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The Water-Witch or, the Skimmer of the Seas online

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The report of a pistol from the barge, which was immediately followed by a
gun from the cruiser, whose shot came whistling between the masts of the
Water-Witch, was the signal to resort to the ordinary means of victory.
The master cheered, in his turn; and in a full, steady, and deep voice, he
gave the order to 'pull away!' At the same instant, the barge and yawl
were seen advancing towards the object of their common attack, with a
velocity that promised to bring the event to a speedy issue.

Throughout the whole of the preparations in and about the Coquette, since
the moment when the breeze failed, nothing had been seen of the crew of
the brigantine. The beautiful fabric lay rolling on the heaving and
setting waters; but no human form appeared to control her movements, or
to make the arrangements that seemed so necessary for her defence. The
sails continued hanging as they had been left by the breeze, and the hull
was floating at the will of the waves. This deep quiet was undisturbed by
the approach of the boats; and if the desperate individual, who was known
to command the free-trader, had any intentions of resistance, they had
been entirely hid from the long and anxious gaze of Ludlow. Even the
shouts, and the dashing of the oars on the water, when the boats commenced
their final advance, produced no change on the decks of the chase; though
the commander of the Coquette saw her head-yards slowly and steadily
changing their direction. Uncertain of the object of this movement, he
rose on the seat of his boat, and, waving his hat, cheered the men to
greater exertion. The barge had got within a hundred feet of the broadside
of the brigantine, when the whole of her wide folds of canvas were seen
swelling outwards. The exquisitely-ordered machinery of spars, sails, and
rigging, bowed towards the barge, as in the act of a graceful
leave-taking, and then the light hull glided ahead, leaving the boat to
plow through the empty space which it had just occupied. There needed no
second look to assure Ludlow of the inefficacy of further pursuit, since
the sea was already ruffled by the breeze which had so opportunely come to
aid the smuggler. He signed to Trysail to desist; and both stood looking,
with disappointed eyes, at the white and bubbling streak which was left by
the wake of the fugitive.

But while the Water-Witch left the boats, commanded by the captain and
master of the Queen's cruiser, behind her, she steered directly on the
course that was necessary to bring her soonest in contact with the yawl.
For a few moments, the crew of the latter believed it was their own
advance that brought them so rapidly near their object; and when the
midshipman who steered the boat discovered his error, it was only in
season to prevent the swift brigantine from passing over his little bark.
He gave the yawl a wide sheer, and called to his men to pull for their
lives. Oloff Van Staats had placed himself at the head of the boat, armed
with a banger, and with every faculty too intent on the expected attack,
to heed a danger that was scarcely intelligible to one of his habits. As
the brigantine glided past, he saw her low channels bending towards the
water, and, with a powerful effort, he leaped into them, shouting a sort
of war-cry, in Dutch. At the next instant, he threw his large frame over
the bulwarks, and disappeared on the deck of the smuggler.

When Ludlow had caused his boats to assemble on the spot which the chase
had so lately occupied, he saw that the fruitless expedition had been
attended by no other casualty than the involuntary abduction of the
Patroon of Kinderhook.

Chapter XXII.

"What country, friends, is this?"
" - Illyria, lady."

What You Will.

Men are as much indebted to a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, for
the characters they sustain in this world, as to their personal qualities.
The same truth is applicable to the reputations of ships. The properties
of a vessel, like those of an individual, may have their influence on her
good or evil fortune; still, something is due to the accidents of life, in
both. Although the breeze, which came so opportunely to the aid of the
Water-Witch, soon filled the sails of the Coquette, it caused no change in
the opinions of her crew concerning the fortunes of that ship; while it
served to heighten the reputation which the 'Skimmer of the Seas' had
already obtained, as a mariner who was more than favored by happy chances,
in the thousand emergencies of his hazardous profession. Trysail, himself,
shook his head, in a manner that expressed volumes, when Ludlow vented his
humor on what the young man termed the luck of the smuggler; and the crews
of the boats gazed after the retiring brigantine, as the inhabitants of
Japan would now most probably regard the passage of some vessel propelled
by steam. As Mr. Luff was not neglectful of his duty, it was not long
before the Coquette approached her boats. The delay occasioned by hoisting
in the latter, enabled the chase to increase the space between the two
vessels, to such a distance, as to place her altogether beyond the reach
of shot. Ludlow, however, gave his orders to pursue, the moment the ship
was ready; and he hastened to conceal his disappointment in his own cabin.

"Luck is a merchant's surplus, while a living profit is the reward of his
wits!" observed Alderman Van Beverout, who could scarce conceal the
satisfaction he felt, at the unexpected and repeated escapes of the
brigantine. "Many a man gains doubloons, when he only looked for dollars;
and many a market falls, while the goods are in the course of clearance.
There are Frenchmen enough, Captain Ludlow to keep a brave officer in
good-humor; and the less reason to fret about a trifling mischance in
overhauling a smuggler."

"I know not how highly you may prize your niece, Mr. Van Beverout; but
were I the uncle of such a woman, the idea that she had become the
infatuated victim of the arts of yon reckless villain, would madden me!"

"Paroxysms and straight-jackets! Happily you are not her uncle, Captain
Ludlow, and therefore the less reason to be uneasy. The girl has a French
fancy, and she is rummaging the smuggler's silks and laces; when her
choice is made, we shall have her back again, more beautiful than ever,
for a little finery."

"Choice! Oh, Alida, Alida! this is not the election that we had reason to
expect from thy cultivated mind and proud sentiments!"

"The cultivation is my work, and the pride is an inheritance from old
Etienne de Barbérie;" dryly rejoined Myndert. "But complaints never
lowered a market, nor raised the funds. Let us send for the Patroon, and
take counsel coolly, as to the easiest manner of finding our way back to
the Lust in Rust, before Her Majesty's ship gets too far from the coast of

"Thy pleasantry is unseasonable, Sir. Your Patroon is gone with your
niece, and a pleasant passage they are likely to enjoy, in such company!
We lost him, in the expedition with our boats."

The Alderman stood aghast.

"Lost! - Oloff Van Staats lost, in the expedition of the boats! Evil
betide the day when that discreet and affluent youth should be lost to the
colony! Sir, you know not what you utter when you hazard so rash an
opinion. The death of the young Patroon of Kinderhook would render one of
the best and most substantial of our families extinct, and leave the third
best estate in the Province without a direct heir!"

"The calamity is not so overwhelming;" returned the captain, with
bitterness. "The gentleman has boarded the smuggler, and gone with la
belle Barbérie to examine his silks and laces!"

Ludlow then explained the manner in which the Patroon had disappeared.
When perfectly assured that no bodily harm had befallen his friend, the
satisfaction of the Alderman was quite as vivid, as his consternation had
been apparent but the moment before.

"Gone with la belle Barbérie, to examine silks and laces!" he repeated,
rubbing his hands together, in delight. "Ay, there the blood of my old
friend, Stephanus, begins to show itself! Your true Hollander is no
mercurial Frenchman, to beat his head and make grimaces at a shift in the
wind, or a woman's frown; nor a blustering Englishman (you are of the
colony yourself, young gentleman) to swear a big oath and swagger; but, as
you see, a quiet, persevering, and, in the main, an active son of old
Batavia, who watches his opportunity, and goes into the very presence
of - - "

"Whom?" - demanded Ludlow, perceiving that the Alderman had paused.

"Of his enemy; seeing that all the enemies of the Queen are necessarily
the enemies of every loyal subject. Bravo, young Oloff! thou art a lad
after my own heart, and no doubt - no doubt - fortune will favor the brave!
Had a Hollander a proper footing on this earth, Captain Cornelius Ludlow,
we should hear a different tale concerning the right to the Narrow Seas,
and indeed to most other questions of commerce."

Ludlow arose with a bitter smile on his face, though with no ill feeling
towards the man whose exultation was so natural.

"Mr. Van Staats may have reason to congratulate himself on his good
fortune," he said, "though I much mistake if even his enterprise will
succeed, against the wiles of one so artful, and of an appearance so gay,
as the man whose guest he has now become. Let the caprice of others be
what it may, Alderman Van Beverout, my duty must be done. The smuggler,
aided by chance and artifice, has thrice escaped me; the fourth time, it
may be our fortune. If this ship possesses the power to destroy the
lawless rover, let him look to his fate!"

With this menace on his lips, Ludlow quitted the cabin, to resume his
station on the deck, and to renew his unwearied watching of the movements
of the chase.

The change in the wind was altogether in favor of the brigantine. It
brought her to windward, and was the means of placing the two vessels in
positions that enabled the Water-Witch to profit the most by her peculiar
construction. Consequently, when Ludlow reached his post, he saw that the
swift and light craft had trimmed every thing close upon the wind, and
that she was already so far ahead, as to render the chances of bringing
her again within range of his guns almost desperate; unless, indeed, some
of the many vicissitudes, so common on the ocean, should interfere in his
behalf. There remained little else to be done, therefore, but to crowd
every sail on the Coquette that the ship would bear, and to endeavor to
keep within sight of the chase, during the hours of darkness which must so
shortly succeed. But before the sun had fallen to the level of the water,
the hull of the Water-Witch had disappeared; and when the day closed, no
part of her airy outline was visible, but that which was known to belong
to her upper and lighter spars. In a few minutes afterwards, darkness
covered the ocean; and the seamen of the royal cruiser were left to pursue
their object, at random.

How far the Coquette had run during the night does not appear, but when
her commander made his appearance on the following morning, his long and
anxious gaze met no other reward than a naked horizon. On every side, the
sea presented the same waste of water. No object was visible, but the
sea-fowl wheeling on his wide wing, and the summits of the irregular and
green billows. Throughout that and many succeeding days, the cruiser
continued to plow the ocean, sometimes running large, with every thing
opened to the breeze that the wide booms would spread, and, at others,
pitching and laboring with adverse winds, as if bent on prevailing over
the obstacles which even nature presented to her progress. The head of the
worthy Alderman had got completely turned; and though he patiently awaited
the result, before the week was ended, he knew not even the direction in
which the ship was steering. At length he had reason to believe that the
end of their cruise approached. The efforts of the seamen were observed to
relax, and the ship was permitted to pursue her course, under easier sail.

It was past meridian, on one of those days of moderate exertion, that
François was seen stealing from below, and staggering from gun to gun, to
a place in the centre of the ship, where he habitually took the air, in
good weather, and where he might dispose of his person, equally without
presuming too far on the good-nature of his superiors, and without
courting too much intimacy with the coarser herd who composed the common

"Ah!" exclaimed the valet, addressing his remark to the midshipman who has
already been mentioned by the name of Hopper - "Voilà la terre! Quel
bonheur! I shall be so happy - le batiment be trop agréable, mais vous
savez, Monsieur Aspirant; que je ne suis point marin - What be le nom du

"They call it, France," returned the boy, who understood enough of the
other's language to comprehend his meaning; "and a very good country it
is - for those that like it."

"Ma foi, non!" - exclaimed François, recoiling a pace, between amazement
and delight.

"Call it Holland, then, if you prefer that country most."

"Dites-moi, Monsieur Hoppair," continued the valet, laying a trembling
finger on the arm of the remorseless young rogue; "est-ce la France?"

"One would think a man of your observation could tell that for himself. Do
you not see the church-tower, with a chateau in the back-ground, and a
village built in a heap, by its side. Now look into yon wood! There is a
walk, straight as a ship's wake in smooth water, and one - two - three - ay,
eleven statues, with just one nose among them all!"

"Ma foi - dere is not no wood, and no château and no village, and no
statue, and no no nose, - mais Monsieur, je suis agé - est-ce la France?"

"Oh, you miss nothing by having an indifferent sight, for I shall explain
it all, as we go along. You see yonder hill-side, looking like a
pattern-card, of green and yellow stripes, or a signal-book, with the
flags of all nations, placed side by side - well, that is - les champs; and
this beautiful wood, with all the branches trimmed till it looks like so
many raw marines at drill, is - la forêt - - "

The credulity of the warm-hearted valet could swallow no more; but,
assuming a look of commiseration and dignity, he drew back, and left the
young tyro of the sea to enjoy his joke with a companion who just then
joined him.

In the meantime, the Coquette continued to advance. The château, and
churches, and villages, of the midshipman, soon changed into a low sandy
beach, with a back-ground of stunted pines, relieved here and there, by an
opening, in which appeared the comfortable habitation and numerous
out-buildings of some substantial yeoman, or occasionally embellished by
the residence of a country proprietor. Towards noon, the crest of a hill
rose from the sea: and, just as the sun set behind the barrier of
mountain, the ship passed the sandy cape, and anchored at the spot that
she had quitted when first joined by her commander after his visit to the
brigantine. The vessel was soon moored, the light yards were struck, and a
boat was lowered into the water. Ludlow and the Alderman then descended
the side, and proceeded towards the mouth of the Shrewsbury. Although it
was nearly dark before they had reached the shore, there remained light
enough to enable the former to discover an object of unusual appearance
floating in the bay, and at no great distance from the direction of his
barge. He was led by curiosity to steer for it.

"Cruisers and Water-Witches!" muttered Myndert, when they were near enough
to perceive the nature of the floating object. "That brazen hussy haunts
us, as if we had robbed her of gold! Let us set foot on land, and nothing
short of a deputation from the City Council shall ever tempt me to wander
from my own abode, again!"

Ludlow shifted the helm of the boat, and resumed his course towards the
river. He required no explanation, to tell him more of the nature of the
artifice, by which he had been duped. The nicely-balanced tub, the
upright spar, and the extinguished lantern, with the features of the
female of the malign smile traced on its horn faces, reminded him, at
once, of the false light by which the Coquette had been lured from her
course, on the night she sailed in pursuit of the brigantine.

Chapter XXIII.

" - His daughter, and the heir of his kingdom,
- hath referred herself
Unto a poor but worthy gentleman: - "


When Alderman Van Beverout and Ludlow drew near to the Lust in Rust, it
was already dark. Night had overtaken them, at some distance from the
place of landing; and the mountain already threw its shadow across the
river, the narrow strip of land that separated it from the sea, and far
upon the ocean itself. Neither had an opportunity of making his
observations on the condition of things in and about the villa, until they
had ascended nearly to its level, and had even entered the narrow but
fragrant lawn in its front. Just before they arrived at the gate which
opened on the latter, the Alderman paused, and addressed his companion,
with more of the manner of their ancient confidence, than he had
manifested during the few preceding days of their intercourse.

"You must have observed, that the events of this little excursion on the
water, have been rather of a domestic than of a public character;" he
said. "Thy father was a very ancient and much-esteemed friend of mine, and
I am far from certain that there is not some affinity between us, in the
way of intermarriages. Thy worthy mother, who is a thrifty woman, and a
small talker, had some of the blood of my own stock. It would grieve me to
see the good understanding, which these recollections have created, in any
manner interrupted. I admit, Sir, that revenue is to the state what the
soul is to the body - the moving and governing principle; and that, as the
last would be a tenantless house without its inhabitants, so the first
would be an exacting and troublesome master without its proper products.
But there is no need of pushing a principle to extremities! If this
brigantine be, as you appear to suspect, and indeed as we have some reason
from various causes to infer, the vessel called the Water-Witch she might
have been a legal prize had she fallen into your power; bait now that she
has escaped, I cannot say what may be your intentions; but were thy
excellent father, the worthy member of the King's Council, living, so
discreet a man would think much before he opened his lips, to say more
than is discreet, on this or any other subject."

"Whatever course I may believe my duty dictates, you may safely rely on my
discretion concerning the - the remarkable - the very decided step which
your niece has seen proper to take;" returned the young man, who did not
make this allusion to Alida without betraying, by the tremor of his voice,
how great was her influence still over him. "I see no necessity of
violating the domestic feelings to which you allude, by aiding to feed the
ears of the idly curious, with the narrative of her errors."

Ludlow stopped suddenly, leaving the uncle to infer what he would wish to

"This is generous, and manly, and like a loyal - lover, Captain Ludlow,"
returned the Alderman; "though it is not exactly what I intended to
suggest. We will not, however, multiply words in the night air - ha! when
the cat is asleep, the mice are seen to play! Those night-riding,
horse-racing blacks have taken possession of Alida's pavilion; and we may
be thankful the poor girl's rooms are not as large as Harlaem Common, or
we should hear the feet of some hard-driven beast galloping about in

The Alderman, in his turn, cut short his speech, and started as if one of
the spukes of the colony had suddenly presented itself to his eyes. His
language had drawn the look of his companion towards la Cour des Fées; and
Ludlow had, at the same moment as the uncle, caught an unequivocal view of
la belle Barbérie, as she moved before the open window of her apartment.
The latter was about to rush forward, but the hand of Myndert arrested the
impetuous movement.

"Here is more matter for our wits, than our legs;" observed the cool and
prudent burgher. "That was the form of my ward and niece, or the daughter
of old Etienne Barbérie has a double. - Francis! didst thou not see the
image of a woman at the window of the pavilion, or are we deceived by our
wishes? I have sometimes been deluded in an unaccountable manner, Captain
Ludlow, when my mind has been thoroughly set on the bargain, in the
quality of the goods; for the most liberal of us all are subject to mental
weakness of this nature, when hope is alive!"

"Certainement, oui!" exclaimed the eager valet "Quel malheur to be obligé
to go on la mèr, when Mam'selle Alide nevair quit la maison! J'étais sûr,
que nous nous trompions, car jamais la famille de Barbérie love to be

"Enough, good Francis; the family of Barbérie is as earthy as a fox. Go
and notify the idle rogues in my kitchen, that their master is at hand;
and remember, that there is no necessity for speaking of all the wonders
we have seen on the great deep. Captain Ludlow, we will now join my
dutiful niece, with as little fracas as possible."

Ludlow eagerly accepted the invitation, and instantly followed the
dogmatical and seemingly unmoved Alderman towards the dwelling. As the
lawn was crossed, they involuntarily paused, a moment, to look in at the
open windows of the pavilion.

La belle Barbérie had ornamented la Cour des Fées, with a portion of that
national taste, which she inherited from her father. The heavy
magnificence that distinguished the reign of Louis XIV. had scarcely
descended to one of the middling rank of Monsieur de Barbérie, who had
consequently brought with him to the place of his exile, merely those
tasteful usages which appear almost exclusively the property of the people
from whom he had sprung, without the encumbrance and cost of the more
pretending fashions of the period. These usages had become blended with
the more domestic and comfortable habits of English, or what is nearly the
same thing, of American life - an union which, when it is found, perhaps
produces the most just and happy medium of the useful and the agreeable.
Alida was seated by a small table of mahogany, deeply absorbed in the
contents of a little volume that lay before her. By her side stood a
tea-service, the cups and the vessels of which were of the diminutive size
then used, though exquisitely wrought, and of the most beautiful material.
Her dress was a negligee suited to her years; and her whole figure
breathed that air of comfort, mingled with grace, which seems to be the
proper quality of the sex, and which renders the privacy of an elegant
woman so attractive and peculiar. Her mind was intent on the book, and the
little silver urn hissed at her elbow, apparently unheeded.

"This is the picture I have loved to draw," half-whispered Ludlow, "when
gales and storms have kept me on the deck, throughout many a dreary and
tempestuous night! When body and mind have been impatient of fatigue, this
is the repose I have most coveted, and for which I have even dared to

"The China trade will come to something, in time and you are an excellent
judge of comfort, Master Ludlow;" returned the Alderman. "That girl now
has a warm glow on her cheek, which would seem to swear she never faced a
breeze in her life; and it is not easy to fancy, that one who looks so
comfortable has lately been frolicking among the dolphins. - Let us enter."

Alderman Van Beverout was not accustomed to use much ceremony in his
visits to his niece. Without appearing to think any announcement
necessary, therefore, the dogmatical burgher coolly opened a door, and
ushered his companion into the pavilion.

If the meeting between la belle Alida and her guests was distinguished by
the affected indifference of the latter, their seeming ease was quite
equalled by that of the lady. She laid aside her book, with a calmness
that might have been expected had they parted but an hour before, and
which sufficiently assured both Ludlow and her uncle that their return was
known and their presence expected. She simply arose at their entrance, and
with a smile that betokened breeding, rather than feeling, she requested
them to be seated. The composure of his niece had the effect to throw the
Alderman into a brown study, while the young sailor scarcely knew which to
admire the most, the exceeding loveliness of a woman who was always so

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Water-Witch or, the Skimmer of the Seas → online text (page 22 of 37)