FOSTER'S LETTER OF MARQUE
A TALE OF OLD SYDNEY
From "The Tapu Of Banderah and Other Stories"
By Louis Becke
C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.
One by one the riding-lights of the few store-ships and whalers lying
in Sydney Harbour on an evening in January, 1802, were lit, and as the
clear notes of a bugle from the barracks pealed over the bay, followed
by the hoarse
calls and shrill
whistles of the boatswains' mates on a
frigate that lay in Sydney Cove, the mate of the _Policy_ whaler jumped
up from the skylight where he had been lying smoking, and began to pace
The _Policy_ was anchored between the Cove and Pinchgut, ready for sea.
The north-easter, which for three days had blown strongly, had now died
away, and the placid
waters of the harbour shimmered under the starlight
of an almost cloudless sky. As the old mate tramped to and fro on the
deserted poop, his keen seaman's eye caught sight of some faint grey
clouds rising low down in the westward--signs of a south-easterly coming
before the morning.
Stepping to the break of the poop, the officer hailed the look-out
forward, and asked if he could see the captain's boat coming.
"No, sir," the man replied. "I did see a boat a while ago, and thought
it was ours, but it turned out to be one from that Batavian Dutchman
anchored below Pinchgut. Her captain always goes ashore
Swinging round on his heel with an angry exclamation, the mate resumed
his walk, muttering and growling to himself as elderly
mutter and growl when a captain promises to be on board at five in the
afternoon and is not in evidence at half-past seven. Perhaps, too, the
knowledge of the particular cause of the captain's delay somewhat added
to his chief officer's ill-temper--that cause being a pretty girl; for
the mate was a crusty old bachelor, and had but little sympathy
"Why the devil couldn't he say goodbye to her and be done with it and
come aboard," he grumbled, "instead of wasting
half a day over it?"
But Mr. Stevenson did not consider that in those days pretty women were
in Sydney, and virtue
was even scarcer than good looks,
and Dorothy Gilbert, only daughter of the Deputy Acting Assistant
Commissary-General of the penal settlement, possessed all the
qualifications of a lovable
woman, and therefore
it was not wonderful
that Captain Charles Foster had fallen very much in love with her.
Dorothy, of course, had her faults, and her chief one was the rather
too great store she set upon being the daughter of an official. Pretty
nearly every one in those days of the settlement was either an official
or a prisoner or an ex-convict, and the D.A.A.C.G. was of no small
importance among the other officials in Sydney. The girl's acquaintance
with the young master of the _Policy_ began in a very ordinary manner.
His ship had been chartered by the Government to take out a cargo of
stores to the settlement, and the owners, who were personally
with her father, had given Foster a letter of introduction. This he had
used somewhat sooner than he had at first intended, for on presenting
himself at the Commissary's office he had caught sight of Dolly's
charming face as she stood talking to a young man in the uniform of a
sergeant of the New South Wales Regiment who had brought a letter to her
"Thank you, Sergeant," the young lady said with a gracious
you present my father's compliments to the Major and say we shall be
sure to come. He is not here at present, but cannot delay long, as he
will have much business to transact
with the master of the ship just
come in, and who will doubtless
be here very soon."
Just at that moment Foster appeared at the open door, and the young
lady, divining at once that he was the person of whom she had just
spoken, bowed very prettily, and begging him to be seated whilst
had search made for her father, left the office and disappeared in the
of the house, followed by a look of very great interest
from Captain Foster. A minute later the Commissary entered the room, and
Foster was soon deep in business with Dolly's father, to whom he made
himself very agreeable--having a certain object in view.
Their business concluded, the young man rose to go, and not till
then--being wise in his generation--did he allude
to the fact of his
having a private letter of introduction
from his owners--Messrs. Hurry
Brothers, of London--to Mr. Scars-brook. The stiff, official manner of
the D.A.A.C.G. at once thawed, and being at heart a genial
he expressed his pleasure, shook hands again with the young man, and
inquired why he had not presented the letter or made allusion
Foster, who had pretty well gauged Mr. Scarsbrook mentally, modestly
replied that he did not care to obtrude private affairs at an
inopportune time. He knew that weighty affairs doubtless
Scarsbrook's mind during his business hours, but had intended to do
himself the honour of presenting his letter later on, &c.
This at once impressed the D.A.A.C.G., who asked him to dinner that
"A most intelligent
young man, my dear," he told Dolly shortly
after. "His attention to business before all else has given me a very
Dolly tossed her head. "I hope I shall not be disappointed in him. Is he
young?" she asked indifferently.
"Quite; and in manners and appearance much above his position."
Dolly did like him very much--'much more than she cared to confess
herself--and their first meeting at dinner led to many of a less formal
character, and ere a week had passed Captain Charles Foster was very
much in love with his host's daughter, and not being a man who wasted
time, was only awaiting an opportunity to tell her so.
Now Dolly, who had first flirted with and then flouted every one of
officials in Sydney, military or civilian, who visited the
Commissary's abode, was, to do her justice, a girl of sense at heart,
and she felt that Captain Foster meant to ask her an all-important
question--to every woman--and that her answer would be "Yes." For not
only was he young, handsome, and highly thought of by his owners, but he
came of a good family, and had such prospects for his future as seldom
came in the way of men in the merchant service even in those days of
lucky South-Seamen and East India traders, who made fortunes rapidly.
And then 'twas evident
he was very much in love with her, and this
latter fact considerably
and naturally influenced her.
The first week passed pleasantly
enough, then, to his anger and disgust,
Foster found he had a rival; and before the end of the second week he
realised, or imagined so, that he was beaten
in the field of love--by a
Sergeant Harry Burt was the first to give him warning, for he was often
on duty at or near the Commissary's quarters, and, indeed, had often
taken notes from Foster to the fair Dolly. He showed a warm interest in
the matter, for Foster was always polite
to the sergeant, and did not
turn up his nose at "soldier men," as other masters of ships were but
too ready to do.
It had so happened that the work of discharging his ship had kept Foster
very busy during the second week of his stay, and he had paid but one
evening visit to Dolly and her father, and was hurrying the cargo ashore
eagerness. Once that was accomplished, he meant to devote
himself (1)to proposing to the young lady, (2) gaining her father's
consent, and (3) getting to sea again as soon as possible, making a good
cruise at the whale fishery, and returning to Sydney within two years
as master and owner of a ship of his own. Consequently, Burt's news gave
"Who did you say he was, Sergeant?" he asked gloomily; "a Dutchman?"
"Yes, sir; he's the master of that Dutch Batavian ship that has brought
stores from Batavia. Mr. Scarsbrook seems to make a lot of him of late,
and he's always coming up to the Commissary's place. And if he sees Miss
Scarsbrook out in the garden he swaggers in after her as if he were an
admiral of the fleet Portveldt's his name, and--and----"
"And what, Sergeant?"
"Well, I think Miss Scarsbrook rather likes him, that's all. You see,
sir, you haven't been there for a week, and this young Dutchman is by no
means bad-looking, and even our Major says he's a jolly fine fellow--and
all that goes a long way with women, you know. Then you only visit the
house once in a week; the Dutchman goes there every day, and every time
he comes he brings his boatswain with him--a big, greasy-faced chap.
Last night he followed his master, carrying a cheese--a present for the
Commissary, I suppose."
"Well, I shall soon see how the land lies, Sergeant I'm going ashore
presently, and I can promise you it won't be my fault if I let this
fellow get to windward of me."
But Miss Dolly was not to be seen that day, nor yet on the following
one. She was vexed at Foster having thought of his work before herself,
and she had determined to punish
him by not meeting him for some little
time, and amuse herself with the handsome young Dutch sailor meanwhile.
So, in no very amiable
mood, Foster went back to his ship, finished
discharging, and delighted
his old mate by telling him to get ready
for sea as quickly as possible. And on this particular evening when
our story opens the _Policy_ only waited for her captain--who had gone
ashore--so he told Stevenson--to say goodbye to the Commissary, with
parting instructions to the mate to begin to heave up as soon as he saw
his (Foster's) boat leave the Cove.
After spending half an hour with the Commissary, Foster asked to see
Miss Dorothy, and was soon ushered into the sitting-room, where the
young lady welcomed him effusively, and her manner soon drove all
suspicious thoughts of his rival out of his mind. Her mother, a placid
lady, who was absolutely
ruled by Dolly and her father, smiled approval
when Foster asked her daughter to accompany him to the garden and take
a look at the harbour. She liked him, and had previously
given him much
assistance by getting out of the way whenever
she suspected he wanted to
see Dolly alone.
As soon as they had gained the screen
of the shaded path leading to the
water's edge, Foster came to the point at once.
"Dolly," he said, "you know why I have asked you to come with me here.
My ship is ready for sea, and it may be quite two years before I shall
have the happiness of seeing
"'Tis very kind of you to pay me so pretty a compliment, Captain
Foster--or I should say Mr. Foster," said Dolly, concealing a smile;
"but surely you need not have brought me out to the garden to tell me
Her pretended forgetfulness
of some past passages in their brief
acquaintance, as her speech implied, ruffled him.
"You are very particular with your _Mr_. Foster, Miss Dolly; and why not
Dolly raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"Captains hold the King's commission
and fight for their country," she
said demurely. "The master of a horrid
ship that goes catching whales
has no right to the title." Then she laughed and shook her long, fair
"Upon my word, young lady, you are very complimentary; but, Dolly, no
more of this banter. My boat is waiting, and I have but a few minutes
to ask you to give me your answer. In all seriousness
remember that my
future depends upon it. Will you marry me? Will you try to love me?
May I go away with the hope that you will look forward to my return,
"In all seriousness, Mr. Foster, I will not."
"Why, what have I done to offend
you? I thought you--I thought that
I----" and then, getting somewhat confused and angry at the same time
at Dolly's nonchalant manner, he wound up with, "I believe that damned
Dutchman has come between us!"
"How dare you swear at me, sir? I suppose, though, it is the custom for
captains in the merchant service to swear at ladies. And what right have
you to assume that I should marry you? Because I rather liked to talk to
you when I felt dull, is that any reason why you should be so very
rude to me? And once for all, sir, I shall never marry a mere merchant
sailor--a common whaling master. I shall marry, when I do marry, an
officer and a gentleman in the King's service."
"Ah!" Foster snapped, "and what about the Dutchman?"
Now up to this point Dolly had been making mere pretence. She honestly
loved the young seaman, and meant to tell him so plainly
before he left
the garden, but at this last question the merriment
he had failed to see
in her eyes gave place to an angry sparkle, and she quickly retorted--
"Mr. Portveldt, sir, is a Dutch gentleman, and he would never talk to me
in such a way as you have done. How dare you, sir!"
Foster was really angry now, and smiled sarcastically. "He's but the
master of a merchantman, and an infernal
Dutchman at that."
"He is a gentleman, which you are not!" snapped Dolly fiercely; "and
if he is but a merchant skipper, he commands his own ship. He is a
shipowner, and a well-known
Batavian merchant as well, sir; so there!"
"So I believe," said Foster wrathfully; "sells Dutch cheeses and brings
"You're a spy," said Dolly contemptuously.
"Very well, Miss Scarsbrook, call me what you please. I can see your
cheese merchant waddling this way now, attended by his ugly pirate
a boatswain. Doubtless he has some stock-fish on this occasion, and
as stock-fish are very much like Dutchmen in one respect and I like
neither, I wish you joy of him. Goodbye!" And Captain Foster swung on
his heel and walked quickly out of the garden gate. As he strode
the narrow path he brushed past the Batavian merchant, who was on his
way to the Commissary's office.
"Goot tay to you, Captain Foster," said Port-veldt, grinning amiably.
"Go to the devil!" replied the Englishman promptly, turning round and
facing the Dutchman to give due emphasis
to his remark.
Portveldt, a tall, well-made fellow, and handsomely dressed, stared at
Foster's retreating figure in angry astonishment, then changing his mind
about first visiting the Commissary, he opened the garden gate, and came
suddenly upon Dorothy Scarsbrook seated upon a rustic
"My tear yong lady, vat is de matter? I beg you to led me gomfort you."
"There is nothing the matter, Mr. Portveldt I thank you, but you cannot
be of any service to me," and Dolly buried her face in her handkerchief
"I am sorry ferry mooch to hear you say dat, Mees Dorotee, vor it vas
mein hop dot you would dake kindtly to me."
Dolly made no answer, and then Captain Portveldt sat down beside her,
his huge figure quite filling up all the remaining space.
"Mees Dorotee," he began ponderously, "de trood is dot I vas goming to
see you to dell you I vas ferry mooch in loaf mid you, und to ask you to
be mein vifes; but now dot you do veep so mooch, I----"
"Say no more if you please, Mr. Portveldt," said Dolly, hastily
her eyes. Then, rising with great dignity, she bowed and went on: "Of
course I am deeply sensible
of the great honour that you do me, but
I can never be your wife." And then to herself: "I fancy that I have
replied in a very proper manner."
"Vy, vat vas der wrong aboud me, Mees Dorotee?" pleaded Portveldt "I vas
feery yoyful in mein mind tinking dot you did loaf me some liddle bid. I