For the hard fare of Georgia he soon began to seek consolations, and early in the second year of his ministry a sufficiently gross scandal tumbled him out of the little colony. Lacking the grit to return to England and face out his relatives’ displeasure, he had drifted northwards to Massachusetts, and there had picked up with a slant of luck. A number of godly and well-to-do citizens of Boston had recently banded themselves into an association for supplying religious opportunities to the seamen frequenting the port, and to the Committee Mr. Silk commended himself by a hail-fellow manner and a shrewdness of speech which, since it showed through a coat of unction, might be supposed to mean shrewdness in grain. Cunning indeed the man could be, for his short ends; but his shrewdness began and ended in a trick of talking, and in the conduct of life he trimmed sail to his appetites.
His business of missioner (or, as he jocosely put it, Chaplain of the Fleet) soon brought him to the notice of Captain Vyell, Collector of Customs, with whom by the same trick of speech (slightly adapted) he managed to ingratiate himself, scenting the flesh-pots. For he belonged to the tribe to whom a patron never comes amiss. Captain Vyell was amused by the man; knew him for a sycophant; but tolerated him at table and promoted him (in Batty Langton’s phrase) to be his trencher chaplain. He and Langton took an easy malicious delight, over their wine, in shocking Mr. Silk with their free thought and seeing how “the dog swallowed it.”
The dog swallowed his dirty puddings very cleverly, and with just so much show of protest as he felt to be due to his Orders. He had the accent of an English gentleman and enough of the manner to pass muster. But the Collector erred when he said that “Silk was only a beast in his cups,” and he erred with a carelessness well-nigh wicked when he made the man Dicky’s tutor.
This step had coincided with the relegation of Ruth and Miss Quiney to Sabines; but whether by chance or of purpose no one but the Collector could tell. Of his intentions toward the girl he said nothing, even to Batty Langton. Very likely they were not clear to himself. He knew well enough how fast and far gossip travelled in New England; and doubted not at all that his adventure at Port Nassau had within a few days been whispered and canvassed throughout Boston. His own grooms, no doubt, had talked. But he could take a scornful amusement in baffling speculation while he made up his own mind. In one particular only he had been prompt—in propitiating Miss Quiney. On reaching home, some hours ahead of the girl, he had summoned Miss Quiney to his library and told her the whole story. The interview on her part had been exclamatory and tearful; but the good lady, with all her absurdities, was a Christian. She was a woman too, and delighted to serve an overmastering will. She had left him with a promise to lay her conscience in prayer before the Lord; and, next morning, Ruth’s beauty had done the rest.