James Fenimore Cooper.

The water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) online

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home. Ah! here is a treasure of Mechlin,
wrought in a fashion of my own design."

" Tis beautifully fancied! and might do cre
dit to one who professed the painter s art."

"My youth was much employed in these
conceits," returned the trader, unfolding the
rich and delicate lace in a manner to show that
he had still pleasure in contemplating its texture
and quality. < There was a compact between
me and the maker, that enough should be fur
nished to reach from the high church tower of
his town, to the pavement beneath; and yet
you see how little remains ! The London dames
found it to their taste, and it was not easy to
bring even this trifle into the colonies."

" You chose a remarkable measure for an


article that was to visit so many different coun
tries without the formalities of Jaw ?"

" We thought to start in the favour of the
church, which rarely frowns on those who
respect its privileges. Under the sanction of
such authority, I will lay aside all that re
mains, certain it will be needed for thy use."

" So rare a manufacture should be costly ?"

La Belle Barberie spoke hesitatingly, and
as she raised her eyes, they met the dark
organs of her companion fixed on her face,
in a manner that seemed to express a con
sciousness of the ascendancy he was gaining
Startled at she knew not what, the maiden
again added hastily,

" This may be fitter for a court lady than
a girl of the colonies ?"

" None who have yet worn of it so well
become it ; I lay it here as a make-weight
in my bargain with the Alderman. This is
satin of Tuscany; a country where nature ex
hibits its extremes, and one whose merchants


were princes. Your Florentine was subtle in
his fabrics, and happy in his conceits of forms
and colours, for which he stood indebted to
the riches of his own climate. Observe, the
hue of this glossy surface is scarcely so deli
cate as I have seen the rosy light at even,
playing on the sides of his Appenines !"

t( You have then visited the regions in
whose fabrics you deal ?" said Alida, suffering
the articles to fall from her hand, in the stronger
interest she began to feel in their owner.

" Tis my habit. Here have we a chain
from the city of the isles. The hand of Ve
netian could alone form these delicate and
nearly insensible links. I refused a string of
spotless pearls for that same golden web."

" It was indiscreet in one who trades at so
much hazard ?"

" I kept the bauble for my pleasure ! Whim
is sometimes stronger than the thirst of gain ;
and this chain does not quit me, till I bestow
it on the lady of my love."


" One so actively employed, can scarce
spare time to seek a fitting object for the gift."

" Is merit and loveliness in the sex so rare !
La Belle Barberie speaks in the security of
many conquests, or she would not deal thus
lightly in a matter that is so serious with most
females !"

a Among other countries, your vessel hath
visited a land of witchcraft, or you would
not pretend to a knowledge of things, that in
their very nature must be hidden from a stran
ger. Of what value may be those beautiful
feathers of the ostrich ? v

" They came of swarthy Africa, though so
spotless themselves. The bunch was had by
secret traffic from a Moorish man, in exchange
for a few skins of lachrymse christi, that he
swallowed with his eyes shut. I dealt with
the fellow, only in pity for his thirst, and do
not pride myself on the value of the commodity.
It shall go too, to quicken love between me and
thy uncle."


Alida could Dot object to this liberality,
though she was not without a secret opinion
that the gifts were no more than delicate and
well-concealed offerings to herself. The effect
of this suspicion was two-fold; it caused the
maiden to become more reserved in the expres
sion of her tastes, though it in no degree les
sened her confidence in, and admiration of the
wayward and remarkable trader.

" My uncle will have cause to commend thy
generous spirit," said the heiress, bending her
head a little coldly at this repeated declaration
of her companion s intentions, " though it would
seem that in trade, justice is as much to be
desired as generosity ; this seemeth a curious
design wrought with the needle ?"

" It is the labour of many a day, fashioned
by the hand of a recluse. I bought it of a
nun in France, who passed years in toil upon
the conceit, which is of more value than the
material. The meek daughter of solitude wept
when she parted with the fabric, for in her


eyes, it had the tie of association and habit.
A companion might be lost, to one who lives
in the confusion of the world, and it should
not cause more real sorrow than parting from
the product of her needle gave that mild resi
dent of the cloisters !"

" And is it permitted for your sex to visit
those places of religious retirement ?" asked
Alida. " I come of a race that pays little
deference to monastic life, for we are refugees
from the severity of Louis, but yet I never
heard my father charge these females with
being so regardless of their vows."

" The fact was so repeated to me, for surely
my sex are not admitted to traffic directly with
the modest sisters " (a smile that Alida was
half disposed to think bold, played about the
handsome mouth of the speaker) ; " but it was
so reported. What is your opinion of the
merit of woman, in thus seeking refuge from
the cares, and haply from the sins of the world,
in institutions of this order ?"


" Truly, the question exceedeth my know
ledge. This is not a country to immure females,
and the custom causes us of America little

" The usage hath its abuses, 1 continued the
dealer in contraband, speaking thoughtfully;
" but it is not without its good. There are
many of the weak and vain that would be
happier in the cloisters, than if left to the
seductions and follies of life ; ah, here is
work of English hands. I scarcely know how
the articles found their way into the company
of the products of the foreign looms. My
bales contain, in general, little that is vulgarly
sanctioned by the law. Speak me frankly,
Belle Alida, and say if you share in the
prejudices against the character of us free
traders ?"

" I pretend not to judge of regulations that
exceed the knowledge and practices of my sex,
returned the maiden with commendable reserve.
" There are some who think the abuse of


power a justification of its resistance, while
others deem a breach of law to be a breach of

<( The latter is the doctrine of your man of
invested monies and established fortune ! He
has entrenched his gains behind acknowledged
barriers, and he preaches their sanctity, because
they favour his selfishness. We skimmers of
the sea"

Alida started so suddenly, as to cause her
companion to cease speaking.

" Are my words frightful, that you pale at
their sound ?"

" I hope they were used rather in accident
than with their dreaded meaning. I would not
have it said no ! tis but a chance that springs
from some resemblance in your callings. One
like you can never be the man whose name
has grown into a proverb ?

" One like me, beautiful Alida, is much as
fortune wills. Of what man, or of what name
wouldst speak ?"


66 Tis nothing." returned la Belle Barberie,
gazing unconsciously at the polished and grace
ful features of the stranger longer than was
wont in maiden. " Proceed with your explana
tion ; these are rich velvets !"

" They come of Venice, too ; but commerce
is like the favour which attends the rich, and
the Queen of the Adriatic is already far on
the decline. That which causes the increase
of the husbandman, occasions the downfall of
a city. The lagunes are filling with fat soil,
and the keel of the trader is less frequent there
than of old. Ages hence the plough may trace
furrows where the Bucentaur has floated ! The
outer India passage has changed the current of
prosperity, which ever rushes in the widest and
newest track. Nations might learn a moral by
studying the sleepy canals and instructive mag
nificence of that fallen town ; but pride fattens on
its own lazy recollections to the last ! As I was
saying, we rovers deal little in musty maxims,
that are made by the great and prosperous at


home, and are trumpeted abroad, in order that
the weak and unhappy should be the more
closely riveted in their fetters."

" Methinks you push the principle further
than is necessary, for one whose greatest offence
against established usage is a little hazardous
commerce. These are opinions that might
unsettle the world."

" Rather settle it, by referring all to the
rule of right. When governments shall lay their
foundations in natural justice, when their object
shall be to remove the temptations to err, in
stead of creating them, and when bodies of
men shall feel and acknowledge the respon
sibilities of individuals why, then the Water
Witch herself might become a revenue cutter,
and her owner an officer of the customs !"

The velvet fell from the hands of la Belie
Barberie, and she arose from her seat in pre

" Speak plainly," said Alida, with all her


natural firmness ; " with whom am I about to
traffic ?"

" An outcast of society a man condemned
in the opinions of the world the outlaw the
flagrant wanderer of the ocean the lawless
Skimmer of the Seas !" cried a voice at the open

In another minute, Ludlow was in the room.
Alida uttered a shriek, veiled her face in her
robe, and rushed from the apartment.



" Truth will come to light ;
Murder cannot be hid long, a man s son may ; .
But in the end, truth will out."


THE officer of the Queen had leaped into
the pavilion, with the flushed features and all
the hurry of an excited man. The exclamations
and retreat of la Belle Barberie, for a single
moment diverted his attention, arid then he
turned suddenly, not to say fiercely, towards
her companion. It is not necessary to repeat
the description of the stranger s person, in
order to render the change which instantly


occurred in the countenance of Ludlow, intel
ligible to the reader. His eye at first refused
to believe there was no other present, and when
it had again and again searched the whole apart
ment, it returned to the face and form of the
dealer in contraband with an expression of in
credulity and wonder.

" Here is some mistake !" exclaimed the
commander of the Coquette, after time had
been given for a thorough examination of the

" Your gentle manner of entrance," returned
the stranger, across whose face there had
passed a glow, that might have come equally of
anger or of surprise, " has driven the lady
from the room. But as you wear the livery
of the Queen, I presume you have authority for
invading the dwelling of the subject ?"

u I had believed nay, there was reason
to be certain, that one whom all of proper
loyalty execrate, was to be found here," stam
mered the still confused Ludlow. " There


can scarce be a deception, for I plainly heard
the discourse of my captor s, and yet here is
none !"

" I thank you for the high consideration you
bestow on my presence."

The manner, rather than the words of the
speaker, induced Ludlow to rivet another look
on his countenance. There was a mixed ex
pression of doubt, admiration, and possibly of
uneasiness, if not of actual jealousy, in the
eye which slowly read all his lineaments, though
the former seemed the stronger sensation of the

" We have never met before !" cried Ludlow,
when the organ began to grow dim with the
length and steadiness of its gaze.

" The ocean has many paths, and men may
journey on them long, without crossing each

" Thou hast served the Queen, though I see
thee in this doubtful situation ?"

" Never. I am not one to bind myself to



the servitude of any woman that lives," re
turned the free-trader, while a wild smile played
about his lip, " though she wore a thousand
diadems ! Anne never had an hour of my
time, nor a single wish of my heart."

" This is bold language. Sir, for the ear of
her officer. The arrival of an unknown brig-
antine, certain incidents which have occurred
to myself this night, your presence here, that
bale of articles forbidden by the law, create sus
picions that must be satisfied. Who are you ?"

" The flagrant wanderer of the ocean the
outcast of society the condemned in the opi
nions of the world the lawless Skimmer of
the Seas !"

" This cannot be ! The tongues of men
speak of the personal deformity of that wanderer
no less than of his bold disregard of the law.
You would deceive me ?"

" If then men err so much in that which is
visible and unimportant," returned the other,
proudly, " is there not reason to doubt their


accuracy in matters of more weight? I am
surely what I seem, if I am not what I say."

" I will not credit so improbable a tale ;
give me some proof that what I hear is true."

" Look at that brigantine, whose delicate
spars are almost confounded with the back
ground of trees," said the other, approaching
the window, and directing the attention of his
companion to the cove. u "Tis the bark that
has so often foiled the efforts of all thy cruisers,
and which transports me and my wealth whither
I will, without the fetters of arbitrary laws,
and the meddling inquiries of venal hirelings.
The scud which floats above the sea ? is not freer
than that vessel, and scarcely more swift. Well
is she named the Water Witch ! for her per
formances on the wide ocean have been such as
seem to exceed all natural means. The froth of
the sea does not dance more lightly above the
waves, than yonder graceful fabric when driven
by the breeze. She is a thing to be loved,
Ludlow ; trust me, I never yet set affections on
M 2


woman, with the warmth I feel for the faithful
and beautiful machine !"

* fc This is little more than any mariner could
say in praise of a vessel that he admired."

" Will you say it, Sir, in favour of yon
lumbering sloop of Queen Anne ? Your Coquette
is none of the fairest, and there was more of
pretension than of truth at her christening."

" By the title of my royal mistress, young
beardless, but there is an insolence in this
language that might become him you wish to
represent ! My ship, heavy or light of foot, as
she may be, is fated to bring yonder false
trader to the judgment.""

" By the craft and qualities of the Water
Witch, but this is language that might become
one who was at liberty to act his pleasure,"
returned the stranger, tauntingly imitating the
tone in which his angry companion had spoken.
u You would have proof of my identity ? listen.
There is one who vaunts his power, that
forgets he is a dupe of my agent, and that even


while his words are so full of boldness, he is a
captive !"

The brown cheek of Ludlow reddened, and
he turned toward the lighter and far less vi
gorous frame of his companion, as if about to
strike him to the earth, when a door opened,
and Alida appeared in the saloon.

The meeting between the commander of the
Coquette and his mistress, was not without
embarrassment. The anger of the former and
the confusion of the latter, for a moment kept
both silent ; but as la Belle Barberie had not
returned without an object, she was quick to

66 I know not whether to approve or to con
demn the boldness that has prompted Captain
Ludlow to enter my pavilion at this unseason
able hour, and in so unceremonious a man
ner," she said, " for I am still ignorant of his
motive. When he shall please to let me hear
it, I may judge better of the merit of the


" True, we will hear his explanation before
condemnation," added the stranger, offering a
seat to Alida, which she coldly declined. " Be
yond a doubt, the gentleman has a motive."

If looks could have destroyed, the speaker
would have been annihilated. But as the lady
seemed indifferent to the last remark, Ludlow
prepared to enter on his vindication.

" I shall not attempt to conceal that an arti
fice has been practised," he said, " which is
accompanied by consequences that I find awk
ward. The air and manner of the seaman
whose bold conduct you witnessed in the boat,
induced me to confide in him more than was
prudent, and I have been rewarded by de
ception. 1

" In other words, Captain Ludlow is not as
sagacious as he had reason to believe!" said an
ironical voice at his elbow.

" In what manner am I to blame, or why is
my privacy to be interrupted, because a wan
dering seaman has deceived the commander of


the Coquette ?" rejoined Alida. " Not only that
audacious mariner, but this this person," she
added, adopting a word that use has appro
priated to the multitude, " is a stranger to me.
There is no other connection between us than
that you see."

ci It is not necessary to say why I landed,"
continued Ludlow ; " but I was weak enough to
allow that unknown mariner to quit my ship,
in my company, and when I would return he
found means to disarm my men and make me a

" And yet art thou, for a captive, tolerably
free !" added the ironical voice.

" Of what service is this freedom, without
the means of using it ? The sea separates me
from my ship, and my faithful boat s crew are
in fetters. I have been little watched myself ;
but though forbidden to approach certain points,
enough has been seen to leave no doubts of the
character of those whom Alderman Van Bever-


" Thou wouldst also say, and his niece,
Ludlow ?"

" I would say nothing harsh to, or disrespect
ful of Alida de Barberie. I will not deny that
a harrowing idea possessed me, but I see my
error, and repent having been so hasty."

" We may then resume our commerce," said
the trader, coolly seating himself before the
open bale, while Ludlow and the maiden stood
regarding each other in mute surprise. " It is
pleasant to exhibit these forbidden treasures to
an officer of the Queen ! It may prove the
means of gaining the royal patronage. We
were last among the velvets, and on the lagunes
of Venice. Here is of a colour and quality to
form a bridal dress for the Doge himself, in his
nuptials with the sea ! We men of the ocean
look upon that ceremony as a pledge Hymen
will not forget us, though we may wander from
his altars. Do I justice to the faith of the craft,
Captain Ludlow ? or are you a sworn devotee
of Neptune, and content to breathe your sighs


to Venus, when afloat? Well, if the damps
and salt air of the ocean rust the golden
chain, it is the fault of cruel Nature ! Ah !
here is "

A shrill whistle sounded among the shrub
bery, and the speaker became mute. Throw
ing his cloths carelessly on the bale, he arose
again, and seemed to hesitate. Throughout
the interview with Ludlow, the air of the free
trader had been mild, though, at times, it
was playful, and not for an instant had he
seemed to return the resentment which the
other had so plainly manifested. It now became
perplexed, and by the workings of his features,
it would seem that he vacillated in his opinions.
The sounds of the whistle were heard again.

" Ay, ay, Master Tom," muttered the dealer
in contraband ; " thy note is audible, but why
this haste ? Beautiful Alida, this shrill sum
mons is to say, that the moment of parting is
arrived !"

" We met with less of preparation," returned



la Belle Barberie, who preserved all the distant
reserve of her sex, under the jealous eyes of
her admirer.

" We met without a warning, but shall our
separation be without a memorial ? Am I to
return with all these valuables to the brigantine,
or, in their place, must I take the customary
golden tribute ?"

4 * I know not that I dare make a traffic which
is not sanctioned by the law, in presence of
a servitor of the Queen," returned Alida, smil
ing. " I will not deny that you have much to
excite a woman s envy, but our royal mistress
might forget her sex, and show little pity were
she to hear of my weakness."

" No fear of that, lady. Tis they who are
most stern in creating these harsh regulations,
that show most frailty in their breach. By the
virtues of honest Leadenhall itself, but I
should like to tempt the royal Anne in her
closet with such a display of goodly laces and
heavy brocades !"


"That might be more hazardous than wise !"

"I know not. Though seated on a throne,
she is but woman. Disguise nature as thou wilt,
she is a universal tyrant, and governs all
alike. The head that wears a crown dreams
of the conquests of the sex, rather than of
the conquests of states ; the hand that wields
the sceptre is fitted to display its prettiness
with the pencil or the needle; and though
words and ideas may be taught and sounded
forth with the pomp of royalty, the tone
is still that of woman."

Without bringing into question the merits
of our present royal mistress," said Alida,
who was a little apt to assert her sex s rights,
" there is the example of the glorious Eliza
beth to refute this charge."

" Ay, we have had our Cleopatras in the
sea-fight, and fear was found stronger than love !
The sea has monsters, and so may have the
land. He that made the earth, gave it laws
that tis not good to break. We men are


jealous of our qualities, and little like to see
them usurped ; and trust me, lady, she that
forgets the means that Nature bestows, may
mourn in sorrow over the fatal error! But,
shall we deal in velvet, or is your taste more
leaning to brocade ?"

Alida and Ludlow listened in admiration
to the capricious and fanciful language of
the unaccountable trader, and both were equally
at a loss to estimate his character. The
equivocal air was in general well maintained,
though the commander of the Coquette had
detected an earnestness and feeling in his
manner, when he more particularly addressed
la Belle Barberie, that excited an uneasiness
he was ashamed to admit, even to himself.
That the maiden herself observed this
change, might also be inferred from a richer
glow which diffused itself over her features,
though it is scarce probable that she was con
scious of its effects. When questioned as to
her determination concerning his goods, she


again regarded Ludlow doubtingly ere she

" That you have not studied woman in
vain," she laughingly replied, u I must fain
acknowledge. And yet, ere I make a decision,
suffer me to consult those who, being more
accustomed to deal with the laws, are better
judges of the propriety of the purchases?"

" If this request were not reasonable in itself,
it were due to your beauty and station, lady,
to grant it. I leave the bale in your care,
and before to-morrow s sun has set, one will
await the answer. Captain Ludlow, are we to
part in friendship, or does your duty to the
Queen proscribe the word ?"

" If what you seem," said Ludlow, " you are
a being inexplicable ! If this be some masque
rade, as I half suspect, tis well maintained, at
least, though not worthily assumed."

"You are not the first who has refused
credit to his senses, in a matter wherein the
Water Witch and her commander have been


concerned. Peace, honest Tom thy whistle
will not hasten Father Time ! Friend or not,
Captain Ludlow need not be told he is my

" That I have fallen into the power of a
miscreant "

" Hist ! if thou hast love of bodily ease
and whole bones. Master Thomas Tiller is a
man of rude humour, and he as little likes
contumely as another. Besides, the honest
mariner did but obey my orders, and his
character is protected by a superior responsi

" Thy orders !" repeated Ludlow, with an
expression of eye and lip that might have
offended one more disposed to take offence
than him he addressed. " The fellow who so
well succeeded in his artifice, is one much
more likely to command than to obey. If any
here be the Skimmer of the Seas, it is he."

" We are all no more than the driving spray,
which goes whither the winds list. But in


what hath the man offended, that he finds
so little favour with the Queen s captain ? He

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 10 of 13)