AT THE VLY MARKET
It was a bright sunny morning, but very cold, and snow lay packed hard and firm in the streets of New York, which, narrow as they were, afforded little opportunity for the sun’s rays to penetrate with sufficient strength to warm the shivering pedestrians who were hurrying down Maiden Lane in the direction of the Vly Market. At the farthest end of the street were the shops, and one of these, “The Sign of the Cross Swords,” stood within a stone’s throw of the market itself. It was a small affair, with little grimy window-panes, where were displayed knives, scissors, and razors, with locks and keys of many odd sorts. At the door stood a half-grown boy, stamping his feet to keep warm, as he droned out in sing-song fashion: “Walk in, gentlefolk, and have your razors ground; we have all manner of kitchen furniture in cutlery within, also catgut and fiddle strings at most reasonable rates.”
But these attractions did not appear to bring many customers inside the little shop, as the passersby seemed chiefly eager to gain the Vly Market, where the stalls were crowded with purchasers who were getting the good things there displayed to indulge in keeping New Year’s day with the proper spirit of festivity; and the shop-boy was about to slip inside for the comfort of warming his fingers and toes, when a tall, slender fellow in fisherman’s dress accosted him.
“Hey, you there! Have you fish-hooks and nets within?”
“Aye, sir, in plenty. Will it please you to enter?” And the boy made room for the stranger to pass through the narrow doorway. The shop was apparently empty, except for a middle-aged man who rose from his seat on a high stool near the window, where he was busily engaged in polishing a pair of razors. As he came forward, the fisherman addressed him:—
“Good day, friend. A frosty morning.”
“But the wind will turn to east at sunset,” said the other, with a quick glance from under his heavy eyebrows.
“A good wind, then, for the Sturdy Beggar,” was the reply, as the fisherman clasped his hands behind his neck with a peculiar gesture.
“Then all’s well,” returned the shopkeeper, laying down his razors, and motioning his customer to come farther inside. “Whom do you seek here, sir?”
“Mynheer Wilhelm Hoffmeister, known commonly as ‘Billy the fiddler.’”
“He is off on duty since last Tuesday, but must be here to-night to play at a grand ball given at one of the Tory houses; there must be news, for you are the third one who has asked for him since yesterday.”
“News?” said the fisherman eagerly; “perhaps you have a billet for me?”
“And what may you be called?” asked the other cautiously.
“Jim Bates, from Breucklen Heights.”
“Then you’re all right, sir; why didn’t you say so before?” and the man, casting a swift glance to make sure that the boy at the door was not looking, pulled a scrap of dirty paper from his pocket, which was instantly seized and opened by the fisherman. As he read the few words it contained, the anxious lines on his face grew deeper.