Read MORTON : CHAPTER XV of An Old Sailor's Yarns , free online book, by Nathaniel Ames, on ReadCentral.com.

I’ll follow him no more with bootless prayers.

MERCHANT OF VENICE.

The old Don, on rising the next morning, found all his womankind “overwhelmed with grief” in consequence of the news of the capture and imprisonment of the American seamen, and prepared to assail him with prayers, petitions, and tears, as soon as he made his appearance. In vain he tried to assume the governor, and to look and act dignified; he had not, either in appearance or manner, or even language, so “much of the Roman” in him, as a certain other potentate who shall be nameless; the persevering ladies followed him, and gave him no rest; and perhaps, by their pertinacity, drove him to declare, in his vexation, that it was his fixed and settled resolve to inflict upon his prisoners the extremity of the law’s indignation. In fact, the tribulation caused in the governor’s family by the unhappy events of the past night, had reached to an extravagant and general height; for even the wife of his bosom remonstrated in no very gentle terms against her lord’s severity; so that his poor excellency found the gubernatorial chair as uncomfortable a seat as though its cushion had been stuffed with pins. He made good his retreat as quick as possible to his usual place of official business, or bureau d’office, but there new trials awaited him; for the very first person he saw there, and evidently waiting for him, was Captain Williams.

Isabella, in the mean time, had not yet risen; her sleeping thoughts had been too delightfully occupied with visions of happiness, and her waking reveries had so engaged her with day-dreams of prospective felicity, that she was not conscious of the lapse of time. She had just commenced dressing, with the assistance of a favorite servant, a native Mexican girl, when her weeping cousins rushed into the chamber in an agony of grief. With voices choked and interrupted by sobs and tears, it was some minutes before they could make their poor cousin comprehend the melancholy truth, with the gratuitous addition that the prisoners were to be shot the next morning in the plaza, and directly in front of the house. Having communicated all they knew, and all they had invented, they retired to spread the intelligence, to collect more, and to remove the furniture in the front chamber, for the more convenient witnessing the execution of the next morning.

Isabella, when left to herself, neither screamed, nor went into hysterics or tears; she sat still and motionless in the chair, into which she had sunk when the dreadful truth was made known to her; she became deadly pale, her temples throbbed, her breathing seemed oppressed, the light swam before her eyes, she uttered a convulsive sob, and, to the terror of her faithful and sympathising attendant, fell senseless upon the floor. The Indian girl, with great presence of mind, though sorely frightened, dashed water in her face, loosened her clothes, and practised all those modes of relief, better understood by ladies than described by me. The unhappy young lady at length recovered, and, with the assistance of her attendant, threw herself upon the bed, and gave way to a flood of tears, to the relief caused by which, and her subsequent repose, we must for a time leave her.

Captain Williams saluted the governor, as they met, with a countenance partaking of anger as well as sorrow; and, without much circumlocution, proceeded to state his business, and interceded most warmly in behalf of his men in confinement. But the old Don, before whose mind visions of promotion and honors were floating, was in no humor to grant petitions of any kind, much less one, the acceding to which would overthrow all his air-built castles; and he steadily refused to listen to the warm-hearted old seaman’s arguments, urged with all the fervency of almost paternal affection for both Mr. Morton and his seamen. Unable to oppose or refute the arguments of Captain Williams, proving the innocence of the prisoners, or, at least, the veniality of their offence, if guilty, and the unreasonable disproportion between the crime and the punishment; wearied by the perseverance of the petitioner, and convinced, though unwilling to own it, by his arguments; convinced, too, that he was making a very ridiculous figure in the eyes of his officers and several merchants who were present, he did, as all obstinate and pig-headed people do when they find themselves in the wrong, and see that they are making themselves contemptible: that is, he plunged still deeper into the wrong, by giving the good old seaman a harsh refusal to his prayer.

At this unexpected and ungentlemanly rebuff, Captain Williams suddenly became calm and silent, and, a moment after, left the office. Those who were present thought they saw in the stern, determined expression of his countenance grounds for apprehension and alarm; having the most extravagant opinion of the desperate and daring courage of the Americans, they looked to see the ensuing night signalized by some desperate attempt on the part of the seaman, to release his companions from imprisonment. Their apprehensions were confirmed in a space of time that seemed impossible to have enabled Captain Williams to reach his ship, by seeing the Albatross, under jib and spanker, slowly standing to the westward, and again anchoring full half a mile farther out to sea than before; not, to be sure, out of reach of the guns of the battery, but at such a distance as to render it extremely problematical whether Spanish artillerymen would be able to throw a shot within half a mile of her, especially in a star-light night.

This movement of the ship alarmed the governor not a little; for he knew that the guarda-costa was absent on a cruize, and it was doubtful when she would return, and that there were but thirty soldiers on duty at the barracks, the rest having recently been drafted into the interior, to wage war against certain straggling, light-fingered gentry, known in that part of the world by the general title of “monteneros,” or highlanders, being analogous in their habits and manners, and confused ideas of meum and tuum, to the highland cattle-stealers of Scotland. In this dilemma, the governor’s heart began to relent he thought that he was carrying his severity too far.

On retiring to his house to dinner, he was met by a message from his niece, requesting to see him in her chamber, being too unwell to meet the family at noon. Thither his Excellency ascended with reluctant steps and slow, like a child called from his play to be whipped and sent to bed. He found his niece reclining upon a sofa, pale, languid, and evidently much agitated. She rose to receive him with her accustomed affection, and the old Don seated himself by her side.

“Isabella, my love, you appear to be distressed; what is the matter, child?”

“Dear uncle, my cousin Antonia tells me dreadful news.”

“Dreadful news! what is it, dearest?” “She tells me,” said Isabella, shuddering and gasping for breath, “that these unfortunate Americans are to be put to death to-morrow morning.”

“Poh, poh! what nonsense! you know as well as I do that the law gives me no such power.”

“But, dearest uncle, why should they be punished at all? nothing is proved against them, nothing is found about them that indicates guilty intentions,” for, notwithstanding her indisposition, she had learned all the facts of the case from her gossip, Juanita, and the officers that had called in the course of the forenoon, “I have heard all the particulars, and confess that I see no reason why they deserve punishment at all.”

“You know nothing at all about the matter, child. They have been seen, at other times than last night, landing boxes and bales at the same place.”

“Are you quite sure that it was not some other persons?”

The governor paid no attention to this question, which he had never dreamt of asking his informer.

“Besides, if these are pardoned, other offenders will plead their innocence, and refer to the case of these men as a precedent. No, Isabella, I cannot, I dare not do it; they must abide by the consequences.”

“Then if their lives are to be spared, what is to be done with them?”

“I shall write to the Viceroy, and keep them confined till I receive his instructions as to their future destiny.”

“And that,” said the young lady, in a faint voice, “will be worse than death! O think of it, dear, dear uncle.”

“You take too gloomy a view of the case,” said Don Gaspar, kissing the forehead of the lovely suppliant; “the Viceroy may pardon them, but I dare not You plead in vain,” continued he, as he saw she was about to speak; “were they my own sons, they should undergo the sentence of the law for their misconduct.”

Fearing to excite her uncles suspicions by too great urgency, Isabella changed her battery

“At least, let them be used kindly let them have plenty of good food and wine.”

“Certainly, dearest little niece,” said the governor, delighted to find the most formidable and irresistible of his female assailants so lukewarm in the cause of the prisoners, “and you shall be their provider.”

“Me, uncle? well, I own I should wish to visit the prison occasionally, to see that they are comfortable.”

“You shall whenever you please,” said the Don, rising, and going to Isabella’s writing desk; “there, there is an order, signed by my own hand, that will admit you whenever you please.” So saying, he retired.