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CHAPTER II. BOSTON ON THE WITNESS-STAND.
Boston Bainbridge knew that he entered the fort at considerable peril to himself; but he had learned, in his wandering life, to look danger in the face. His trickery in trade was as natural to him as the rising of smoke. But, underlying his whimsical manner, there was a vein of pure bravery, and an inherent love for deeds of daring. The jealousies between the Yankees and Dutch had strengthened by degrees, until the two parties begun to concert plans to oust each other from the stronghold they had taken. The Windsor party was headed by Captain William Holmes, a man of great individual courage, who had refused to retrace his steps when he first ascended the river, and ran by under fire of the Dutch guns. Knowing that the Dutch were concerting some plan for his overthrow, he determined to send Boston Bainbridge to Good Hope with his pack, to see what he could pick up in the way of information.

The appearance of Boston was no sooner made known to Van Curter, the commandant, than he sent out his orderly to bring the hawker into his presence. The former was a tall, hook-nosed man, with the erect bearing of a soldier. Boston did not like the expression of his eye. It was full of fire, dark and penetrating.

“Your name is Boston Bainbridge,” said he. “If I remember aright, you were here some four months ago?”

“You are right, squire. I was here then, and I calculate I did a heap of dicker.”

“Oh, you did? Allow me to remind you of the fact that you were told not to come here any more. You did not pay much attention to that.”

“Now, see here, squire, I’ll tell you all about it. I’m a trader, and it stands to reason that when a feller gets a good place to sell, he don’t like to leave it. I didn’t think you more than half-meant it. Let me show you some goods I’ve got—”

[21]

“Silence!” thundered Van Curter.

“Eh?”

“Silence, I say. Listen to me. Who sent you here?”

“Who sent me here? Now, squire, I calculate that ain’t a fair question. Who should send me here? I came here to sell goods. Let me show—”

“Hans!” cried Van Curter.

The orderly entered.

“Draw your sword,” continued Van Curter, “and if this fellow attempts again to speak of his beggarly pack, run him through the body.”

The eyes of the hawker begun to flash, and he folded his arms upon his breast.

“Your questions?” he cried. “Let me hear them.”

“First, then, who sent you here?”

“I have told you already.”

“What did you come to do?”

“You will make nothing out of me while a man stands over me with a drawn sword. I am only a poor man—one of the poorest in his majesty’s colony—but the threats of no Dutchman under heaven can scare me.”

“What would you have me do?”

“Send away this fellow with the sword, and let me talk in my own way. We shall get along quite as well. And don’t try to bully. I ain’t used to it. There are those who will see me righted if I am ill-treated—that you must know.”

“Do you threaten?”

“Will you send this fellow away?”

“Retire, Hans, and stand at the door. Enter when I call.”

The orderly obeyed.

“Now speak,” said Van Curter.

“You see, squire, I had been to Boston, and I calculated it was about time you were out of nicknacks, so I came out.”

“You stick to that story? Have you been to Windsor?”

“Wal, I calculate I have.”

“What is Holmes doing?”

“That’s rather a hard question. The last time I saw him, he was eatin’. He has got a mouth to put away the provisions in, now I tell you.”

[22]

“Pish, man; you know what I want to know. Tell me what they are doing at Windsor.”

“They are building a mighty big stock-house there, I reckon—nigh as big as Good Hope. But law, what can they do? You could eat them up!”

“Are they preparing to attack me?”

“No, I calculate not. They have all they kin do to keep the Indians friendly.”

“Do they talk much about us?”

“Yes, more or less. Not any thing to count, howsumdever.”

“What do they say?”

“I reckon they think you are pretty strong here. They talk about that some.”

“Do you think, if they were to attempt it, they would drive us out of Good Hope?”

“Now, I don’t know as to that. I am a bit of a Boston man myself, and don’t care so much for Windsor. I don’t say they wouldn’t if they got the chance. You see, it’s a pretty bit of land, and you asked them to come out here.”

“So we did, fools that we were to do it. What would you advise us to do?”

“You want me to tell you?”

“Yes.”

“Honest?”

“Yes.”

“Then this is what I think: Don’t stir us up. We are good folks, if you let us alone; but if you rile us up, we git hornety. I don’t say this to scare you, or any thing. But we are tough colts to ride without a halter.”

“Do you think we fear you?”

“I don’t say it. You may or you may not. But, you ask my advice, and I give it. Don’t cut up rough. Don’t go to smoothing us against the grain. Go with the nap of the cloth, and you’ll find it’ll work better.”

“Ah! How many men have you at Windsor?”

“Don’t keep mixing me up with the Windsor folks, squire. I don’t belong there. I am a Boston man, myself.”

“Then you won’t refuse to tell me how many men you have?”

[23]

“I would if I could. A good many had gone out to hunt and trade. All through, there was a pretty lively sprinkling of them, I calculate.”

“Do you think they have as many as we have?”

“How many do you reckon?”

Van Curter instantly gave him this information, and immediately cursed himself for doing it, fearing that the hawker would take advantage of the fact against him. He was the more angry from the fact that Boston refused to be at all explicit in regard to the number at Windsor. “He hadn’t counted,” he said. “They were scattered round a good deal; might be more or might be less. Couldn’t bring himself to say, to a certainty, whether they had as many as Van Curter or not, but most probable a likely number.”

“How did you come here?”

“I reckon that is easy to answer. Part of the way I walked, and part of the way I rode. Couldn’t I sell you something, squire?”

“Wait until I have finished my questions. Did you see Captain Holmes at Windsor?”

“Yes, I told you before.”

“Was William Barlow in Windsor?”

“The lieutenant?”

“Yes.”

“Y-a-a-s. He was there.”

“Did he know you were coming here?”

“Guess so.”

“Do you know?”

“Y-a-a-s, I think he did. I didn’t make no secret of it. I trade here a great deal.”

“The last time you were here, you brought a message to my daughter from him. Don’t deny it, for I know you did. Have you one now?”

“No. The lieutenant found out that you were mad about it, and he thought he wouldn’t trouble the gal just now.”

“You are sure you have not a letter about you somewhere?”

“You may s’arch me, if you think I have. ’Twon’t be the first time it’s been done.”

“You are willing?”

[24]

“I can’t say I am just willing. I allus prefer to have the handling of my goods myself. Before you call in your men, I’ll go over the box and show you that there ain’t any message in that.”

Van Curter looked on zealously as the hawker tumbled over his goods upon the floor, and turned over its contents. He then examined the pack itself, and found nothing. Boston put the things back, saying, that “Dutchmen had sometimes light fingers as well as heavy bodies.”

Van Curter now called in two men, who searched the hawker with great care. They found nothing.

“I told you so before you begun,” said he. “You wouldn’t believe me. Perhaps you will next time, and save yourself trouble.”

The fellows went out, and Van Curter begun again, with the air of a man without hope:

“Did you come here alone?”

“Yes, I did. What will you ask next? I’d like to have you get done as soon as you can, for I want to be at work. I’m losing money on you.”

A light came into the face of the other. “You like money, then?”

“I ain’t much ahead of any Dutchman of my acquaintance, then. They like money. Of course I like money. Why not?”

“Then I have not been holding out the right inducement for you to speak.”

“You are right in your head, old lad. I don’t speak without a proper inducement.”

“Is this right?” asked Van Curter, slipping a couple of gold pieces into his hand.

“Double it,” said the other, shortly. The commandant obeyed. Boston clinked the pieces upon the floor, tried them with his teeth, and, being satisfied that they were good, put them in his pouch and turned to the commandant.

“That is the right argument. What do you want?”

“Did Barlow send any message to my daughter?”

“Y-a-a-s, he did.”

“Have you got it?”

“Not in writin’.”

[25]

“What did he say?”

“Assured her that he was hers till death.”

“Ha!”

“That his love would never grow cold.”

“The insufferable Englishman!”

“That he had not yet given up hope.”

“He had better.”

“Hopes to win your good will.”

“Never!”

“Bids her trust in him, and they will meet again.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes.”

The commandant mused for some moments, with his head bowed upon his hand. Van Curter was one of those obstinate men, found often among soldiers, who loved or hated with vindictive energy. His hatred of the Yankees was intense, and it offended him greatly that his daughter should fix her affections upon one of the despised race. It would have pleased him better to have seen her married to some fat burgher of New Netherlands—one of his own nation.

“Listen, sir,” said he, at last. “I have a few words to say to you. I love my child as well as any man can do. But I would sooner see her dead at my feet than married to a Yankee.”

“Now, see here, squire. Don’t talk that way. ’Tain’t proper. We are an odd kind of people; I calculate we always get even with any one who hurts us. You don’t know the lieutenant very well, I see. I do. There ain’t a finer boy from the Floridas to Penobscot. He is brave, of good family, and I really don’t see what you have against him.”

“Let that pass. I have told you what I think about this matter. He shall never again see Theresa Van Curter.”

Boston hummed a low tune.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Don’t you believe any such thing, squire. You can’t keep two young people apart. If I want to hurry on a marriage, I always get some old maid, old woman, or old man, no matter which, to oppose the match. That will bring it on, as sure as a gun!”

“You think so?”

[26]

“It stands to reason. It’s just the way of human nature. They always want to eat forbidden fruit. Your best way would be to laugh the girl out of the idea, if you are so set against it.”

“What a nation you will make some day,” cried the other, in a tone of admiration. “You can not fail. There is nothing which you can not compass, for your desires are boundless. I seem to see with a prophet’s eye. This great continent will one day bear a great nation famous for its liberal ideas, a nation of cunning men, who will hold the world in their grasp. My nation will contribute to make up this nation; for where liberal ideas and freedom to mankind hold sway, the Dutch must have a hand.”

Worthy Van Curter, sitting in his rude fort upon the banks of the bright river, and prophesying the future of the land, in his wildest dreams never approached the reality. Who could hope that, in less than ten generations, the power of the wonderful race should have built up a republic, the grandest of nations, the hope of all the world!

“But, this is idle talk,” the soldier continued, rising from his seat. “When you go back to Windsor, and you must go soon, as I will not have you hanging about here, you will see this Lieutenant Barlow, and take this message from me: under no circumstances will I tolerate, in the least degree, his addresses to my daughter. Let him beware how he crosses my path, or worse will come of it. Will you remember?”

“Y-a-a-s, squire.”

“You may now go out and sell your goods. I give you two days. After that, you must leave the settlement.” He rose and left the room, not aware of the fact that Boston was snapping his fingers behind his official back.
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