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

As cannons shoot the higher pitches
The lower we let down their breeches,
I’ll make this low, dejected fate
Advance me to a greater height.

HUDIBRAS.

Captain Williams, immediately upon his landing on the morning after the events related in the last chapter had taken place, was met at the Port by a woman of rather ordinary appearance, who put a letter into his hands, and retired without speaking. The letter was written in a woman’s hand, but without signature, and was as follows:

“SIR: A friend of Mr. Morton is making every possible exertion to deliver him and his companions from imprisonment. That friend entreats that you would do nothing rashly, or that may give cause of alarm or suspicion to the governor or garrison, or to any of the inhabitants. If you will call this evening at the shop of dame Juanita Gomez, in the plaza of San Blas, a person will meet you there, and explain more fully the friendly intentions of the writer.”

The honest seaman, after mature deliberation, came to the conclusion that the writer of this anonymous epistle could be no other than the fair Isabella, of whom he had heard Morton speak so often; and he resolved to attend to its directions most strictly. Accordingly, as a preliminary step, he thought best to reconnoitre the plaza as soon as possible, that he might make no unpleasant mistakes in the dusk of evening.

While at St. Blas, he had another interview with the governor, and endeavored to ascertain the intentions of that dignitary with regard to the destination of his prisoners. The governor, however, seemed to regard that as a state secret, and declined making any but a very evasive answer. As some amends for his severity, he condescended to give Captain Williams full permission to visit the prisoners, of which the veteran immediately availed himself. The kind-hearted old seaman was deeply affected, as he held Morton in his arms with all the affection of a fond father

“That ever I should live to see my old school-fellow Jonathan Morton’s son in such a situation, and not be able to help him,” were the first words he was able to articulate. Morton endeavored to calm him, by repeated assurances that he felt no apprehension; that he had no doubt that a certain friend was busy in projecting a plan for their deliverance. It was some time before he was sufficiently composed to converse.

“Have you tried the old Don with a few doubloons?” asked Morton.

“No, d n him, I never thought of that; I can’t get a word of common sense or common civility out of the old mule.”

“I believe if he had taken the boat-load of goods when he took us, that he would have been more willing to listen to you.”

“Ah, very like; the old fox missed the goose, and he is venting his malice upon you in stead. But, my dear boy, I don’t exactly know how to go to work to offer a bribe. Damme, I could land thirty men this blessed night, and pull this old rookery down, and get you all out that way; but as for bribery, it is a devilish dirty piece of business, to make the best of it; besides, I tell you, I don’t know how; if I did, I would try it, as dirty as I think it.”

Morton, could not forbear smiling at the old man’s unwillingness to employ a piece of machinery, at the present day so indispensable in our government throughout all its branches; he assured him that nothing was more simple; it was only to wait upon the Don in private, and request his acceptance of either cash or certain valuable merchandize, that would be attractive in the sight of the governor. “There are my silver-mounted pistols, and curious East India dagger, and my rifle, that all might be thrown out as baits to begin with;” it was all in vain; the blunt old seaman still persisted that bribery, or any thing that approximated it, was but a dirty affair after all; and that, although he would leave no plan untried to effect the liberation of the prisoners, there was a moral contamination attached to the mode proposed that he neither could nor would submit to.

True to his appointment, Captain Williams, soon after sunset, repaired to dame Juanita’s shop, with the location of which he had previously made himself acquainted. He was introduced by that worthy old lady into her back parlor, if a little apartment ten feet square, with a clay floor and no windows, deserves so dignified, or rather so comfortable a title; and in half an hour a female, closely veiled, entered the room. Notwithstanding her disguise, the old seaman had tact enough to perceive that his companion was young and graceful, or in more modern language, genteel, while the silvery music of her voice, as she addressed him, convinced him that she could be no otherwise than beautiful.

“Are you,” said the lady, in a hesitating, tremulous voice, “are you the commander of the American ship in the bay?”

“I am; and you, senorita, are the lady who wrote me the note that I received this morning?”

“Yes, I that is, I sent you a note requesting to see you.”

“And you are the generous, devoted, and true friend that takes such a lively interest in the fate of my friend and officer, and his companions in prison and misfortune?”

“I am I am,” replied the lady hurriedly.

“And you are, in short,” continued the commander, rising and respectfully offering his hand, “you are the lady Isabella de Luna?”

“I cannot deny it,” said she in a faint voice.

“Then, madam, you see before you one who is acquainted with your story. Nay, never hang your head for shame; Charles Morton is worth any woman’s love. I am here ready with hand, heart, and head, to second any and every plan that you may propose, to effect his escape.”

The lady remained silent for a few moments, then placing her small hand in the broad, hard palm of the old seaman, replied, “I know that I can put the most implicit confidence in you. I have heard from others why should I deny it? Mr. Morton has told me often, that, next to his father, he regards you with affection and esteem as his dearest and truest friend.”

“And he shall never be deceived in old Israel Williams, I can tell him that, nor shall you, my dear young lady.”

“I have but little time to spare,” said the young lady, with increasing trepidation, “and my communication must be brief, as my plan is simple. To-morrow night, at ten o’clock, Captain Williams, let your swiftest boat be at the place where Mr. Morton and his companions were taken, and let her wait there until day-break. It may not be in my power to effect my object to-morrow night; but let not one nor two disappointments deter you from repeating the experiment. In the mean time, be on shore to-morrow as though nothing was in agitation; avoid exciting any suspicions by either words, looks, or actions; and be assured, that, if the plan for the rescue of the prisoners fails, it must be from some accident that can neither be foreseen nor prevented.”

The commander of the Albatross having promised to follow all these directions to the letter, they separated; he to return to his ship with a joyful heart, and Isabella to reconnoitre the prison previous to retiring to her uncle’s house.

She passed the guard-house at a slow pace and at such distance as to avoid observation, but sufficiently near to ascertain that all the guard, four in number besides the corporal, were wrapped up in their cloaks and stretched out sound asleep upon the stone floor of the guard-room, which was lighted by a large clumsy lamp sufficiently to allow her to see its interior. The sentry at the door, who was slowly pacing backwards and forwards with a paper segar in his mouth, was the only one awake.

As she bent her steps homeward, she perceived some one approaching her, in the very direction that she was going, with an uncertain, faltering footstep that denoted considerable intoxication. To avoid him she turned to the right with the purpose of making a circuit; but, before she had gone ten yards with that intention, she perceived that the stranger had quickened his pace and changed his direction, coming directly towards her. Exceedingly alarmed, she turned short round and ran, and in a moment perceived that her pursuer was likewise running, and rapidly gaining upon her. Fear lent her speed, and with the swiftness of a hunted deer she flew across the plaza towards an open space, terminated at its further extremity by the precipitous cliff that the town is built upon, and which we have mentioned more than once. Her intention was to turn quickly round the corner of a house that stood within four feet of the edge of the cliff, and gain another street; or, if there were no other means of escape, to take refuge in the house of a poor widow, one of her pensioners, and obtain a guide and protector to her uncle’s house.

Her pursuer was no other than her self-constituted lover, Don Gregorio. He had dined that day with a party of officers, and had dipped rather deeper into the bottle than, to tell the truth, he was often guilty of doing. He suspected that Isabella was in the habit of visiting the prison; but as she was generally accompanied, in all her rambles, by one or both her cousins, he had thought nothing more of the circumstance. But now he was convinced that she was just returning from, or going to, a nocturnal appointment with the prisoner Morton, who had always been an object of his hatred, and in an instant his jealousy was in full operation.

The cliff, towards which he was now approaching, was undefended by wall, fence, or barrier of any kind. My readers have doubtless seen something similar in their lives; that is, a nuisance that has acquired such a venerable character from its antiquity, that it seems a species of sacrilege, a sort of violation of municipal privileges, to remove or repair it. Such, for instance, in city or country, is a gap in the street or road, large enough to swallow a brace of elephants at once: the inhabitants become acquainted with its localities; and, wisely considering that, as it is every body’s business, of course it is no body’s business, to repair it, leave it “open for the inspection of the public” for a twelvemonth at least; and if any unfortunate stranger tumbles in and breaks his neck, on a dark night, it is ten chances to one that the jury of inquest return for a verdict, that “the deceased came to his death in consequence of intoxication,” although he may be the most abstemious water-drinker that ever the sun shone upon. Such was, ten or eleven years ago, to my certain knowledge, the cliff of San Blas.

Maddened with jealousy, and rendered incapable of commanding his movements by intoxication, the unhappy Don Gregorio was whirled, by the impetuosity of his own motion, far over the brow of the hideous precipice. One dismal yell of mortal agony broke the stillness of night, and the next moment his body was heard far below, crashing among the bushes and loose stones at the foot of the cliff. Fainting with horror at the dreadful sight, though ignorant of the person of the victim, Isabella sank upon the ground, and it was some minutes before she recovered sufficiently to rise. When, at length, she was somewhat restored, she turned towards her uncle’s house with feeble steps and slow, frequently stopping to lean against the walls of the houses; she tottered into the room where the family were assembled, and sank senseless upon the floor. Her relatives, exceedingly terrified, administered restoratives, and conveyed her to her own chamber, where, when she was somewhat composed, she informed her anxious friends that she had been pursued by an intoxicated person, and was extremely terrified, and begged to be left to her repose, which she assured them was all she required. Having obtained all the information they were likely to, her kind and inquisitive cousins left her, after compelling her to swallow a composing medicine. She awoke in the morning perfectly refreshed; the horrid scene that she had witnessed the night before seeming rather like a terrifying dream than a mournful reality.

Before she left her chamber, a man, with his jaws standing ajar with horror, called upon the governor, and requested to speak with him in private. He then informed his excellency, that as he was rambling through the woods at the foot of the precipice, he had found the dead body of an officer, who had evidently fallen from the cliff above; that it was so frightfully mangled by the fall, that no vestiges of humanity were recognizable in the countenance, or in the body; but that, from the peculiar fashion of the regimentals, he was almost sure that it was his excellency’s aid-du-camp, Don Gregorio Nunez. Alarmed by this intelligence, the governor despatched a servant to that officer’s quarters, who soon returned with the intelligence that he had not been there since the morning of the preceding day. Further inquiry among his brother officers informed him that he had left their company the evening before about ten o’clock: that he had been drinking freely, rather more freely than usual; and that they had not seen him since.

Having commanded the attendance of two or three officers and as many soldiers, the commandante proceeded to the spot, guided by his first informant, and was convinced, as soon as he saw the crushed and mutilated mass, that it was no other than his unhappy officer. Having given orders for transporting the body to town, he returned to his family, who, although aware, from his abstracted and pensive manner, that something had happened to discompose him, forbore to ask any questions a line of conduct which, by the way, we would most earnestly recommend to all wives and daughters. Isabella’s mind was too much occupied with her own thoughts to notice the silence and melancholy of her uncle; she ate nothing, but her aunt and cousins attributed her want of appetite to the fright of the preceding evening; as her eyes met their kind and anxious looks, and she thought of her determination to quit them forever, she could not restrain her tears; but rising hastily from the table, she took shelter from observation and questioning in her own chamber.