THOMAS H. RADDALL
COLONEL LARRABEE, late of Tarleton’s Legion, had been for 17 years a loyalist exile in Nova Scotia and had kept a diary during all those years, in it he recorded his struggles to rebuild the fortune lost in Carolina in the Revolution, the affairs of his household and of Oldport generally. He was a busy man, what with his position as chief magistrate, commander of the Oldport militia, deputy registrar of the Vice-Admiralty Court and his concerns in the cod fishery, the trading voyages to New England, Carolina, and the West Indies, and his privateers operating against the French and Spanish
in the Caribbean. 'There was a good deal to record of things that mattered, but he had the diary habit by now and on days when nothing of importance had occurred he wrote down the trivialities. Thus on a chilly evening in late autumn he sat and wrote:
Nov. 3, 1800 Wind N.W. and cold. Mr. Bolger’s schooner gets in from Halifax this evening's tide. Lieutenant Rich'd Greene is come in her with a Military Party seeking a deserter from the Fencibles. As magistrate I send out. Notices by Black Philip to be posted on the tavern doors but I judge the Fellow has gone to the Westward in one of the fishing shallops. This afternoon my daughter, Flora, rode Manners to the Falls. Abigail Fisher and Mary Gidner with her, all a-horseback, and returned at Sunsetting. Squally and spitting Snow.
Hut alas for his peace of mind, there was more to it than that.
FLORA LARRABEE was a slender girl of 22 with her father’s glowing black eyes and a lively manner that came through her mother from the Nesbits of Savannah. She and her sisters had been motherless since ’95, and Sumter, feeling his responsibilities, had exercised a strict parental hand. Perhaps he knew and secretly feared the spirit in his girls. Certainly he made their lives very dull. And so young Flora rode off very gladly on that bleak November day with a message for her father’s saw’yers at the mill two miles upstream.
The three boon companions jogged along the narrow
When the colonel’s daughter hides a deserter in the family arsenal there’s bound to be an explosion of some kind
track in file, each holding the reins in one cold hand and warming the other in her muff. There was shelter wherever the road crossed a bend in the river through woods of pine and spruce, but where it followed the bank the wind rose off the grey water in icy gusts.
In one of these comfortless places they came upon a man footing it briskly toward the falls. The raw wind carried the sound of their small cavalcade away from him until Manners clattered a hoof at his back. The man’s response was prompt. He leaped aside and opened a large clasp knife in a single movement, and turned to face them holding it like a dagger. The girls pulled up at once; for a moment they stared at the man, and a pair of desperate blue eyes stared back at them, roving from face to face.
“The deserter, I presume,” said Flora, sitting very straight.
“You presume too much,” said the man, putting the knife in his pocket.
“Don’t lie, my good man. The description’s out and everybody’s seen it by this time. ‘Age 28, light brown hair, eyes blue, visage gaunt, wearing uniform of the Nova Scotia Fencibles; grey jacket with yellow facings, pantaloons a shade darker grey. Name Aquila Denby. Has been a seaman.’ That’s you. Don’t deny it.”
She might have been Colonel Larrabee himself.
“It’s past denying,” said Aquila Denby. “They’ve been devilish quick.”
“I think we’d better be going,” murmured Abigail faintly.
“Hush up, Nabby, do! You’re a foolish young man, Aquila Denby. Foolish to run away and very foolish to come this way. Why didn’t you keep on along the coast?”
“Because that’s the way they expect me to go. Who is it? Old Wollenhaupt?”
“It’s a Lieutenant Greene with four soldiers.” “Phew! Want me badly, don’t they?”
Flora let the reins drop and thrust both hands into her muff, completely mistress of the situation. “They’ll get you, too.”
Aquila Denby looked up and down the road. There was nothing in sight but river and woods and the rough winding track.
. “Not if I have your horse,” he said coolly.
He stepped up to Manners and seized the bridle. Mary Gidner dropped her muff and wheeled her horse, squealing absurdly, “I’ll rouse the town!”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Flora snapped. “There’s no harm in the man. He’s an idiot. Where would you go with my horse, idiot? The road ends at the falls, a mile ahead.”
The man read truth in her confident black eyes and dropped his hand.
“I could take to the woods,” he said stubbornly.
“In November? Without axe or gun? You are an idiot.”
Aquila Denby folded his ragged arms. “I’m none o’ your blessed regulars, ma’am, that’s lost outside a barrack yard. I’m country-born, and lived in the woods before this. I’d shift somehow.”
“Pooh! You’d starve. Better give yourself up.” “What for?” The deserter looked up with a wry smile.
“Four or five hundred lashes,” chirped Abigail suddenly, “and serve you right.”
“It comes off your lips very lightly, ma’am. And have you considered hanging? It’s just three months ago there was a fine hanging of deserters in Halifax, with the garrison drawn up on the town common, and three poor devils dressed in white for the occasion, with the coffins at their feet, and the whole town looking on, and the garrison chaplain and P’ather Burke to give ’em a word in the passing. I was there in the ranks, ma’am, with my hands cold on the musket though the sun was hot and watched ’em swing. A sight, that. You’d have enjoyed it.”
“Not I,” said Flora, very white. “I’ve said nothing of giving you up. Be still, Nabby.”
“Then why do you wish me to go back to town?” Denby said.
“So you can hide in my father’s store loft, idiot.”
Abigail and Mary sang “Flora Larrabee!” in a horrified duet.
“Yes!” Her black eyes danced. “Of course he can. It’s the last place they’d look. I’d love to see the face of that stiff lieutenant if he knew.”
“Or your father’s,” suggested Abigail Fisher pointedly.
“That’s my affair, Nabby Fisher. If you or Mary breathe a word I’ll—I’ll say you helped me!” She turned to the young man eagerly. “Keep off the road. There’s a bridge over the grist-mill brook on the edge of the town; make your way there through the woods. I’ll meet you at the bridge after dark.”
SHE found Aquila Denby lurking under the timbers of the bridge itself.
“Adraughty hole, ma’am. Fine storage for a corpse.” “You’re not dead yet, idiot. Here’s an old cloak that belonged to my mother. Put it around you and take care of it. And wear this calash.”
“No!” He had an uneasy suspicion that he was being made the victim of a prank.
“Put it on! If I’m seen with a man after dark there’ll be questions to answer. You’ll go as a woman or not at all.”
He put the cloak on and donned the hat, awkwardly. It caught the air like a scoop and billowed and settled uneasily as he walked, but his face was lost in its shadow.
The town was a sprawl of wooden houses grouped in a single street along the river. In the outskirts they were simple log huts, and because the poor could not afford candles they were like a double row of tombs now in their silence and darkness.
Farther on, by the militia parade ground and Shipyard Point, stood the frame houses of merchants and shipowners, windows glowing with candlelight and the flicker of open fires. The street, a quagmire after the autumn rains, had a thin crust now, for there was a
sharp frost in the nir. At last there was a pattern of masts and spars against the starlight to the left. The girl jerked his arm toward it.
They crept past a number of silent houses in a lane, past a forge with its cooling tub and a smell of Spanish River coals, past a succession of looming sheds. There was a whiff of salt and dried codfish stored in the warehouses.
The girl halted at a dim door, rattled a key, pulled him into a black cavern full of the smell of tar and gun grease and some other scent., pungent and familiar.
“Take my hand,” she whispered. “We daresn’t strike a light.”
“Who’s to see?” grumbled Aquila Denby, blundering against hard and bulky objects.
“Nobody, idiot. It’s the powder.” She felt for the stairs with a foot and led him upward, her iron-shod oattens clinking on the steps.
“Powder!” he repeated, sniffing.
“Yes. And the King’s powder at that. Father’s commander of the militia.” They were in a loft. The deserter retained her hand in his strong fingers.
“What’s your name again, ma’am?”
“Flora. My father’s Colonel Larrabee. He’s a magistrate and all sorts of things. They’ll never look here for you.”
“Flora . . . Flora. I like that. Goddeas of the flowers, eh? I thank you, my goddess.”
“Thank your stars, Aquila Denby.” She pulled her hand away and put a small bundle in his arms. “There’s bread and cheese, and corn cake buttered, and a bottle of Madeira. Keep quiet and don’t stir from the loft. I’ll come again tomorrow night.”
“One moment. Why are you doing all this, Flora?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“I believe anything you say,” Aquila said.
“Well, you looked hungry and hunted and desperate like— like Prince Charlie in the Highlands. You see I was named after Flora Macdonald. My parents knew her in Carolina. She and her husband and sons and my father and mother were loyalists together in the Continued on page 18
Continued from page 17
Revolution. My mother told me the story many times when I was young. It was that, and . well, I thought it would be exciting. Now you’re actually here in father’s loft I’m a little frightened. You must stay till Greene and his men are gone.”
“That’s for you to decide. Why did you run away?”
The deserter shrugged in the darkness. “For the reason I enlisted —a whim. Oh, I was ripe for pulling the foot. I wouldn’t have minded fighting; I’ve done a bit of that, and in some queer corners. But garrison duty, aaah! That only eats away a man’s heart and brains.”
The phrase reminded him of his empty stomach. He tore open the package and gnawed at the great country loaf.
When Flora had gone he fumbled his way about the loft and found a bundle of old herring net stowed upon a rafter. He pulled it down for a bed, and in the morning discovered with a whimsical grin that his pillow was a little heap of flannel powder cartridges. A grey light was struggling through the single dusty window. The storehouse was a stout affair of massive hewn pine beams and posts, with oak treenails running through tenon and mortise, the work of men who built a house as soundly as they built a ship.
There were many kegs with the government crowfoot burned into the wood, a pile of flannel powder bags, another of canister shot. There were two open barrels full of musket cartridges, and upon one of them lay an open box, half full of cartridges whose paper had been gnawed by rats and the powder partly spilled. A thin film of dust covered everything. He could see that the militia had not been mustered in some months, probably not since the King’s birthday in June. Their muskets, 100 perhaps, stood in racks along both walls of the loft. Above them hung the worms, rammers, and sponges for the battery of long 18’s on Fort Point.
The storehouse lay at the head of the Larra bee wharf, and all day long the deserter heard feet and voices passing. There was no window on the river side, but he guessed that a ship of some importance lay at the wharf and that she was fitting for a voyage. An ox cart made regular trips down the lane to the wharf and there was a continual rattle of wheelbarrows. The girl came like a ghost each night with food and drink— sometimes wine, sometimes water.
“I daresn’t take too much of father’s wine,” she whispered ruefully on the fourth night.
“You’re taking too much risk,” Aquila Denby said gravely. “Clear of anything else I’m afraid for you in this lane at night. A seaman full of rum flip’s no gentleman, and wenches hanging about the wharves o’ nights are considered fair game all round.”
“Only if a wench is looking to be caught,” Flora said.
“Where’s the lieutenant?”
“Staying at our house. The soldiers bed in the garret. They went to Gun Cove in a sloop yesterday and searched the fishing vessels there and found two men of the Royal Newfoundland. At least Lieutenant Greene says they are. He’s lodged them in the town gaol. The men vow they’re fishermen just lately come from the eastward. How are you getting along?”
“Oh, well enough,” Aquila said. Then passionately, “If only you could come by day! I want to see your face again. Why, you might be that Abigail girl, or my own grandmother, for all I can see. I peer from tnat little window in the gable all day long; there’s an opening between the sheds and lofts where I can see a fathom or so of the town street, and I watch like a cat at a mouse hole hoping to see you pass. Once or twice there’s been a girl in a grey cloak, but she moves too fast—four steps and out o’ sight. But I guess it’s just as well you can’t see me, my dear. I’m a filthy object—I’d frighten you. A beard like a hatful of oakum, and dust from head to foot.”
The girl put up a hand and explored his face in the dark. She giggled a little.
“You’d be the better for a shave, Aquila Denby, that’s the truth. I’ll bring soap and razor tomorrow night.”
He took her hands and pressed them to his lips. Gratitude, no doubt; but to Flora Larrabee he seemed like a small boy, lonely and seeking comfort in the dark.
“Flora, my dear . . .’’he stammered huskilv.
“D’you think you could kiss me?”
He felt the small hands go rigid in his, and was sorry. It was a long time before she said anything. Then, in a small voice, “You may kiss me, Aquila, if you want.” He drew her toward him gently and his lips met her cheek. She fled, but called up to him Continued on page 34
Continued from page 18
shakily from the darkness at the foot of the stairs:
“Is your aim as poor with a musket, soldier?”
TWO NIGHTS later, when she let herself into the store, she walked blindly into a pair of ready arms and found a clean-shaven cheek against her own. Aquila Denby kissed her very accurately indeed.
“Aquila! You frightened me nearly ; out of my wits!”
“Well, I’m nothing frightful, I assure you. A pity you can’t see me in my new rig-out.”
“Oh, do the clothes fit? Nabby Fisher got them for me. 1 daresn’t steal anything of father’s. There’s a bottle of Malmsey this time. And some cold roast beef. Miles Ferguson killed his ox yesterday. What have you been doing?”
“Thinking of you, my dear, as I do all the time.” He laughed, and it was good to hear the new ring in his laughter. “And last night I was abroad, airing my new clothes.”
“Oh, 1 climbed out a window belowstairs and tramped up and down the wharf lane. Quite safe, I assure you. Midnight, snow flying, and nobody about. That’s a fine brig at your father’s wharf. Is she his?”
“The Nymph? Yes. She’s fitting for a cruise. The Governor’s encouraging privateering against the French and Spanish in the West Indies, and father’s got a letter of marque for her. And that reminds me, Aquila, you must lie very still in the loft tomorrow. They’re shipping the brig’s guns, out of the store downstairs.”
He whistled. “So that’s where they go! I’ve been looking at ’em; two long 18’s, six 12’s, a long brass swivel—a beauty, that, and four carronades on the poop for close work. She ought to give an account of herself if she can sail. Is she coppered?”
Flora considered a moment. “No. She was built here this summer past. Our people can’t afford coppering. They scorch the plank and then paint it with hot stuff—tar and sulphur, 1 think.”
“Humph! Then it’ll be pump-ordrown afore the cruise is up. The shipworms are bad where she’ll be going. Has she a full crew?”
He was making conversation. His arms were still about her. She took off her bonnet, holding it by the strings and resting her head against his shoulder.
“Crew? Yes, I think. At least, Captain Beddoes hoisted his colors at Mrs. Gallihew’s tavern and opened a rendezvous five days ago. 1 heard father say that men were coming in well.”
“And they ship the guns tomorrow. They’ll be up here for powder and shot, my Flora.”
She lifted her head. There was a sudden fear in her voice.
“But they can’t! I mean, it’s Government powder and shot. It’s for the defense of the town.”
“Ah, that! What’s to stop ’em borrowing the King's stuff to fire at His Majesty’s enemies in the Caribbean? If they don’t, my Flora, l don’t know my Nova Scotia privateersmen. All due respect to your father, of course.”
There was a rattle below. The door opened and a crisp voice echoed in the hollow dark.
“Go ahead with the lantern, Philip, and steady about it. There’s powder enough here to blow us to the moon.”
“Speak of the devil . . .’’murmured Aquila Denby, drawing a great breath and squaring his shoulders. Black Philip came up the steps cautiously, an absurd figure in the glimmer of the lantern, his jet face beaded with unseasonable sweat, eyes rolling and showing the whites. At sight of the silent pair standing at the end of the dusty musket racks he checked and drew back, gibbering.
Colonel Larrabee appeared behind him, black eyes glittering in the hawk face. Sumter Larrabee was 50 now, and a fine figure of a man. A resolute military air sat naturally upon his sixfoot frame, although he had never been more than an amateur soldier and it was 19 years since Yorktown, the last of Tarleton’s Legion and the end of a world.
“Ha!” he uttered in an edged voice. “So this is where you go each night, miss! And who the devil is that, may
“Father . . ” Flora began.
“Silence! Let the man speak for himself, if he’s a man and can speak.” Aquila Denn> „OOK nis arm from the girl’s waist delioerateiy. He stepped forward as if to come to attention, then thought better of it and hooked his thumbs in ms belt.
“As a magistrate you ought to recognize me, sir.”
“Eh? Hoid the lantern closer, Philip, and stop shaking the thing. Ah! So! Brown hair, blue eyes, and a demned sharp visage. You’re the deserter from the Fencibles.”
“Visage no sharper than yours,” retorted the young man coolly. In truth, they were rather alike in their long jaws and high noses.
“Insolent, too, I see. You’ll sing a different tune when the hide’s off your back, my friend. Philip, fetch Lieutenant Greene here at once.”
“They’ll take no hide of mine,” Aquila said. He snatched the lantern from Black Philip’s uneasy hand. “There’s powder enough to blow us to the moon, did you say?—and a box of broken cartridges at my elbow. You’re at a tactical disadvantage, Colonel Larrabee, if you know one when you see it.”
“Damme, sir, ye wouldn’t dare!” Sumter bristled. The negro began to moan, a queer crooning sound.
“Listen, sir. Before something happens that we may not have time to regret, I must, tell you that your daughter’s none the worse o’ me. She brought me here, true, she’s fed me several days, true. As she’d shelter and feed a sick dog, sir, nothing more. I f you’ve hard things to say, say ’em to me.”
Sumter Larrabee turned to his daughter grimly. “And what do you
“I love him, father.” Her eyes were moist and shining.
Up went Sumter’s handsome black brows. His eyes blazed.
“Say that again, miss!”
“I love him,” Flora said.
Sumter turned white to the lips. “Then by the eternal heavens, miss, you shall marry tne scoundrel and have your reward !”
“What?” cried Aquila Denby.
“Here, sir! Now. Tonight. She’s made her bed and begad she shall lie in it. Off with you, Philip! Fetch Mr. Tinkham here at once.”
The old negro’s eyes were popping. The stately Araoeila, most like her dead mother, remained the Colonel’s favorite, but Miss Flora always had been first with the house servants. He was in a convulsion of terrors, part for himself in this awesome pfece, part for M-iss Flora, on whose small head the Colonel’s wrath seemed about to descend. Continued on page 37
Continued from page 34 “Mista Tinkum went to Hal’fax in d’ packet, sah, Monday, sah.”
“Ah! Then it’ll have to be that Methodist fellow-—what’s his name?” “Oliphant,” said Flora, very low. Black Philip vanished.
“I’d rather the Established Church made an honest women of you,” Sumter said, “but it seems we must fall back on the Dissenters. As for you, sir, I doubt if the devil himself could do much for your honesty, one way or the other. Have you any accomplishment besides running away from your duty?”
“I’m a sailor, if that’s what you mean,” Aquila said, looking him in the eye. “I’ve a knowledge of mathematics and the art of navigation. I can hand, reef, and steer. And I can play ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ on the fife.” (This is the tune to which Cornwallis’ troops marched out of Yorktown after the surrender.)
“Eh? What’s that?” Sumter threw up his head like a stung horse.
“Ah, that tune fetches you, doesn’t it, sir? It must be all of 1,000 miles from Yorktown to Nova Scotia. That’s a longer run than mine.”
Colonel Larrabee turned a rich plum color. He threw aside his cloak and brandished his ash stick fiercely.
“Confound your impudence, do you compare yourself with me? I never turned my back on a fight in my life.” “Fight?” Aquila said. “There’s a word you didn’t mention before. I’ve yet to run from a fight myself.”
“You deserted the King’s service in time of war,” Sumter roared.
“I deserted an idle garrison that’ll never see a shot fired in this war or the next. Where’s the disgrace? Are they the only patriots, those poor lobsterbacks at Halifax, drinking themselves to death in the groggeries for sheer want of honest excitement?”
I^HE door below opened uncertainly and feet made tentative sounds on the stairs. An uncocked black hat came into sight, the brim drooping. The Reverend Oliphant was a wisp of a man in black smallclothes and thick grey stockings. The collar of his threadbare fly-coat was half up and half down. He had put it on in a hurry. A summons from Colonel Larrabee would no more brook delay than the summons of the Last Trump.
“Where’s my nigra?” Sumter said. “Black Philip?” The preacher blinked in the lantern light. “He accompanied me to the door of this place and told me to go upstairs. I think he ran off.. It is all very strange, Colonel Larrabee, if I may say so.” “Humph! You’re the Methodist preacher, eh?”
Mr. Oliphant took a prayer book from under his arm and waved it slightly. He had a large voice when the subject was religion. “It pleased God,” he said roundly, “to call me here by the brig Lord Nelson from Connecticut, two weeks ago. You have a town full of iniquity, Colonel, but many poor souls seek the light. At meeting last Sabbath three men and nine women were moved with the spirit, and four of the women cried out aloud. There is a great work to be done.”
“Umph! There’s a bit of work to be done here tonight,” said Sumter dourly.
“I wish you to marry my daughter to that fellow holding the lantern.”
The Reverend Oliphant turned his mild gaze upon Flora Larrabee, erect and pale, and then to Aquila Denby. The good man hesitated.
“This hardly seems the time or place ...”
“The time’s getting short,” Aquila said, listening for sounds in the lane. “But marriages are made in ^Heaven,
and the young people should be published first in the meeting-house.”
“Published!” Sumter’s long lips J twisted fiercely. “1 tell you, parson, ; we’re nearer heaven in this loft than we’d ever be in your meeting house. If this hotheaded fool should drop the i lantern . . . ”
The little preacher shrugged and : pulled at the stock about his scrawny neck.
“Very well, then. Colonel.”
He opened the worn book and thrust it toward the lantern for better light. The ceremony was short. Aquila Denby looked very grim. Flora sobbed once or twice, and the preacher stopped and looked at her kindly. But she kept i her eyes on the bridgegroom.
“Is there a ring?” asked Mr. Oliphant. Aquila hesitated a moment, j He dived a finger into a pocket and produced a crude hoop of silver.
“An heirloom?” suggested Sumter acidly.
“A shilling hammered into a new I shape. The French prisoners make ’em j at Melville Island, where 1 did guard ¡ duty.”
“Ha! No respect for the King’s shilling, had you, sir! Get on with the business, parson.”
The preacher paused. “There should be witnesses,” he said doubtfully.
“I’m witness enough,” Sumter said.
Aquila Denby said, with a faint smile. “Here come the others.”
As the preacher recited the last words of the ceremony the door below flew open again, this time with a sound of several feet and Black Philip chattering and a rattle of trailed musket butts against the doorposts. Colonel Larrabee strode to the head of the steps, roaring down into darkness, “Don’t strike a light as ye value your life! Who’s there?”
THE torso of a man swam into the lantern light from the murky stair hole, a young man of 22 or so with a , grey uniform and astonished brown eyes. A dark and curly fuzz seemed to flow down his cheeks from under a tall shako. He had a pistol in each hand and stood there blinking rapidly in the edge of the lantern light.
“Well!” he announced in a high voice. “So you’ve got the rascal, Colonel!”
“What are you talking about?” snapped Sumter. “And stop playacting, sir. D’ye think I lent you my best pair of pistols to point at my own son-in-law?”
Lieutenant Greene’s lips opened and closed several times.
Then, “This is a demn poor jest, Colonel. That’s my man. A. Denby, private, Nova Scotia Fencibles. What’s he done with his uniform?”
“Uniform! What should he wear but the rig he’s got, eh?”
“I know this,” Greene said stubbornly. “He was wearing boots, pantaloons, and jacket when last seen, the property of His Majesty’s Government in Nova Scotia.”
“Last seen fiddlesticks! You see the man now, don’t you? You see what he’s wearing? Check shirt, homespun
trousers, fearnaught jacket. That’s the uniform of a privateersman hereabouts.” Sumter turned to the
“Speak up, sir! You’re my daughter’s husband, are you not?”
“And master’s mate of the Nymph, privateer?”
husband, are you
“As you say, sir.”
The lieutenant’s eyes, bright with suspicion, went from face to face, and inspected Flora’s with some indignation also. He had nourished a conviction that all females under 50 were susceptible to a uniform and an accent; he
had lived under the same roof with this dark intense girl for a week, had smiled to find the simple country-town miss hanging on his every word. His selfesteem was bruised.
“This is all demned queer. I’ll swear this man’s a runaway private of the Fencibles. May 1 remind you, Colonel Larrabee, of the Governor’s proclamation last summer? It demanded that magistrates and all other civil officers use diligence to seize and return deserters from His Majesty’s forces.”
“Demme, am I to be told my duty by a half-grown subaltern of the Fencibles? You give yourself airs, sir, that’d sit badly on a full-blown major of the line.”
The young officer stiffened. “You’re entitled to your opinion, sir. I arrest this man in the name of the King.”
Flora threw her arms about Aquila’s neck and wept.
Sumter barked, “Put down my pistols, sir! King’s name indeed! If there’s pistol play here we’ll be blown sky-high with the King’s powder, and His Majesty will be rid of a fool and a rogue, not to mention me and my daughter.”
“And me,” suggested Mr. Oliphant, alarmed.
Lieutenant Greene looked at the kegs for the first time, and when he saw the box of broken cartridges so close to the lantern his eyes grew very large.
“You quote the authority of the Governor,” Sumter said. “I have a commission from Sir John covering 75 men of the county militia now enrolled as the crew of my privateer. I count this man one of ’em.”
“It’s a demned quibble, Colonel Larrabee. A device to prevent impressment of your seamen by His Majesty’s ships at sea.”
“Curse me, sir, d’ye dare say quibble to a commission of Sir John Wentworth? What’s good enough for a manhunting frigate captain ought to be final to .
“I object to this violent language,” boomed Mr. Oliphant. “Consider, if you please, the presence of this lady and myself.”
There was a pause. They could hear the soldiers muttering below-stairs. Lieutenant Greene made a decision.
“Very well. Here are your pistols, sir. I shall return to Halifax and lay a report of this extraordinary affair before my superiors. Sir John ...”
“Is an old loyalist like myself,” Sumter said with a thin smile.
Greene clutched the rags of his dignity about him.
“In all conscience I must refuse the position of myself and my men as guests at your house, Colonel Larrabee. You will kindly draw on the regimental paymaster for billet money. You had
better draw through Messrs. Barss and Parker, Halifax, and I shall endorse the draft there. I think there is nothing more to be said. Good-night, sir. Good-night, madam.”
He ignored Aquila Denby and the solemn preacher and marched austerely down the stairs. The dignity of his exit was marred by a stumble on the dark steps and a thundering descent into the arms of a surprised corporal below. The door closed with a hollow slam.
“Strange. All very strange,” murmured Mr. Oliphant, making for the stairs. “But the Lord’s will be done.”
Flora Denby moved toward her father with a sudden impulse, but Sumter stopped her with an imperative gesture.
“I’m in no forgiving mood, miss. You’ve lost an honest name by your own choice. Never forget it. As for you, sir, you’ll sail in the Nymph tomorrow, and a good riddance. We shall see if you can fight as well as you talk. There’ll be fighting and there’ll be yellow jack; and I for one will shed no tears if you come to a shotted hammock. But on the other hand if you return you shall claim your wife and I’ll not say a word. And now, miss, I’ll give you three minutes to make your farewell. I’ll wait below.”
He turned his back on them abruptly and went down the stairs into the murk, a sombre figure of parental justice, all the relentlessness of the Larrabees in the rigid set of his fine shoulders, all the quixotic humor of the Sumters in the twist of his long thin lips.
And later, at his cherry - wood escritoire in the long parlor at Larrabee House (the same parlor in which, after 130 years, Miss Letty, last of the Larrabees, showed me the logbook of the Nymph and the pistols Lieutenant Greene borrowed, and told me this story), Colonel Larrabee sat down to complete the papers of his privateer. It must have been very late when he took a new quill and addressed his now famous diary, but the handwriting is steady and the capitals lack none of his usual flourish.
November 10, 1800—Looks fair for tomorrow, the Nymph being ready for sea and a good tide to get over the Bar. I write John Robinson, my agent at St. Kitts, to look out for her and to keep her Account sepperate from the Dolphin and Venture. This evening my daughter Flora is married Quietly to one Denby, privateersman. I write a note to Capt. Beddoes desiring him to shew Denby no Favours except upon his Merrits. Seems a fellow of Spirrit and some learning and may Turn Out Well. The paymaster of the N. S. Fencibles owes me 36 shillings Billet Money.