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Foster's Letter Of Marque A Tale Of Old Sydney - 1901

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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 deck.

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 about this time."

Swinging round on his heel with an angry exclamation, the mate resumed his walk, muttering and growling to himself as elderly mates do 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 with such "tomfoolery."

"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 not plentiful 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 acquainted 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 father. .

"Thank you, Sergeant," the young lady said with a gracious smile. "Will 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 she had search made for her father, left the office and disappeared in the living portion of the house, followed by a look of very great interest from Captain Foster....