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"He read the note again, word by word, and finally thrust it into
his pocket." . . .

" Who dares to pry into my secrets? demanded the youno- sailor
fiercely," etc. The Water -Witch, page 50.















What, shall this speech be spoke for our excuse ?
Or shall we on without apology ? Romeo and Juliet.

THE fine estuary which penetrates the American coast
between the fortieth and forty-first degrees of latitude, is
formed by the confluence of the Hudson, the Hackensack,
the Passaic, the Raritan, and a multitude of smaller streams,
all of which pour their tribute into the .ocean within the
space named. The islands of Nassau and Staten are hap
pily placed to exclude the tempests of the open sea, while
the deep and broad arms of the latter offer every desirable
facility for foreign trade and internal intercourse. To
this fortunate disposition of land and water, with a tem
perate climate, a central position, and an immense interior
that is now penetrated in every direction either by artificial
or by natural streams, the city of New York is indebted
for its extraordinary prosperity. Though not wanting in
beauty, there are many bays that surpass this in the
charms of scenery ; but it may be questioned if the world
possesses another site that unites so many natural advan
tages for the growth and support of a widely-extended
commerce. As if never wearied with her kindness, Nature
has placed the Island of Manhattan at the precise point
that is the most desirable for the position of a town. Mill
ions might inhabit the spot, and yet a ship should load
near every door ; and while the surface of the land just
possesses the inequalities that are required for health and
cleanliness, its bosom is filled with the material most
needed in construction.

The consequences of so unusual a concurrence of favor
able circumstances are well known. A vigorous, healthful,
and continued growth, that has no parallel even in the his-


tory of this extraordinary and fortunate country, has already
raised the insignificant provincial town of the last century
to the level of the second-rate cities of the other hemi
sphere. The New Amsterdam of this continent already
rivals its parent of the other ; and, so far as human pow
ers may pretend to predict, a few fleeting years will place
her on a level with the proudest capitals of Europe.

It would seem that, as Nature has given its periods to
the stages of animal life, it has also set limits to all moral
and political ascendency. While the city of the Medici is
receding from its crumbling walls, like the human form
shrinking into " the lean and slippered pantaloon," the
Queen of the Adriatic sleeping on her muddy isles, and
Rome itself is only to be traced by fallen temples and
buried columns, the youthful vigor of America is fast
covering the wilds of the West with the happiest fruits of
human industry.

By the Manhattanese who is familiar with the forest of
masts, the miles of wharves, the countless villas, the hun
dred churches, the castles, the smoking and busy vessels
that crowd his bay, the daily increase and the general
movement of his native town, the picture we are about to
sketch will scarcely be recognized. He who shall come a
generation later will probably smile, that subject of ad
miration should have been found in the existing condition
of the city ; and yet w T e shall attempt to carry the recol
lections of the reader but a century back in the brief
history of his country.

As the sun rose on the morning of the 3d of June, 171-,
the report of a cannon was heard rolling along the waters
of the Hudson. Smoke issued from an embrasure of a
small fortress, that stood on the point of land where the
river and bay mingle their waters. The explosion was fol
lowed by the appearance of a flag, which, as it rose to the
summit of its staff and unfolded itself heavily in the light
current of air, showed the blue field and the red cross of
the English ensign.

At the distance of several miles, the dark masts of a
ship were to be seen, faintly relieved by the verdant back
ground of the heights of Staten Island. A little cloud
floated over this object, and then an answering signal came
dull and rumbling to the town. The flag that the cruiser
set was not visible in the distance.

At the precise moment that the noise of the first gun


was heard, the door of one of the principal dwellings of
the town opened, and a man, who might have been its mas
ter, appeared on its stoop, as the ill-arranged entrances of
the buildings of the place are still termed. He was seem
ingly prepared for some expedition that was likely to con
sume the day. A black of middle age followed the burgher
to the threshold ; and another negro, who had not yet
reached the stature of manhood, bore under his arm a
small bundle, that probably contained articles of the first
necessity to the comfort of his master.

"Thrift, Mr. Euclid, thrift is your true philosopher s
stone," commenced, or rather continued, in a rich, full-
mouthed Dutch, the proprietor of the dwelling, who had
evidently been giving a leave-taking charge to his princi
pal slave, before quitting the house ; " thrift hath made
many a man rich, but it never yet brought any one to want.
It is thrift which has built up the credit of my house, and
though it is said by myself, a broader back and firmer base
belong to no merchant in the colonies. You are but the
reflection of your master s prosperity, you rogue and so
much the greater need that you look to his interests. If
the substance is wasted, what will become of the shadow?
When I get delicate you will sicken ; when I am a-hungered,
you will be famished ; when I die, you may be ahem
Euclid, I leave thee in charge with goods and chattels,
house and stable, with my character in the neighborhood.
I am going to the Lust in Rust, for a mouthful of better
air. Plague and fevers ! I believe the people will con
tinue to come into this crowded town, until it gets to be as
pestilent as Rotterdam in the dog days. You have now
come to years when a man obtains his reflection, boy, and
I expect suitable care and discretion about the premises
while my back is turned. Now, harkee, sirrah : I am not
entirely pleased with the character of thy company. It is
not altogether as respectable as becomes the confidential
servant of a man of a certain station in the world. There
are thy two cousins, Brom and Kobus, who are no better
than a couple of blackguards ; and as for the English
negro, Diomede he is a devil s imp ! Thou hast the other
locks at disposal, and " drawing with visible reluctance
the instrument from his pocket " here is the key of the
stable. Not a hoof is to quit it, but to go to the pump ;
and see that each animal has its food to a minute. The
devil s roysterers ! a Manhattan negro takes a Flemish


gelding for a gaunt hound that is never out of breath, and
away he goes at night, scampering along the highways like
a Yankee witch switching through the air on a broomstick ;
but mark me, Master Euclid, I have eyes in my head, as
thou knowest by bitter experience ! De ye remember,
ragamuffin, the time when I saw thee, from the Hague,
riding the beasts, as if the devil spurred them, along the
dyke of Leyden, without remorse as without leave?"

" I alway b rieve some make-mischief tell massa dat
time," returned the negro sulkily, though not without

" His own eyes were the tell-tales. If masters had no
eyes, a pretty world would the negroes make of it ! I have
got the measure of every black heel on the island registered
in the big book you see me so often looking into, especially
on Sundays ; and, if either of the tire-legs I have named
dares to enter my grounds, let him expect to pay a visit to
the city provost. What do the wildcats mean ? Do they
think that the geldings were bought in Holland, with
charges for breaking in, shipment, insurance, freight, and
risk of diseases, to have their flesh melted from their ribs
like a cook s candle !"

" Ere no tin done in all e island, but a color 1 man do
him ! He do a mischief, and he do all a work, too ! I
won er what color massa t ink war Captain Kidd ?"

" Black or white, he was a rank rogue ; and you see the
end he came to. I warrant you, now, that water-thief
began his iniquities by riding the neighbors horses at
night. His fate should be a warning to every nigger in
the colony. The imps of darkness ! The English have no
such scarcity of rogues at home, that they could not spare
us the pirate to hang up on one of the islands, as a scare
crow to the Blacks of Manhattan."

"Well, I t ink e sight do a white man some good, too,"
returned Euclid, who had all the pertinacity of a spoiled
Dutch negro, singularly blended with affection for him in
whose service he had been born. " I hear ebberybody say,
ere war but two color man in he ship, an em both war

" A modest tongue, thou midnight scamperer ! look to
my geldings. Here here are two Dutch florins, three
stivers, and a Spanish pistareen for thee ; one of theliorins
is for thy old mother, and with the others thou canst lighten
thy heart in the Paus merry-making : if I hear that either


of thy rascally cousins, or the English Diomede, has put a
leg across beast of mine, it will be the worse for all Africa!
Famine and skeletons ! Here have I been seven years try
ing to fatten the nags, and they still look more like weasles
than a pair of solid geldings."

The close of this speech was rather muttered in the dis
tance, and by way of soliloquy, than actually administered
to the namesake of the great mathematician. The air of
the negro had been a little equivocal during the parting
admonition. There was an evident struggle in his mind
between an innate love of disobedience and a secret dread
of his master s means of information. So long as the latter
continued in sight, the black watched his form in doubt;
and when it had turned a corner he stood at a gaze for a
moment, with a negro on a neighboring stoop : then both
shook their heads significantly, laughed aloud, and retired.
That night the confidential servant attended to the ititer-
ests of his absent master with a fidelity and care which
proved that he felt his own existence identified with that
of a man who claimed so close a right in his own person ;
and just as the clock struck ten, he and the negro last
mentioned mounted the sluggish and over-fattened horses,
and galloped as hard as foot could be laid to the earth,
several miles deeper into the island, to attend a frolic at
one of the usual haunts of the people of their color and

Had Alderman Myndert Van Beverout suspected the
calamity which was so soon to succeed his absence, it is
probable that his mien would have been less composed, as
he pursued his way from his own door, on the occasion
named. That he had confidence in the virtue of his
menaces, however, may be inferred from the tranquillity
which immediately took possession of features that were
never disturbed without wearing an appearance of un
natural effort. The substantial burgher was a little turned
of fifty ; and an English wag who had imported from the
mother country a love for the humor of his nation, had
once, in a conflict of wits before the city council, described
him to be a man of alliterations. When called upon to
explain away this breach of parliamentary decorum, the
punster had got rid of the matter by describing his oppo
nent to be " short, solid, an$i sturdy in stature ; full, flushed,
and funny in face ; and proud, ponderous, and pragmatical
in propensities." But, as is usual, in all sayings of effort,


there was more smartness than truth in this description,
though, after making a trilling allowance for the color
ing of political rivalry, the reader may receive its physical
portion as sufficiently descriptive to answer all the neces
sary purposes of this tale. If we add, that he was a trader
of great wealth and shrewdness, and a bachelor, we need
say no more in this stage of the narrative.

Notwithstanding the early hour at which this indus
trious and flourishing merchant quitted his abode, his
movement along the narrow streets of his native town was
measured and dignified. More than once he stopped to
speak to some favorite family-servant, invariably terminat
ing his inquiries after the health of the master, by some
facetious observation adapted to the habits and capacity of
the slave. From this it would seem, that, while he had so
exaggerated notions of domestic discipline, the worthy
bur<fher was far from being one who indulged, by inclin
ation, in the menaces he has been heard to utter. He had
just dismissed one of these loitering negroes, when on turn
ing a corner, a man of his own color, for the first time that
morning, suddenly stood before him. The startled citizen
made an involuntary movement to avoid the unexpected
interview, and then, perceiving the difficulty of such a step,
he submitted, with as good a grace as if it had been one of
his own seeking.

"The orb of day the morning gun and Mr. Alderman
Van Beverout ! " exclaimed the individual encountered.
Such is the order of events, at this early hour, on each
successive revolution of our earth."

The countenance of the Alderman had barely time to
recover its composure, ere he was required to answer to
this free and somewhat facetious salutation. Uncovering
his head, he bowed so ceremoniously as to leave the other
no reason to exult in his pleasantry, as he answered :

" The colony has reason to regret the services of a gover
nor who can quit his bed so soon. That we of business habits
stir betimes is quite in reason ; but there are those in this
town, who would scarce believe their eyes, did they enjoy
my present happiness."

" Sir, there are many in this colony who have great
reason to distrust their senses, though none can be mis
taken in believing they see in Alderman Van Beverout a
well-employed man. He that dealeth in the produce of
the beaver must have the animal s perseverance and fore-


thought ! Now, were I king-at-arms, there should be a con*
cession made in thy favor, Myndert, of a shield bearing
the animal mordant, a mantle of fur, with two Mohawk
hunters for supporters, and the motto, Industry. "

" Or what think you, my lord," returned the other, Avho
did not more than half relish the pleasantry of his com
panion, " of a spotless field for a clear conscience, with
an open hand for a crest, and the motto, Frugality and
Justice ?

" I like the open hand, though the conceit is pretending.
I see you would intimate that the Van Beverouts have not
need, at this late day, to search a herald s office for honors.
I remember, now I bethink me, on some occasion to have
seen their bearings, a windmill, courant ; dyke, coulant ;
field, vert, sprinkled with black cattle No ! then memory
is treacherous : the morning air is pregnant with food for
the imagination ! "

" Which is not a coin to satisfy a creditor, my lord," said
the caustic Myndert.

u Therein has truth been pithily spoken. This is an ill
judged step, Alderman Van Beverout, that lets a gentle
man out by night, like the ghost in Hamlet, to flee into the
narrow house with the crowing of the cock. The ear of
my royal cousin hath been poisoned, worse than was the
ear of murdered Denmark, or the partisans of this Mister
Hunter would have little cause to triumph."

" Is it not possible to give such pledges to those who
have turned the key, as will enable your lordship to apply
the antidote ? "

The question struck a chord that changed the whole
manner of the other. His air, which had borne the char
acter of a genteel trifler, became more grave and dignified ;
and notwithstanding there was the evidence of a reckless
disposition in his features, dress, and carriage, his tall and
not ungraceful form, as he walked slowly onward, by the
side of the compact alderman, was not without much of
that insinuating ease and blandishment, which long famil
iarity with good company can give even to the lowest moral

" Your question, worthy sir, manifests great, goodness of
heart, and corroborates that reputation for generosity the
world! so freely gives. It is true that the Queen has been
persuaded to sign the mandate of my recall, and it is
certain that Mr. Hunter has the government of the colony ,


but these are facts that might be reversed, were I once in
a position to approach my kinswoman. I do not disclaim
certain indiscretions, sir ; it would ill become me to deny
them, in presence of one whose virtue is as severe as that
of Alderman Van Beverout. I have my feelings : perhaps,
as you have just been pleased to intimate, it would have
been better had my motto been frugality ; but the open
hand, dear sir, is a part of the design you will not deny me,
either. If I have weaknesses, my enemies cannot refuse
to say that I never yet deserted a friend."

" Not having had occasion to tax your friendship, I shall
not be the first to make this charge."

"Your impartiality has come to be a proverb! As
honest as Alderman Van Beverout, As generous as Ald
erman Van Beverout/ are terms in each man s mouth ;
some say as rich (the small blue eye of the burgher
twinkled). But honesty, and riches, and generosity, are of
little value without influence. Men should have their
natural consideration in society. Now is the colony rather
Dutch than English, and yet, you see, how few names are
found in the list of the council, that have been known in
the province half a century ! Here are your Alexanders
and Heathcotes, your Morrises and Kennedies, De Lanceys
and Livingstons, filling the council and the legislative
halls ; but we find few of the Van Rensselaers, Van Court-
landts, Van Schuylers, Stuyvesants, Van Beekmans,~and
Van Beverouts, in their natural stations. All nations and
religions have precedency, in the royal favor, over the
children of the Patriarchs. The Bohemian Felipses ; the
Huguenot De Lanceys, and Bayards and Jays : the king-
hating Morrises and Ludlows in short, all have greater
estimation in the eyes of government, than the most
ancient Patroon ! "

" This has long and truly been the case. I cannot re
member when it was otherwise ! "

" It may not be denied. But it would little become polit
ical discretion to affect precipitancy in the judgment of
character. If my own administration can be stigmatized
with the same apparent prejudice, it proves the clearer
how strong is misrepresentation at home. Time was
wanting to enlighten my mind, and that time has been re
fused me. In another year, my worthy, sir, the council
should have been filled with Vans ! "

"In such a case, my lord, the unhappy condition in


which you are now placed migSfcJjSwlead i -haw -"been

" Is it too late to arrest the evil ? It is time Anne had
been undeceived, and her mind regained. There want-
eth nothing to such a consummation of justice, sir, but
opportunity. It touches me to the heart, to think that
this disgrace should befall one so near the royal blood !
Tis a spot on the escutcheon of the crown that all loyal
subjects must feel desirous to efface, and so small an effort
would effect the object, too, with certain Mr. Alderman
Myndert Van Beverout?"

" My lord, late governor," returned the other observing
that his companion hesitated.

"What think you of this Hanoverian settlement? Shall
a German wear the crown of a Plantagenet?"

"It hath been worn by a Hollander."

"Aptly answered. Worn, and worn worthily! There is
affinity between the people, and there is reason in that re
ply. How have I failed in wisdom, in not seeking earlier
the aid of thy advice, excellent sir ! Ah, Myndert, there
is a blessing on the enterprise of all who come of the Low
Countries ! "

" They are industrious to earn, and slow to squander."

"That expenditure is the run of many a worthy sub
ject ! And yet accident chance fortune or whatever
you may choose to call it, interferes nefariously at times
with a gentleman prosperity. I am an adorer of constancy
in friendship, sir, and hold the principle that men should
aid each other through this dark vale of life Mr. Alder
man Van Beverout?"

" My Lord Cornbury ? "

" I was about to say, that should I quit the Province
without expressing part of the regret I feel at not having
sooner ascertained the merits of its original owners, and
your own in particular, I should do injustice to sensibil
ities that are only too acute for the peace of him who en
dures them."

" Is there then hope that your lordship s creditor will
relent, or has the earl furnished means to open the prison

" You use the pleasantest terms, sir ! but I love direct
ness of language above all other qualities. No doubt the
prison door, as you have so clearly expressed it, might
be opened, and lucky would be the man who should turn


the key. I am pained when I think of the displeasure of
the Queen, which, sooner or later, will surely visit my
luckless persecutors. On the other hand I find relief in
thinking of the favor she will extend to those who have
proved my friends in such a strait. They that wear crowns
love not to see disgrace befall the meanest of their blood,
for something of the taint may sully even the ermine of
Majesty. Mr. Alderman ? "

" My lord?"

" How fare the Flemish geldings ?"

"Bravely, and many thanks, my lord; the rogues are
as fat as butter ! There is hope of a little rest for the in
nocent, since business calls me to the Lust in Rust.
There should be a law, lord governor, to gibbet the black
that rides a beast at night."

" I bethought of some condign punishment for so heart
less a crime, but there is little hope for it under the admin
istration of this Mr. Hunter. Yes, sir, were I once more in
the presence of my royal cousin, there would quickly be an
end to this delusion, and the colony should be once more re
stored to a healthful state. The men of a generation should
cease to lord it over the men of a century. But we must
be wary of letting our design, dear sir, get wind ; it is a
truly Dutch idea, and the profits, both pecuniary and po
litical, should belong to gentlemen of that descent my
dear Van Beverout ? "

"My good lord?"

" Is the blooming Alida obedient ? Trust me, there has
no family event occurred during my residence in the colony,
in which I have taken a nearer interest than in that desir
able connection. The wooing of the young Patroon of
Kinderhook is an affair of concern to the province. It is a
meritorious "youth !"

" With an excellent estate, my lord ! "

" And a gravity beyond his years."

" I would give a guarantee, at a risk, that two-thirds of
his income go to increase the capital, at the beginning of
each season ? "

" He seems a man to live on air ! "

" My old friend, the last Patroon, left noble assets," con
tinued the alderman, rubbing his hands, " besides the

" Which is no paddock ! "

" It reaches from the Hudson to the line of Massa-


chusetts. A hundred thousand acres of hill and bottom
and well peopled by frugal Hollanders."

" Respectable in possession, and a mine of gold in re
version ! Such men, sir, should be cherished. We owe it
to his station to admit him to a share of this our project to
undeceive the queen. How superior are the claims of such
a gentleman to the empty pretensions of your Captain
Ludlow !"

" He has truly a very good and improving estate ! "

"These Ludlows, sir, people that fled the realm for
plotting against the crown, are offensive to a loyal subject.
Indeed, too much of this objection may be imputed to
many in the province, that come of English blood. I am
sorry to say that they are fomenters of discord, disturbers
of the public mind, and captious disputants about preroga
tives and vested rights. But there is a repose in the Dutch
character which lends it dignity ! The descendants of the
Hollanders are men to be counted on ; where we leave
them to-day we see them to-morrow. As we say in politics,
sir, we know where to find them. Does it not seem to you

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water-witch → online text (page 1 of 37)