They talked merrily while Manasseh brought in the breakfast dishes—for Master Dicky bread-and-milk followed by a simple steak of cod; a bewildering succession of chowder, omelet, devilled kidneys, cold ham, game pie, and fruit for the Collector, who professed himself keen-set as a hunter, and washed down the viands with a tankard of cider. He described his bathe, and promised Dicky that he should have his first swimming lessons next summer. “I must talk about you to your Uncle Harry. Craze for the sea? At your age if he saw a puddle of water he must stick his toes in it. He’s cruising just now, off South Carolina, keeping a look-out for guarda-costas. He’ll render an account of them, you may be sure. He writes that he may be coming up Boston way any time now. Oh, I can swim, but for diving you should see your Uncle Harry— off the yard-arm—body taut as a whip—nothing like it in any of the old Greeks’ statues. Plenty of talk about bathing; but diving? No. In the east, must go south to the Persian Gulf to see diving. The god Hermes descending on Ogygia—if you could imagine that, you had Uncle Harry— the shoot outwards, the delicate curve to a straight slant, heels rising above rigid body while you counted, begad! holding your breath. Then the plumb drop, like a gannet’s—”
Dicky listened, glorious vistas opening before him. With the fruit Manasseh brought coffee; and still the boy sat entranced while his father chatted, glowing with exercise and enjoying a breakfast at every point excellent.
It was in merest thoughtlessness, no doubt, that having arranged for Dicky’s morning walk, and after smoking a tobacco leaf rolled with an art of which Manasseh possessed the secret, the Collector so timed his message to the stables that his groom brought the horse Bayard around to the Inn door just as the Sabbath bells began tolling for divine worship. For as a sceptic he was careless rather than militant; ridiculing religion only in his own set, and when occasion arose, and then without fanaticism. For such piety as his mother’s he had even a tolerant respect; and in any event had too much breeding to affront of set purpose the godly townsfolk of Port Nassau. At the first note of the bells he frowned and blamed himself for not having started earlier. But he had already made appointment by letter to meet the Surveyor and the Assistant Surveyor at noon on the headland, to measure out and discuss the site of the proposed fortification; and he was a punctilious man in observing engagements.
It may be asked how, if civil to other men’s scruples, he had come to make such an appointment for the Sabbath. He had answered this and (as he hoped) with suitable apologies in his letter to the surveyor, Mr. Wapshott: explaining that as His Majesty’s business was bringing him to Port Nassau, so it obliged him to be back at Boston by such-and-such a date. He was personally unacquainted with this Mr. Wapshott, who had omitted the courtesy of calling upon him at the Bowling Green, and whom by consequence he was inclined to set down as a person of defective manners. But Mr. Wapshott was, after all, in the King’s service and would understand its exigencies.