James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 12 of 13)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


an hour, therefore, h somewhat like dropping
an important figure in a complex calculation,
and the whole labour may be useless for want
of punctuality in one as for want of accuracy in
the other. Your father, the late Patroon, was
what may be called a minute man. He was as
certain to be seen in his pew at church at the
stroke of the clock, as to pay a bill when its
items had been properly examined. Ah ! it
was a blessing to hold one of his notes, though
they were far scarcer than broad pieces of bul
lion. I have heard it said, Patroon, that the
manor is backed by plenty of Johannes and
Dutch ducats."

" The descendant has no reason to reproach
his ancestors with want of foresight."

" Prudently answered not a word too much
nor too little : a principle on which all honest



282 THE WATER WITCH.

men settle their accounts. By proper manage
ment such a foundation might be made to up
hold an estate that should count thousands with
the best of Holland or England. Growth and
majority ! Patroon ; but we of the colonies must
come to man s estate in time, like our cousins on
the dykes of the low countries, or our rulers
among the smitheys of England. Erasmus,
look at that cloud over the Rariton, and tell me
if it rises."

The negro reported that the vapour was sta
tionary, and at the same time, by way of epi
sode, he told his master that the boat which had
been seen approaching the land had reached the
wharf, and that some of its crew were ascending
the hill towards the Lust in Rust.

" Let them come of all hospitality," returned
the Alderman, heartily ; " I warrant me they
are honest farmers from the interior a-hungered
with the toil of the night. Go tell the cook to
feed them with the best, and bid them welcome.
And harkee, boy ; if there be among them any



THE WATER WITCH. 283

comfortable yeoman, bid the man enter and sit
at our table. This is not a country, Patroon,
to be nice about the quality of the cloth a
man has on his back 5 or whether he wears a
wig or only his own hair. What is the fellow
gaping at ?"

Erasmus rubbed his eyes, and then showing
his teeth to the full extent of a double row, that
glittered like pearls, he gave his master to un
derstand that the negro introduced to the reader
under the name of Euclid, and who was cer
tainly his own brother of the half blood, or by
the mother s side, was entering the villa. The
intelligence caused a sudden cessation of the
masticating process in the Alderman, who had
not however time to express his wonder ere two
doors simultaneously opened, and Frangois pre
sented himself at the one, while the shining and
doubting face of the slave from town darkened
the other. The eyes of Myndert rolled first to
this side, and then to that, a certain misgiving
of the heart preventing him from speaking to



284 THE WATER WITCH.

either, for he saw in the disturbed features of
each, omens that bade him prepare himself for un
welcome tidings. The reader will perceive by the
description we shall give, that there was abun
dant reason for the sagacious burghers alarm.

The visage of the valet, at all times meagre
and long, seemed extended to far more than its
usual dimensions, the under jaw appearing
fallen and trebly attenuated. The light blue
protruding eyes were open to the utmost, and
they expressed a certain confused wildness that
was none the less striking for the painful ex
pression of mental suffering with which it was
mingled. Both hands were raised with the
palms outward, while the shoulders of the poor
fellow were elevated so high as entirely to de
stroy the little symmetry that Nature had be
stowed on that particular part of his frame.

On the other hand the look of the negro was
guilty, dogged and cunning. His eye leered
askance, seeming to wish to play around the
person of his master, as it will be seen his Ian-



THE WATER WITCH. 285

guage endeavoured to play around his under
standing. The hands crushed the crown of a
woollen hat between their fingers, and one of
his feet described semicircles with its toe, by
performing nervous evolutions on its heel.

"Well !" ejaculated Myndert, regarding each
in turn ; " what news from the Canadas ? Is
the Queen dead, or has she restored the colony
to the United Provinces ?"

" Mam selle Alide P exclaimed, or rather
groaned Franois.

" The poor dumb beast !" muttered Euclid.

The knives and the forks fell from the hands
of Myndert and his guest as it were by a si
multaneous paralysis. The latter involuntarily
arose, while the former planted his solid person
still more firmly in its seat, like one who was
preparing to meet some severe and expected
shock with all the physical resolution he could
muster.

"What of my niece? What of my geld
ings ? You have called upon Dinah ?"



286 THE WATER WITCH.

" Sans doute. Monsieur."
" And you kept the keys of the stable P 1
" I nebber let him go at all."
" And you bade her call her mistress ?"
" She no make answair, du tout."
" The animals were fed and watered as I
ordered ?"

" Em nebber take he food better."
" You entered the chamber of my niece your
self to awake her ?"
" Monsieur a raison."

" What the devil has befallen the innocent?"
" He lose he stomach quite, and I fink it
great time fore it ebber come back."

" Mister Francis, I desire to know the answer
of Monsieur Barberie s daughter ?"

"Mam selle no repond, Monsieur; pas un
syllabe!"

" Drenchers and fleams ! The beauty should
have been drenched and blooded."

" He m too late for dal, Masser, on honour."
" The obstinate hussy ! This comes of her



THE WATER WITCH. 287

Huguenot breed, a race that would quit house
and lands rather than change its place of wor
ship."

" La famille de Barberie est honorable. Mon
sieur, mais le grand monarque fut un peu trop
exigeant Vraiment, la dragonade etait mal
avisee, pour faire des chretiens !""

" Apoplexies and hurry ! you should have
sent for the farrier to administer to the sufferer,
thou black hound !"

" E m go for a butcher, Masser, to save he
skin, for he war too soon dead."

The word dead produced a sudden pause.
The preceding dialogue had been so rapid , and
question and answer, no less than the ideas of
the principal speaker, had got so confused, that,
for a moment, he was actually at a loss to un
derstand whether the last great debt of nature
had been paid by la Belle Barberie, or one of
the Flemish geldings. Until now, consternation
as well as the confusion of the interview, had



288 THE WATER WITCH.

constrained the Patroon to be silent, but be
profited by the breathing time to interpose.

" It is evident, Mr. Van Beverout," he said,
speaking with a tremor in the voice which be
trayed his own uneasiness, " that some unto
ward event has occurred. Perhaps the negro
and I had better retire, that you may question
Francis concerning that which hath befallen
Mademoiselle Barberie more at your leisure."

The Alderman was recalled from a profound
stupor by this gentlemanlike and considerate
proposal. He bowed his acknowledgments,
and permitted Mr. Van Staats to quit the room ;
but when Euclid would have followed, he signed
to the negro to remain.

" I may have occasion to question thee far
ther, 1 he said, in a voice that had lost most of
that compass and depth for which it was so
remarkable. " Stand there, sirrah, and be in
readiness to answer. And now, Mister Fran
cis, I desire to know why my niece declines
taking her breakfast with myself and my guest ?"



THE WATER WITCH. 289

" Mon Dieu, Monsieur, it is not possible y
repondre. Les sentiments des demoiselles are
nevair decides !"

" Go then, and say to her, that my senti
ments are decided to curtail certain bequests
and devises, which have consulted her interests
more than strict justice to others of my blood,
ay, and even of my name, might dictate."

" Monsieur y r^flechira. Mam selle Alide
be so young personne !"

" Old or young, my mind is made up ; and
so to your Cour des Fees, and tell the lazy minx
as much. Thou hast ridden that innocent, thou
scowling imp of darkness !"

" Mais, pensez-y, je vous en prie, Monsieur.
Mam selle shall nevair se sauver encore ; jamais,
je vous en repond."

if What is the fellow jabbering about !" ex
claimed the Alderman, whose mouth fell nearly
to the degree that rendered the countenance of
the valet so singularly expressive of distress.

VOL. i. o



290 THE WATER WITCH.

61 Where is my niece, Sir ? and what means this
allusion to her absence ?"

" La fille de Monsieur de Barberie n?y est
pas!" cried Fran9ois, whose heart was too
full to utter more. The aged and affectionate
domestic laid his hand on his breast, with an
air of acute suffering, and then remembering the
presence of his superior, he turned, bowed
with a manner of profound condolence, strug
gled manfully with his own emotion, and suc
ceeded in getting out of the room with dignity
and steadiness.

It is due to the character of Alderman Van
Beverout to say, that the blow occasioned by
the sudden death of the Flemish gelding, lost
some of its force, in consequence of so unlook-
ed for a report concerning the inexplicable
absence of his niece. Euclid was questioned,
menaced and even anathematized, more than once,
during the next ten minutes, but the cunning
slave succeeded in confounding himself so ef
fectually with the rest of his connections of the



THE WATER WITCH. 291

half blood, during the search which instantly
followed the report of Fran9ois, that his crime
was partially forgotten.

On entering la Cour des Fees it was, in
truth, found to want her, whose beauty and
grace had lent its chief attraction. The outer
rooms, which were small, and ordinarily occu
pied during the day by Francois and the negress
called Dinah, and in the night by the latter only,
were in the state in which they might be ex
pected to be seen. The apartment of the attend
ant furnished evidence that its occupant had
quitted it in haste, though there was every ap
pearance of her having retired to rest at the
usual hour. Clothes were scattered carelessly
about, and though most of her personal effects
had disappeared, enough remained to prove
that her departure had been hurried and un
foreseen.

On the other hand, the little saloon, with the
dressing-room and bed-room of la Belle Barberie
were in a state of the most studied arrangement.



292 THE WATER WITCH.

Not an article of furniture was displaced, a door
ajar, or a window open. The pavilion had
evidently been quitted by its ordinary passage,
and the door had been closed, in the customary
manner, without using the fastenings. The bed
had evidently not been entered, for the linen
was smooth and untouched. In short, so com
plete was the order of the place, that yielding
to a powerful natural feeling, the Alderman called
aloud on his truant niece, by name, as if he
expected to see her appear from some place in
which she had secreted her person in idle
sport. But ttuV touching expedient was vain.
The voice sounded hollow through the deserted
rooms, and though all waited long to listen,
there came no playful or laughing answer
back.

" Alida !" cried the burgher, for the fourth and
last time, " come forth, child ; I forgive thee thy
idle sport, and all I have said of disinheritance
was but a jest. Come forth, my sister s daugh
ter, and kiss thy old uncle !"



THE WATEB WITCH. 2Q3

The Patroon turned aside, as he heard a
man so known for his worldliness yielding to
the power of nature, and the lord of a hundred
thousand acres forgot his own disappointment,
in the force of sympathy.

" Let us retire," he said, gently urging the
burgher to quit the place. " A little reflection
will enable us to decide what should be done."

The Alderman complied. Before quitting
the place, however, its closets and drawers
were examined, and the search left no further
doubts of the step which the young heiress had
taken. Her clothes, books, utensils for draw
ing, and even the lighter instruments of music,
had disappeared.



294 THE WATER WITCH.



CHAPTER XIIL



" Ay, that way goes the game,

Now I perceive that she hath made compare

Between our statures."

Midsummer Night s Dream.



THE tide of existence floats downward, and
with it go, in their greatest strength, all those
affections that unite families and kindred. We
learn to know our parents in the fulness of their
reason, and commonly in the perfection of their
bodily strength. Reverence and respect, both
mingle with our love ; but the affection with
which we watch the helplessness of infancy, the
interest with which we see the ingenuous and



THE WATER WITCH. 295

young profiting by our care, the pride of im
provement, and the magic of hope, create an in
tensity of sympathy in their favour, that almost
equals the identity of self-love. There is a
mysterious and double existence in the tie that
binds the parent to the child. With a volition
and passions of its own, the latter has power
to plant a sting in the bosom of the former, that
shall wound as acutely as the errors which arise
from mistakes, almost from crimes, of its own.
But, when the misconduct of the descendant
can be traced to neglect, or to a vicious instruc
tion, then, indeed, even the pang of a wounded
conscience may be added to the sufferings of
those who have gone before. Such, in some
measure, was the nature of the pain that Alder
man Van Beverout was condemned to feel,
when at leisure to reflect on the ill-judged
measure that had been taken by la Belle
Barberie.

" She was a pleasant and coaxing minx, Pat-
roon," said the burgher, pacing the room they



296 THE WATER WITCH.

occupied with a quick and heavy step, and
speaking unconsciously of his niece, as of one
already beyond the interests of life, " and as
wilful and headstrong as an unbroken colt.
Thou hard-riding imp ! I shall never find a
match for the poor disconsolate survivor. But
the girl had a thousand agreeable and delightful
ways with her, that made her the delight of my
old days. She has not done wisely to desert
the friend and guardian of her youth, ay, even
of her childhood, in order to seek protection
from strangers. This is an unhappy world,
Mr. Van Staats ! All our calculations come to
nought, and it is in the power of Fortune to re
verse the most reasonable and wisest of our
expectations. A gale of wind drives the richly
freighted ship to the bottom, a sudden fall in
the markets robs us of our gold, as the Novem
ber wind strips the oak of its leaves ; and bank
ruptcies and decayed credit often afflict the days
of the oldest houses, as disease saps the strength
of the body. Alida ! Alida ! thou has wounded



THE WATER WITCH.

one that never harmed thee, and rendered my
age miserable !"

" It is vain to contend with the inclinations,"
returned the proprietor of the manor, sighing in
a manner that did no discredit to the sincerity
of his remark. " I could have been happy to
have placed your niece in the situation that my
respected mother filled with so much dignity
and credit, but it is now too late "

" We don t know that ; we don t know
that," interrupted the Alderman, who still clung
to the hope of effecting the first great wish of
his heart, with the pertinacity with which he
would have clung to the terms of any other
fortunate bargain ; "we should never despair,
Mr. Van Staats, as long as the transaction is left
open."

" The manner in which Mademoiselle Barbe-
rie has expressed her preference, is so very de
cided, that I see no hope of completing the
arrangement."

" Mere coquetry, Sir, mere coquetry ! The
o3



298 THE WATER WITCH.

girl has disappeared, in order to enhance the
value of her future submission. One should
never regard a treaty at an end, so long as rea
sonable hopes remain that it may be productive
to the parties. 1 ?

" I fear, Sir, there is more of the coquette in
this step of the young lady, than a gentleman
can overlook," returned the Patroon, a little
drily, and with far more point than he was ac
customed to use. " If the commander of her
Majesty s cruiser be not a happy man, he will
not have occasion to reproach his mistress with
disdain!"

" I am not certain, Mr. Van Staats, that in
the actual situation of our stipulations I ought
to overlook an inuendo that seems to reflect on
the discretion of my ward. Captain Ludlow
Well, sirrah, what is the meaning of this imper
tinence ?"

" He m waiting to see Masser," returned the
gaping Erasmus, who stood with the door in his
hand, admiring the secret intelligence of his



THE WATER WITCH. 299

master, who had so readily anticipated his
errand.

" Who is waiting ! What does the simple
ton mean ?"

" I mean, a gentle um Masser say. 1

" The fortunate man is here to remind us of
his success," haughtily observed Van Staats of
Kinderhook. " There can be no necessity of
my presence at an interview between Alderman
Van Beverout and his nephew."

The justly mortified Patroon bowed ceremo
niously to the equally disappointed burgher, and
left the room the moment he had done speaking.
The negro took his retreat as a favourable
symptom for one who was generally known to
be his rival, and he hastened to inform the
young captain that the coast was clear.

The meeting that instantly succeeded was
sufficiently constrained and awkward. Alder
man Van Beverout assumed a manner of offend
ed authority and wounded affection, while the
officer of the Queen wore an air of compelled



300 THE WATER WITCH.

submission to a duty that he found to be dis
agreeable. The introduction of the discourse
was consequently ceremonious, and punctiliously
observant of courtesy.

" It has become my office," continued Lud-
low, after the preliminaries had been observed,
" to express the surprise I feel, that a vessel of
the exceedingly equivocal appearance of the
brigantine that is anchored in the cove, should
be found in a situation to create unpleasant sus
picions concerning the commercial propriety of
a merchant, so well known as Mr. Alderman
Van Beverout.""

" The credit of Myndert Van Beverout is too
well established, Captain Cornelius Ludlow, to
be affected by the accidental position of ships
and bays. I see two vessels anchored near the
Lust in Rust, and if called upon to give my
testimony before the Queen in council, I should
declare that the one which wears her royal
pendant had done more wrong to her subjects



THE WATER WITCH. 301

than the stranger. But what harm is known of
the latter ?"

" I shall not conceal any of the facts, for I
feel that this is a case in which a gentleman of
your station has the fullest right to the benefit
of explanations "

" Hem " interrupted the burgher, who dis
liked the manner in which his companion had
opened the interview, and who thought he saw
the commencement of a forced compromise in
the turn it was taking " Hem I commend
your moderation, Captain Ludlow. Sir, we are
flattered in having a native of the province in so
honourable a command on the coast. Be seated,
I pray you, young gentleman, that we may con
verse more at leisure. The Ludlows are an


ancient and well established family in the colo
nies, and though they were no friends of King
Charles, why we have others here in the same
predicament. There are few crowns in Europe
that might not trace some of their discontented
subjects to these colonies, and the greater the



302 THE WATER WITCH.

reason, say I, why we should not be too hasty
in giving faith to the wisdom of this European
legislation. I do not pretend. Sir, to admire
all the commercial regulations which flow from
the wisdom of her Majesty s counsellors. Can
dour forbids that I should deny this truth but
what of the brigantine in the cove ?"

" It is not necessary to tell one so familiar
with the affairs of commerce, of the character of
a vessel called the Water Witch, nor of that of
its lawless commander, the notorious Skimmer
of the Seas."

" Captain Ludlow is not about to accuse Al
derman Van Beverout of a connection with such
a man !" exclaimed the burgher, rising as it
were involuntarily, and actually recoiling a foot
or two, apparently under the force of indigna
tion and surprise.

" Sir, I am not commissioned to accuse any
of the Queen s subjects. My duty is to guard
her interests on the water, to oppose her open
enemies, and to uphold her royal prerogatives."



THE WATER WITCH. 303

" An honourable employment, and one I
doubt not that is honourably discharged. Resume
your seat. Sir, for I foresee that the conference
is likely to end as it should between a son of the
late very respectable king s counsellor and his
father s friend. You have reason then for think
ing that this brigantine, which has so suddenly
appeared in the cove, has some remote connec
tion with the Skimmer of the Seas !"

66 I believe the vessel to be the famous Water
Witch itself, and her commander to be, of
course, that well-known adventurer.""

" Well, Sir well, Sir this may be so. It is
impossible for me to deny it ; but what should
such a reprobate be doing here, under the guns
of a Queen s cruiser?"

" Mr. Alderman, my admiration of your niece
is not unknown to you."

" I have suspected it, Sir, returned the
burgher, who believed the tenor of the compro
mise was getting clearer, but who still waited
to know the exact value of the concessions the



304 THE WATER WITCH.

other party would make, before he closed a
bargain in a hurry, of which he might repent
at his leisure " indeed, it has even been the
subject of some discourse between us."

" This admiration induced me to visit your
villa the past night "

" This is a fact too well established, young
gentleman/

" Whence I took away " Ludlow hesi
tated, as if anxious to select his words

" Alida Barberie."

" Alida Barberie!"

"Ay, Sir ; my niece, or perhaps I should say
my heiress, as well as the heiress of old Eti-
enne de Barberie. The cruise was short, Cap
tain Cornelius Ludlow, but the prize-money
will be ample unless indeed a claim to neutral
privileges should be established in favour of
part of the cargo !"

" Sir, your pleasantry is amusing, but I have
little leisure for its enjoyment. That I visited
the Cour des Fees shall not be denied. I think



THE WATER WITCH. 305

la Belle Barberie will not be offended, under the
circumstances, with this acknowledgment."

" If she is, the jade has a rare squeamishness,
after what has passed !"

" I pretend not to judge of more than my
duty. The desire to serve my royal mistress
had induced me, Mr. Van Beverout, to cause a
seaman of odd attire and audacious deportment
to enter the Coquette. You will know the man,
when I tell you he was your companion in the
island ferry-boat."

" Yes, yes, I confess there was a mariner of
the long voyage there, who caused much sur
prise and some uneasiness to myself and niece,
as well as to Van Staats of Kinderhook."

Ludlow smiled, like one not to be deceived,
as he continued,

" Well, Sir, this man so far succeeded as to
tempt me to suffer him to land, under the obli
gation of some half-extorted promise we came
into the river together, and entered your
grounds in company."



306 THE WATER WITCH.

Alderman Van Beverout now began to listen
like a man who dreaded, while he desired to
catch each syllable. Observing that Ludlow
paused, and watched his countenance with a
cool and steady eye, he recovered his self-com
mand, and affected a mere ordinary curiosity,
while he signed to him to proceed.

" I am not sure I tell Alderman Van Beverout
any thing that is new," resumed the young
officer, u when T add, that the fellow suffered
me to visit the pavilion, and then contrived to
lead me into an ambush of lawless men, having
previously succeeded in making captives of my
boat s crew."

" Seizures and warrants!"" exclaimed the
burgher, in his natural strong and hasty man
ner of speaking. " This is the first I have
heard of the affair. It was ill-judged, to call it
by no other term."

Ludlow seemed relieved, when he saw, by
the undisguised amazement of his companion,



THE WATER WITCH. 307

that the latter was in truth ignorant of the
manner in which he had been detained.

" It might not have been, Sir, had our watch
been as vigilant as their artifice was deep," he
continued. " But I was little guarded, and
having no means to reach my ship, I "

" Ay, ay. Captain Ludlow ; it is not neces
sary to be so circumstantial ; you proceeded to
the wharf, and "

" Perhaps, Sir, I obeyed my feelings, rather
than my duty," observed Ludlow, colouring
high, when he perceived that the burgher paus


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 13)