The Pirate, by Walter Scott

Chapter 39.

Now, Emma, now the last reflection make,

What thou wouldst follow, what thou must forsake

By our ill-omen’d stars and adverse Heaven,

No middle object to thy choice is given.

Henry and Emma.

The sun was high in heaven; the boats were busily fetching off from the shore the promised supply of provisions and water, which, as many fishing skiffs were employed in the service, were got on board with unexpected speed, and stowed away by the crew of the sloop, with equal dispatch. All worked with good will; for all, save Cleveland himself, were weary of a coast, where every moment increased their danger, and where, which they esteemed a worse misfortune, there was no booty to be won. Bunce and Derrick took the immediate direction of this duty, while Cleveland, walking the deck alone, and in silence, only interfered from time to time, to give some order which circumstances required, and then relapsed into his own sad reflections.

There are two sorts of men whom situations of guilt, terror, and commotion, bring forward as prominent agents. The first are spirits so naturally moulded and fitted for deeds of horror, that they stalk forth from their lurking-places like actual demons, to work in their native element, as the hideous apparition of the Bearded Man came forth at Versailles, on the memorable 5th October, 1789, the delighted executioner of the victims delivered up to him by a bloodthirsty rabble. But Cleveland belonged to the second class of these unfortunate beings, who are involved in evil rather by the concurrence of external circumstances than by natural inclination, being, indeed, one in whom his first engaging in this lawless mode of life, as the follower of his father, nay, perhaps, even his pursuing it as his father’s avenger, carried with it something of mitigation and apology; — one also who often considered his guilty situation with horror, and had made repeated, though ineffectual efforts, to escape from it.

Such thoughts of remorse were now rolling in his mind, and he may be forgiven, if recollections of Minna mingled with and aided them. He looked around, too, on his mates, and, profligate and hardened as he knew them to be, he could not think of their paying the penalty of his obstinacy. “We shall be ready to sail with the ebb tide,” he said to himself —“why should I endanger these men, by detaining them till the hour of danger, predicted by that singular woman, shall arrive? Her intelligence, howsoever acquired, has been always strangely accurate; and her warning was as solemn as if a mother were to apprize an erring son of his crimes, and of his approaching punishment. Besides, what chance is there that I can again see Minna? She is at Kirkwall, doubtless, and to hold my course thither would be to steer right upon the rocks. No, I will not endanger these poor fellows — I will sail with the ebb tide. On the desolate Hebrides, or on the north-west coast of Ireland, I will leave the vessel, and return hither in some disguise — yet why should I return, since it will perhaps be only to see Minna the bride of Mordaunt? No — let the vessel sail with this ebb tide without me. I will abide and take my fate.”

His meditations were here interrupted by Jack Bunce, who, hailing him noble Captain, said they were ready to sail when he pleased.

“When you please, Bunce; for I shall leave the command with you, and go ashore at Stromness,” said Cleveland.

“You shall do no such matter, by Heaven!” answered Bunce. “The command with me, truly! and how the devil am I to get the crew to obey me? Why, even Dick Fletcher rides rusty on me now and then. You know well enough that, without you, we shall be all at each other’s throats in half an hour; and, if you desert us, what a rope’s end does it signify whether we are destroyed by the king’s cruisers, or by each other? Come, come, noble Captain, there are black-eyed girls enough in the world, but where will you find so tight a sea-boat as the little Favourite here, manned as she is with a set of tearing lads,

‘Fit to disturb the peace of all the world,

And rule it when ’tis wildest?’”

“You are a precious fool, Jack Bunce,” said Cleveland, half angry, and, in despite of himself, half diverted, by the false tones and exaggerated gesture of the stage-struck pirate.

“It may be so, noble Captain,” answered Bunce, “and it may be that I have my comrades in my folly. Here are you, now, going to play All for Love, and the World well Lost, and yet you cannot bear a harmless bounce in blank verse — Well, I can talk prose for the matter, for I have news enough to tell — and strange news, too — ay, and stirring news to boot.”

“Well, prithee deliver them (to speak thy own cant) like a man of this world.”

“The Stromness fishers will accept nothing for their provisions and trouble,” said Bunce —“there is a wonder for you!”

“And for what reason, I pray?” said Cleveland; “it is the first time I have ever heard of cash being refused at a seaport.”

“True — they commonly lay the charges on as thick as if they were caulking. But here is the matter. The owner of the brig yonder, the father of your fair Imoinda, stands paymaster, by way of thanks for the civility with which we treated his daughters, and that we may not meet our due, as he calls it, on these shores.”

“It is like the frank-hearted old Udaller!” said Cleveland; “but is he at Stromness? I thought he was to have crossed the island for Kirkwall.”

“He did so purpose,” said Bunce; “but more folks than King Duncan change the course of their voyage. He was no sooner ashore than he was met with by a meddling old witch of these parts, who has her finger in every man’s pie, and by her counsel he changed his purpose of going to Kirkwall, and lies at anchor for the present in yonder white house, that you may see with your glass up the lake yonder. I am told the old woman clubbed also to pay for the sloop’s stores. Why she should shell out the boards I cannot conceive an idea, except that she is said to be a witch, and may befriend us as so many devils.”

“But who told you all this?” said Cleveland, without using his spy-glass, or seeming so much interested in the news as his comrade had expected.

“Why,” replied Bunce, “I made a trip ashore this morning to the village, and had a can with an old acquaintance, who had been sent by Master Troil to look after matters, and I fished it all out of him, and more, too, than I am desirous of telling you, noble Captain.”

“And who is your intelligencer?” said Cleveland; “has he got no name?”

“Why, he is an old, fiddling, foppish acquaintance of mine, called Halcro, if you must know,” said Bunce.

“Halcro!” echoed Cleveland, his eyes sparkling with surprise —“Claud Halcro? — why, he went ashore at Inganess with Minna and her sister — Where are they?”

“Why, that is just what I did not want to tell you,” replied the confidant —“yet hang me if I can help it, for I cannot baulk a fine situation. — That start had a fine effect — O ay, and the spy-glass is turned on the House of Stennis now! — Well, yonder they are, it must be confessed — indifferently well guarded, too. Some of the old witch’s people are come over from that mountain of an island — Hoy, as they call it; and the old gentleman has got some fellows under arms himself. But what of all that, noble Captain! — give you but the word, and we snap up the wenches to-night — clap them under hatches — man the capstern by daybreak — up topsails — and sail with the morning tide.”

“You sicken me with your villainy,” said Cleveland, turning away from him.

“Umph! — villainy, and sicken you!” said Bunce —“Now, pray, what have I said but what has been done a thousand times by gentlemen of fortune like ourselves?”

“Mention it not again,” said Cleveland; then took a turn along the deck, in deep meditation, and, coming back to Bunce, took him by the hand, and said, “Jack, I will see her once more.”

“With all my heart,” said Bunce, sullenly.

“Once more will I see her, and it may be to abjure at her feet this cursed trade, and expiate my offences”——

“At the gallows!” said Bunce, completing the sentence —“With all my heart! — confess and be hanged is a most reverend proverb.”

“Nay — but, dear Jack!” said Cleveland.

“Dear Jack!” answered Bunce, in the same sullen tone —“a dear sight you have been to dear Jack. But hold your own course — I have done with caring for you for ever — I should but sicken you with my villainous counsels.”

“Now, must I soothe this silly fellow as if he were a spoiled child,” said Cleveland, speaking at Bunce, but not to him; “and yet he has sense enough, and bravery enough, too; and, one would think, kindness enough to know that men don’t pick their words during a gale of wind.”

“Why, that’s true, Clement,” said Bunce, “and there is my hand upon it — And, now I think upon’t, you shall have your last interview, for it’s out of my line to prevent a parting scene; and what signifies a tide — we can sail by to-morrow’s ebb as well as by this.”

Cleveland sighed, for Norna’s prediction rushed on his mind; but the opportunity of a last meeting with Minna was too tempting to be resigned either for presentiment or prediction.

“I will go presently ashore to the place where they all are,” said Bunce; “and the payment of these stores shall serve me for a pretext; and I will carry any letters or message from you to Minna with the dexterity of a valet de chambre.”

“But they have armed men — you may be in danger,” said Cleveland.

“Not a whit — not a whit,” replied Bunce. “I protected the wenches when they were in my power; I warrant their father will neither wrong me, nor see me wronged.”

“You say true,” said Cleveland, “it is not in his nature. I will instantly write a note to Minna.” And he ran down to the cabin for that purpose, where he wasted much paper, ere, with a trembling hand, and throbbing heart, he achieved such a letter as he hoped might prevail on Minna to permit him a farewell meeting on the succeeding morning.

His adherent, Bunce, in the meanwhile, sought out Fletcher, of whose support to second any motion whatever, he accounted himself perfectly sure; and, followed by this trusty satellite, he intruded himself on the awful presence of Hawkins the boatswain, and Derrick the quarter-master, who were regaling themselves with a can of rumbo, after the fatiguing duty of the day.

“Here comes he can tell us,” said Derrick. —“So, Master Lieutenant, for so we must call you now, I think, let us have a peep into your counsels — When will the anchor be a-trip?”

“When it pleases heaven, Master Quarter-master,” answered Bunce, “for I know no more than the stern-post.”

“Why, d — n my buttons,” said Derrick, “do we not weigh this tide?”

“Or to-morrow’s tide, at farthest?” said the Boatswain —“Why, what have we been slaving the whole company for, to get all these stores aboard?”

“Gentlemen,” said Bunce, “you are to know that Cupid has laid our Captain on board, carried the vessel, and nailed down his wits under hatches.”

“What sort of play-stuff is all this?” said the Boatswain, gruffly. “If you have any thing to tell us, say it in a word, like a man.”

“Howsomdever,” said Fletcher, “I always think Jack Bunce speaks like a man, and acts like a man too — and so, d’ye see”——

“Hold your peace, dear Dick, best of bullybacks, be silent,” said Bunce —“Gentlemen, in one word, the Captain is in love.”

“Why, now, only think of that!” said the Boatswain; “not but that I have been in love as often as any man, when the ship was laid up.”

“Well, but,” continued Bunce, “Captain Cleveland is in love — Yes — Prince Volscius is in love; and, though that’s the cue for laughing on the stage, it is no laughing matter here. He expects to meet the girl to-morrow, for the last time; and that, we all know, leads to another meeting, and another, and so on till the Halcyon is down on us, and then we may look for more kicks than halfpence.”

“By — ” said the Boatswain, with a sounding oath, “we’ll have a mutiny, and not allow him to go ashore — eh, Derrick?”

“And the best way, too,” said Derrick.

“What d’ye think of it, Jack Bunce?” said Fletcher, in whose ears this counsel sounded very sagely, but who still bent a wistful look upon his companion.

“Why, look ye, gentlemen,” said Bunce, “I will mutiny none, and stap my vitals if any of you shall!”

“Why, then I won’t, for one,” said Fletcher; “but what are we to do, since howsomdever”——

“Stopper your jaw, Dick, will you?” said Bunce. —“Now, Boatswain, I am partly of your mind, that the Captain must be brought to reason by a little wholesome force. But you all know he has the spirit of a lion, and will do nothing unless he is allowed to hold on his own course. Well, I’ll go ashore and make this appointment. The girl comes to the rendezvous in the morning, and the Captain goes ashore — we take a good boat’s crew with us, to row against tide and current, and we will be ready at the signal, to jump ashore and bring off the Captain and the girl, whether they will or no. The pet-child will not quarrel with us, since we bring off his whirligig along with him; and if he is still fractious, why, we will weigh anchor without his orders, and let him come to his senses at leisure, and know his friends another time.”

“Why, this has a face with it, Master Derrick,” said Hawkins.

“Jack Bunce is always right,” said Fletcher; “howsomdever, the Captain will shoot some of us, that is certain.”

“Hold your jaw, Dick,” said Bunce; “pray, who the devil cares, do you think, whether you are shot or hanged?”

“Why, it don’t much argufy for the matter of that,” replied Dick; “howsomdever”——

“Be quiet, I tell you,” said his inexorable patron, “and hear me out. — We will take him at unawares, so that he shall neither have time to use cutlass nor pops; and I myself, for the dear love I bear him, will be the first to lay him on his back. There is a nice tight-going bit of a pinnace, that is a consort of this chase of the Captain’s — if I have an opportunity, I’ll snap her up on my own account.”

“Yes, yes,” said Derrick, “let you alone for keeping on the look-out for your own comforts.”

“Faith, nay,” said Bunce, “I only snatch at them when they come fairly in my way, or are purchased by dint of my own wit; and none of you could have fallen on such a plan as this. We shall have the Captain with us, head, hand, and heart and all, besides making a scene fit to finish a comedy. So I will go ashore to make the appointment, and do you possess some of the gentlemen who are still sober, and fit to be trusted, with the knowledge of our intentions.”

Bunce, with his friend Fletcher, departed accordingly, and the two veteran pirates remained looking at each other in silence, until the Boatswain spoke at last. “Blow me, Derrick, if I like these two daffadandilly young fellows; they are not the true breed. Why, they are no more like the rovers I have known, than this sloop is to a first-rate. Why, there was old Sharpe that read prayers to his ship’s company every Sunday, what would he have said to have heard it proposed to bring two wenches on board?”

“And what would tough old Black Beard have said,” answered his companion, “if they had expected to keep them to themselves? They deserve to be made to walk the plank for their impudence; or to be tied back to back and set a-diving, and I care not how soon.”

“Ay, but who is to command the ship, then?” said Hawkins.

“Why, what ails you at old Goffe?” answered Derrick.

“Why, he has sucked the monkey so long and so often,” said the Boatswain, “that the best of him is buffed. He is little better than an old woman when he is sober, and he is roaring mad when he is drunk — we have had enough of Goffe.”

“Why, then, what d’ye say to yourself, or to me, Boatswain?” demanded the Quarter-master. “I am content to toss up for it.”

“Rot it, no,” answered the Boatswain, after a moment’s consideration; “if we were within reach of the trade-winds, we might either of us make a shift; but it will take all Cleveland’s navigation to get us there; and so, I think, there is nothing like Bunce’s project for the present. Hark, he calls for the boat — I must go on deck and have her lowered for his honour, d — n his eyes.”

The boat was lowered accordingly, made its voyage up the lake with safety, and landed Bunce within a few hundred yards of the old mansion-house of Stennis. Upon arriving in front of the house, he found that hasty measures had been taken to put it in a state of defence, the lower windows being barricaded, with places left for use of musketry, and a ship-gun being placed so as to command the entrance, which was besides guarded by two sentinels. Bunce demanded admission at the gate, which was briefly and unceremoniously refused, with an exhortation to him, at the same time, to be gone about his business before worse came of it. As he continued, however, importunately to insist on seeing some one of the family, and stated his business to be of the most urgent nature, Claud Halcro at length appeared, and, with more peevishness than belonged to his usual manner, that admirer of glorious John expostulated with his old acquaintance upon his pertinacious folly.

“You are,” he said, “like foolish moths fluttering about a candle, which is sure at last to consume you.”

“And you,” said Bunce, “are a set of stingless drones, whom we can smoke out of your defences at our pleasure, with half-a-dozen of hand-grenades.”

“Smoke a fool’s head!” said Halcro; “take my advice, and mind your own matters, or there will be those upon you will smoke you to purpose. Either begone, or tell me in two words what you want; for you are like to receive no welcome here save from a blunderbuss. We are men enough of ourselves; and here is young Mordaunt Mertoun come from Hoy, whom your Captain so nearly murdered.”

“Tush, man,” said Bunce, “he did but let out a little malapert blood.”

“We want no such phlebotomy here,” said Claud Halcro; “and, besides, your patient turns out to be nearer allied to us than either you or we thought of; so you may think how little welcome the Captain or any of his crew are like to be here.”

“Well; but what if I bring money for the stores sent on board?”

“Keep it till it is asked of you,” said Halcro. “There are two bad paymasters — he that pays too soon, and he that does not pay at all.”

“Well, then, let me at least give our thanks to the donor,” said Bunce.

“Keep them, too, till they are asked for,” answered the poet.

“So this is all the welcome I have of you for old acquaintance’ sake?” said Bunce.

“Why, what can I do for you, Master Altamont?” said Halcro, somewhat moved. —“If young Mordaunt had had his own will, he would have welcomed you with ‘the red Burgundy, Number a thousand.’ For God’s sake begone, else the stage direction will be, Enter guard, and seize Altamont.”

“I will not give you the trouble,” said Bunce, “but will make my exit instantly. — Stay a moment — I had almost forgot that I have a slip of paper for the tallest of your girls there — Minna, ay, Minna is her name. It is a farewell from Captain Cleveland — you cannot refuse to give it her?”

“Ah, poor fellow!” said Halcro —“I comprehend — I comprehend — Farewell, fair Armida —

‘’Mid pikes and ’mid bullets, ’mid tempests and fire,

The danger is less than in hopeless desire!’

Tell me but this — is there poetry in it?”

“Chokeful to the seal, with song, sonnet, and elegy,” answered Bunce; “but let her have it cautiously and secretly.”

“Tush, man! — teach me to deliver a billet-doux! — me, who have been in the Wits’ Coffee-house, and have seen all the toasts of the Kit-Cat Club! — Minna shall have it, then, for old acquaintance’ sake, Mr. Altamont, and for your Captain’s sake, too, who has less of the core of devil about him than his trade requires. There can be no harm in a farewell letter.”

“Farewell, then, old boy, for ever and a day!” said Bunce; and seizing the poet’s hand, gave it so hearty a gripe, that he left him roaring, and shaking his fist, like a dog when a hot cinder has fallen on his foot.

Leaving the rover to return on board the vessel, we remain with the family of Magnus Troil, assembled at their kinsman’s mansion of Stennis, where they maintained a constant and careful watch against surprise.

Mordaunt Mertoun had been received with much kindness by Magnus Troil, when he came to his assistance, with a small party of Norna’s dependants, placed by her under his command. The Udaller was easily satisfied that the reports instilled into his ears by the Jagger, zealous to augment his favour towards his more profitable customer Cleveland, by diminishing that of Mertoun, were without foundation. They had, indeed, been confirmed by the good Lady Glowrowrum, and by common fame, both of whom were pleased to represent Mordaunt Mertoun as an arrogant pretender to the favour of the sisters of Burgh-Westra, who only hesitated, sultan-like, on whom he should bestow the handkerchief. But common fame, Magnus considered, was a common liar, and he was sometimes disposed (where scandal was concerned) to regard the good Lady Glowrowrum as rather an uncommon specimen of the same genus. He therefore received Mordaunt once more into full favour, listened with much surprise to the claim which Norna laid to the young man’s duty, and with no less interest to her intention of surrendering to him the considerable property which she had inherited from her father. Nay, it is even probable that, though he gave no immediate answer to her hints concerning an union betwixt his eldest daughter and her heir, he might think such an alliance recommended, as well by the young man’s personal merits, as by the chance it gave of reuniting the very large estate which had been divided betwixt his own father and that of Norna. At all events, the Udaller received his young friend with much kindness, and he and the proprietor of the mansion joined in intrusting to him, as the youngest and most active of the party, the charge of commanding the night-watch, and relieving the sentinels around the House of Stennis.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29