James Fenimore Cooper.

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

. (page 6 of 13)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that the commander hesitated. " Let the com
missioned officer of the Queen speak boldly; I
am no better than a top-man, or at most a quar
ter-master."

" I wish to say nothing disagreeable, but I
find your knowledge of my offer to convey the
lady and her friends to the residence of Alder
man Van Beverout, a little surprising."

66 And I see nothing to wonder at, in your
offer to convey the lady any where, though the
liberality to her friends is not an act of so clear
explanation. When young men speak from the
heart, their words are not uttered in whispers."

u Which would imply that you overheard our



THE WATER WITCH. 125

conversation. I believe it, for here is cover at
hand to conceal you. It may be. Sir, that you
have eyes as well as ears ?"

" I confess to have seen your countenance
changing sides, like a member of parliament
turning to a new leaf in his conscience at the
minister s signal, while you overhauled a bit of
paper "

" Whose contents you could not know ! "

" Whose contents I took to be some private
orders, given by a lady, who is too much of a
coquette herself to accept your offer to sail in a
vessel of the same name."

"By Heavens, the fellow has reason in his
inexplicable impudence !" muttered Ludlow,
pacing backward and forward beneath the sha
dow of the tree. " The language and the acts
of the girl are in contradiction, and I am a fool
to be trifled with, like a midshipman fresh
broken loose from his mother s apron string.
Harkee, Master a a You ve a name, I sup
pose, like any other straggler on the ocean?"



126 THE WATER WITCH.

" Yes. When the hail is loud enough to be
heard, I answer to the call of Thomas Tiller."

" Well then, Master Tiller, so clever a sea
man should be glad to serve the Queen."

" Were it not for duty to another, whose
claim comes first, nothing could be more agree
able than to lend a lady in distress a helping
hand."

" And who is he who may prefer a claim to
your services in competition with the Majesty
of these realms?" demanded Ludlow, with a
little of the pretension that, when speaking of
its privileges, is apt to distinguish the manner
of one who has been accustomed to regard roy
alty with reverence.

" Myself. When our affairs call us the same
way, no one can be readier than I, to keep her
Majesty s company ; but "

" This is presuming too far on the trifling of
a moment, 1 interrupted Ludlow. " You know,
Sirrah, that I have the right to command your
services, without entering into a parley for them ;



THE WATER WITCH. 127

and which, notwithstanding your gay appear
ance, may, after all, be little worth the trouble."

" There is no need to push matters to extre
mity between us, Captain Ludlow," resumed
the stranger, who had appeared to muse for a mo
ment. " If I have baffled your pursuit once to
day, it was perhaps to make my merit in enter
ing the ship freely, less undeniable. We are
here alone, and your honour will account it no
boasting, if I say that a man, well limbed and ac
tive, who stands six feet between plank and car-
line, is not likely to be led against his will, like
a yawl towing at the stern of a four-and-forty.
I am a seaman, Sir; and though the ocean is my
home, I never venture on it without sufficient
footing. Look abroad from this hill, and say
whether there is any craft in view, except the
cruiser of the Queen, which would be likely to
suit the taste of a mariner of the long voyage? 1

" By which you would have me understand
you are here in quest of service ?"

" Nothing less ; and though the opinion of a



128 THE WATER WITCH.

foremast Jack may be of little value, you will
not be displeased to hear that I might look
further without finding a prettier sea-boat, or
a swifter, than the one which sails under your
own orders. A seaman of your station, Captain
Ludlow, is not now to learn that a man speaks
differently, while his name is his own, and after
he has given it away to the crown, and therefore
I hope my present freedom will not be long re
membered."

" I have met men of your humour before,
my friend, and I have not now to learn that
a thorough man-of-wars-man is as impudent on
shore, as he is obedient afloat Is that a sail
in the offing, or is it the wing of a sea-fowl
glittering in the sun ?"

" It may be either," observed the audacious
mariner, turning his eye leisurely towards the
open ocean, " for we have a wide look-out from
this windy bluff. Here are gulls sporting above
the waves that turn their feathers towards the

light."



THE WATER WITCH. 129

.?-

" Look more seaward. That spot of shining
white should be the canvass of some craft, hover
ing in the offing !"

" Nothing more probable in so light a breeze.
Your coasters are in and out, like water-rats
on a wharf, at any hour of the twenty-four
and yet to me it seems the comb of a breaking
sea."

" Tis snow-white duck; such as your swift
rover wears on his loftier spars !"

" A duck that is flown," returned the stranger,
drily, et for it is no longer to be seen. These
fly-aways, Captain Ludlow, give us seamen
many sleepless nights and idle chases. I was
once running down the coast of Italy, between
the island of Corsica and the Main, when one of
these delusions beset the crew, in a manner
that hath taught me to put little faith in eyes,
unless backed by a clear horizon and a cool
head/

* I ll hear the circumstance," said Ludlow,
withdrawing his gaze from the distant ocean,
G 3



130 THE WATER WITCH.

t |

like one who was satisfied his senses had been
deceived. " What of this marvel of the Italian
seas ?"

" A marvel truly, as your honour will con
fess, when I read you the affair, much in the
words I had it logg d for the knowledge of
all concerned. It was the last hour of the
second dog-watch, on Easter Sunday, with the
wind here at south-east, easterly. A light air
filled the upper canvass, and just gave us com
mand of the ship. The mountains of Corsica,
with Monte Christo and Elba, had all been
sunk some hours, and we were on the yards,
keeping a look-out for a land-fall on the Roman
coast. A low thick bank of drifting fog lay
along the sea, in-shore of us, which all be
lieved to be the sweat of the land, and thought
no more of; though none wished to enter it,
for that is a coast where foul airs rise, and
through which the gulls and land-birds refuse
to fly. Well, here we lay, the mainsail in
the brails, the topsails beating the mast heads,



THE WATER WITCH. 131

like a maiden fanning herself when she sees
her lover, and nothing full but the upper duck,
with the sun fairly below the water in the wes
tern board. I was then young, and quick of
eye as of foot, and therefore among the first to
see the sight!"

" Which was ?" said Ludlow, interested in
spite of his assumed air of indifference.

" Why, here just above the bank of foul air,
that ever rests on that coast, there was seen
an object that looked like ribs of bright light,
as if a thousand stars had quitted their usual
berths in the heaven, to warn us off the land
by a supernatural beacon. The sight was in
itself altogether out of nature and surprising.
As the night thickened it grew brighter and
more glowing, as if twere meant in earnest to
warn us from the coast. But when the word
was passed to send the glasses aloft, there was
seen a glittering cross on high, and far above
the spars on which earthly ships carry their
private signals."



132 THE WATER WITCH.

" This was indeed extraordinary ! And what
did you, to come at the character of the heavenly
symbol ?"

" We wore off shore, and left it a clear
berth, for bolder mariners. Glad enough was I
to see, with the morning sun, the snowy hills of
Corsica again !"

" And the appearance of that object was
never explained ?"

" Nor ever will be. I have since spoke with
the mariners of that sea concerning the sight,
but never found any who could pretend to
have seen it. There was indeed one bold
enough to say there is a church far inland, of
height and magnitude sufficient to be seen some
leagues at sea, and that, favoured by our position
and the mists that hung above the low grounds,
we had seen its upper works looming above the
fogs, and lighted for some brilliant ceremony ;
but we were all too old in seamen s experience
to credit so wild a tale. I know not but a church
may loom as well as a hill or a ship ; but he who



THE WATER WITCH. J 33

pretends to say that the hands of man can thus
pile stones among the clouds, should be certain
of believers, ere he pushes the tale too far."

" Your narrative is extraordinary, and the
marvel should have been looked into closer. It
may truly have been a church, for there stands
an edifice at Rome, which towers to treble the
height of a cruiser s masts."

" Having rarely troubled churches, I know
not why a church should trouble me," said
the mariner of the sash, while he turned his
back on the ocean, as if indisposed to regard
the waste of water longer. " It is now twelve
years since that sight was seen, and though a
seaman of many voyages, my eyes have not
looked upon the Roman coast from that hour
to this. Will your honour lead the way from
the bluff, as becomes your rank ?"

" Your tale of the burning cross and looming
church, Master Tiller, had almost caused me
to forget to watch the movements of yon
periagua/ returned Ludlow, who still continued



134 THE WATER WITCH.

to face the bay. " That obstinate old Dutch
man I say, Sir, that Mr. Alderman Van
Beverout has greater confidence in this de
scription of craft than I feel myself. I like
not the looks of yonder cloud, which is rising
from out the mouth of Rariton; and here,
seaward, we have a gloomy horizon. By Hea
ven, there is a sail playing in the offing, or my
eye hath lost its use and judgment."

" Your honour sees the wing of the sporting
gull, again ; it had been nigh to deceive my
sight, which would be to cheat the look-out
of a man that has the advantage of some ten
or fifteen years more practice in marine ap
pearances. I remember once, when beating in
among the islands of the China seas, with the
trades here at south-east"

" Enough of your marvels, friend ; the church
is as much as I can swallow in one morning.
It may have been a gull ! for I confess the
object small ; yet it had the steadiness and size
of a distant sail ! There is some reason to



THE WATER WITCH. 135

expect one on our coast, for whom a bright
and seaman s watch must be had."

" This may then leave me a choice of ships, 1
rejoined Tiller. " I thank your honour for having
spoken before I had given myself away to the
Queen, who is a lady that is much more apt to
receive gifts of this nature, than to return them.""

u If your respect aboard shall bear any pro
portion to your hardihood on shore, you may
be accounted a model of civility ! But a
mariner of your pretension, should have some
regard to the character of the vessel in which
he takes service."

" That of which your honour spoke, is then
a buccaneer ?"

" If not a buccaneer, one but little better.
A lawless trader, under the most favourable
view ; and there are those who think that he
who has gone so far, has not stopped short of
the end. But the reputation of the Skimmer
of the Seas must be known to one who has
navigated the ocean long as you. 1



136 THE WATER WITCH.

" You will overlook the curiosity of a sea-
taring man, in a matter of his profession,"
returned the mariner of the sash, with strong
and evident interest in his manner. " I am
lately from a distant ocean, and though many
tales of the buccaneers of the islands have
been narrated, I do not remember to have
heard of that rover, before his name came
into the discourse between me and the schipper
of the boat that plies between this landing
and the city. I am not altogether what I seem,
Captain Ludlow ; arid when further acquaint
ance and hard service shall have brought me
more before the eyes of my commander, he
may not repent having induced a thorough
seaman, to enter his ship, by a little conde
scension and good nature shewn while the man
was still his own master. Your honour will
take no offence at my boldness, when I tell
you, I shall be glad to know more of this
unlawful trader."

Ludlow rivetted his eyes on the unmoved



THE WATER WITCH. 137

and manly countenance of his companion. There
was a vague and undefined suspicion in the
look, but it vanished as the practised organs
drunk in the assurance, which so much physical
promise afforded, of the aid of a bold and
active mariner. Rather amused than offended
by the freedom of the request, he turned upon
his heel, and as they descended the bluff, on
their way towards the place of landing, he
continued the dialogue.

" You are truly from a distant ocean," said
the young captain of the Coquette, smiling
like a man who apologizes to himself for an act
of what he thought undue condescension, " if
the exploits of a brigantine known by the name
of the Water-Witch, and of him who com
mands her, under the fit appellation of the
6 Skimmer of the Seas, have not yet reached
your ears. It is now five summers since orders
have been in the colonies for the cruisers to
be on the alert to hunt the picaroon, and it
is even said, the daring smuggler has often



138 THE WATER WITCH.

braved the pennants of the narrow seas. T would
be a bigger ship, if not knighthood, to the
lucky officer who should catch the knave !"

" He must drive a money-gaining trade to
run these risks, and to brave the efforts of so
many skilful gentlemen ! May I add to a pre
sumption that your honour already finds too
bold, if one may judge by a displeased eye, by
asking if report speaks to the face and other
particulars of the person of this free-trader,
one must call him, though freebooter should
be a better word ?"

" What matters the personal condition of a
rogue ?" said Captain Ludlow, who perhaps re
membered that the freedom of their inter
course had been carried as far as comported
with prudence.

" What matter truly ! I asked because the
description answers a little to that of a man I
once knew in the seas of farther India, and
who has long since disappeared, though no
one can say whither he has gone. But this



THE WATER WITCH. r 139

Skimmer of the Seas is some Spaniard of the
Main, or perhaps a Dutchman come from the
country that is a-wash, in order to taste of
terra tirma ?"

" Spaniard of the southern coast never car
ried so bold a sail in these seas, nor was
there ever known a Dutchman with so light a
heel. The fellow is said to laugh at the
swiftest cruiser out of England ! As to his
figure, I have heard little good of it. Tis
said he is some soured officer of better days,
who has quitted the intercourse of honest men,
because roguery is so plainly written on his
face, that he vainly tries to hide it."

" Mine was a proper man, and one that need
not have been ashamed to shew his countenance
among his fellows," said he of the sash. " This
cannot be the same, if indeed there be any on
the coast. Is t known, your honour, that the
man is truly here ?"

" So goes a rumour ; though so many idle
tales have led me before to seek the smuggler



THE WATER WITCH.

where he was not, that I give but little faith
to the report. The periagua has the wind
more at west, and the cloud in the mouth of
the Rariton is breaking into scud. The Al
derman will have a lucky run of it !"

" And the gulls have gone more seaward,
a certain sign of pleasant weather," returned
the other, glancing a quick but keen look
over the horizon in the offing. " I believe our
rover, with his light duck, has taken flight
among them !"

66 We will then go in pursuit. My ship is
bound to sea, and it is time, Master Tiller,
that I know in what berth you are willing to
serve the Queen ?"

u God bless her Majesty ! Anne is a royal
lady, and she had a Lord High Admiral for
her husband. As for a berth, Sir, one always
wishes to be captain, even though he may be
compelled to eat his rations in the lee scup
pers. I suppose the first lieutenancy is filled
to your honour s liking ?"



THE WATER WITCH.

" Sirrah, this is trifling ; one of your years
and experience need not be told, that commis
sions are obtained by service."

" Under favour, I confess the error. Cap
tain Ludlow, you are a man of honour, and will
not deceive a sailor, who puts trust in your word."

" Sailor or landsman, he is safe who has
the gage."

" Then, Sir, I ask it. Suffer me to enter
your ship ; to look into my future messmates,
and to judge of their characters; to see if the
vessel suits my humour; and then to quit her,
if I find it convenient."

" Fellow r said Ludlow, " this impudence
almost surpasseth patience !"

" The request is reasonable, as can be shown ;"
gravely returned the unknown mariner. " Now,
Captain Ludlow, of the Coquette, would gladly
tie himself, for better for worse to a fair lady
who is lately gone on the water, and yet there
are thousands who might be had with less
difficulty."



142 THE WATER WITCH.

" Still deeper and deeper in thy effrontery
and what if this be true ?"

" Sir, a ship is a seaman s mistress nay,
when fairly under a pennant, with a war de
clared, he may be said to be wedded to her,
lawfully or not. He becomes bone of her
bone, and flesh of her flesh, until death doth
them part. 1 To such a long compact, there
should be liberty of choice. Has not your
mariner a taste, as well as your lover? The
harpings and counter of his ship are the waist
and shoulders : the rigging, the ringlets ; the
cut and fit of the sails, the fashion of the
millinery ; the guns are always called the teeth,
and her paint, is the blush and bloom! Here
is matter of choice, Sir, and without leave to
make it, I must wish your honour a happy
cruise, and the Queen a better servitor."

" Why, Master Tiller," cried Ludlow, laugh
ing, u you trust too much to these stunted oaks,
if you believe it exceeds my power to hunt
you out of their cover, at pleasure. But I



THE WATER WITCH. 143

take you at your word. The Coquette shall
receive you on these conditions, and with the
confidence that a first-rate city belle would
enter a country ball-room."

6< I follow in your honour s wake, without
more words," returned he of the sash, for the
first time respectfully raising his canvass cap
to the young commander. " Though not
actually married, consider me a man betrothed."

It is not necessary to pursue the discourse
between the two seamen any further. It was
maintained, and with sufficient freedom on the
part of the inferior, until they reached the shore,
and came in full view of the pennant of the
Queen, when, with the tact of an old man-of-
war Vm an, he threw into his manner all the
respect that was usually required by the diffe
rence of rank.

Half an hour later the Coquette was rolling
at a single anchor, as the puffs of wind came
off the hills on her three topsails, and shortly
after she was seen standing through the Nar-



144 THE WATER WITCH.

rows, with a fresh south-westerly breeze. In
all these movements there was nothing to attract
attention. Notwithstanding the sarcastic allu
sions of Alderman Van Beverout, the cruiser
was far from being idle, and her passage out
ward was a circumstance of so common occur
rence, that it excited no comment among the
boatmen, of the bay, and the coasters who alone
witnessed her departure.



THE WATER WITCH. 145



CHAPTER VII.



" I am no pilot ; yet, wert thou as far

As that vast shore wash d with the furthest sea,

I would adventure for such merchandize."

Romeo and Juliet.

A HAPPY mixture of land and water, seen
by a bright moon, and beneath the sky of the
fortieth degree of latitude, cannot fail to make
a pleasing picture. Such was the landscape
which the reader must now endeavour to pre
sent to his mind.

The wide estuary of Rariton is shut in
from the winds and billows of the open sea, by
a long, low and narrow cape, or point, which

VOL. i. H



146 THE WATER WITCH.

by a medley of the Dutch and English languages,
that is by no means rare in the names of places
that lie within the former territories of the
United Provinces of Holland, is known by the
name of Sandy-Hook. This tongue of land
appears to have been made by the unremitting
and opposing actions of the waves, on one
side ; and of the currents of the different rivers
that empty their waters into the bay, on the
other. It is commonly connected with the low
coast of New Jersey, to the south ; but there
are periods of many years in succession, during
which there exists an inlet from the sea, between
what may be termed the inner end of the cape,
and the main land. During these periods Sandy-
Hook of course becomes an island. Such was
the fact at the time of which it is our business
to write.

The outer, or ocean side of this low and
narrow bank of sand, is a smooth and regular
beech, like that seen on most of the Jersey
coast, while the inner is indented, in a manner



THE WATER WITCH. 14*7

to form several convenient anchoring grounds
for ships that seek a shelter from easterly gales.
One of the latter is a circular and pretty cove,
in which vessels of a light draught are com
pletely embayed, and where they may in safety
ride secure from any winds that blow. The
harbour, or, as it is always called, the cove, lies
at the point where the cape joins the main, and
the inlet just named communicates directly with
its waters, whenever the passage is open. The
Shrewsbury, a river of the fourth or fifth class,
or in other words a stream of a few hundred
feet in width, and of no great length, comes
from the south, running nearly parallel with
the coast, and becomes a tributary of the bay,
also at a point near the cove. Between the
Shrewsbury and the sea, the land resembles
that on the cape, being low and sandy, though
not entirely without fertility. It is covered
with a modest growth of pines and oaks, where
it is not either subject to the labours of the
husbandman, or in natural meadow. But the



148 THE WATER WITCH.

western bank of the river is an abrupt and
high acclivity, which rises to the elevation of a
mountain. It was near the base of the latter
that Alderman Van Beverout, for reasons that
may be more fully developed as we proceed in
our tale, had seen fit to erect his villa, which,
agreeably to a usage of Holland, he had called
the Lust in Rust ; an appellation that the
merchant, who had read a few of the classics
in his boyhood, was wont to say meant nothing
more nor less than otium cum dignitate. 1

If a love of retirement and a pure air had
its influence in determining the selection of
the burgher of Manhattan, he could not have
made a better choice. The adjoining lands
had been occupied early in the previous cen
tury by a respectable family of the name of
Hartshorne, which continues seated at the
place to the present hour. The extent of their
possessions served at that day to keep others at
a distance. If to this fact be added the forma
tion and quality of the ground, which was at so



THE WATER WITCH. 149

early a period of trifling value for agricultural
purposes, it will be seen there was as little
motive as there was opportunity for strangers to
intrude. As to the air, it was refreshed by the
breezes of the ocean, which was scarcely a mile
distant, while it had nothing to render it un
healthy or impure. With this sketch of the
general features of the scene where so many of
our incidents occurred, we shall proceed to des
cribe the habitation of the Alderman a little more
in detail.

The villa of the Lust in Rust was a low,
irregular edifice, in bricks, whitewashed to the
colour of the driven snow, and in a taste that
was altogether Dutch. There were many gables
and weather cocks, a dozen small and twisted
chimneys, with numberless facilities that were
intended for the nests of storks. These airy
sites were, however, untenanted, to the great
admiration of the honest architect, who, like
many others that bring with them into this
hemisphere habits and opinions that are better



150 THE WATER WITCH.

suited to the other, never ceased expressing his
surprise on the subject, though all the negroes
of the neighbourhood united in affirming there
was no such bird in America. In front of the
house there was a narrow, but an exceedingly
neat lawn, encircled by shrubbery ; while two
old elms, that seemed coeval with the mountain,
grew in the rich soil of which the base of the
latter was composed. Nor was there a want of
shade on any part of the natural terrace that


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 13)