. The captain passed him with a scowl, and threw himself into the wretched bunk of the cabin to get some sleep.

     "Captain Jones," and Dickson boldly followed him, "I have something important which I must say" -

     "Will not you read your letter first?" inquired the captain, with unaccustomed politeness. "I am very much fatigued, as you might see. I want a little sleep, after these two nights."

     "We are alone now, sir, and there is something that has lain very heavy on my mind." The man was fluent enough, once his voice had found utterance.

     The captain, with neither an oath nor a growl, sat up in his berth, and listened with some successful mockery of respect, looking him straight in the face.

     "That night, - you remember, sir, at Whitehaven? I have come to be troubled about that night. You may not recall the fact that so unimportant a person as I stood in any real danger on such an occasion of glory to you, but I was set upon by the town guard, and only escaped with my life. I returned to the Ranger in a suffering condition. You were a little overset by your disappointment, and by Mr. Wallingford's disappearance and your suspicions of his course. But in my encounter, - you know that it was not yet day, - and in the excitement of escaping from an armed guard, I fear that I fought hand to hand with Wallingford himself, taking him for a constable. He was the last of them to attack me, when I was unable to discriminate, - or he, either," added Dickson slyly, but with a look of great concern. "The thought has struck me that he might not have been disloyal to our cause, and was perhaps escaping to the boat, as I was, when we fell into such desperate combat in that dark lane. It would put me into an awful position, you can see, sir. . . . I may be possessed of too great a share of human frailty, but I have had more than my share of ill fortune. I have suffered from unjust suspicions, too, but this dreadful accident would place me" -

     "You thought to save your life from an unknown enemy?" the captain interrupted him. "You struck one of your own party, by mischance, in the dark?" he suggested, without any apparent reproach in his voice.

     "Exactly so, sir," said Dickson, taking heart, but looking very mournful.

     "Yet you told us that Mr. Wallingford alarmed the guard?"

     "I could suspect nothing else, sir, at the time; you heard my reasons when I returned."

     "Never mind your return," urged Paul Jones, still without any tone of accusation. " 'T was long after the gray of the morning, it was almost broad day, when I left the shore myself at Whitehaven, and a man might easily know one of his shipmates. 'T was a dark lane, you told me, however," and his eyes twinkled with the very least new brightness. "If we should ever see poor Wallingford again, you could settle all that between you. I can well understand your present concern. Do you think that you did the lieutenant any serious damage before you escaped? I recall the fact that you were badly mauled about the countenance."

     "I fear that I struck him worst in the shoulder, sir," and Dickson shifted his position uneasily, and put one hand to the deck timber above to hold himself steady, now that they were rolling badly with the anchor off ground. "I know that I had my knife in my hand. He is a very strong fellow, and a terrible man to wrestle with, - I mean the man whom I struck, who may have been Wallingford. I thought he would kill me first."

     "I wish you had bethought yourself to speak sooner," said the captain patiently. "'T is a thing for us to reflect upon deeply, but I can hear no more now. I must sleep, as you see, before I am fit for anything. Do not let the men disturb me; they may get down channel to their fishing. If they succeed as well as yesterday, we shall soon make the cost of this little adventure."

     He spoke drowsily, and drew the rough blanket over his head to keep the light away.

     Dickson mounted to the deck. If he had known how easy it would be to make things straight with the captain, how much suffering he might have spared himself! You must take him in the right mood, too. But the captain had an eye like a gimlet, that twisted into a man's head.

     "Wallingford may never turn up, after all. I wish I had killed him while I was about it," said Dickson to himself uneasily. "It may be all a lie that he was sent to Plymouth; it would be such a distance!" There was something the matter with this world. To have an eye like Paul Jones's fixed upon you while you were trying to make a straight story was anything but an assistance or a pleasure.

     The captain was shaking with laughter in the cabin as Dickson disappeared. "What a face he put on, the smooth-spoken hypocrite! His race is run; he told me more than he needed," and Paul Jones's face grew stern, as he lay there looking at the planks above his head. "He's at the bottom of the hill now, if he only knew it. When a man's character is gone, his reputation is sure enough to follow;" and with this sage reflection the captain covered his head again carefully, and went to sleep.

     Unaware of this final verdict, Dickson was comfortably reading his letter on the deck, and feeling certain that fortune had turned his way. His mind had been made up some days before to leave the Ranger as soon as he got back to France, even if he must feign illness to gain his discharge, or desert the ship, as others had done. He had already a good sum of money that had been paid him for information useful to the British government, and, to avoid future trouble, proposed to hide himself in the far South or in one of the West Indian Islands. "My poor wife would gain by the change of climate," said the scoundrel, pitying himself now for the loss of friendship and respect from which he felt himself begin to suffer, and for those very conditions which he had so carefully evolved.

     He started as he read the brief page before him; the news of the letter was amazingly welcome. It was written by some one who knew his most intimate affairs. The chance had come to give up the last and best of those papers which he had stolen from the captain's desk. For this treasure he had asked a great price, - so great that Thornton would not pay it at Brest, and Ford's messenger had laughed him in the face. Now there was the promise of the money, the whole noble sum. Word of his being with Paul Jones had somehow reached Bristol. The crafty captain had been unwise, for once, in speaking with this make-believe coppersmith, and the play was up! The writer of the letter said that a safe agent would meet Mr. Dickson any night that week at seven o'clock, at the inn by Old Passage, to pay him his own price for certain papers or information. There was added a handsome offer for the body of Paul Jones, alive or dead, in case he should not be in custody before that time. The letter was sealed as other letters had been, with a device known among Thornton's errand runners.

     "Old Passage!" repeated the happy Dickson. "I must now find where that place is; but they evidently know my present situation, and the inn is no doubt near!"

     He stepped softly to the cabin hatchway, and looked down. The captain's face was turned aside, and he breathed heavily. The chart of that coast was within easy reach; Dickson took it from the chest where it lay, since it was an innocent thing to have in hand. There was all the shore of the Severn and the Bristol Channel, with the spot already marked nearest Westbury church where the captain was likely to land; and here beyond, at no great distance, was Old Passage, where a ferry crossed the Severn. He should have more than time enough for his own errand and a good evening ashore, while Paul Jones was riding into Bristol, perhaps to stay there against his will. For the slight trouble of ripping a few stitches in his waistcoat seams and taking out a slip of paper, Dickson would be rich enough at that day's end.

     "Yes, I'll go to the southward when I reach America, and start anew," he reflected. "I've had it very hard, but now I can take my ease. This, with the rest of my savings, will make me snug."

     He heard the captain move, and the planks of the berth creak in the stuffy cabin. They were running free before the east wind, and were almost at the fishing grounds.


Notes

     "Neither man nor soldier.
     What ignorant and mad malicious traitors!"
This appears to be a paraphrase and quotation from William Shakespeare, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Act 3, Scene 7.
     Theseus. What ignorant and mad malicious Traitors,
     Are you? That gainst the tenor of my Lawes   [1990]
     Are making Battaile, thus like Knights appointed,
     Without my leave, and Officers of Armes?
     By Castor both shall dye.
         (Research: Gabe Heller)

License, they mean, when they cry Liberty: From John Milton (1608-1674), "On the Detraction which followed upon my writing certain Treatises."  (Research: Gabe Heller)
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kingbird: An American fly-catcher.
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confidence of both parties: Whether Jones is making up the story of the escaped prisoner working in a coppersmith's shop or it has some historical basis has not been determined.  Assistance is welcome.
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The Tory Lover -- Contents