The Water-Witch or, The Skimmer of the Seas
James Fenimore Cooper
Part 4 out of 9
"God save you, Sir!"
"And you, Sir; you are welcome.
"Travel you, Sir, or are you at the furthest?"
Taming of the Shrew.
If the exterior of the brigantine was so graceful in form and so singular
in arrangement, the interior was still more worthy of observation. There
were two small cabins beneath the main-deck, one on each side of, and
immediately adjoining, the limited space that was destined to receive her
light but valuable cargoes. It was into one of these that Tiller had
descended, like a man who freely entered into his own apartment; but
partly above, and nearer to the stern, were a suite of little rooms that
were fitted and furnished in a style altogether different. The equipments
were those of a yacht, rather than those which might be supposed suited to
the pleasures of even the most successful dealer in contraband.
The principal deck had been sunken several feet, commencing at the
aftermost bulk-head of the cabins of the subordinate officers, in a manner
to give the necessary height, without interfering with the line of the
brigantine's shear. The arrangement was consequently not to be seen, by an
observer who was not admitted into the vessel itself. A descent of a step
or two, however, brought the visiters to the level of the cabin-floor and
into an ante-room that was evidently fitted for the convenience of the
domestics. A small silver hand-bell lay on a table, and Tiller rung it
lightly, like one whose ordinary manner was restrained by respect. It was
answered by the appearance of a boy, whose years could not exceed ten, and
whose attire was so whimsical as to merit description.
The material of the dress of this young servitor of Neptune, was a light
rose-colored silk, cut in a fashion to resemble the habits formerly worn
by pages of the great. His body was belted by a band of gold, a collar of
fine thread lace floated on his neck and shoulders, and even his feet were
clad in a sort of buskins, that were ornamented with fringes of real lace
and tassels of bullion. The form and features of the child were delicate,
and his air as unlike as possible to the coarse and brusque manner of a
"Waste and prodigality!" muttered the Alderman, when this extraordinary
little usher presented himself, in answer to the summons of Tiller. "This
is the very wantonness of cheap goods and an unfettered commerce! There is
enough of Mechlin, Patroon, on the shoulders of that urchin, to deck the
stomacher of the Queen. 'Fore George, goods were cheap in the market, when
the young scoundrel had his livery!"
The surprise was not confined, however, to the observant and frugal
burgher. Ludlow and Van Staats of Kinderhook manifested equal amazement,
though their wonder was exhibited in a less characteristic manner. The
former turned short to demand the meaning of this masquerade, when he
perceived that the hero of the India-shawl had disappeared. They were then
alone with the fantastic page, and it became necessary to trust to his
intelligence for directions how to proceed.
"Who art thou, child?--and who has sent thee hither?" demanded Ludlow.
The boy raised a cap of the same rose-colored silk, and pointed to an
image of a female, with a swarthy face and a malign smile, painted, with
exceeding art, on its front.
"I serve the sea-green lady, with the others of the brigantine."
"And who is this lady of the color of shallow water, and whence come you,
"This is her likeness--if you would speak with her, she stands on the
cut-water, and rarely refuses an answer."
"'Tis odd that a form of wood should have the gift of speech!"
"Dost think her then of wood?" returned the child, looking timidly, and
yet curiously, up into the face of Ludlow. "Others have said the same; but
those who know best, deny it. She does not answer with a tongue, but the
book has always something to say."
"Here is a grievous deception practised on the superstition of this boy! I
have read the book, and can make but little of its meaning."
"Then read again. 'Tis by many reaches that the leeward vessel gains upon
the wind. My master has bid me bring you in--"
"Hold--Thou hast both master and mistress?--You have told us of the
latter, but we would know something of the former. Who is thy master?"
The boy smiled and looked aside, as if he hesitated to answer.
"Nay, refuse not to reply. I come with the authority of the Queen."
"He tells us that the sea-green lady is our Queen and that we have no
"Rashness and rebellion!" muttered Myndert: "but this foolhardiness will
one day bring as pretty a brigantine as ever sailed in the narrow seas, to
condemnation; and then will there be rumors abroad, and characters
cracked, till every lover of gossip in the Americas shall be tired of
"It is a bold subject, that dares say this!" rejoined Ludlow, who heeded
not the by-play of the Alderman; "Your master has a name?"
"We never hear it. When Neptune boards us, under the tropics, he always
hails the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' and then they answer. The old God knows
us well, for we pass his latitude oftener than other ships, they say."
"You are then a cruiser of some service, in the brigantine--no doubt you
have trod many distant shores, belonging to so swift a craft."
"I!--I never was on the land!" returned the boy, thoughtfully. "It must be
droll to be there; they say, one can hardly walk, it is so steady! I put a
question to the sea-green lady before we came to this narrow inlet, to
know when I was to go ashore."
"And she answered?"
"It was some time, first. Two watches were past before a word was to be
seen; but at last I got the lines. I believe she mocked me, though I have
never dared show it to my master, that he might say."
"Hast the words, here?--perhaps we might assist thee, as there are some
among us who know most of the sea-paths."
The boy looked timidly and suspiciously around, and thrusting a hand
hurriedly into a pocket, he drew forth two bits of paper, each of which
contained a scrawl, and both of which had evidently been much thumbed and
"Here," he said, in a voice that was suppressed nearly to a whisper. "This
was on the first page. I was so frightened, lest the lady should be angry,
that I did not look again till the next watch; and then," turning the
leaf, "I found this."
Ludlow took the bit of paper first offered, and read, written in a
child's hand, the following extract:
"I pray thee
Remember, I have done thee worthy service;
Told thee no lies, made no mistakings, serv'd
Without or grudge or grumblings."
"I thought that 'twas in mockery," continued the boy, when he saw by the
eye of the young captain that he had read the quotation; 'for 'twas very
like, though more prettily worded, than that which I had said, myself!"
"And that was the second answer?"
"This was found in the first morning-watch," the child returned, reading
the second extract himself:
It much to tread the ooze of the salt deep,
And run upon the sharp wind of the north!"
"I never dared to ask again. But what matters that? They say, the ground
is rough and difficult to walk on; that earthquakes shake it, and make
holes to swallow cities; that men slay each other on the highways for
money, and that the houses I see on the hills must always remain in the
same spot. It must be very melancholy to live always in the same spot; but
then it must be odd, never to feel a motion!"
"Except the occasional rocking of an earthquake. Thou art better afloat,
child;--but thy master, this Skimmer of the Seas----"
"--Hist!" whispered the boy, raising a finger for silence. "He has come up
into the great cabin. In a moment, we shall have his signal to enter."
"A few light touches on the strings of a guitar followed, and then a
symphony was rapidly and beautifully executed, by one in the adjoining
"Alida, herself, is not more nimble-fingered," whispered the Alderman;
"and I never heard the girl touch the Dutch lute, that cost a hundred
Holland guilders, with a livelier movement!"
Ludlow signed for silence. A fine, manly voice, of great richness and
depth, was soon heard, singing to an accompaniment on the same instrument.
The air was grave, and altogether unusual for the social character of one
who dwelt upon the ocean, being chiefly in recitative. The words, as near
as might be distinguished, ran as follows:
Just in thy mould, and beauteous in thy form,
Gentle in roll, and buoyant on the surge,
Light as the sea-fowl, rocking in the storm,
In breeze and gale, thy onward course we urge;
Lady of mine!
More light and swift than thou, none thread the sea,
With surer keel, or steadier on its path;
We brave each waste of ocean-mystery,
And laugh to hear the howling tempest's wrath!
For we are thine!
Trust to the mystic power that points thy way,
Trust to the eye that pierces from afar,
Trust the red meteors that around thee play,
And fearless trust the sea-green lady's star;
Thou bark divine!
"He often sings thus," whispered the boy, when the song was ended; "for
they say, the sea-green lady loves music that tells of the ocean, and of
her power.--Hark! he has bid me enter."
"He did but touch the strings of the guitar, again, boy."
"'Tis his signal, when the weather is fair. When we have the whistling of
the wind, and the roar of the water, then he has a louder call."
Ludlow would have gladly listened longer; but the boy opened a door, and,
pointing the way to those he conducted, he silently vanished himself,
behind a curtain.
The visiters, more particularly the young commander of the Coquette, found
new subjects of admiration and wonder, on entering the main cabin of the
brigantine. The apartment, considering the size of the vessel, was
spacious and high. It received light from a couple of windows in the
stern, and it was evident that two smaller rooms, one on each of the
quarters, shared with it in this advantage. The space between these
state-rooms, as they are called in nautical language, necessarily formed a
deep alcove, which might be separated from the outer portion of the cabin,
by a curtain of crimson damask, that now hung in festoons from a beam
fashioned into a gilded cornice. A luxuriously-looking pile of cushions,
covered with red morocco, lay along the transom, in the manner of an
eastern divan; and against the bulk-head of each state-room, stood an
agrippina of mahogany, that was lined with the same material. Neat and
tasteful cases for books were suspended, here and there; and the guitar
which had so lately been used, lay on a small table of some precious wood,
that occupied the centre of the alcove. There were also other implements,
like those which occupy the leisure of a cultivated but perhaps an
effeminate rather than a vigorous mind, scattered around, some evidently
long neglected, and others appearing to have been more recently in favor.
The outer portion of the cabin was furnished in a similar style, though it
contained many more of the articles that ordinarily belong to domestic
economy. It had its agrippina, its piles of cushions, its chairs of
beautiful wood, its cases for books, and its neglected instruments,
intermixed with fixtures of a more solid and permanent appearance, which
were arranged to meet the violent motion that was often unavoidable in so
small a bark. There was a slight hanging of crimson damask around the
whole apartment; and, here and there, a small mirror was let into the
bulk-heads and ceilings. All the other parts were of a rich mahogany,
relieved by panels of rose-wood, that gave an appearance of exquisite
finish to the cabin. The floor was covered with a mat of the finest
texture, and of a fragrance that announced both its freshness, and the
fact that the grass had been the growth of a warm and luxuriant climate.
The place, as was indeed the whole vessel, so far as the keen eye of
Ludlow could detect, was entirely destitute of arms, not even a pistol, or
a sword, being suspended in those places where weapons of that description
are usually seen, in all vessels employed either in war or in a trade that
might oblige those who sail them to deal in violence.
In the centre of the alcove stood the youthful-looking and extraordinary
person who, in so unceremonious a manner, had visited la Cour des Fees the
preceding night. His dress was much the same, in fashion and material, as
when last seen; still, it had been changed; for on the breast of the
silken frock was painted an image of the sea-green lady, done with
exquisite skill, and in a manner to preserve the whole of the wild and
unearthly character of the expression. The wearer of this singular
ornament leaned lightly against the little table, and as he bowed with
entire self-possession to his guests, his face was lighted with a smile,
that seemed to betray melancholy, no less than courtesy. At the same time
he raised his cap, and stood in the rich jet-black locks with which
Nature had so exuberantly shaded his forehead.
The manner of the visiters was less easy. The deep anxiety with which both
Ludlow and the Patroon had undertaken to board the notorious smuggler had
given place to an amazement and a curiosity that caused them nearly to
forget their errand; while Alderman Van Beverout appeared shy and
suspicious, manifestly thinking less of his niece, than of the
consequences of so remarkable an interview. They all returned the
salutation of their host, though each waited for him to speak.
"They tell me I have the pleasure to receive a commander of Queen Anne's
service, the wealthy and honorable Patroon of Kinderhook, and a most
worthy and respectable member of the city corporation, known as Alderman
Van Beverout," commenced the individual who did the honors of the vessel
on this occasion. "It is not often that my poor brigantine is thus
favored, and, in the name of my mistress, I would express our thanks."
As he ceased speaking, he bowed again with ceremonious gravity, as if all
were equally strangers to him; though the young men saw plainly that a
smothered smile played about a mouth that even they could not refuse the
praise of being of rare and extraordinary attraction.
"As we have but one mistress," said Ludlow, "it is our common duty to wish
to do her pleasure."
"I understand you, Sir. It is scarce necessary to say, however, that the
wife of George of Denmark has little authority here. Forbear, I pray you,"
he added quickly, observing that Ludlow was about to answer. "These
interviews with the servants of that lady are riot unfrequent; and as I
know other matters have sent you hither, we will imagine all said that a
vigilant officer and a most loyal subject could utter, to an outlaw and a
trifler with the regulations of the customs. That controversy must be
settled between us under our canvas, and by virtue of our speed, or other
professional qualities, at proper time and in a proper place. We will now
touch on different matters."
"I think the gentleman is right, Patroon. When matters are ripe for the
Exchequer, there is no use in worrying the lungs with summing up the
testimony like a fee'd advocate. Twelve discreet men, who have bowels of
compassion for the vicissitudes of trade, and who know how hard it is to
earn, and how easy it is to spend, will deal with the subject better than
all the idle talkers in the Provinces."
"When confronted to the twelve disinterested Daniels, I shall be fain to
submit to their judgment," rejoined the other, still suffering the wilful
smile to linger round his lips. "You, Sir, I think, are called Mr. Myndert
Van Beverout.--To what fall in peltry, or what rise in markets, do I owe
the honor of this visit?"
"It is said that some from this vessel were so bold as to land on my
grounds, during the past night, without the knowledge and consent of their
owner--you will observe the purport of our discourse, Mr. Van Staats, for
it may yet come before the authorities--as I said, Sir, without their
owner's knowledge, and that there were dealings in articles that are
contraband of law, unless they enter the provinces purified and
embellished by the air of the Queen's European dominions--God bless Her
"Amen.--That which quitteth the Water-Witch commonly comes purified by the
air of many different regions. We are no laggards in movement, here; and
the winds of Europe scarcely cease to blow upon our sails, before we scent
the gales of America. But this is rather Exchequer matter, to be discussed
before the twelve merciful burghers than entertainment for such a visit."
"I open with the facts, that there may be no errors. But in addition to
so foul an imputation on the credit of a merchant, there has a great
calamity befallen me and my household, during the past night. The daughter
and heiress of old Etienne de Barberie has left her abode, and we have
reason to think that she has been deluded so far as to come hither. Faith
and correspondence! Master Seadrift; but I think this is exceeding the
compass of even a trader in contraband! I can make allowances for some
errors in an account; but women can be exported and imported without duty,
and when and where one pleases, and therefore the less necessity for
running them out of their old uncle's habitation, in so secret a manner."
"An undeniable position, and a feeling conclusion! I admit the demand to
be made in all form, and I suppose these two gentlemen are to be
considered as witnesses of its legality."
"We have come to aid a wronged and distressed relative and guardian, in
searching for his misguided ward," Ludlow answered.
The free-trader turned his eyes on the Patroon, who signified his assent
by a silent bow.
"'Tis well, gentlemen; I also admit the testimony. But though in common
believed so worthy a subject for justice, I have hitherto had but little
direct communication with the blind deity. Do the authorities usually give
credit to these charges, without some evidence of their truth?"
"Is it denied?"
"You are still in possession of your senses, Captain Ludlow and may freely
use them. But this is an artifice to divert pursuit. There are other
vessels beside the brigantine, and a capricious fair may have sought a
protector, even under a pennant of Queen Anne!"
"This is a truth that has been but too obvious to my mind, Mr. Van
Beverout," observed the sententious Patroon. "It would have been well to
have ascertained whether she we seek has not taken some less exceptionable
course than this, before we hastily believe that your niece would so
easily become the wife of a stranger."
"Has Mr. Van Staats any hidden meaning in his words, that he speaks
ambiguously?" demanded Ludlow.
"A man, conscious of his good intentions, has little occasion to speak
equivocally. I believe, with this reputed smuggler, that la belle Barberie
would be more likely to fly with one she has long known, and whom I fear
she has but too well esteemed, than with an utter stranger, over whose
life there is cast a shade of so dark mystery."
"If the impression that the lady could yield her esteem with too little
discretion, be any excuse for suspicions, then may I advise a search in
the manor of Kinderhook!"
"Consent and joy! The girl need not have stolen to church to become the
bride of Oloff Van Staats!" interrupted the Alderman. "She should have had
my benediction on the match, and a fat gift to give it unction."
"These suspicions are but natural, between men bent on the same object,"
resumed the free-trader. "The officer of the Queen thinks a glance of the
eye, from a wilful fair, means admiration of broad lands and rich meadows;
and the lord of the manor distrusts the romance of warlike service, and
the power of an imagination which roams the sea. Still may I ask, what is
there here, to tempt a proud and courted beauty to forget station, sex,
"Caprice and vanity! There is no answering for a woman's mind! Here we
bring articles, at great risk and heavy charges, from the farther Indies,
to please their fancies, and they change their modes easier than the
beaver casts his coat. Their conceits sadly unsettle trade, and I know not
why they may not cause a wilful girl to do any other act of folly."
"This reasoning seems conclusive with the uncle. Do the suitors assent to
The Patroon of Kinderhook had stood gazing, long and earnestly, at the
countenance of the extraordinary being who asked this question. A
movement, which bespoke, equally, his conviction and his regret, escaped
him, but he continued silent. Not so Ludlow. Of a more ardent temperament,
though equally sensible of the temptation which had caused Alida to err,
and as keenly alive to all the consequences to herself, as well as to
others, there was something of professional rivalry, and of an official
right to investigate, which still mingled with his feelings. He had found
time to examine more closely the articles that the cabin contained, and
when their singular host put his question, he pointed, with an ironical
but mournful smile, to a footstool richly wrought in flowers of tints and
shades so just as to seem natural.
"This is no work of a sail-maker's needle!" said the captain of the
Coquette. "Other beauties have been induced to pass an idle hour in your
gay residence, hardy mariner; but, sooner or later, judgment will overtake
the light-heeled craft."
"On the wind, or off, she must some day lag, as we seamen have it! Captain
Ludlow, I excuse some harshness of construction, that your language might
imply; for it becomes a commissioned servant of the crown, to use freedom
with one who, like the lawless companion of the princely Hal, is but too
apt to propose to 'rob me the King's Exchequer.' But, Sir, this brigantine
and her character are little known to you. We have no need of truant
damsels, to let us into the mystery of the sex's taste; for a female
spirit guides all our humors, and imparts something of her delicacy to
all our acts, even though it be the fashion among burghers to call them
lawless. See," throwing a curtain carelessly aside, and exhibiting, behind
it, various articles of womanly employment, "here are the offspring of
both pencil and needle. The sorceress," touching the image on his breast,
"will not be entertained, without some deference to her sex."
"This affair must be arranged, I see, by a compromise," observed the
Alderman. "By your leave, gentlemen, I will make proposals in private to
this bold trader, who perhaps will listen to the offers I have to
"Ah! This savors more of the spirit of trade than of that of the
sea-goddess I serve," cried the other, causing his fingers to run lightly
over the strings of the guitar. "Compromise and offers are sounds that
become a burgher's lips. My tricksy spirit, commit these gentlemen to the
care of bold Thomas Tiller, while I confer with the merchant. The
character of Mr. Van Beverout, Captain Ludlow, will protect us both from
the suspicion of any designs on the revenue!"
Laughing at his own allusion, the free-trader signed to the boy, who had
appeared from behind a curtain, to show the disappointed suitors of la
belle Barberie into another part of the vessel.
"Foul tongues and calumnies! Master Seadrift, this unlawful manner of
playing round business, after accounts are settled and receipts passed,
may lead to other loss besides that of character. The commander of the
Coquette is not more than half satisfied of my ignorance of your misdoings
in behalf of the customs, already; and these jokes are like so many
punches into a smouldering fire, on a dark night. They only give light,
and cause people to see the clearer:--though, Heaven knows, no man has
less reason to dread an inquiry into his affairs than myself! I
challenge the best accountant in the colonies to detect a false footing,
or a doubtful entry, in any book I have, from the Memorandum to the
"The Proverbs are not more sententious, nor the Psalms half as poetical,
as your library. But why this secret parley?--The brigantine has a swept
"Swept! Brooms and Van Tromp! Thou hast swept the pavilion of my niece of
its mistress, no less than my purse of its johannes. This is carrying a
little innocent barter into a most forbidden commerce, and I hope the joke
is to end, before the affair gets to be sweetening to the tea of the
Province gossips. Such a tale would affect the autumn importation of
"This is more vivid than clear. You have my laces and velvets; my brocades
and satins are already in the hands of the Manhattan dames; and your furs
and johannes are safe where no boarding officer from the Coquette--"
"Well, there is no need of speaking-trumpets, to tell a man what he knows
already, to his cost! I should expect no less than bankruptcy from two or
three such bargains, and you wish to add loss of character to loss of
gold. Bulk-heads have ears in a ship, as well as walls in houses. I wish
no more said of the trifling traffic that has been between us. If I lose a
thousand florins by the operation, I shall know how to be resigned.
Patience and afflictions! Have I not buried as full-fed and promising a
gelding this morning, as ever paced a pavement, and has any man heard a
complaint from my lips? I know how to meet losses, I hope; and so no more
of an unhicky purchase."
"Truly, if it be not for trade, there is little in common between the
mariners of the brigantine and Alderman Van Beverout."
"The greater the necessity thou shouldst end this silly joke, and restore
his niece. I am not sure the affair can be at all settled with either of
these hotheaded young men, though I should even offer to throw in a few
thousands more, by way of make-weight. When female reputation gets a bad
name in the market, 'tis harder to dispose of than falling stock; and your
young lords of manors and commanders of cruisers have stomachs like
usurers; no per centage will satisfy them; it must be all, or nothing!
There was no such foolery in the days of thy worthy father! The honest
trafficker brought his cutter into port, with as innocent a look as a
mill-boat. We had our discourses on the qualities of his wares, when here
was his price, and there was my gold. Odd or even! It was all a chance
which had the best of the bargain. I was a thriving man in those days,
Master Seadrift; but thy spirit seems the spirit of extortion itself!"
There was momentarily contempt on the lip of the handsome smuggler, but it
disappeared in an expression of evident and painful sadness.
"Thou hast softened my heart, ere now, most liberal burgher," he answered,
"by these allusions to my parent; and many is the doubloon that I have
paid for his eulogies."
"I speak as disinterestedly as a parson preaches! What is a trifle of gold
between friends? Yes, there was happiness in trade during the time of thy
predecessor. He had a comely and a deceptive craft, that might be likened
to an untrimmed racer. There was motion in it, at need, and yet it had the
air of a leisurely Amsterdammer. I have known an Exchequer cruiser hail
him, and ask the news of the famous free-trader, with as little suspicion
as he have in speaking the Lord High Admiral! There were no fooleries in
his time; no unseemly hussies stuck under his bowsprit, to put an honest
man out of countenance; no high-fliers in sail and paint; no singing and
luting--but all was rational and gainful barter. Then, he was a man to
ballast his boat with something valuable. I have known him throw in fifty
ankers of gin, without a farthing for freight, when a bargain has been
struck for the finer articles--ay, and finish by landing them in England
for a small premium, when the gift was made!"
"He deserves thy praise, grateful Alderman; but to what conclusion does
this opening tend?"
"Well, if more gold must pass between us," continued the reluctant
Myndert, "we shall not waste time in counting it; though, Heaven knows,
Master Seadrift, thou hast already drained me dry. Losses have fallen
heavy on me, of late. There is a gelding, dead, that fifty Holland ducats
will not replace on the boom-key of Rotterdam, to say nothing of freight
and charges, which come particularly heavy--"
"Speak to thy offer!" interrupted the other, who evidently wished to
shorten the interview.
"Restore the girl, and take five-and-twenty thin pieces."
"Half-price for a Flemish gelding! La Belle would blush, with honest
pride, did she know her value in the market!"
"Extortion and bowels of compassion! Let it be a hundred, and no further
words between us."
"Harkee, Mr. Van Beverout; that I sometimes trespass on the Queen's
earnings, is not to be denied and least of all to you; for I like neither
this manner of ruling a nation by deputy, nor the principle which says
that one bit of earth is to make laws for another. 'Tis not my humor, Sir,
to wear an English cotton when my taste is for the Florentine; nor to
swallow beer, when I more relish the delicate wines of Gascony Beyond
this, thou knowest I do not trifle, even with fancied rights; and had I
fifty of thy nieces, sacks of ducats should not purchase one!"
The Alderman stared, in a manner that might have induced a spectator to
believe he was listening to an incomprehensible proposition. Still his
companion spoke with a warmth that gave him no small reason to believe he
uttered no more than he felt, and, inexplicable as it might prove, that he
valued treasure less than feeling.
"Obstinacy and extravagance!" muttered Myndert; "what use can a
troublesome girl be to one of thy habits? If thou hast deluded--"
"I have deluded none. The brigantine is not an Algerine, to ask and take
"Then let it submit to what I believe it is yet a stranger. If thou hast
not enticed my niece away, by, Heaven knows, a most vain delusion! let the
vessel be searched. This will make the minds of the young men tranquil,
and keep the treaty open between us, and the value of the article fixed in
"Freely:--but mark! If certain bales containing worthless furs of martens
and beavers, with other articles of thy colony trade, should discover the
character of my correspondents, I stand exonerated of all breach of
"There is prudence in that.--Yes, there must be no impertinent eyes
peeping into bales and packages. Well, I see, Master Seadrift, the
impossibility of immediately coming to an understanding; and therefore I
will quit thy vessel, for truly a merchant of reputation should have no
unnecessary connexion with one so suspected."
The free-trader smiled, partly in scorn and yet much in sadness, and
passed his fingers over the strings of the guitar.
"Show this worthy burgher to his friends, Zephyr," ne said; and, bowing to
the Alderman, he dismissed him in a manner that betrayed a singular
compound of feeling. One quick to discover the traces of human passion,
might have fancied, that regret, and even sorrow, were powerfully blended
with the natural or assumed recklessness of the smuggler's air and
"This will prove a brave kingdom to me;
Where I shall have my music, for nothing."
During the time past in the secret conference of the cabin, Ludlow and the
Patroon were held in discourse on the quarter-deck, by the hero of the
India-shawl. The dialogue was professional, as Van Staats maintained his
ancient reputation for taciturnity. The appearance of Myndert, thoughtful,
disappointed, and most evidently perplexed, caused the ideas of all to
take a new direction. It is probable that the burgher believed he had not
yet bid enough to tempt the free-trader to restore his niece; for, by his
air, it was apparent his mind was far from being satisfied that she was
not in the vessel. Still, when questioned by his companions concerning the
result of his interview with the free-trader, for reasons best understood
by himself, he was fain to answer evasively.
"Of one thing rest satisfied," he said; "the misconception in this affair
will yet be explained, and Alida Barberie return unfettered, and with a
character as free from blemish as the credit of the Van Stoppers of
Holland. The fanciful-looking person in the cabin denies that my niece is
here, and I am inclined to think the balance of truth is on his side I
confess, if one could just look into the cabins, without the trouble of
rummaging lockers and cargo, the statement would give more satisfaction;
but--hem--gentlemen, we must take the assertion on credit, for want of
more sufficient security."
Ludlow looked at the cloud above the mouth of the Raritan, and his lip
curled in a haughty smile.
"Let the wind hold here, at east," he said, "and we shall act our
pleasure, with both lockers and cabins."
"Hist! the worthy Master Tiller may overhear this threat--and, after all,
I do not know whether prudence does not tell us, to let the brigantine
"Mr. Alderman Van Beverout," rejoined the Captain, whose cheek had
reddened to a glow, "my duty must not be gauged by your affection for your
niece. Though content that Alida Barberie should quit the country, like an
article of vulgar commerce, the commander of this vessel must get a
passport of Her Majesty's cruiser, ere she again enter the high sea."
"Wilt say as much to the sea-green lady?" asked the mariner of the shawl,
suddenly appearing at his elbow.
The question was so unexpected and so strange, that it caused an
involuntary start; but, recovering his recollection on the instant, the
young sailor haughtily replied--
"Or to any other monster thou canst conjure!"
"We will take you at the word. There is no more certain method of knowing
the past or the future, the quarter of the heavens from which the winds
are to come, or the season of the hurricanes, than by putting a question
to our mistress. She who knows so much of hidden matters, may tell us what
you wish to know. We will have her called, by the usual summons."
Thus saving, the mariner of the shawl gravely quitted his guests, and
descended into the inferior cabins of the vessel. It was but a moment,
before there arose sounds from some secret though not distant quarter of
the brigantine, that caused, in some measure, both surprise and pleasure
to Ludlow and the Patroon. Their companion had his motives for being
insensible to either of these emotions.
After a short and rapid symphony, a wind-instrument took up a wild strain,
while a human voice was again heard chanting to the music, words which
were so much involved by the composition of the air, as to render it
impossible to trace more than that their burthen was a sort of mysterious
incantation of some ocean deity.
"Squeaking and flutes!" grumbled Myndert, ere the last sounds were fairly
ended. "This is downright heathenish; and a plain-dealing man, who does
business above-board, has good reason to wish himself honestly at church.
What have we to do with land-witches, or water-witches, or any other
witchcraft, that we stay in the brigantine, now it is known that my niece
is not to be found aboard her; and, moreover, even admitting that we were
disposed to traffic, the craft has nothing in her that a man of Manhattan
should want. The deepest bog of thy manor, Patroon, is safer ground to
tread on, than the deck of a vessel that has got a reputation like that of
The scenes of which he was a witness, had produced a powerful effect on
Van Staats of Kinderhook. Of a slow imagination but of a powerful and vast
frame, he was not easily excited, either to indulge in fanciful images, or
to suffer personal apprehension. Only a few years had passed since men,
who in other respects were enlightened, firmly believed in the existence
of supernatural agencies in the control of the affairs of this life; and
though the New-Netherlanders had escaped the infatuation which prevailed
so generally in the religious provinces of New-England, a credulous
superstition, of a less active quality, possessed the minds of the most
intelligent of the Dutch colonists, and even of their descendants so
lately as in our own times. The art of divination was particularly in
favor; and it rarely happened, that any inexplicable event affected the
fortunes or comforts of the good provincialists, without their having
recourse to some one of the more renowned fortunetellers of the country,
for an explanation. Men of slow faculties love strong excitement, because
they are insensible to less powerful impulses, as men of hard heads find
most enjoyment in strong liquors. The Patroon was altogether of the
sluggish cast; and to him there was consequently a secret, but deep
pleasure, in his present situation.
"What important results may flow from this adventure, we know not, Mr.
Alderman Van Beverout," returned Oloff Van Staats; "and I confess a desire
to see and hear more, before we land. This 'Skimmer of the Seas' is
altogether a different man from what our rumors in the city have reported;
and, by remaining, we may set public opinion nearer to the truth. I have
heard my late venerable aunt----"
"Chimney-corners and traditions! The good lady was no bad customer of
these gentry, Patroon; and it is lucky that they got no more of thy
inheritance, in the way of fees. You see the Lust in Rust against the
mountain there; well, all that is meant for the public is on the outside,
and all that is intended for my own private gratification is kept
within-doors. But here is Captain Ludlow, who has matters of the Queen on
his hands, and the gentleman will find it disloyal to waste the moments in
"I confess the same desire to witness the end," dryly returned the
commander of the Coquette. "The state of the wind prevents any immediate
change in the positions of the two vessels; and why not get a farther
insight into the extraordinary character of those who belong to the
"Ay, there it is!" muttered the Alderman between his teeth. "Your insights
and outsights lead to all the troubles of life. One is never snug with
these fantastics, which trifle with a secret, like a fly fluttering round
a candle, until his wings get burnt."
As his companions seemed resolved to stay, however, there remained no
alternative for the burgher, but patience. Although apprehension of some
indiscreet exposure was certainly the feeling uppermost in his mind, he
was not entirely without some of the weakness which caused Oloff Van
Staats to listen and to gaze with so much obvious interest and secret awe.
Even Ludlow, himself, felt more affected than he would have willing owned,
by the extraordinary situation in which he was placed. No man is entirely
insensible to the influence of sympathy, let it exert its power in what
manner it will. Of this the young sailor was the more conscious, through
the effect that was produced on himself, by the grave exterior and
attentive manner of all the mariners of the brigantine. He was a seaman of
no mean accomplishments; and, among other attainments that properly
distinguish men of his profession, he had learned to know the country of a
sailor, by those general and distinctive marks which form the principal
difference between men whose common pursuit has in so great a degree
created a common character. Intelligence, at that day, was confined to
narrow limits among those who dwelt on the ocean. Even the officer was but
too apt to be one of rude and boisterous manners, of limited acquirements
and of deep and obstinate prejudices. No wonder then, that the common man
was, in general, ignorant of most of those opinions which gradually
enlighten society. Ludlow had seen, on entering the vessel, that her crew
was composed of men of different countries. Age and personal character
seemed to have been more consulted, in their selection, than national
distinctions. There was a Finlander, with a credulous and oval
physiognomy, sturdy but short frame, and a light vacant eye; and a
dark-skinned seaman of the Mediterranean, whose classical outline of
feature was often disturbed by uneasy and sensitive glances at the
horizon. These two men had come and placed themselves near the group on
the quarter-deck, when the last music was heard; and Ludlow had ascribed
the circumstance to a sensibility to melody, when the child Zephyr stole
to their side, in a manner to show that more was meant by the movement
than was apparent in the action itself. The appearance of Tiller, who
invited the party to re-enter the cabin, explained its meaning, by showing
that these men, like themselves, had business with the being, who, it was
pretended, had so great an agency in controlling the fortunes of the
The party, who now passed into the little ante-room, was governed by very
different sensations. The curiosity of Ludlow was lively, fearless, and a
little mingled with an interest that might be termed professional; while
that of his two companions was not without some inward reverence for the
mysterious power of the sorceress. The two seamen manifested dull
dependence, while the boy exhibited, in his ingenuous and half-terrified
countenance, most unequivocally the influence of childish awe. The mariner
of the shawl was grave, silent, and, what was unusual in his deportment,
respectful. After a moment's delay, the door of the inner apartment was
opened by Seadrift himself, and he signed for the whole to enter.
A material change had been made in the arrangement of the principal cabin.
The light was entirely excluded from the stern, and the crimson curtain
had been lowered before the alcove. A small window whose effect was to
throw a dim obscurity within, had been opened in the side. The objects on
which its light fell strongest, received a soft coloring from the hues of
The free-trader received his guests with a chastened air, bowing silently,
and with less of levity in his mien than in the former interview. Still
Ludlow thought there lingered a forced but sad smile about his handsome
mouth; and the Patroon gazed at his fine features, with the admiration
that one might feel for the most favored of those who were believed to
administer at some supernatural shrine. The feelings of the Alderman were
exhibited only by some half-suppressed murmurs of discontent, that from
time to time escaped him, notwithstanding a certain degree of reverence,
that was gradually prevailing over his ill-concealed dissatisfaction.
"They tell me, you would speak with our mistress," said the principal
personage of the vessel, in a subdued voice. "There are others, too, it
would seem, who wish to seek counsel from her wisdom. It is now many
months since we have had direct converse with her, though the book is ever
open to all applicants for knowledge. You have nerves for the meeting?"
"Her Majesty's enemies have never reproached me with their want," returned
Ludlow, smiling incredulously. "Proceed with your incantations, that we
"We are not necromancers, Sir, but faithful mariners, who do their
mistress's pleasure. I know that you are sceptical; but bolder men have
confessed their mistakes, with less testimony. Hist! we are not alone. I
hear the opening and shutting of the brigantine's transoms."
The speaker then fell back nearly to the line in which the others had
arranged themselves, and awaited the result in silence. The curtain rose
to a low air on the same wind-instrument; and even Ludlow felt an emotion
more powerful than interest, as he gazed on the object that was revealed
A female form, attired, as near as might be, like the figure-head of the
vessel, and standing in a similar attitude, occupied the centre of the
alcove. As in the image, one hand held a book with its page turned towards
the spectators, while a finger of the other pointed ahead, as if giving to
the brigantine its course. The sea-green drapery was floating behind, as
if it felt the influence of the air; and the face had the same dark and
unearthly hue, with its malign and remarkable smile.
When the start and the first gaze of astonishment were over, the Alderman
and his companions glanced their eyes at each other, in wonder. The smile
on the look of the free-trader became less hidden, and it partook of
"If any here has aught to say to the lady of our bark, let him now declare
it. She has come far, at our call, and will not tarry long."
"I would then know," said Ludlow, drawing a heavy breath, like one
recovering from some sudden and powerful sensation, "if she I seek be
within the brigantine?"
He who acted the part of mediator in this extraordinary ceremony, bowed
and advanced to the book, which, with an air of deep reverence, he
consulted, reading, or appearing to read, from its pages.
"You are asked here, in return for that you inquire, if she you seek is
sought in sincerity?"
Ludlow reddened; the manliness of the profession to which he belonged,
however, overcame the reluctance natural to self-esteem; and he answered,
"But you are a mariner; men of the sea place their affections, often, on
the fabric in which they dwell. Is the attachment for her you seek,
stronger than love of wandering, of your ship your youthful expectations,
and the glory that forms a young soldier's dreams?"
The commander of the Coquette hesitated. After a moment of pause, like
that of self-examination, he said--
"As much so, as may become a man."
A cloud crossed the brow of his interrogator, who advanced and again
consulted the pages of the book.
"You are required to say, if a recent event has not disturbed your
confidence in her you seek?"
"Disturbed--but not destroyed."
The sea-green lady moved, and the pages of the mysterious volume trembled,
as if eager to deliver their oracles.
"And could you repress curiosity, pride, and all the other sentiments of
your sex, and seek her favor, without asking explanation, as before the
occurrence of late events?"
"I would do much to gain a kind look from Alida de Barberie; but the
degraded spirit, of which you speak, would render me unworthy of her
esteem. If I found her as I lost her, my life should be devoted to her
happiness; and if not, to mourning that one so fair should have fallen!"
"Have you ever felt jealousy?"
"First let me know if I have cause?" cried the young man, advancing a step
towards the motionless form, with an evident intent to look closer into
The hand of the mariner of the shawl arrested him, with the strength of a
"None trespass on the respect due our mistress," coolly observed the
vigorous seaman, while he motioned to the other to retreat.
A fierce glance shot from his eye; and then the recollection of his
present helplessness came, in season, to restrain the resentment of the
"Have you ever felt jealousy?" continued his undisturbed interrogator.
"Would any love, that have not?"
A gentle respiration was heard in the cabin, during the short pause that
succeeded, though none could tell whence it came. The Alderman turned to
regard the Patroon, as if he believed the sigh was his while the startled
Ludlow looked curiously around him, at a loss to know who acknowledged,
with so much sensibility, the truth of his reply.
"Your answers are well," resumed the free-trader, after a pause longer
than usual. Then, turning to Oloff Van Staats, he said, "Whom, or what, do
"We come on a common errand."
"And do you seek in all sincerity?"
"I could wish to find."
"You are rich in lands and houses; is she you seek, dear to you as this
"I esteem them both, since one could not wish to tie a woman he admired to
The Alderman hemmed so loud as to fill the cabin, and then, startled at
his own interruption, he involuntarily bowed an apology to the motionless
form in the alcove, and regained his composure.
"There is more of prudence than of ardor in your answer. Have you ever
"That has he!" eagerly exclaimed Myndert "I've known the gentleman raving
as a bear that has lost its cub, when my niece has smiled, in church, for
instance, though it were only in answer to a nod from an old lady.
Philosophy and composure, Patroon! Who the devil knows, but Alida may hear
of this questioning?--and then her French blood will boil, to find that
your love has always gone as regularly as a town-clock."
"Could you receive her, without inquiring into past events?"
"That would he--that would he!" returned the Alderman. "I answer for it,
that Mr. Van Staats complies with all engagements, as punctually as the
best house in Amsterdam, itself."
The book again trembled, but it was with a waving and dissatisfied motion.
"What is thy will with our mistress?" demanded the free-trader, of the
"I have bargained with some of the dealers of my country, for a wind to
carry the brigantine through the inlet."
"Go.--The Water-Witch will sail when there is need;--and you?"
"I wish to know whether a few skins I bought last night, for a private
venture, will turn to good account?"
"Trust the sea-green lady for your profits. When did she ever let any
fail, in a bargain. Child, what has brought thee hither?"
The boy trembled, and a little time elapsed before he found resolution to
"They tell me it is so queer to be upon the land!"
"Sirrah! thou hast been answered. When others go, thou shalt go with
"They say 'tis pleasant to taste the fruits from off the very trees--"
"Thou art answered. Gentlemen, our mistress departs. She knows that one
among you has threatened her favorite brigantine with the anger of an
earthly Queen; but it is beneath her office to reply to threats so idle.
Hark! her attendants are in waiting!"
The wind-instrument was once more heard, and the curtain slowly fell to
its strains. A sudden and violent noise, resembling the opening and
shutting of some massive door, succeeded--and then all was still. When
the sorceress had disappeared, the free-trader resumed his former ease of
manner, seeming to speak and act more naturally. Alderman Van Beverout
drew a long breath, like one relieved; and even the mariner of the gay
shawl stood in an easier and more reckless attitude than while in her
presence. The two seamen and the child withdrew.
"Few who wear that livery have ever before seen the lady of our
brigantine," continued the free-trader, addressing himself to Ludlow; "and
it is proof that she has less aversion to your cruiser, than she in common
feels to most of the long pennants that are abroad on the water."
"Thy mistress, thy vessel, and thyself, are alike amusing!" returned the
young seaman, again smiling incredulously, and with some little official
pride. "It will be well, if you maintain this pleasantry much longer, at
the expense of Her Majesty's customs."
"We trust to the power of the Water-Witch. She has adopted our brigantine
as her abode, given it her name, and guides it with her hand. 'Twould be
weak to doubt, when thus protected."
"There may be occasion to try her virtues. Were she a spirit of the deep
waters, her robe would be blue. Nothing of a light draught can escape the
"Dost not know that the color of the sea differs in different climes? We
fear not, but you would have answers to your questions. Honest Tiller will
carry you all to the land, and, in passing, the book may again be
consulted. I doubt not she will leave us some further memorial of her
The free-trader then bowed, and retired behind the curtain, with the air
of a sovereign dismissing his visiters from an audience; though his eye
glanced curiously behind him, as he disappeared, as if to trace the effect
which had been produced by the interview. Alderman Van Beverout and his
friends were in the boat again, before a syllable was exchanged between
them. They had followed the mariner of the shawl, in obedience to his
signal; and they quitted the side of the beautiful brigantine, like men
who pondered on what they had just witnessed.
Enough has been betrayed, in the course of the narrative, perhaps, to show
that Ludlow distrusted, though he could not avoid wondering at, what he
had seen. He was not entirely free from the superstition that was then so
common among seamen; but his education and native good sense enabled him,
in a great measure, to extricate his imagination from that love of the
marvellous, which is more or less common to all. He had fifty conjectures
concerning the meaning of what had passed, and not one of them was true;
though each, at the instant, seemed to appease his curiosity, while it
quickened his resolution to pry further into the affair. As for the
Patroon of Kinderhook, the present day was one of rare and unequalled
pleasure. He had all the gratification which strong excitement can produce
in slow natures; and he neither wished a solution of his doubts, nor
contemplated any investigation that might destroy so agreeable an
illusion. His fancy was full of the dark countenance of the sorceress; and
when it did not dwell on a subject so unnatural, it saw the handsome
features, ambiguous smile, and attractive air, of her scarcely less
As the boat got to a little distance from the vessel, Tiller stood erect,
and ran his eye complacently over the perfection of her hull and rigging.
"Our mistress has equipped and sent upon the wide and unbeaten sea, many a
bark," he said; "but never a lovelier than our own!--Captain Ludlow, there
has been some double-dealing between us; but that which is to follow,
shall depend on our skill, seamanship, and the merits of the two crafts.
You serve Queen Anne, and I the sea-green lady. Let each be true to his
mistress, and Heaven preserve the deserving!--Wilt see the book, before we
make the trial?"
Ludlow intimated his assent, and the boat approached the figure-head. It
was impossible to prevent the feeling, which each of our three
adventurers, not excepting the Alderman, felt when they came in full view
of the motionless image. The mysterious countenance appeared endowed with
thought, and the malign smile seemed still more ironical than before.
"The first question was yours, and yours must be the first answer," said
Tiller, motioning for Ludlow to consult the page which was open. "Our
mistress deals chiefly in verses from the old writer, whose thoughts are
almost as common to us all, as to human nature."
"What means this?" said Ludlow, hastily--
"She, Claudio, that you wrong'd, look, you restore.
--love her Angelo;
I have confess'd her, and I know her virtue."
"These are plain words; but I would rather that another priest should
shrive her whom I love!"
"Hist!--Young blood is swift and quickly heated. Our lady of the bark will
not relish hot speech, over her oracles.--Come, Master Patroon, turn the
page with the rattan, and see what fortune will give."
Oloff Van Staats raised his powerful arm, with the hesitation, and yet
with the curiosity, of a girl. It was easy to read in his eye, the
pleasure his heavy nature felt in the excitement; and yet it was easy to
detect the misgivings of an erroneous education, by the seriousness of all
the other members of his countenance. He read aloud--
"I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto, if you'll a willing ear incline
What's mine is yours, and what is yours is mine:--
So bring us to our palace, where we'll show,
What's yet behind, that's meet you all should know."
Measure For Measure.
"Fair-dealing, and fairer speech! 'What's yours is mine, and what is mine
is yours,' is Measure for Measure, truly, Patroon!" cried the Alderman. "A
more equitable bargain cannot be made, when the assets are of equal value.
Here is encouragement, in good sooth; and now, Master Mariner, we will
land and proceed to the Lust in Rust, which must be the place meant in the
verses. 'What's yet behind,' must be Alida, the tormenting baggage! who
has been playing hide-and-seek with us, for no other reason than to
satisfy her womanish vanity, by showing how uncomfortable she could make
three grave and responsible men. Let the boat go, Master Tiller, since
that is thy name; and many thanks for thy civilities."
"Twould give grave offence to leave the lady, without knowing all she has
to say. The answer now concerns you, worthy Alderman; and the rattan will
do its turn, in your hand, as well as in that of another."
"I despise a pitiful curiosity, and content myself with knowing what
chance and good luck teach," returned Myndert. "There are men in Manhattan
ever prying into their neighbors' credit, like frogs lying with their
noses out of water; but it is enough for me to know the state of my books,
with some insight into that of the market."
"It will not do.--This may appease a quiet conscience, like your own, Sir;
but we of the brigantine may not trifle with our mistress. One touch of
the rattan will tell you, whether these visits to the Water Witch are
likely to prove to your advantage."
Myndert wavered. It has been said, that, like most others of his origin in
the colony, he had a secret leaning to the art of divination: and the
words of the hero of the shawl contained a flattering allusion to the
profits of his secret commerce. He took the offered stick, and, by the
time the page was turned, his eyes were ready enough to consult its
contents. There was but a line, which was also quoted as coming from the
well-known comedy of 'Measure for Measure.'
"Proclaim it, Provost, round about the city."
In his eagerness Myndert read the oracle aloud, and then he sunk into his
seat, affecting to laugh at the whole as a childish and vain conceit.
"Proclamation, me, no proclamations! Is it a time of hostilities, or of
public danger, that one should go shouting with his tidings through the
streets? Measure for Measure, truly! Harkee, Master Tiller, this sea-green
trull of thine is no better than she should be; and unless she mends her
manner of dealing, no honest man will be found willing to be seen in her
company. I am no believer in necromancy--though the inlet has certainly
opened this year, altogether in an unusual manner--and therefore I put
little faith in her words; but as for saying aught of me or mine, in town
or country, Holland or America, that can shake my credit, why I defy her!
Still, I would not willingly have any idle stories to contradict; and I
shall conclude by saying, you will do well to stop her mouth."
"Stop a hurricane, or a tornado! Truth will come in her book, and he that
reads must expect to see it--Captain Ludlow, you are master of your
movements, again; for the inlet is no longer between you and your cruiser.
Behind yon hillock is the boat and crew you missed. The latter expect you.
And now, gentlemen, we leave the rest to the green lady's guidance, our
own good skill, and the winds! I salute you."
The moment his companions were on the shore, the hero of the shawl caused
his boat to quit it; and in less than five minutes it was seen swinging,
by its tackles, at the stern of the brigantine.
"--like Arion on the dolphin's back,
I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves,
So long as I could see."
There was one curious though half-confounded observer of all that passed
in and around the Cove, on the morning in question. This personage was no
other than the slave called Bonnie, who was the factotum of his master,
over the demesnes of the Lust in Rust, during the time when the presence
of the Alderman was required in the city; which was, in truth, at least
four-fifths of the year. Responsibility and confidence had produced their
effect on this negro, as on more cultivated minds. He had been used to act
in situations of care; and practice had produced a habit of vigilance and
observation, that was not common in men of his unfortunate condition.
There is no moral truth more certain, than that men, when once accustomed
to this species of domination, as readily submit their minds, as their
bodies, to the control of others. Thus it is, that we see entire nations
maintaining so many erroneous maxims, merely because it has suited the
interests of those who do the thinking, to give forth these fallacies to
their followers. Fortunately, however, for the improvement of the race and
the advancement of truth, it is only necessary to give a man an
opportunity to exercise his natural faculties, in order to make him a
reflecting, and, in some degree, an independent being. Such, though to a
very limited extent, certainly, had been the consequence, in the instance
of the slave just mentioned.
How far Bonnie had been concerned in the proceedings between his master
and the mariners of the brigantine, it is unnecessary to say. Little
passed at the villa, of which he was ignorant; and as curiosity, once
awakened, increases its own desire for indulgence, could he have had his
wish, little would have passed anywhere, near him, without his knowing
something of its nature and import. He had seen, while seemingly employed
with his hoe in the garden of the Alderman, the trio conveyed by Erasmus
across the inlet; had watched the manner in which they followed its margin
to the shade of the oak, and had seen them enter the brigantine, as
related. That this extraordinary visit on board a vessel which was in
common shrouded by so much mystery, had given rise to much and unusual
reflection in the mind of the black, was apparent by the manner in which
he so often paused in his labor, and stood leaning on the handle of his
hoe, like one who mused. He had never known his master so far overstep his
usual caution, as to quit the dwelling, during the occasional visits of
the free-trader; and yet he had now gone as it were into the very jaws of
the lion, accompanied by the commander of a royal cruiser himself. No
wonder, then, that the vigilance of the negro became still more active,
and that not even the slightest circumstance was suffered to escape his
admiring eye. During the whole time consumed by the visit related in the
preceding chapter, not a minute had been suffered to pass, without an
inquiring look in the direction, either of the brigantine, or of the
It is scarcely necessary to say how keen the attention of the slave
became, when his master and his companions were seen to return to the
land. They immediately ascended to the foot of the oak, and then there was
a long and apparently a serious conference between them. During this
consultation, the negro dropped the end of his hoe, and never suffered his
gaze, for an instant, to alter its direction. Indeed he scarcely drew
breath, until the whole party quitted the spot together, and buried
themselves in the thicket that covered the cape, taking the direction of
its outer or northern extremity, instead of retiring by the shore of the
Cove, towards the inlet. Then Bonnie respired heavily, and began to look
about him at the other objects that properly belonged to the interest of
The brigantine had run up her boat, and she now lay, as when first seen, a
motionless, beautiful, and exquisitely graceful fabric, without the
smallest sign about her of an intention to move, or indeed without
exhibiting any other proof, except in her admirable order and symmetry,
that any of human powers dwelt within her hull. The royal cruiser, though
larger and of far less aerial mould and fashion, presented the same
picture of repose. The distance between the two was about a league; and
Bonnie was sufficiently familiar with the formation of the land and of the
position of the vessels, to be quite aware that this inactivity on the
part of those whose duty it was to protect the rights of the Queen,
proceeded from their utter ignorance of the proximity of their neighbor.
The thicket which bounded the Cove and the growth of oaks and pines that
stretched along the narrow sandy spit of land quite to its extremity,
sufficiently accounted for the fact. The negro, therefore, after gazing
for several minutes at the two immovable vessels, turned his eye askance
on the earth, shook his head, and then burst into a laugh, which was so
noisy that it caused his sable partner to thrust her vacant and circular
countenance through an open window of the scullery of the villa, to demand
the reason of a merriment that to her faithful feelings appeared to be a
"Hey! you alway' keep 'e queer t'ing to heself, Bonnie, but!" cried the
vixen. "I'm werry glad to see old bones like a hoe; an' I wonner dere ar'
time to laugh, wid 'e garden full of weed!"
"Grach!" exclaimed the negro, stretching out an arm in a forensic
attitude; "what a black woman know of politic! If a hab time to talk,
better cook a dinner. Tell one t'ing, Phyllis, and that be dis; vy 'e ship
of Captain Ludlow no lif' 'e anchor, an' come take dis rogue in 'e Cove?
can a tell dat much, or no?--If no, let a man, who understan' heself,
laugh much as he like. A little fun no harm Queen Anne, nor kill 'e
"All work and no sleep make old bone ache, Bonnie, but!" returned the
consort. "Ten o'clock--twelve o'clock--t'ree o'clock, and no bed; vell I
see 'e sun afore a black fool put 'e head on a pillow! An' now a hoe go
all 'e same as if he sleep a ten hour. Masser Myn'ert got a heart, and he
no wish to kill he people wid work, or old Phyllis war' dead, fifty year,
"I t'ink a wench's tongue nebber satisfy! What for tell a whole world,
when Bonnie go to bed? He sleep for heself, and he no sleep for 'e
neighborhood! Dere! A man can't t'ink of ebery t'ing, in a minute. Here a
ribbon long enough to hang heself--take him, and den remem'er, Phyllis,
dat you be 'e wife of a man who hab care on he shoul'er."
Bonnie then set up another laugh, in which his partner, having quitted her
scullery to seize the gift, which in its colors resembled the skin of a
garter-snake, did not fail to join, through mere excess of animal delight.
The effect of the gift, however, was to leave the negro to make his
observations, without any further interruption from one who was a little
too apt to disturb his solitude.
A boat was now seen to pull out from among the bushes that lined the
shore; and Bonnie was enabled to distinguish, in its stern-sheets, the
persons of his master, Ludlow, and the Patroon. He had been acquainted
with the seizure of the Coquette's barge, the preceding night, and of the
confinement of the crew. Its appearance in that place, therefore,
occasioned no new surprise. But the time which past while the men were
rowing up to the sloop-of-war, was filled with minutes of increasing
interest. The black abandoned his hoe, and took a position on the side of
the mountain, that gave him a view of the whole bay. So long as the
mysteries of the Lust in Rust had been confined to the ordinary
combinations of a secret trade, he had been fully able to comprehend them;
but now that there apparently existed an alliance so unnatural as one
between his master and the cruiser of the crown, he felt the necessity of
double observation and of greater thought.
A far more enlightened mind than that of the slave, might have been
excited by the expectation, and the objects which now presented
themselves, especially if sufficiently prepared for events, by a knowledge
of the two vessels in sight. Though the wind still hung at east, the cloud
above the mouth of the Raritan had at length begun to rise. The broad
fleeces of white vapor, that had lain the whole morning over the
continent, were rapidly uniting; and they formed already a dark and dense
mass, that floated in the bottom of the estuary, threatening shortly to
roll over the whole of its wide waters. The air was getting lighter, and
variable; and while the wash of the surf sounded still more audible, its
roll upon the beach was less regular than in the earlier hours of the day.
Such was the state of the two elements, when the boat touched the side
of the ship. In a minute it was hanging by its tackles, high in the air;
and then it disappeared, in the bosom of the dark mass.
It far exceeded the intelligence of Bonnie to detect, now, any further
signs of preparation, in either of the two vessels, which absorbed the
whole of his attention. They appeared to him to be alike without motion,
and equally without people. There were, it is true, a few specks in the
rigging of the Coquette, which might be men; but the distance prevented
him from being sure of the fact; and, admitting them to be seamen busied
aloft, there were no visible consequences of their presence, that his
uninstructed eye could trace. In a minute or two, even these scattered
specks were seen no longer; though the attentive black thought that the
mast-heads and the rigging beneath the tops thickened, as if surrounded by
more than their usual mazes of ropes. At that moment of suspense, the
cloud over the Raritan emitted a flash, and the sound of distant thunder
rolled along the water. This seemed to be a signal for the cruiser; for
when the eye of Bonnie, which had been directed to the heavens, returned
towards the ship, he saw that she had opened and hoisted her three
top-sails, seemingly with as little exertion as an eagle would have spread
his wings. The ship now became uneasy; for the wind came in puffs, and the
vessel rolled lightly, as if struggling to extricate itself from the hold
of its anchor; and then, precisely at the moment when the shift of wind
was felt, an the breeze came from the cloud in the west, the cruiser
whirled away from its constrained position and appearing, for a short
space, restless as a steed that had broken from its fastenings, it came up
neatly to the wind, and lay balanced by the action of its sails. There was
another minute, or two, of seeming inactivity, after which the broad
surfaces of the top-sails were brought in parallel lines. One white sheet
was spread after another, upon the fabric; and Bonnie saw that the
Coquette, the swiftest cruiser of the crown in those seas, was dashing out
from the land, under a cloud of canvas.
All this time, the brigantine, in the Cove, lay quietly at her anchor.
When the wind shifted, the light hull swang with its currents, and the
image of the sea-green lady was seen offering her dark cheek to be fanned
by the breeze. But she alone seemed to watch over the fortunes of her
followers; for no other eye could be seen, looking out on the danger that
began so seriously to threaten them, both from the heavens, and from a
more certain and intelligible, foe.
As the wind was fresh, though unsteady, the Coquette moved through the
water with a velocity that did no discredit to her reputation for speed.
At first, it seemed to be the intention of the royal cruiser to round the
cape, and gain an offing in the open sea; for her head was directed
northwardly; but no sooner had she cleared the curve of the little bight
which from its shape is known by the name of the Horse-Shoe, than she was
seen shooting directly into the eye of the wind, and falling off with the
graceful and easy motion of a ship in stays, her head looking towards the
Lust in Rust. Her design on the notorious dealer in contraband was now too
evident to admit of doubt.
Still, the Water-Witch betrayed no symptoms of alarm. The meaning eye of
the image seemed to study the motions of her adversary, with all the
understanding of an intelligent being; and occasionally the brigantine
turned slightly in the varying currents of the air, as if volition
directed the movements of the little fabric. These changes resembled the
quick and slight movements of the hound, as he lifts his head in his
lair, to listen to some distant sound, or to scent some passing taint in
In the mean time, the approach of the ship was so swift as to cause the
negro to shake his head, with a meaning that exceeded even his usually
important look. Every thing was propitious to her progress; and, as the
water of the Cove, during the periods that the inlet remained open, was
known to be of a sufficient depth to admit of her entrance, the faithful
Bonnie began to anticipate a severe blow to the future fortunes of his
master. The only hope, that one could perceive, for the escape of the
smuggler, was in the changes of the heavens.
Although the threatening cloud had now quitted the mouth of the Raritan,
and was rolling eastward with fearful velocity, it had not yet broken. The
air had the unnatural and heated appearance which precedes a gust; but,
with the exception of a few large drops, that fell seemingly from a clear
sky, it was as yet what is called a dry squall. The water of the bay was
occasionally dark, angry, and green; and there were moments when it would
appear as if heavy currents of air descended to its surface, wantonly to
try their power on the sister element. Notwithstanding these sinister
omens, the Coquette stood on her course, without lessening the wide
surfaces of her canvas, by a single inch. They who governed her movements
were no men of the lazy Levant, nor of the mild waters of the
Mediterranean, to tear their hair, and call on saints to stand between
their helplessness and harm; but mariners trained in a boisterous sea, and
accustomed to place their first dependence on their own good manhood,
aided by the vigilance and skill of a long and severely-exercised
experience. A hundred eyes on board that cruiser watched the advance of
the rolling cloud, or looked upon the play of light and shade, that caused
the color of the water to vary; but it was steadily, and with an entire
dependence on the discretion of the young officer who controlled the
movements of the ship.
Ludlow himself paced the deck, with all his usual composure, so far as
might be seen by external signs; though, in reality, his mind was agitated
by feelings that were foreign to the duties of his station. He too had
thrown occasional glances at the approaching squall, but his eye was far
oftener riveted on the motionless brigantine, which was now distinctly to
be seen from the deck of the Coquette, still riding at her anchor. The cry
of 'a stranger in the cove!' which, a few moments before, came out of one
of the tops, caused no surprise in the commander; while the crew,
wondering but obedient, began, for the first time, to perceive the object
of their strange manoeuvres. Even the officer, next in authority to the
captain, had not presumed to make any inquiry, though, now that the object
of their search was so evidently in view, he felt emboldened to presume on
his rank, and to venture a remark.
"It is a sweet craft!" said the staid lieutenant, yielding to an
admiration natural to his habits, "and one that might serve as a yacht for
the Queen! This is some trifler with the revenue, or perhaps a buccaneer
from the islands. The fellow shows no ensign!"
"Give him notice, Sir, that he has to do with one who bears the royal
commission," returned Ludlow, speaking from habit, and half-unconscious of
what he said. "We must teach these rovers to respect a pennant."
The report of the cannon startled the absent man and caused him to
remember the order.
"Was that gun shotted?" he asked, in a tone that sounded like rebuke.
"Shotted, but pointed wide, Sir; merely a broad hint. We are no dealers
in dumb show, in the Coquette, Captain Ludlow."
"I would not injure the vessel, even should it prove a buccaneer. Be
careful, that nothing strikes her, without an order."
"Ay, 'twill be well to take the beauty alive, Sir; so pretty a boat should
not be broken up, like an old hulk. Ha! there goes his bunting, at last!
He shows a white field--can the fellow be a Frenchman, after all?"
The lieutenant took a glass, and for a moment applied it to his eye, with
the usual steadiness. Then he suffered the instrument to fall, and it
would seem that he endeavored to recall the different flags that he had
seen during the experience of many years.
"This joker should come from some terra incognita;" he said. "Here is a
woman in his field, with an ugly countenance, too, unless the glass play
me false--as I live, the rogue has her counterpart for a
figure-head!--Will you look at the ladies, Sir?"
Ludlow took the glass, and it was not without curiosity that he turned it
toward the colors the hardy smuggler dared to exhibit, in presence of a
cruiser. The vessels were, by this time, sufficiently near each other, to
enable him to distinguish the swarthy features and malign smile of the
sea-green lady, whose form was wrought in the field of the ensign, with
the same art as that which he had seen so often displayed in other parts
of the brigantine. Amazed at the daring of the free-trader, he returned
the glass, and continued to pace the deck, in silence. There stood near
the two speakers an officer whose head and form began to show the
influence of time, and who, from his position, had unavoidably been an
auditor of what passed. Though the eye of this person, who was the
sailing-master of the sloop, was rarely off the threatening cloud, except
to glance along the wide show of canvas that was spread, he found a
moment to take a look at the stranger.
"A half-rigged brig, with her fore-top-gallant-mast fidded abaft, a double
martingale, and a standing gaft;" observed the methodical and technical
mariner, as another would have recounted the peculiarities of complexion,
or of feature, in some individual who was the subject of a personal
description. "The rogue has no need of showing his brazen-faced trull to
be known! I chased him, for six-and-thirty hours, in the chops of St.
George's, no later than the last season; and the fellow ran about us, like
a dolphin playing under a ship's fore-foot. We had him, now on our weather
bow, and now crossing our course, and, once in a while, in our wake, as if
he had been a Mother Carey's chicken looking for our crumbs. He seems snug
enough in that cove, to be sure, and yet I'll wager the pay of any month
in the twelve, that he gives us the slip. Captain Ludlow, the brigantine
under our lee, here, in Spermaceti, is the well-known Skimmer of the
"The Skimmer of the Seas!" echoed twenty voices, in a manner to show the
interest created by the unexpected information.
"I'll swear to his character before any Admiralty Judge in England, or
even in France, should there be occasion to go into an outlandish
court--but no need of an oath, when here is a written account I took, with
my own hands, having the chase in plain view, at noon-day." While
speaking, the sailing-master drew a tobacco-box from his pocket, and
removing a coil of pig-tail, he came to a deposit of memorandums, that
vied with the weed itself in colors. "Now, gentlemen," he continued, "you
shall have her build, as justly as if the master-carpenter had laid it
down with his rule. 'Remember to bring a muff of marten's fur from
America, for Mrs. Trysail--buy it in London, and swear'--this is not the
paper--I let your boy, Mr. Luff, stow away the last entry of tobacco for
me, and the young dog has disturbed every document I own. This is the way
the government accounts get jammed, when Parliament wants to overhaul
them. But I suppose young blood will have its run! I let a monkey into a
church of a Saturday night myself, when a youngster, and he made such
stowage of the prayer-books, that the whole parish was by the ears for six
months; and there is one quarrel between two old ladies, that has not been
made up to this hour.--Ah! here we have it:--'Skimmer of the
Seas.--Full-rigged forward, with fore-and-aft mainsail, abaft; a
gaff-top-sail; taut in his spars, with light top-hamper; neat in his gear,
as any beauty--Carries a ring-tail in light weather; main-boom like a
frigate's top-sail-yard, with a main-top-mast-stay-sail as big as a jib.
Low in the water, with a woman figure-head; carries sail more like a devil
than a human being, and lies within five points, when jammed up hard on a
wind.' Here are marks by which one of Queen Anne's maids of honor might
know the rogue; and there you see them all, as plainly as human nature can
show them in a ship!"
"The Skimmer of the Seas!" repeated the young officers, who had crowded
round the veteran tar, to hear this characteristic description of the
"Skimmer or flyer, we have him now, dead under our lee, with a sandy beach
on three of his sides, and the wind in his eye!" cried the
"You shall have an opportunity, Master Trysail, of correcting your
account, by actual measurement."
The sailing-master shook his head, like one who doubted, and again turned
his eye on the approaching cloud.
The Coquette, by this time, had run so far as to have the entrance of the
Cove open; and she was separated from her object, only by a distance of a
few cables'-length. In obedience to an order given by Ludlow, all the
light canvas of the ship was taken in, and the vessel was left under her
three top-sails and gib. There remained, however, a question as to the
channel; for it was not usual for ships of the Coquette's draught, to be
seen in that quarter of the bay, and the threatening state of the weather
rendered caution doubly necessary. The pilot shrunk from a responsibility
which did not properly belong to his office, since the ordinary navigation
had no concern with that secluded place; and even Ludlow, stimulated as he
was by so many powerful motives, hesitated to incur a risk which greatly
exceeded his duty. There was something so remarkable in the apparent
security of the smuggler, that it naturally led to the belief he was
certain of being protected by some known obstacle, and it was decided to
sound before the ship was hazarded. An offer to carry the free-trader with
the boats, though plausible in itself, and perhaps the wisest course of
all, was rejected by the commander, on an evasive plea of its being of
uncertain issue, though, in truth, because he felt an interest in one whom
he believed the brigantine to contain, which entirely forbade the idea of
making the vessel the scene of so violent a struggle. A yawl was therefore
lowered into the water, the main-top-sail of the ship was thrown to the
mast; and Ludlow himself, accompanied by the pilot and the master,
proceeded to ascertain the best approach to the smuggler. A flash of
lightning, with one of those thunder-claps that are wont to be more
terrific on this continent than in the other hemisphere, warned the young
mariner of the necessity of haste, if he would regain his ship, before the
cloud, which still threatened them, should reach the spot where she lay.
The boat pulled briskly into the Cove, both the master and the pilot
sounding on each side, as fast as the leads could be cast from their
hands and recovered.
"This will do;" said Ludlow, when they had ascertained that they could
enter. "I would lay the ship as close as possible to the brigantine, for I
distrust her quiet. We will go nearer."
"A brazen witch, and one whose saucy eye and pert figure might lead any
honest mariner into contraband, or even into a sea-robbery!"
half-whispered Trysail, perhaps afraid to trust his voice within hearing
of a creature that seemed almost endowed with the faculties of life. "Ay,
this is the hussy! I know her by the book, and her green jacket! But where
are her people? The vessel is as quiet as the royal vault on a
coronation-day, when the last king, and those who went before him,
commonly have the place to themselves. Here would be a pretty occasion to
throw a boat's-crew on her decks, and haul down yon impudent ensign, which
bears the likeness of this wicked lady, so bravely in the air, if------"
"If what?" asked Ludlow, struck with the plausible character of the
"Why, if one were sure of the nature of such a minx, Sir; for to own the
truth, I would rather deal with a regularly-built Frenchman, who showed
his guns honestly, and kept such a jabbering aboard that one might tell
his bearings in the dark.--The creature spoke!"
Ludlow did not reply, for a heavy crash of thunder succeeded the vivid
glow of a flash of lightning, and glared so suddenly across the swarthy
lineaments as to draw the involuntary exclamation from Trysail. The
intimation that came from the cloud, was not to be disregarded. The wind,
which had so long varied, began to be heard in the rigging of the silent
brigantine; and the two elements exhibited unequivocal evidence, in their
menacing and fitful colors of the near approach of the gust. The young
sailor, with an absorbing interest, turned his eyes on his ship. The
yards were on the caps, the bellying canvas was fluttering far to leeward,
and twenty or thirty human forms on each spar, showed that the
nimble-fingered top-men were gathering in and knotting the sails down to a
"Give way, men, for your lives!" cried the excited Ludlow.
A single dash of the oars was heard, and the yawl was already twenty feet
from the mysterious image. Then followed a desperate struggle to regain
the cruiser, ere the gust should strike her. The sullen murmur of the
wind, rushing through the rigging of the ship, was audible some time
before they reached her side; and the struggles between the fabric and the
elements, were at moments so evident, as to cause the young commander to
fear he would be too late.
The foot of Ludlow touched the deck of the Coquette, at the instant the
weight of the squall fell upon her sails. He no longer thought of any
interest but that of the moment; for, with all the feelings of a seaman,
his mind was now full of his ship.
"Let run every thing!" shouted the ready officer, in a voice that made
itself heard above the roar of the wind. "Clue down, and hand! Away aloft,
you top-men!--lay out!--furl away!"
These orders were given in rapid succession, and witout a trumpet, for the
young man could, at need, speak loud as the tempest. They were succeeded
by one of those exciting and fearful minutes that are so familiar to
mariners. Each man was intent on his duty, while the elements worked their
will around him, as madly as if the hand by which they are ordinarily
restrained was for ever removed. The bay was a sheet of foam, while the
rushing of the gust resembled the dull rumbling of a thousand chariots.
The ship yielded to the pressure, until the water was seen gushing
through her lee-scuppers, and her tall line of masts inclined towards the
plane of the bay, as if the ends of the yards were about to dip into the
water. But this was no more than the first submission to the shock. The
well-moulded fabric recovered its balance, and struggled through its
element, as if conscious that there was security only in motion. Ludlow
glanced his eye to leeward. The opening of the Cove was favorably
situated, and he caught a glimpse of the spars of the brigantine, rocking
violently in the squall. He spoke to demand if the anchors were clear, and
then he was heard, shouting again from his station in the weather
The first efforts of the cruiser to obey her helm, stripped as she was of
canvas, were labored and slow. But when her head began to fall off, the
driving scud was scarce swifter than her motion. At that moment, the
sluices of the cloud opened, and a torrent of rain mingled in the uproar,
and added to the confusion. Nothing was now visible but the lines of the
falling water, and the sheet of white foam through which the ship was
"Here is the land, Sir!" bellowed Trysail, from a cat-head, where he stood
resembling some venerable sea-god, dripping with his native element. "We
are passing it, like a race-horse!"
"See your bowers clear!" shouted back the captain.
"Ready, Sir, ready--"
Ludlow motioned to the men at the wheel, to bring the ship to the wind;
and when her way was sufficiently deadened, two ponderous anchors dropped,
at another signal, into the water. The vast fabric was not checked without
a further and tremendous struggle. When the bows felt the restraint, the
ship swung head to wind, and fathom after fathom of the enormous ropes
were extracted, by surges so violent as to cause the hull to quiver to its
centre. But the first lieutenant and Trysail were no novices in their
duty, and, in less than a minute, they had secured the vessel steadily at
her anchors. When this important service was performed, officers and crew
stood looking at each other, like men who had just made a hazardous and
fearful experiment. The view again opened, and objects on the land became
visible through the still falling rain. The change was like that from
night to day. Men who had passed their lives on the sea drew long and
relieving breaths, conscious that the danger was happily passed. As the
more pressing interest of their own situation abated they remembered the
object of their search. All eyes were turned in quest of the smuggler;
but, by some inexplicable means, he had disappeared.
'The Skimmer of the Seas!' and 'What has become of the brigantine?' were
exclamations that the discipline of a royal cruiser could not repress.
They were repeated by a hundred mouths, while twice as many eyes sought to
find the beautiful fabric. All looked in vain. The spot where the
Water-Witch had so lately lain, was vacant, and no vestige of her wreck
lined the shores of the Cove. During the time the ship was handing her
sails, and preparing to enter the Cove, no one had leisure to look for the
stranger; and after the vessel had anchored, until that moment, it was not
possible to see her length, on any side of them. There was still a dense
mass of falling water moving seaward; but the curious and anxious eyes of
Ludlow made fruitless efforts to penetrate its secrets. Once indeed, more
than an hour after the gust had reached his own ship, and when the ocean
in the offing was clear and calm, he thought he could distinguish, far to
seaward, the delicate tracery of a vessel's spars, drawn against the
horizon, without any canvas set. But a second look did not assure him of
the truth of the conjecture.
There were many extraordinary tales related that night, on board Her
Britannic Majesty's ship Coquette. The boatswain affirmed that, while
piping below in order to overhaul the cables, he had heard a screaming in
the air, that sounded as if a hundred devils were mocking him, and which
he told the gunner, in confidence, he believed was no more than the
winding of a call on board the brigantine, who had taken occasion, when
other vessels were glad to anchor, to get under way, in her own fashion.
There was also a fore-top-man named Robert Yarn, a fellow whose faculty
for story-telling equalled that of Scheherazade, and who not only
asserted, but who confirmed the declaration by many strange oaths, that
while he lay on the lee-fore-top-sail-yard-arm, stretching forth an arm to
grasp the leech of the sail, a dark-looking female fluttered over his head
and caused her long hair to whisk into his face, in a manner that
compelled him to shut his eyes, which gave occasion to a smart reprimand
from the reefer of the top. There was a feeble attempt to explain this
assault, by the man who lay next to Yarn, who affected to think the hair
was no more than the end of a gasket whipping in the wind; but his
shipmate, who had pulled one of the oars of the yawl, soon silenced this
explanation, by the virtue of his long-established reputation for
veracity. Even Trysail ventured several mysterious conjectures concerning
the fate of the brigantine, in the gun-room; but, on returning from the
duty of sounding the inlet, whither he had been sent by his captain, he
was less communicative and more thoughtful than usual. It appeared,
indeed, from the surprise that was manifested by every officer that heard
the report of the quarter-master, who had given the casts of the lead on
this service, that no one in the ship, with the exception of Alderman Van
Beverout, was at all aware that there was rather more than two fathoms of
water in that secret passage.
"Sirs, take your places, and be vigilant."
The succeeding day was one in which the weather had a fixed character. The
wind was east, and, though light, not fluctuating. The air had that thick
and hazy appearance, which properly belongs to the Autumn in this climate,
but which is sometimes seen at midsummer, when a dry wind blows from the
ocean. The roll of the surf, on the shore, was regular and monotonous, and
the currents of the air were so steady as to remove every apprehension of
a change. The moment to which the action of the tale is transferred, was
in the earlier hours of the afternoon.
At that time the Coquette lay again at her anchors, just within the
shelter of the cape. There were a few small sails to be seen passing up
the bay; but the scene, as was common at that distant day, presented
little of the activity of our own times, to the eye. The windows of the
Lust in Rust were again open, and the movement of the slaves, in and about
the villa, announced the presence of its master.
The Alderman was in truth, at the hour named, passing the little lawn in
front of la Cour des Fees, accompanied by Oloff Van Staats and the
commander of the cruiser. It was evident, by the frequent glances which
the latter threw in the direction of the pavilion, that he still thought
of her who was absent; while the faculties of the two others were either
in better subjection, or less stimulated by anxiety. One who understood
the character of the individual, and who was acquainted with the past,
might have suspected, by this indifference on the part of the Patroon,
placed as it was in such a singular contrast to a sort of mysterious
animation which enlivened a countenance whose ordinary expression was
placid content, that the young suitor thought less than formerly of the
assets of old Etienne, and more of the secret pleasure he found in the
singular incidents of which he had been a witness.
"Propriety and discretion!" observed the burgher, in reply to a remark of
one of the young men--"I say again, for the twentieth time, that we shall
have Alida Barberie back among us, as handsome, as innocent, ay, and as
rich, as ever!--perhaps I should also say, as wilful. A baggage, to worry
her old uncle, and two honorable suitors, in so thoughtless a manner!
Circumstances, gentlemen," continued the wary merchant, who saw that the
value of the hand of which he had to dispose, was somewhat reduced in the
market, "have placed you on a footing, in my esteem. Should my niece,
after all, prefer Captain Ludlow for a partner in her worldly affairs, why
it should not weaken friendship between the son of old Stephanus Van
Staats and Myndert Van Beverout. Our grandmothers were cousins, and there
should be charities in the same blood."
"I could not wish to press my suit," returned the Patroon, "when the lady
has given so direct a hint that it is disagreeable--"
"Hint me no hints! Do you call this caprice of a moment, this trifling, as
the captain here would call it, with the winds and tides, a hint! The girl
has Norman blood in her veins, and she wishes to put animation into the
courtship. If bargains were to be interrupted by a little cheapening of
the buyer, and some affectation of waiting for a better market in the
seller, Her Majesty might as well order her custom-houses to be closed at
once, and look to other sources for revenue. Let the girl's fancy have its
swing, and the profits of a year's peltry against thy rent-roll, we shall
see her penitent for her folly, and willing to hear reason. My sister's
daughter is no witch, to go journeying for ever about the world, on a
"There is a tradition in our family," said Oloff Van Staats, his eye
lighting with a mysterious excitement, while he affected to laugh at the
folly he uttered, "that the great Poughkeepsie fortune-teller foretold, in
the presence of my grandmother, that a Patroon of Kinderhook should
intermarry with a witch. So, should I see la Belle in the position you
name, it would not greatly alarm me."
"The prophecy was fulfilled at the wedding of thy father!" muttered
Myndert, who, notwithstanding the outward levity with which he treated the
subject, was not entirely free from secret reverence for the provincial
soothsayers, some of whom continued in high repute, even to the close of
the last century. "His son would not else have been so clever a youth! But
here is Captain Ludlow looking at the ocean, as if he expected to see my
niece rise out of the water, in the shape of a mermaid."
The commander of the Coquette pointed to the object which attracted his
gaze, and which, appearing as it did at that moment, was certainly not of
a nature to lessen the faith of either of his companions in supernatural
It has been said that the wind was dry and the air misty, or rather so
pregnant with a thin haze, as to give it the appearance of a dull, smoky
light. In such a state of the weather, the eye, more especially of one
placed on an elevation, is unable to distinguish what is termed the
visible horizon at sea. The two elements become so blended, that our
organs cannot tell where the water ends, or where the void of the heavens
commences. It is a consequence of this in distinctness, that any object
seen beyond the apparent boundary of water, has the appearance of floating
in the air. It is rare for the organs of a landsman to penetrate beyond
the apparent limits of the sea, when the atmosphere exhibits this
peculiarity, though the practised eye of a mariner often detects vessels,
which are hid from others, merely because they are not sought in the
proper place. The deception may also be aided by a slight degree of
"Here;" said Ludlow, pointing in a line that would have struck the water
some two or three leagues in the offing. "First bring the chimney of
yonder low building on the plain, in a range with the dead oak on the
shore, and then raise your eyes slowly, till they strike a sail."
"That ship is navigating the heavens!" exclaimed Myndert! "Thy grandmother
was a sensible woman, Patroon; she was a cousin of my pious progenitor,
and there is no knowing what two clever old ladies, in their time, may
have heard and seen, when such sights as this are beheld in our own!"
"I am as little disposed as another, to put faith in incredible things,"
gravely returned Oloff Van Staats; "and yet, if required to give my
testimony, I should be reluctant to say, that yonder vessel is not
floating in the heavens!"
"You might not give it to that effect, in safety;" said Ludlow. "It is no
other than a half-rigged brigantine, on a taut bowline, though she bears
no great show of canvas. Mr. Van Beverout, Her Majesty's cruiser is about
to put to sea."
Myndert heard this declaration in visible dissatisfaction. He spoke of the
virtue of patience, and of the comforts of the solid ground; but when he
found the intention of the Queen's servant was not to be shaken, he
reluctantly professed an intention of repeating the personal experiment
of the preceding day. Accordingly, within half an hour, the whole party
were on the banks of the Shrewsbury, and about to embark in the barge of
"Adieu, Monsieur Francois;" said the Alderman nodding his head to the
ancient valet, who stood with a disconsolate eye on the shore. "Have a
care of the movables in la Cour des Fees; we may have further use for
"Mais, Monsieur Beevre, mon devoir, et, ma foi, suppose la mer was plus
agreable, mon desir shall be to suivre Mam'selle Alide. Jamais personne de
la famille Barberie love de sea; mais, Monsieur, comment faire? I shall
die sur la mer de douleur; and I shall die d'ennui, to rester ici, bien
"Come then, faithful Francois," said Ludlow. "You shall follow your young
mistress; and perhaps, on further trial, you may be disposed to think the
lives of us seamen more tolerable than you had believed."
After an eloquent expression of countenance, in which the secretly-amused
though grave-looking boat's-crew thought the old man was about to give a
specimen of his powers of anticipation, the affectionate domestic entered
the barge. Ludlow felt for his distress, and encouraged him by a look of
approbation. The language of kindness does not always need a tongue; and
the conscience of the valet smote him with the idea that he might have
expressed himself too strongly, concerning a profession to which the other
had devoted life and hopes.
"La mer, Monsieur le Capitaine," he said, with an acknowledging reverence,
"est un vaste theatre de la gloire. Voila Messieurs de Tourville et Dougay
Trouin; ce sont des hommes, vraiment remarquables! mais Monsieur, quant a
toute la famille de Barberie, we have toujours un sentiment plus favorable
pour la terre."
"I wish your whimsical jade of a mistress, Master Francois, had found
the same sentiment," dryly observed Myndert: "for let me tell you, this
cruising about in a suspicious vessel is as little creditable to her
judgment as--cheer up, Patroon; the girl is only putting thy mettle to the
trial, and the sea air will do no damage to her complexion or her pocket.
A little predilection for salt water must raise the girl in your
estimation, Captain Ludlow!"
"If the predilection goes no further than to the element, Sir;" was the
caustic answer. "But, deluded or not, erring or deceived, Alida Barberie
is not to be deserted, the victim of a villain's arts. I did love your
niece, Mr. Van Beverout, and--pull with a will, men; fellows, are you
sleeping on the oars?"
The sudden manner in which the young man interrupted himself, and the
depth of tone in which he spoke to the boat's crew, put an end to the
discourse. It was apparent that he wished to say no more, and that he even
regretted the weakness which had induced him to say so much. The remainder
of the distance, between the shore and the ship, was passed in silence.
When Queen Anne's cruiser was seen doubling Sandy-Hook, past meridian on
the 6th June (sea-time) in the year 17--, the wind, as stated in an
ancient journal, which was kept by one of the midshipmen, and is still in
existence, was light, steady at south, and by-west-half-west. It appears,
by the same document, that the vessel took her departure at seven o'clock,
P.M., the point of Sandy-Hook bearing west-half-south, distant three
leagues. On the same page which contains these particulars, it is
observed, under the head of remarks--"Ship under starboard steering-sails,
forward and aft, making six knots. A suspicious half-rigged brigantine
lying-to on the eastern board, under her mainsail, with fore-top-sail to
the mast; light and lofty sails and jib loose; foresail in the brails. Her
starboard steering-sail-booms appear to be rigged out, and the gear rove,
ready for a run. This vessel is supposed to be the celebrated
hermaphrodite, the Water-Witch, commanded by the notorious 'Skimmer of the
Seas,' and the same fellow who gave us so queer a slip, yesterday. The
Lord send us a cap-full of wind, and we'l try his heels, before
morning!--Passengers, Alderman Van Beverout, of the second ward of the
City of New-York, in Her Majesty's province of the same name; Oloff Van
Staats, Esq. commonly called the Patroon of Kinderhook, of the same
colony; and a qualmish-looking old chap, in a sort of marine's jacket, who
answers when hailed as Francis. A rum set taken altogether, though they
seem to suit the Captain's fancy. Mem.--Each lipper of a wave works like
tartar emetic on the lad in marine gear."
As no description of ours can give a more graphic account of the position
of the two vessels in question, at the time named, than that which is
contained in the foregoing extract, we shall take up the narrative at that
moment, which the reader will see must, in the 43d degree of latitude, and
in the month of June have been shortly after the close of the day.
The young votary of Neptune, whose opinions have just been quoted, had
indeed presumed on his knowledge of the localities, in affirming the
distance and position of the cape, since the low sandy point was no longer
visible from the deck. The sun had set, as seen from the vessel, precisely
in the mouth of the Raritan; and the shadows from Navesink, or Neversink
as the hills are vulgarly called, were thrown far upon the sea. In short,
the night was gathering round the mariners, with every appearance of
settled and mild weather, but of a darkness deeper than is common on the
ocean. Under such circumstances, the great object was to keep on the
track of the chase, during the time when she must necessarily be hid from
Ludlow walked into the lee-gangway of his ship, and, leaning with his
elbow on the empty hammock-cloths, he gazed long and in silence at the
object of his pursuit. The Water-Witch was lying in the quarter of the
horizon most favorable to being seen. The twilight, which still fell out
of the heavens, was without glare in that direction; and for the first
time that day, he saw her in her true proportions. The admiration of a
seaman was blended with the other sensations of the young man. The
brigantine lay in the position that exhibited her exquisitely-moulded hull
and rakish rig to the most advantage. The head, having come to the wind,
was turned towards her pursuer; and as the bows rose on some swell that
was heavier than common, Ludlow saw, or fancied he saw, the mysterious
image still perched on her cut-water, holding the book to the curious, and
ever pointing with its finger across the waste of water. A movement of the
hammock-cloths caused the young sailor to bend his head aside, and he then
saw that the master had drawn as near to his person as discipline would
warrant. Ludlow had a great respect for the professional attainments that
his inferior unquestionably possessed; and he was not without some
consideration for the chances of a fortune, which had not done much to
reward the privations and the services of a seaman old enough to be his
father. The recollection of these facts always disposed him to be
indulgent to a man who had little, beyond his seaman-like character and
long experience, to recommend him.
"We are likely to have a thick night, Master Trysail," said the young
captain, without deeming it necessary to change his look, "and we may yet
be brought on a bowline, before yonder insolent is overhauled."
The master smiled, like one who knew more, than he expressed, find
gravely shook his head.
"We may have many pulls on our bowlines, and some squaring of yards, too,
before the Coquette (the figure-head of the sloop-of-war was also a
female) gets near enough to the dark-faced woman, under the bowsprit of
the brigantine, to whisper her mind. You and I have been nigh enough to
see the white of her eyes, and to count the teeth she shows, in that
cunning grin of hers,--and what good has come of our visit? I am but a
subordinate, Captain Ludlow, and I know my duty too well not to be silent
in a squall, and I hope too well not to know how to speak when my
commander wishes the opinions of his officers at a council; and therefore
mine, just now, is perhaps different from that of some others in this
ship, that I will not name, who are good men, too, though none of the
"And what is thy opinion, Trysail?--the ship is doing well, and she
carries her canvas bravely."
"The ship behaves like a well-bred young woman in the presence of the
Queen; modest, but stately--but, of what use is canvas, in a chase where
witchcraft breeds squalls, and shortens sail in one vessel, while it gives
flying kites to another! If Her Majesty, God bless her! should be ever
persuaded to do so silly a thing as to give old Tom Trysail a ship, and
the said ship lay, just here-a-way, where the Coquette is now getting
along so cleverly, why then, as in duty bound, I know very well what her
commander would do----"
"Which would be----?"
"To, in all studding-sails, and bring the vessel on the wind."
"That would be to carry you to the southward, while the chase lies here in
the eastern board!"
"Who can say, how long she will lie there? They told us, in York, that
there was a Frenchman, of our burthen and metal, rummaging about among
the fishermen, lower down on the coast. Now, Sir, no man knows that the
war is half over better than myself, for not a ha'penny of prize-money has
warmed my pocket, these three years;--but, as I was saying, if a Frenchman
will come off his ground, and will run his ship into troubled water,
why--whose fault is it but his own? A pretty affair might be made out of
such a mistake, Captain Ludlow; whereas running after yonder brigantine,
is napping out the Queen's canvas for nothing. The vessel's bottom will
want new sheathing, in my poor opinion, before you catch him."
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