The Water-Witch or, The Skimmer of the Seas
James Fenimore Cooper
Part 5 out of 9
"I know not, Trysail," returned his captain, glancing an eye aloft; "every
thing draws, and the ship never went along with less trouble to herself.
We shall not know which has the longest legs, till the trial is made."
"You may judge of the rogue's speed by his impudence. There he lies,
waiting for us, like a line-of-battle ship lying-to for an enemy to come
down. Though a man of some experience in my way, I have never seen a
lord's son more sure of promotion, than that same brigantine seems to be
of his heels! If this old Frenchman goes on with his faces much longer, he
will turn himself inside-out, and then we shall get an honest look at him,
for these fellows never carry their true characters above-board, like a
fair-dealing Englishman. Well, Sir, as I was remarking, yon rover, if
rover he be, has more faith in his canvas than in the church. I make no
doubt, Captain Ludlow, that the brigantine went through the inlet, while
we were handing our top-sails yesterday; for I am none of those who are in
a hurry to give credit to any will-o'-the-wisp tale; besides which, I
sounded the passage with my own hands, and know the thing to be possible,
with the wind blowing heavy over the taffrail; still, Sir, human nature
is human nature, and what is the oldest seaman after all, but a man?--And
so to conclude, I would rather any day chase a Frenchman, whose
disposition is known to me, than have the credit of making traverses, for
eight-and-forty hours, in the wake of one of these flyers, with little
hope of getting him within hail."
"You forget, Master Trysail, that I have been aboard the chase, and know
something of his build and character."
"They say as much aboard, here," returned the old tar, drawing nearer to
the person of his captain, under an impulse of strong curiosity; "though
crone presume to be acquainted with the particulars. I am not one of those
who ask impertinent questions, more especially under Her Majesty's
pennant; for the worst enemy I have will not say I am very womanish. One
would think, however, that there was neat work on board a craft that is so
prettily moulded about her water-lines?"
"She is perfect as to construction, and admirable in gear."
"I thought as much, by instinct! Her commander need not, however, be any
the more sure of keeping her off the rocks, on that account. The prettiest
young woman in our parish was wrecked, as one might say, on the shoals of
her own good looks, having cruised once too often in the company of the
squire's son. A comely wench she was, though she luffed athwart all her
old companions, when the young lord of the manor fell into her wake. Well,
she did bravely enough, Sir, as long as she could carry her flying kites,
and make a fair wind of it; but when the squall of which I spoke, overtook
her, what could she do but keep away before it?--and as others, who are
snugger in their morals hove-to as it were, under the storm-sails of
religion and such matters as they had picked up in the catechism, she
drifted to leeward of all honest society! A neatly-built and clean-heeled
hussy was that girl; and I am not certain, by any means, that Mrs. Trysail
would this day call herself the lady of a Queen's officer, had the other
known how to carry sail in the company of her betters."
The worthy master drew a long breath, which possibly was a nautical sigh,
but which certainly had more of the north wind than of the zephyr in its
breathing; and he had recourse to the little box of iron, whence he
usually drew consolation.
"I have heard of this accident before;" returned Ludlow, who had sailed as
a midshipman in the same vessel with, and indeed as a subordinate to, his
present inferior. "But, from all accounts, you have little reason to
regret the change, as I hear the best character of your present worthy
"No doubt, Sir, no doubt.--I defy any man in the ship to say that I am a
backbiter, even against my wife, with whom I have a sort of lawful right
to deal candidly. I make no complaints, and am a happy man at sea, and I
piously hope Mrs. Trysail knows how to submit to her duty at home.--I
suppose you see, Sir, that the chase has hauled his yards, and is getting
his fore-tack aboard?" Ludlow, whose eye did not often turn from the
brigantine, nodded assent; and the master, having satisfied himself, by
actual inspection, that every sail in the Coquette did its duty,
continued--"The night is coming on thick, and we shall have occasion for
all our eyes to keep the rogue in view, when he begins to change his
bearings--but, as I was saying, if the commander of yonder half-rig is too
vain of her good looks, he may yet wreck her, in his pride! The rogue has
a desperate character as a smuggler, though, for my own part, I cannot say
that I look on such men with as unfavorable an eye as some others. This
business of trade seems to be a sort of chase between one man's wits and
another man's wits, and the dullest goer must be content to fall to
leeward. When it comes to be a question of revenue, why, he who goes free
is lucky, and he who is caught, a prize. I have known a flag-officer look
the other way, Captain Ludlow, when his own effects were passing
duty-free; and as to your admiral's lady, she is a great patroness of the
contraband. I do not deny, Sir, that a smuggler must be caught, and when
caught, condemned, after which there must be a fair distribution among the
captors; but all that I mean to say is, that there are worse men in the
world than your British smuggler--such, for instance, as your Frenchman,
your Dutchman, or your Don."
"These are heretodox opinions for a Queen's servant;" said Ludlow, as much
inclined to smile as to frown.
"I hope I know my duty too well to preach them to the ship's company, but
a man may say that, in a philosophical way, before his captain, that he
would not let run into a midshipman's ear. Though no lawyer, I know what
is meant by swearing a witness to the truth and nothing but the truth. I
wish the Queen got the last, God bless her! several worn-out ships would
then be broken up, and better vessels sent to sea in their places. But,
Sir, speaking in a religious point of view, what is the difference between
passing in a trunk of finery, with a duchess's name on the brass plate, or
in passing in gin enough to fill a cutter's hold?"
"One would think a man of your years, Mr. Trysail, would see the
difference between robbing the revenue of a guinea, and robbing it of a
"Which is just the difference between retail and wholesale,--and that is
no trifle, I admit, Captain Ludlow, in a commercial country, especially in
genteel life. Still, Sir, revenue is the country's right and therefore I
allow a smuggler to be a bad man only not so bad as those I have just
named, particularly your Dutchman! The Queen is right to make those rogues
lower their flags to her in the narrow seas, which are her lawful
property; because England, being a wealthy island, and Holland no more
than a bit of bog turned up to dry, it is reasonable that we should have
the command afloat. No, Sir, though none of your outcriers against a man,
because he has had bad luck in a chase with a revenue-cutter, I hope I
know what the natural rights of an Englishman are. We must be masters,
here, Captain Ludlow, will-ye-nill-ye, and look to the main chances of
trade and manufactures!"
"I had not thought you so accomplished a statesman, Master Trysail!"
"Though a poor man's son, Captain Ludlow, I am a free-born Briton, and my
education has not been entirely overlooked. I hope I know something of the
constitution, as well as my betters. Justice and honor being an
Englishman's mottoes, we must look manfully to the main chance. We are
none of your flighty talkers, but a reasoning people, and there is no want
of deep thinkers on the little island; and therefore, Sir, taking all
together, why England must stick up for her rights! Here is your Dutchman,
for instance, a ravenous cormorant; a fellow with a throat wide enough to
swallow all the gold of the Great Mogul, if he could get at it; and yet a
vagabond who has not even a fair footing on the earth, if the truth must
be spoken! Well, Sir, shall England give up her rights to a nation of such
blackguards? No, Sir; our venerable constitution and mother church itself
forbid, and therefore I say, dam'me, lay them aboard, if they refuse us
any of our natural rights, or show a wish to bring us down to their own
"Reasoned like a countryman of Newton, and an eloquence that would do
credit to Cicero! I shall endeavor to digest your ideas at my leisure,
since they are much too solid food to be disposed of in a minute. At
present we will look to the chase, for I see, by the aid of my glass, that
he has set his studding-sails, and is beginning to draw ahead."
This remark closed the dialogue, between the captain and his subordinate.
The latter quitted the gangway with that secret and pleasurable sensation
which communicates itself to all who have reason to think they have
delivered themselves creditably of a train of profound thought.
It was, in truth, time to lend every faculty to the movements of the
brigantine; for there was great reason to apprehend, that by changing her
direction in the darkness, she might elude them. The night was fast
closing on the Coquette, and at each moment the horizon narrowed around
her, so that it was only at uncertain intervals the men aloft could
distinguish the position of the chase. While the two vessels were thus
situated, Ludlow joined his guests on the quarter-deck.
"A wise man will trust to his wits, what cannot be done by force;" said
the Alderman. "I do not pretend to be much of a mariner, Captain Ludlow,
though I once spent a week in London, and I have crossed the ocean seven
times to Rotterdam. We did little in our passages, by striving to force
nature. When the nights came in dark, as at present, the honest schippers
were content to wait for better times; by which means we were sure not to
miss our road, and of finally arriving at the destined port in safety."
"You saw that the brigantine was opening his canvas, when last seen; and
he that would move fast, must have recourse to his sails."
"One never knows what may be brewing, up there in the heavens, when the
eye cannot see the color of a cloud. I have little knowledge of the
character of the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' beyond that which common fame
gives him; but, in the poor judgment of a landsman, we should do better by
showing lanterns in different parts of the ship, lest some homeward-bound
vessel do us an injury, and waiting until the morning, for further
"We are spared the trouble, for look, the insolent has set a light
himself, as if to invite us to follow. This temerity exceeds belief! To
dare to trifle thus with one of the swiftest cruisers in the English
fleet! See that every thing draws, gentlemen, and take a pull at all the
sheets. Hail the tops, Sir, and make sure that every thing is home."
The order was succeeded by the voice of the officer of the watch, who
inquired, as directed, if each sail was distended to the utmost. Force was
applied to some of the ropes, and then a general quiet succeeded to the
The brigantine had indeed showed a light, as if in mockery of the attempt
of the royal cruiser. Though secretly stung by this open contempt of their
speed, the officers of the Coquette found themselves relieved from a
painful and anxious duty. Before this beacon was seen, they were obliged
to exert their senses to the utmost, in order to get occasional glimpses
of the position of the chase; while they now steered in confidence for the
brilliant little spot, that was gently rising and falling with the waves.
"I think we near him," half-whispered the eager captain; "for, see, there
is some design visible on the sides of the lantern. Hold!--Ah! 'tis the
face of a woman, as I live!"
"The men of the yawl report that the rover shows this symbol in many parts
of his vessel, and we know he had the impudence to set it yesterday in our
presence, even on his ensign."
"True--true; take you the glass, Mr. Luff, and tell me if there be not a
woman's face sketched in front of that light--we certainly near him
fast--let there be silence, fore and aft the ship. The rogues mistake our
"A saucy-looking jade, as one might wish to see!" returned the lieutenant.
"Her impudent laugh is visible to the naked eye."
"See all clear for laying him aboard! Get a party to throw on his decks,
Sir! I will lead them myself."
These orders were given in an under tone, and rapidly. They were promptly
obeyed. In the mean time, the Coquette continued to glide gently ahead,
her sails thickening with the dew, and every breath of the heavy air
acting with increased power on their surfaces. The boarders were
stationed, orders were given for the most profound silence, and as the
ship drew nearer to the light, even the officers were commanded not to
stir. Ludlow stationed himself in the mizen channels, to cun the ship; and
his directions were repeated to the quarter-master, in a loud whisper.
"The night is so dark, we are certainly unseen!" observed the young man to
his second in command; who stood at his elbow. "They have unaccountably
mistaken our position. Observe how the face of the painting becomes more
distinct--one can see even the curls of the hair.--Luff, Sir! luff--we
will run him aboard! on his weather-quarter."
"The fool must be lying-to!" returned the lieutenant. "Even your witches
fail of common sense; at times! Do you see which way he has his head,
"I see nothing but the light. It is so dark that our own sails are
scarcely visible--and yet I think here are his yards, a little forward of
our lee beam."
"'Tis our own lower boom. I got it out, in readiness for the other tack,
in case the knave should ware. Are we not running too full?"
"Luff you may, a little,--luff, or we shall crush him!"
As this order was given, Ludlow passed swiftly forward. He found the
hoarders ready for a spring, and he rapidly gave his orders. The men were
told to carry the brigantine at every hazard, but not to offer violence,
unless serious resistance was made. They were thrice enjoined not to enter
the cabins, and the young man expressed a generous wish that, in every
case, the 'Skimmer of the Seas' might be taken alive. By the time these
directions were given, the light was so near that the malign countenance
of the sea-green lady was seen in every lineament. Ludlow looked, in vain,
for the spars, in order to ascertain in which direction the head of the
brigantine lay; but, trusting to luck, he saw that the decisive moment was
"Starboard, and run him aboard!--Away there, you boarders, away! Heave
with your grapnels; heave, men, with a long swing, heave! Meet her, with
the helm--hard down--meet her--steady!"--was shouted in a clear, full, and
steady voice, that seemed to deepen at each mandate which issued from the
lips of the young captain.
The boarders cheered heartily, and leaped into the rigging. The Coquette
readily and rapidly yielded to the power of her rudder. First inclining to
the light, and then sweeping up towards the wind again, in another instant
she was close upon the chase. The irons were thrown, the men once more
shouted, and all on board held their breaths in expectation of the crash
of the meeting hulls. At that moment of high excitement, the woman's face
rose a short distance in the air, seemed to smile in derision of their
attempt, and suddenly disappeared. The ship passed steadily ahead, while
no noise but the sullen wash of the waters was audible. The boarding-irons
were heard falling heavily into the sea; and the Coquette rapidly overrun
the spot where the light had been seen, without sustaining any shock.
Though the clouds lifted a little, and the eye might embrace a circuit of
a few hundred feet, there certainly was nothing to be seen, within its
range, but the unquiet element, and the stately cruiser of Queen Anne
floating on its bosom.
Though its effects were different on the differently-constituted minds of
those who witnessed the singular incident, the disappointment was general.
The common impression was certainly unfavorable to the earthly character
of the brigantine; and when opinions of this nature once get possession of
the ignorant, they are not easily removed. Even Trysail, though
experienced in the arts of those who trifle with the revenue-laws, was
much inclined to believe that this was no vulgar case of floating lights
or false beacons, but a manifestation that others, besides those who had
been regularly trained to the sea, were occasionally to be found on the
waters. If Captain Ludlow thought differently, he saw no sufficient reason
to enter into an explanation with those who were bound silently to obey.
He paced the quarter-deck, for many minutes; and then issued his orders to
the equally-disappointed lieutenants. The light canvas of the Coquette was
taken in, the studding-sail-gear unrove, and the booms secured. The ship
was then brought to the wind, and her courses having been hauled up, the
fore-top-sail was thrown to the mast. In this position the cruiser lay,
waiting for the morning light, in order to give greater certainty to her
"I, John Turner,
Am master and owner
Of a high-deck'd schooner.
That's bound to Carolina--"
etc. etc. etc. etc.
It is not necessary to say, with how much interest Alderman Van Beverout,
and his friend the Patroon, had witnessed all the proceedings on hoard the
Coquette. Something very like an exclamation of pleasure escaped the
former, when it was known that the ship had missed the brigantine, and
that there was now little probability of overtaking her that night.
"Of what use is it to chase your fire-flies, about the ocean, Patroon?"
muttered the Alderman, in the ear of Oloff Van Staats. "I have no further
knowledge of this 'Skimmer of the Seas,' than is decent in the principal
of a commercial house,--but reputation is like a sky-rocket, that may be
seen from afar! Her Majesty has no ship that can overtake the free-trader,
and why fatigue the innocent vessel for no thing?"
"Captain Ludlow has other desires than the mere capture of the
brigantine;" returned the laconic and sententious Patroon. "The opinion
that Alida de Barberie is in her, has great influence with that
"This is strange apathy, Mr. Van Staats, in one who is as good as engaged
to my niece, if he be not actually married, Alida Barberie has great
influence with that gentleman! And pray, with whom, that knows her, has
she not influence?"
"The sentiment in favor of the young lady, in general, is favorable."
"Sentiment and favors! Am I to understand, Sir by this coolness, that our
bargain is broken?--that the two fortunes are not to be brought together,
and that the lady is not to be your wife?"
"Harkee, Mr. Van Beverout; one who is saving of his income and sparing of
his words, can have no pressing necessity for the money of others; and, on
occasion, he may afford to speak plainly. Your niece has shown so decided
a preference for another, that it has materially lessened the liveliness
of my regard."
"It were a pity that so much animation should fail of its object! It would
be a sort of stoppage in the affairs of Cupid! Men should deal candidly,
in all business transactions, Mr. Van Staats; and you will permit me to
ask, as for a final settlement, if your mind is changed in regard to the
daughter of old Etienne de Barberie, or not?"
"Not changed, but quite decided;" returned the young Patroon. "I cannot
say that I wish the successor of my mother to have seen so much of the
world. We are a family that is content with our situation, and new customs
would derange my household."
"I am no wizard, Sir; but for the benefit of a son of my old friend
Stephanus Van Staats, I will venture, for once, on a prophecy. You will
marry, Mr. Van Staats--yes, marry--and you will wive, Sir, with--prudence
prevents me from saying with whom you will wive; but you may account
yourself a lucky man, if it be not with one who will cause you to forget
house and home, lands and friends, manors and rents, and in short all the
solid comforts of life. It would not surprise me to hear that the
prediction of the Poughkeepsie fortune-teller should be fulfilled!"
"And what is your real opinion, Alderman Van Beverout, of the different
mysterious events we have witnessed?" demanded the Patroon, in a manner to
prove that the interest he took in the subject, completely smothered any
displeasure he might otherwise have felt at so harsh a prophecy. "This
sea-green lady is no common woman!"
"Sea-green and sky-blue!" interrupted the impatient burgher. "The hussy is
but too common, Sir; and there is the calamity. Had she been satisfied
with transacting her concerns in a snug and reasonable manner, and to have
gone upon the high seas again, we should have had none of this foolery, to
disturb accounts which ought to have been considered settled. Mr. Van
Staats, will you allow me to ask a few direct questions, if you can find
leisure for their answer?"
The Patroon nodded his head, in the affirmative.
"What do you suppose, Sir, to have become of my niece?"
"And with whom?"
Van Staats of Kinderhook stretched an arm towards the open ocean, and
again nodded. The Alderman mused a moment; and then he chuckled, as if
some amusing idea had at once gotten the better of his ill-humor.
"Come, come, Patroon," he said, in his wonted amicable tone, when
addressing the lord of a hundred thousand acres, "this business is like a
complicated account, a little difficult till one gets acquainted with the
books, and then all becomes plain as your hand. There were referees in the
settlement of the estate of Kobus Van Klinck, whom I will not name; but
what between the handwriting of the old grocer, and some inaccuracy in the
figures, they had but a blind time of it until they discovered which way
the balance ought to come; and then by working backward and forward, which
is the true spirit of your just referee, they got all straight in the end.
Kobus was not very lucid in his statements, and he was a little apt to be
careless of ink. His leger might be called a book of the black art; for it
was little else than fly-tracks and blots, though the last were found of
great assistance in rendering the statements satisfactory. By calling
three of the biggest of them sugar-hogsheads, a very fair balance was
struck between him and a peddling Yankee who was breeding trouble for the
estate; and I challenge, even at this distant day, when all near interests
in the results may be said to sleep, any responsible man to say that they
did not look as much like those articles as any thing else. Something they
must have been, and as Kobus dealt largely in sugar, there was also a
strong moral probability that they were the said hogsheads. Come, come,
Patroon; we shall have the jade back again, in proper time. Thy ardor gets
the better of reason; but this is the way with true love, which is none
the worse for a little delay Alida is not one to balk thy merriment; these
Norman wenches are not heavy of foot at a dance, or apt to go to sleep
when the fiddles are stirring!"
With this consolation, Alderman Van Beverout saw fit to close the
dialogue, for the moment. How far he succeeded in bringing back the mind
of the Patroon to its allegiance, the result must show; though we shall
take this occasion to observe again, that the young proprietor found a
satisfaction in the excitement of the present scene, that, in the course
of a short and little diversified life, he had never before experienced.
While others slept, Ludlow passed most of the night on deck. He laid
himself down in the hammock-cloths, for an hour or two, towards morning
though the wind did not sigh through the rigging louder than common,
without arousing him from his slumbers. At each low call of the officer of
the watch to the crew, his head was raised to glance around the narrow
horizon; and the ship never rolled heavily without causing him to awake.
He believed that the brigantine was near, and, for the first watch, he was
not without expectation that the two vessels might unexpectedly meet in
the obscurity. When this hope failed, the young seaman had recourse to
artifice, in his turn, in order to entrap one who appeared so practised
and so expert in the devices of the sea.
About midnight, when the watches were changed, and the whole crew, with
the exception of the idlers, were on deck, orders were given to hoist out
the boats. This operation, one of exceeding toil and difficulty in
lightly-manned ships, was soon performed on board the Queen's cruiser, by
the aid of yard and stay-tackles, to which the force of a hundred seamen
was applied. When four of these little attendants on the ship were in the
water, they were entered by their crews, prepared for serious service.
Officers, on whom Ludlow could rely, were put in command of the three
smallest, while he took charge of the fourth in person. When all were
ready, and each inferior had received his especial instructions, they
quitted the side of the vessel, pulling off, in diverging lines, into the
gloom of the ocean. The boat of Ludlow had not gone fifty fathoms, before
he was perfectly conscious of the inutility of a chase; for the obscurity
of the night was so great, as to render the spars of his own ship nearly
indistinct, even at that short distance. After pulling by compass some ten
or fifteen minutes, in a direction that carried him to windward of the
Coquette, the young man commanded the crew to cease rowing, and prepared
himself to await, patiently, for the result of his undertaking.
There was nothing to vary the monotony of such a scene, for an hour, but
the regular rolling of a sea that was but little agitated, a few
occasional strokes of the oars, that were given in order to keep the barge
in its place, or the heavy breathing of some smaller fish of the
cetaceous kind, as it rose to the surface to inhale the atmosphere. In no
quarter of the heavens was any thing visible; not even a star was peeping
out, to cheer the solitude and silence of that solitary place. The men
were nodding on the thwarts and our young sailor was about to relinquish
his design as fruitless, when suddenly a noise was heard, at no great
distance from the spot where they lay. It was one of those sounds which
would have been inexplicable to any but a seaman, but which conveyed a
meaning to the ears of Ludlow, as plain as that which could be imparted by
speech to a landsman. A moaning creak was followed by the low rumbling of
a rope, as it rubbed on some hard or distended substance; and then
succeeded the heavy flap of canvas, that, yielding first to a powerful
impulse, was suddenly checked.
"Hear ye that?" exclaimed Ludlow, a little above a whisper. "'Tis the
brigantine, gybing his main-boom! Give way, men--see all ready to lay him
The crew started from their slumbers; the splash of oars was heard, and,
in the succeeding moment, the sails of a vessel, gliding through the
obscurity, nearly across their course, were visible.
"Now spring to your oars, men!" continued Ludlow, with the eagerness of
one engaged in chase. "We have him to advantage, and he is ours!--a long
pull and a strong pull--steadily, boys, and together!"
The practised crew did their duty. It seemed but a moment, before they
were close upon the chase.
"Another stroke of the oars, and she is ours!" cried
Ludlow.--"Grapple!--to your arms!--away, boarders, away!"
These orders came on the ears of the men with the effect of martial
blasts. The crew shouted, the clashing of arms was heard, and the tramp of
feet on the deck of the vessel announced the success of the enterprise.
A minute of extreme activity and of noisy confusion followed. The cheers
of the boarders had been heard, at a distance; and rockets shot into the
air, from the other boats, whose crews answered the shouts with manful
lungs. The whole ocean appeared in a momentary glow, and the roar of a gun
from the Coquette added to the fracas. The ship set several lanterns, in
order to indicate her position; while blue-lights, and other marine
signals were constantly burning in the approaching boats, as if those who
guided them were anxious to intimidate the assailed by a show of numbers.
In the midst of this scene of sudden awakening from the most profound
quiet, Ludlow began to look about him, in order to secure the principal
objects of the capture. He had repeated his orders about entering the
cabins, and concerning the person of the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' among the
other instructions given to the crews of the different boats; and the
instant they found themselves in quiet possession of the prize, the young
man dashed into the private recesses of the vessel, with a heart that
throbbed even more violently than during the ardor of boarding. To cast
open the door of a cabin, beneath the high quarter-deck, and to descend to
the level of its floor, were the acts of a moment. But disappointment and
mortification succeeded to triumph. A second glance was not necessary to
show that the coarse work and foul smells he saw and encountered, did not
belong to the commodious and even elegant accommodations of the
"Here is no Water-Witch!" he exclaimed aloud under the impulse of sudden
"God be praised!" returned a voice, which was succeeded by a frightened
face from out a state-room. "We were told the rover was in the offing, and
thought the yells could come from nothing human!"
The blood, which had been rushing through the arteries and veins of
Ludlow so tumultuously now crept into his cheeks, and was felt tingling at
his fingers'-ends. He gave a hurried order to his men to re-enter their
boat, leaving every thing as they found it. A short conference between the
commander of Her Majesty's ship Coquette, and the seaman of the
state-room, succeeded; and then the former hastened on deck, whence his
passage into the barge occupied but a moment. The boat pulled away from
the fancied prize, amid a silence that was uninterrupted by any other
sound than that of a song, which, to all appearance, came from one who by
this time had placed himself at the vessel's helm. All that can be said of
the music is, that it was suited to the words, and all that could be heard
of the latter, was a portion of a verse, if verse it might be called,
which had exercised the talents of some thoroughly nautical mind. As we
depend, for the accuracy of the quotation, altogether on the fidelity of
the journal of the midshipman already named, it is possible that some
injustice may be done the writer; but, according to that document, he sang
a strain of the coasting song, which we have prefixed to this chapter as
The papers of the coaster did not give a more detailed description of her
character and pursuits, than that which is contained in this verse. It is
certain that the log-book of the Coquette was far less explicit. The
latter merely said, that 'a coaster called the Stately Pine, John Turner,
master, bound from New-York to the Province of North Carolina, was boarded
at one o'clock, in the morning, all well.' But this description was not of
a nature to satisfy the sea men of the cruiser. Those who had been
actually engaged in the expedition were much too excited to see things in
their true colors; and, coupled with the two previous escapes of the
Water-Witch, the event just related had no small share in confirming
their former opinions concerning her character. The sailing-master was
not now alone, in believing that all pursuit of the brigantine was
But these were conclusions that the people of the Coquette made at their
leisure, rather than those which suggested themselves on the instant. The
boats, led by the flashes of light, had joined each other, and were rowing
fast towards the ship, before the pulses of the actors beat with
sufficient calmness to allow of serious reflection; nor was it until the
adventurers were below, and in their hammocks, that they found suitable
occasion to relate what had occurred to a wondering auditory. Robert Yarn,
the fore-top-man who had felt the locks of the sea-green lady blowing in
his face during the squall, took advantage of the circumstance to dilate
on his experiences; and, after having advanced certain positions that
particularly favored his own theories, he produced one of the crew of the
barge, who stood ready to affirm, in any court in Christendom, that he
actually saw the process of changing the beautiful and graceful lines that
distinguished the hull of the smuggler, into the coarser and more clumsy
model of the coaster.
"There are know-nothings," continued Robert, after he had fortified his
position by the testimony in question, "who would deny that the water of
the ocean is blue, because the stream that turns the parish-mill happens
to be muddy. But your real mariner, who has lived much in foreign parts,
is a man who understands the philosophy of life, and knows when to believe
a truth and when to scorn a lie. As for a vessel changing her character
when hard pushed in a chase, there are many instances; though having one
so near us, there is less necessity to be roving over distant seas, in
search of a case to prove it. My own opinion concerning this here
brigantine, is much as follows;--that is to say, I do suppose there was
once a real living hermaphrodite of her build and rig, and that she might
be employed in some such trade as this craft is thought to be in; and
that, in some unlucky hour, she and her people met with a mishap, that has
condemned her ever since to appear on this coast at stated times. She has,
however, a natural dislike to a royal cruiser; and no doubt the thing is
now sailed by those who have little need of compass or observation! All
this being true, it is not wonderful that when the boat's-crew got on her
decks, they found her different from what they had expected. This much is
certain, that when I lay within a boat-hook's length of her
sprit-sail-yard-arm, she was a half-rig, with a woman figure-head, and as
pretty a show of gear aloft, as eye ever looked upon; while every thing
below was as snug as a tobacco-box with the lid down:--and here you all
say that she is a high-decked schooner, with nothing ship-shape about her!
What more is wanting to prove the truth of what has been stated?--If any
man can gainsay it, let him speak."
As no man did gainsay it, it is presumed that the reasoning of the top-man
gained many proselytes. It is scarcely necessary to add, how much of
mystery and fearful interest was thrown around the redoubtable 'Skimmer of
the Seas,' by the whole transaction.
There was a different feeling on the quarter-deck. The two lieutenants put
their heads together, and looked grave; while one or two of the
midshipmen, who had been in the boats, were observed to whisper with their
messmates, and to indulge in smothered laughter. As the captain, however,
maintained his ordinary dignified and authoritative mien, the merriment
went no further, and was soon entirely repressed.
While on this subject, it may be proper to add that, in course of time,
the Stately Pine reached the capes of North Carolina, in safety; and that,
having effected her passage over Edenton bar, without striking, she
ascended the river to the point of her destination. Here the crew soon
began to throw out hints, relative to an encounter of their schooner with
a French cruiser. As the British empire, even in its most remote corners,
was at all times alive to its nautical glory, the event soon became the
discourse in more distant parts of the colony; and in less than six
months, the London journals contained a very glowing account of an
engagement, in which the names of the Stately Pine, and of John Turner,
made some respectable advances towards immortality.
If Captain Ludlow ever gave any further account of the transaction than
what was stated in the log-book of his ship, the bienseance, observed by
the Lords of the Admiralty, prevented it from becoming public.
Returning from this digression, which has no other connexion with the
immediate thread of the narrative, than that which arises from a reflected
interest, we shall revert to the further proceedings on board the cruiser.
When the Coquette had hoisted in her boats, that portion of the crew which
did not belong to the watch was dismissed to their hammocks, the lights
were lowered, and tranquillity once more reigned in the ship. Ludlow
sought his rest, and although there is reason to think that his slumbers
were a little disturbed by dreams, he remained tolerably quiet in the
hammock-cloths, the place in which it has already been said he saw fit to
take his repose, until the morning watch had been called.
Although the utmost vigilance was observed among the officers and
look-outs, during the rest of the night, there occurred nothing to arouse
the crew from their usual recumbent attitudes between the guns. The wind
continued light but steady, the sea smooth, and the heavens clouded, as
during the first hours of darkness.
"The mouse ne'er shunned the cat, as they did budge
From rascals worse than they."
Day dawned on the Atlantic, with its pearly light, succeeded by the usual
flushing of the skies, and the stately rising of the sun from out the
water. The instant the vigilant officer, who commanded the morning watch,
caught the first glimpses of the returning brightness, Ludlow was
awakened. A finger laid on his arm, was sufficient to arouse one who slept
with the responsibility of his station ever present to his mind. A minute
did not pass, before the young man was on the quarter-deck, closely
examining the heavens and the horizon. His first question was to ask if
nothing had been seen during the watch. The answer was in the negative.
"I like this opening in the north-west," observed the captain, after his
eye had thoroughly scanned the whole of the still dusky and limited view.
"Wind will come out of it. Give us a cap-full, and we shall try the speed
of this boasted Water-Witch!--Do I not see a sail, on our
weather-beam?--or is it the crest of a wave?"
"The sea is getting irregular, and I have often been thus deceived, since
the light appeared."
"Get more sail on the ship. Here is wind, in-shore of us; we will be ready
for it. See every thing clear, to show all our canvas."
The lieutenant received these orders with the customary deference and
communicated them to his inferiors again, with the promptitude that
distinguishes sea discipline. The Coquette, at the moment, was lying under
her three top-sails, one of which was thrown against its mast, in a manner
to hold the vessel as nearly stationary as her drift and the wash of the
waves would allow. So soon, however, as the officer of the watch summoned
the people to exertion, the massive yards were swung; several light sails,
that served to balance the fabric as well as to urge it ahead, were
hoisted or opened; and the ship immediately began to move through the
water. While the men of the watch were thus employed, the flapping of the
canvas announced the approach of a new breeze.
The coast of North America is liable to sudden and dangerous transitions,
in the currents of the air. It is a circumstance of no unusual occurrence,
for a gale to alter its direction with so little warning, as greatly to
jeopard the safety of a ship, or even to overwhelm her. It has been often
said, that the celebrated Ville de Paris was lost through one of these
violent changes, her captain having inadvertently hove-to the vessel under
too much after-sail, a mistake by which he lost the command of his ship
during the pressing emergency that ensued. Whatever may have been the fact
as regards that ill-fated prize, it is certain that Ludlow was perfectly
aware of the hazards that sometimes accompany the first blasts of a
north-west wind on his native coast, and that he never forgot to be
prepared for the danger.
When the wind from the land struck the Coquette, the streak of light,
which announced the appearance of the sun, had been visible several
minutes. As the broad sheets of vapor, that had veiled the heavens during
the prevalence of the south-easterly breeze, were rolled up into dense
masses of clouds, like some immense curtain that is withdrawn from before
its scene, the water, no less than the sky, became instantly visible, in
every quarter. It is scarcely necessary to say, how eagerly the gaze of
our young seaman ran over the horizon, in order to observe the objects
which might come within its range. At first disappointment was plainly
painted in his countenance, and then succeeded the animated eye and
flushed cheek of success.
"I had thought her gone!" he said to his immediate subordinate in
authority. "But here she is, to leeward, just within the edge of that
driving mist, and as dead under our lee as a kind fortune could place her.
Keep the ship away, Sir, and cover her with canvas, from her trucks down.
Call the people from their hammocks, and show yon insolent what Her
Majesty's sloop can do, at need!"
This command was the commencement of a general and hasty movement, in
which every seaman in the ship exerted his powers to the utmost. All hands
were no sooner called, than the depths of the vessel gave up their
tenants, who, joining their force to that of the watch on deck, quickly
covered the spars of the Coquette with a snow-white cloud. Not content to
catch the breeze on such surfaces as the ordinary yards could distend,
long booms were thrust out over the water, and sail was set beyond sail,
until the bending masts would bear no more. The low hull, which supported
this towering and complicated mass of ropes, spars, and sails, yielded to
the powerful impulse, and the fabric, which, in addition to its crowd of
human beings, sustained so heavy a load of artillery, with all its burthen
of stores and ammunition, began to divide the waves, with the steady and
imposing force of a vast momentum. The seas curled and broke against her
sides, like water washing the rocks, the steady ship feeling, as yet, no
impression from their feeble efforts. As the wind increased, however, and
the vessel went further from the land, the surface of the ocean gradually
grew more agitated, until the highlands, which lay over the villa of the
Lust in Rust, finally sunk into the sea; when the top-gallant-royals of
the ship were seen describing wide segments of circles against the
heavens, and her dark sides occasionally rose, from a long and deep roll,
glittering with the element that sustained her.
When Ludlow first descried the object which he believed to be the chase,
it seemed a motionless speck on the margin of the sea. It had now grown
into all the magnitude and symmetry of the well-known brigantine. Her
slight and attenuated spars were plainly to be seen, rolling, easily but
wide, with the constant movement of the hull, and with no sail spread, but
that which was necessary to keep the vessel in command on the billows. But
when the Coquette was just within the range of a cannon, the canvas began
to unfold; and it was soon apparent that the "Skimmer of the Seas" was
preparing for flight.
The first manoeuvre of the Water-witch was an attempt to gain the wind of
her pursuer. A short experiment appeared to satisfy those who governed the
brigantine that the effort was vain, while the wind was so fresh and the
water so rough. She wore, and crowded sail on the opposite tack, in order
to try her speed with the cruiser; nor was it until the result
sufficiently showed the danger of permitting the other to get any nigher,
that she finally put her helm aweather, and ran off, like a sea-fowl
resting on its wing, with the wind over her taffrail.
The two vessels now presented the spectacle of a stern chase. The
brigantine also opened the folds of all her sails, and there arose a
pyramid of canvas, over the nearly imperceptible hull, that resembled a
fantastic cloud driving above the sea, with a velocity that seemed to
rival the passage of the vapor that floated in the upper air. As equal
skill directed the movements of the two vessels, and the same breeze
pressed upon their sails, it was long before there was any perceptible
difference in their progress. Hour passed after hour, and were it not for
the sheets of white foam that were dashed from the bows of the Coquette,
and the manner in which she even out stripped the caps of the combing
waves, her commander might have fancied his vessel ever in the same spot.
While the ocean presented, on every side, the same monotonous and rolling
picture, there lay the chase, seemingly neither a foot nearer, nor a foot
farther, than when the trial of speed began. A dark line would rise on the
crest of a wave, and then, sinking again, leave, nothing visible, but the
yielding and waving cloud of canvas, that danced along the sea.
"I had hoped for better things of the ship, Master Trysail!" said Ludlow,
who had long been seated on a night-head, attentively watching the
progress of the chase. "We are buried to the bob-stays; and yet, there yon
fellow lies, nothing plainer than when he first showed his
"And there he will lie, Captain Ludlow, while the light lasts. I have
chased the rover in the narrow seas, till the cliffs of England melted
away like the cap of a wave; and we had raised the sand-banks of Holland
high as the sprit-sail-yard, and yet what good came of it? The rogue
played with us, as your portsman trifles with the entangled trout; and
when we thought we had him, he would shoot without the range of our guns,
with as little exertion as a ship slides into the water, after the spur
shoars are knocked from under her bows."
"Ay, but the Druid had a little of the rust of antiquity about her. The
Coquette has never got a chase under her lee, that she did not speak."
"I disparage no ship, Sir, for character is character, and none should
speak lightly of their fellow-creatures, and, least of all, of any thing
which follows the sea. I allow the Coquette to be a lively boat on a wind,
and a real scudder going large; but one should know the wright that
fashioned yonder brigantine, before he ventures to say that any vessel in
Her Majesty's fleet can hold way with her, when she is driven hard."
"These opinions, Trysail, are fitter for the tales of a top, than for the
mouth of one who walks the quarter-deck."
"I should have lived to little purpose, Captain Ludlow, not to know that
what was philosophy in my young days, is not philosophy now. They say the
world is round, which is my own opinion--first, because the glorious Sir
Francis Drake, and divers other Englishmen, have gone in, as it were, at
one end, and out at the other; no less than several seamen of other
nations, to say nothing of one Magellan, who pretends to have been the
first man to make the passage, which I take to be neither more nor less
than a Portuguee lie, it being altogether unreasonable to suppose that a
Portuguee should do what an Englishman had not yet thought of
doing;--secondly, if the world were not round, or some such shape, why
should we see the small sails of a ship before her courses, or why should
her truck heave up into the horizon before the hull? They say, moreover,
that the world turns round, which is no doubt true; and it is just as true
that its opinions turn round with it, which brings me to the object of my
remark--yon fellow shows more of his broadside, Sir, than common! He is
edging in for the land, which must lie, hereaway, on our larboard beam, in
order to get into smoother water. This tumbling about is not favorable to
your light craft, let who will build them."
"I had hoped to drive him off the coast. Could we get him fairly into the
Gulf Stream, he would be ours, for he is too low in the water to escape
us in the short seas. We must force him into blue water, though our upper
spars crack in the struggle! Go aft, Mr. Hopper, and tell the officer of
the watch to bring the ship's head up, a point and a half, to the
northward, and to give a slight pull on the braces."
"What a mainsail the rogue carries! It is as broad as the instructions of
a roving commission, with a hoist like the promotion of an admiral's son!
How every thing pulls aboard him! A thorough-bred sails that brigantine,
let him come whence he may!"
"I think we near him! The rough water is helping us, and we are closing.
Steer small, fellow; steer small! You see the color of his mouldings
begins to show, when he lifts on the seas."
"The sun touches his side--and yet, Captain Ludlow, you may be right--for
here is a man in his fore-top, plainly enough to be seen. A shot, or two,
among his spars and sails, might now do service."
Ludlow affected not to hear; but the first-lieutenant having come on the
forecastle, seconded this opinion, by remarking that their position would
indeed enable them to use the chase-gun, without losing any distance. As
Trysail sustained his former assertion by truths that were too obvious to
be refuted, the commander of the cruiser reluctantly issued an order to
clear away the forward gun, and to shift it into the bridle-port. The
interested and attentive seamen were not long in performing this service;
and a report was quickly made to the captain, that the piece was ready.
Ludlow then descended from his post on the night-head, and pointed the
"Knock away the quoin, entirely;" he said to the captain of the gun, when
he had got the range; "now mind her when she lifts, forward; keep the ship
Those gentleman 'who live at home at ease,' are often surprised to read
of combats, in which so much powder, and hundreds and even thousands of
shot, are expended, with so little loss of human life; while a struggle on
the land, of less duration, and seemingly of less obstinacy, shall sweep
away a multitude. The secret of the difference lies in the uncertainty of
aim, on an element as restless as the sea. The largest ship is rarely
quite motionless, when on the open ocean; and it is not necessary to tell
the reader, that the smallest variation in the direction of a gun at its
muzzle, becomes magnified to many yards at the distance of a few hundred
feet. Marine gunnery has no little resemblance to the skill of the fowler;
since a calculation for a change in the position of the object must
commonly be made in both cases, with the additional embarrassment on the
part of the seaman, of an allowance for a complicated movement in the
How far the gun of the Coquette was subject to the influence of these
causes, or how far the desire of her captain to protect those whom he
believed to be on board the brigantine, had an effect on the direction
taken by its shot, will probably never be known. It is certain, however,
that when the stream of fire, followed by its curling cloud, had gushed
out upon the water, fifty eyes sought in vain to trace the course of the
iron messenger among the sails and rigging of the Water-Witch. The
symmetry of her beautiful rig was undisturbed, and the unconscious fabric
still glided over the waves, with its customary ease and velocity. Ludlow
had a reputation, among his crew, for some skill in the direction of a
gun. The failure, therefore, in no degree aided in changing the opinions
of the common men concerning the character of the chase. Many shook their
heads, and more than one veteran tar, as he paced his narrow limits with
both hands thrust into the bosom of his jacket, was heard to utter his
belief of the inefficacy of ordinary shot, in bringing-to that
brigantine. It was necessary, however to repeat the experiment, for the
sake of appearances. The gun was several times discharged, and always with
the same want of success.
"There is little use in wasting our powder, at this distance, and with so
heavy a sea," said Ludlow, quitting the cannon, after a fifth and
fruitless essay. "I shall fire no more. Look at your sails, gentlemen, and
see that every thing draws. We must conquer with our heels, and let the
artillery rest.--Secure the gun."
"The piece is ready, Sir;" observed its captain, presuming on his known
favor with the commander, though he qualified the boldness by taking off
his hat, in a sufficiently respectful manner--"'Tis a pity to balk it!"
"Fire it, yourself, then, and return the piece to its port;" carelessly
returned the captain, willing to show that others could be as unlucky as
The men quartered at the gun, left alone, busied themselves in executing
"Run in the quoin, and, blast the brig, give her a point-blanker!" said
the gruff old seaman, who was intrusted with a local authority over that
particular piece. "None of your geometry calculations, for me!"
The crew obeyed, and the match was instantly applied. A rising sea,
however, aided the object of the directly-minded old tar, or our narration
of the exploits of the piece would end with the discharge, since its shot
would otherwise have inevitably plunged into a wave, within a few yards of
its muzzle. The bows of the ship rose with the appearance of the smoke,
the usual brief expectation followed, and then fragments of wood were seen
flying above the top-mast-studding-sail-boom of the brigantine, which, at
the same time, flew forward, carrying with it, and entirely deranging,
the two important sails that depended on the spar for support.
"So much for plain sailing!" cried the delighted tar, slapping the breach
of the gun, affectionately. "Witch or no witch, there go two of her
jackets at once; and, by the captain's good-will, we shall shortly take
off some more of her clothes! In spunge----"
"The order is to run the gun aft, and secure it;" said a merry midshipman,
leaping on the heel of the bowsprit to gaze at the confusion on board the
chase. "The rogue is nimble enough, in saving his canvas!"
There was, in truth, necessity for exertion, on the part of those who
governed the movements of the brigantine. The two sails that were rendered
temporarily useless, were of great importance, with the wind over the
taffrail. The distance between the two vessels did not exceed a mile, and
the danger of lessening it was now too obvious to admit of delay. The
ordinary movements of seamen, in critical moments, are dictated by a
quality that resembles instinct, more than thought. The constant hazards
of a dangerous and delicate profession, in which delay may prove fatal,
and in which life, character, and property are so often dependent on the
self-possession and resources of him who commands, beget, in time, so keen
a knowledge of the necessary expedients, as to cause it to approach a
The studding-sails of the Water-Witch were no sooner fluttering in the
air, than the brigantine slightly changed her course, like some bird whose
wing has been touched by the fowler; and her head was seen inclining as
much to the south, as the moment before it had pointed northward. The
variation, trifling as it was, brought the wind on the opposite quarter,
and caused the boom that distended her mainsail to gybe. At the same
instant, the studding-sails, which had been flapping under the lee of this
vast sheet of canvas, swelled to their utmost tension; and the vessel
lost little, if any, of the power which urged her through the water. Even
while this evolution was so rapidly performed, men were seen aloft, nimbly
employed, as it has been already expressed by the observant little
midshipman, in securing the crippled sails.
"A rogue has a quick wit," said Trysail, whose critical eye suffered no
movement of the chase to escape him; "and he has need of it, sail from
what haven he may! Yon brigantine is prettily handled! Little have we
gained by our fire, but the gunner's account of ammunition expended; and
little has the free-trader lost, but a studding-sail-boom, which will work
up very well, yet, into top-gallant-yards, and other light spars, for such
"It is something gained, to force him off the land into rougher water;"
Ludlow mildly answered. "I think we see his quarter-pieces more plainly,
than before the gun was used."
"No doubt, Sir, no doubt. I got a glimpse of his lower dead-eyes, a minute
ago; but I have been near enough to see the saucy look of the hussy under
his bowsprit; yet there goes the brigantine, at large!"
"I am certain that we are closing;" thoughtfully returned Ludlow. "Hand me
a glass, quarter master."
Trysail watched the countenance of his young commander, as he examined the
chase with the aid of the instrument; and he thought he read strong
discontent in his features, when the other laid it aside.
"Does he show no signs of coming back to his allegiance, Sir?--or does the
rogue hold out in obstinacy?"
"The figure on his poop is the bold man who ventured on board the
Coquette, and who now seems quite as much at his ease as when he
exhibited his effrontery here!"
"There is a look of deep water about that rogue; and I thought Her Majesty
had gained a prize, when he first put foot on our decks. You are right
enough, Sir, in calling him a bold one! The fellow's impudence would
unsettle the discipline of a whole ship's company, though every other man
were an officer, and all the rest priests. He took up as much room in
walking the quarter-deck, as a ninety in waring; and the truck is not
driven on the head of that top-gallant-mast, half as hard as the hat is
riveted to his head. The fellow has no reverence for a pennant! I managed,
in shifting pennants at sunset, to make the fly of the one that came down
flap in his impudent countenance, by way of hint; and he took it as a
Dutchman minds a signal--that is, as a question to be answered in the next
watch. A little polish got on the quarter-deck of a man-of-war, would make
a philosopher of the rogue, and fit him for any company, short of heaven!"
"There goes a new boom, aloft!" cried Ludlow, interrupting the discursive
discourse of the master. "He is bent on getting in with the shore."
"If these puffs come much heavier," returned the master, whose opinions of
the chase vacillated with his professional feelings, "we shall have him at
our own play, and try the qualities of his brigantine! The sea has a green
spot to windward, and there are strong symptoms of a squall on the water.
One can almost see into the upper world, with an air clear as this. Your
northers sweep the mists off America, and leave both sea and land bright
as a school-boy's face, before the tears have dimmed it, after the first
flogging. You have sailed in the southern seas, Captain Ludlow, I know;
for we were shipmates among the islands, years that are past: but I never
heard whether you have run the Gibralter passage, and seen the blue water
that lies among the Italy mountains?"
"I made a cruise against the Barbary states, when a lad; and we had
business that took us to the northern shore."
"Ay! 'Tis your northern shore, I mean! There is not a foot of it all, from
the rock at the entrance to the Fare of Messina, that eye of mine hath not
seen. No want of look-outs and land-marks in that quarter! Here we are
close aboard of America, which lies some eight or ten leagues there-away
to the northward of us, and some forty astern; and yet, if it were not for
our departure, with the color of the water, and a knowledge of the
soundings, one might believe himself in the middle of the Atlantic. Many a
good ship plumps upon America before she knows where she is going; while
in yon sea, you may run for a mountain, with its side in full view,
four-and-twenty hours on a stretch, before you see the town at its foot."
"Nature has compensated for the difference, in defending the approach to
this coast, by the Gulf Stream, with its floating weeds and different
temperature; while the lead may feel its way in the darkest night, for no
roof of a house is more gradual than the ascent of this shore, from a
hundred fathoms to a sandy beach."
"I said many a good ship, Captain Ludlow, and not good
navigator.--No--no--your thorough-bred knows the difference between green
water and blue, as well as between a hand-lead and the deep-sea. But I
remember to have missed an observation, once, when running for Genoa,
before a mistrail. There was a likelihood of making our land-fall in the
night, and the greater the need of knowing the ship's position. I have
often thought, Sir, that the ocean was like human life,--a blind track for
all that is ahead, and none of the clearest as respects that which has
been passed over. Many a man runs headlong to his own destruction, and
many a ship steers for a reef under a press of canvas. To-morrow is a fog,
into which none of us can see; and even the present time is little better
than thick weather, into which we look without getting much information.
Well, as I was observing, here lay our course, with the wind as near aft
as need be, blowing much as at present; for your French mistrail has a
family likeness to the American norther. We had the main-top-gallant-sail
set, without studding-sails, for we began to think of the deep bight in
which Genoa is stowed, and the sun had dipped more than an hour. As our
good fortune would have it, clouds and mistrails do not agree long, and we
got a clear horizon. Here lay a mountain of snow, northerly, a little
west, and there lay another, southerly with easting. The best ship in
Queen Anne's navy could not have fetched either in a day's run, and yet
there we saw them, as plainly as if anchored under their lee! A look at
the chart soon gave us an insight into our situation. The first were the
Alps, as they call them, being as I suppose the French for apes, of which
there are no doubt plenty in those regions; and the other were the
highlands of Corsica, both being as white, in midsummer, as the hair of a
man of fourscore. You see, Sir, we had only to set the two, by compass, to
know, within a league or two, where we were. So we ran till midnight, and
hove-to; and in the morning we took the light to feel for our haven----"
"The brigantine is gybing, again!" cried Ludlow. "He is determined to
shoal his water!"
The master glanced an eye around the horizon and then pointed steadily
towards the north. Ludlow observed the gesture, and, turning his head, he
was at no loss to read its meaning.
"--I am gone, Sir
And, anon, Sir,
I'll be with you again."
Clown in Twelfth Night.
Although it is contrary to the apparent evidence of our senses, there is
no truth more certain than that the course of most gales of wind comes
from the leeward. The effects of a tempest shall be felt, for hours, at a
point that is seemingly near its termination, before they are witnessed at
another, that appears to be nearer its source. Experience has also shown
that a storm is more destructive, at or near its place of actual
commencement, than at that whence it may seem to come. The easterly gales
that so often visit the coasts of the republic, commit their ravages in
the bays of Pennsylvania and Virginia, or along the sounds of the
Carolinas, hours before their existence is known in the states further
east; and the same wind, which is a tempest at Hatteras, becomes softened
to a breeze, near the Penobscot. There is, however, little mystery in this
apparent phenomenon. The vacuum which has been created in the air, and
which is the origin of all winds, must be filled first from the nearest
stores of the atmosphere; and as each region contributes to produce the
equilibrium, it must, in return, receive other supplies from those which
lie beyond. Were a given quantity of water to be suddenly abstracted from
the sea, the empty space would be replenished by a torrent from the
nearest surrounding fluid, whose level would be restored, in succession,
by supplies that were less and less violently contributed. Were the
abstraction made on a shoal, or near the land, the flow would be greatest
from that quarter where the fluid had the greatest force, and with it
would consequently come the current.
But while there is so close an affinity between the two fluids, the
workings of the viewless winds are, in their nature, much less subject to
the powers of human comprehension than those of the sister element. The
latter are frequently subject to the direct and manifest influence of the
former, while the effects produced by the ocean on the air are hid from
our knowledge by the subtle character of the agency. Vague and erratic
currents, it is true, are met in the waters of the ocean; but their origin
is easily referred to the action of the winds, while we often remain in
uncertainty as to the immediate causes which give birth to the breezes
themselves. Thus the mariner, even while the victim of the irresistible
waves, studies the heavens as the known source from whence the danger
comes; and while he struggles fearfully, amid the strife of the elements,
to preserve the balance of the delicate and fearful machine he governs, he
well knows that the one which presents the most visible, and to a landsman
much the most formidable object of apprehension, is but the instrument of
the unseen and powerful agent that heaps the water on his path.
It is in consequence of this difference in power, and of the mystery that
envelops the workings of the atmosphere, that, in all ages, seamen have
been the subjects of superstition, in respect to the winds. There is
always more or less of the dependency of ignorance, in the manner with
which they have regarded the changes of that fickle element. Even the
mariners of our own times are not exempt from this weakness. The
thoughtless ship-boy is reproved if his whistle be heard in the howling of
the gale, and the officer sometimes betrays a feeling of uneasiness, if at
such a moment he should witness any violation of the received opinions of
his profession. He finds himself in the situation of one whose ears have
drunk in legends of supernatural appearances, which a better instruction
has taught him to condemn, and who when placed in situations to awaken
their recollection, finds the necessity of drawing upon his reason to
quiet emotions that he might hesitate to acknowledge.
When Trysail directed the attention of his young commander to the heavens,
however, it was more with the intelligence of an experienced mariner, than
with any of the sensations to which allusion has just been made. A cloud
had suddenly appeared on the water, and long ragged portions of the vapor
were pointing from it, in a manner to give it what seamen term a windy
"We shall have more than we want, with this canvas!" said the master,
after both he and his commander had studied the appearance of the mist,
for a sufficient time. "That fellow is a mortal enemy of lofty sails; he
likes to see nothing but naked sticks, up in his neighbourhood!"
"I should think his appearance will force the brigantine to shorten sail;"
returned the Captain. "We will hold-on to the last, while he must begin to
take in soon, or the squall will come upon him too fast for a light-handed
"'Tis a cruiser's advantage! And yet the rogue shows no signs of lowering
a single cloth!"
"We will look to our own spars;" said Ludlow, turning to the lieutenant of
the watch. "Call the people up, Sir, and see all ready, for yonder cloud."
The order was succeeded by the customary hoarse summons of the boatswain,
who prefaced the effort of his lungs by a long, shrill winding of his
call, above the hatchways of the ship. The cry of "all hands shorten sail,
ahoy!" soon brought the crew from the depths of the vessel to her upper
deck. Each trained seaman silently took his station; and after the ropes
were cleared, and the few necessary preparations made, all stood in
attentive silence, awaiting the sounds that might next proceed from the
trumpet, which the first-lieutenant had now assumed in person.
The superiority of sailing, which a ship fitted for war possesses over one
employed in commerce, proceeds from a variety of causes. The first is in
the construction of the hull, which in the one is as justly fitted, as the
art of naval architecture will allow, to the double purposes of speed and
buoyancy; while in the other, the desire of gain induces great sacrifices
of these important objects, in order that the vessel may be burthensome.
Next comes the difference in the rig, which is not only more square, but
more lofty, in a ship of war than in a trader; because the greater force
of the crew of the former enables them to manage both spars and sails that
are far heavier than any ever used in the latter. Then comes the greater
ability of the cruiser to make and shorten sail, since a ship manned by
one or two hundred men may safely profit by the breeze to the last moment,
while one manned by a dozen often loses hours of a favorable wind, from
the weakness of her crew. This explanation will enable the otherwise
uninitiated reader to understand the reason why Ludlow had hoped the
coming squall would aid his designs on the chase.
To express ourselves in nautical language, 'the Coquette held on to the
last.' Ragged streaks of vapor were whirling about in the air, within a
fearful proximity to the lofty and light sails, and the foam on the water
had got so near the ship, as already to efface her wake; when Ludlow, who
had watched the progress of the cloud with singular coolness, made a sign
to his subordinate that the proper instant had arrived.
"In, of all!" shouted through the trumpet, was the only command necessary;
for officers and crew were well instructed in their duty.
The words had no sooner quitted the lips of the lieutenant, than the
steady roar of the sea was drowned in the flapping of canvas. Tacks,
sheets, and halyards, went together; and, in less than a minute, the
cruiser showed naked spars and whistling ropes, where so lately had been
seen a cloud of snow-white cloth. All her steering-sails came in together,
and the lofty canvas was furled to her top-sails. The latter still stood,
and the vessel received the weight of the little tempest on their broad
surfaces. The gallant ship stood the shock nobly; but, as the wind came
over the taffrail, its force had far less influence on the hull, than on
the other occasion already described. The danger, now, was only for her
spars; and these were saved by the watchful, though bold, vigilance of her
Ludlow was no sooner certain that the cruiser felt the force of the wind,
and to gain this assurance needed but a few moments, than he turned his
eager look on the brigantine. To the surprise of all who witnessed her
temerity, the Water-Witch still showed all her light sails. Swiftly as the
ship was now driven through the water, its velocity was greatly
outstripped by that of the wind. The signs of the passing squall were
already visible on the sea, for half the distance between the two vessels;
and still the chase showed no consciousness of its approach. Her commander
had evidently studied its effects on the Coquette; and he awaited the
shock, with the coolness of one accustomed to depend on his own resources,
and able to estimate the force with which he had to contend.
"If he hold-on a minute longer, he will get more than he can bear, and
away will go all his kites, like smoke from the muzzle of a gun!" muttered
Trysail. "Ah! there come down his studding-sails--ha! settle away the
mainsail--in royal, and top-gallant sail, with top-sail on the cap!--The
rascals are nimble as pickpockets in a crowd!"
The honest master has sufficiently described the precautions taken on
board of the brigantine. Nothing was furled; but as every thing was hauled
up, or lowered, the squall had little to waste its fury on. The diminished
surfaces of the sails protected the spars, while the canvas was saved by
the aid of cordage. After a few moments of pause, half-a-dozen men were
seen busied in more effectually securing the few upper and lighter sails.
But though the boldness with which the 'Skimmer of the Seas' carried sail
to the last, was justified by the result, still the effects of the
increased wind and rising waves on the progress of the two vessels, grew
more sensible. While the little and low brigantine began to labor and
roll, the Coquette rode the element with buoyancy, and consequently with
less resistance from the water. Twenty minutes, during which the force of
the wind was but little lessened, brought the cruiser so near the chase,
as to enable her crew to distinguish most of the smaller objects that were
visible above her ridge-ropes.
"Blow winds, and crack your cheeks!" said Ludlow, in an under tone, the
excitement of the chase growing with the hopes of success. "I ask but one
half-hour, and then shift at your pleasure!"
"Blow, good devil, and you shall have the cook!" muttered Trysail, quoting
a very different author. "Another glass will bring us within hail."
"The squall is leaving us!" interrupted the captain. "Pack on the ship,
again, Mr. Luff, from her trucks to her ridge-ropes!"
The whistle of the boatswain was again heard at the hatchways, and the
hoarse summons of 'all hands make sail, ahoy!' once more called the people
to their stations. The sails were set, with a rapidity which nearly
equalled the speed with which they had been taken in; and the violence of
the breeze was scarcely off the ship, before its complicated volumes of
canvas were spread, to catch what remained. On the other hand, the chase,
even more hardy than the cruiser, did not wait for the end of the squall;
but, profiting by the notice given by the latter, the 'Skimmer of the
Seas' began to sway his yards aloft, while the sea was still white with
"The quick-sighted rogue knows we are done with it," said Trysail; "and he
is getting ready for his own turn. We gain but little of him,
notwithstanding our muster of hands."
The fact was too true to be denied, for the brigand tine was again under
all her canvas, before the ship had sensibly profited by her superior
physical force. It was at this moment, when, perhaps, in consequence of
the swell on the water, the Coquette might have possessed some small
advantage, that the wind suddenly failed. The squall had been its expiring
effort; and, within an hour after the two vessels had again made sail, the
canvas was flapping against the masts, in a manner to throw back, in
eddies, a force as great as that it received. The sea fell fast, and ere
the end of the last or forenoon watch, the surface of the ocean was
agitated only by those long undulating swells, that seldom leave it
entirely without motion. For some little time, there were fickle currents
of air playing in various directions about the ship, but always in
sufficient force to urge her slowly through the water; and then, when the
equilibrium of the element seemed established, there was a total calm.
During the half-hour of the baffling winds, the brigantine had been a
gainer, though not enough to carry her entirely beyond the reach of the
"Haul up the courses!" said Ludlow, when the fast breath of wind had been
felt on the ship, and quitting the gun where he had long stood, watching
the movements of the chase. "Get the boats into the water, Mr. Luff, and
arm their crews."
The young commander issued this order, which needed no interpreter to
explain its object, firmly, but in sadness. His face was thoughtful, and
his whole air was that of a man who yielded to an imperative but an
unpleasant duty. When he had spoken, he signed to the attentive Alderman
and his friend to follow, and entered his cabin.
"There is no alternative," continued Ludlow, as he laid the glass, which
so often that morning had been at his eye, on the table, and threw himself
into a chair. "This rover must be seized at every hazard, and here is a
favorable occasion to carry him by boarding. Twenty minutes will bring us
to his side, and five more will put us in possession; but--"
"You think the Skimmer is not a man to receive such visiters with an old
woman's welcome;" pithily observed Myndert.
"I much mistake the man, if he yield so beautiful a vessel, peacefully.
Duty is imperative on a seaman, Alderman Van Beverout; and, much as I
lament the circumstance, it must be obeyed."
"I understand you, Sir. Captain Ludlow has two mistresses, Queen Anne and
the daughter of old Etienne de Barberie. He fears both. When the debts
exceed the means of payment, it would seem wise to offer to compound; and,
in this case, Her Majesty and my niece may be said to stand in the case of
"You mistake my meaning, Sir;" said Ludlow proudly. "There can be no
composition between a faithful officer and his duty, nor do I acknowledge
more than one mistress in my ship--but seamen are little to be trusted in
the moment of success, and with their passions awakened by
resistance.--Alderman Van Beverout, will you accompany the party and serve
"Pikes and hand-grenades! Am I a fit subject for mounting the sides of a
smuggler, with a broadsword between my teeth! If you will put me into the
smallest and most peaceable of your boats, with a crew of two boys, that I
can control with the authority of a magistrate, and covenant to remain
here with your three top-sails aback, having always a flag of truce at
each mast, I will bear the olive-branch to the brigantine, but not a word
of menace. If report speaks true, your 'Skimmer of the Seas' is no lover
of threats, and Heaven forbid that I should do violence to any man's
habits! I will go forth as your turtle-dove, Captain Ludlow; but not one
foot will I proceed as your Goliath."
"And you equally refuse endeavoring to avert hostilities?" continued
Ludlow, turning his look on the Patroon of Kinderhook.
"I am the Queen's subject, and ready to aid in supporting the laws;"
quietly returned Oloff Van Staats.
"Patroon!" exclaimed his watchful friend; "you know not what you say! If
there were question of an inroad of Mohawks, or an invasion from the
Canadas, the case would differ; but this is only a trifling difference,
concerning a small balance in the revenue duties, which had better be left
to your tide-waiter, and the other wild-cats of the law. If Parliament
will put temptation before our eyes, let the sin light on their own heads.
Human nature is weak, and the vanities of our system are so many
inducements to overlook unreasonable regulations. I say, therefore, it is
better to remain in peace, on board this ship, where our characters will
be as safe as our bones, and trust to Providence for what will happen."
"I am the Queen's subject, and ready to uphold her dignity;" repeated
"I will trust you, Sir;" said Ludlow, taking his rival by the arm, and
leading him into his own state-room.
The conference was soon ended, and a midshipman shortly after reported
that the boats were ready for service. The master was next summoned to the
cabin and admitted to the private apartment of his commander. Ludlow then
proceeded to the deck, where he made the final dispositions for the
attack. The ship was left in charge of Mr. Luff, with an injunction to
profit by any breeze that might offer, to draw as near as possible to the
chase. Trysail was placed in the launch, at the head of a strong party of
boarders. Van Staats of Kinderhook was provided with the yawl, manned only
by its customary crew; while Ludlow entered his own barge, which contained
its usual complement, though the arms that lay in the stern-sheets
sufficiently showed that they were prepared for service.
The launch, being the soonest ready, and of much the heaviest movement,
was the first to quit the side of the Coquette. The master steered
directly for the becalmed and motionless brigantine. Ludlow took a more
circuitous course, apparently with an intention of causing such a
diversion as might distract the attention of the crew of the smuggler, and
with the view of reaching the point of attack at the same moment with the
boat that contained his principal force. The yawl also inclined from the
straight line steering as much on one side as the barge diverged on the
other. In this manner the men pulled in silence for some twenty
minutes,--the motion of the larger boat, which was heavily charged, being
slow and difficult. At the end of this period, a signal was made from the
barge, when all the men ceased rowing and prepared themselves for the
struggle. The launch was within pistol-shot of the brigantine, and
directly on her beam; the yawl had gained her head where Van Staats of
Kinderhook was studying the malign expression of the image, with an
interest that seemed to increase as his sluggish nature became excited;
and Ludlow, on the quarter opposite to the launch, was examining the
condition of the chase by the aid of a glass. Trysail profited by the
pause, to address his followers:
"This is an expedition in boats," commenced the accurate and
circumstantial master, "made in smooth water, with little, or one may say
no wind, in the month of June, and on the coast of North America. You are
not such a set of know-nothings, men, as to suppose the launch has been
hoisted out, and two of the oldest, not to say best seamen, on the
quarter-deck of Her Majesty's ship, have gone in boats, without the
intention of doing something more than to ask the name and character of
the brig in sight. The smallest of the young gentlemen might have done
that duty, as well as the captain, or myself. It is the belief of those
who are best informed, that the stranger, who has the impudence to lie
quietly within long range of a royal cruiser, without showing his colors,
is neither more nor less than the famous 'Skimmer of the Seas;' a man
against whose seamanship I will say nothing, but who has none of the best
reputation for honesty, as relates to the Queen's revenue. No doubt you
have heard many extraordinary accounts of the exploits of this rover, some
of which seem to insinuate, that the fellow has a private understanding
with those who manage their transactions in a less religious manner than
it may be supposed is done by the bench of bishops. But what of that? You
are hearty Englishmen, who know what belongs to church and state; and,
d----e, you are not the boys to be frightened by a little witchcraft. [a
cheer] Ay, that is intelligible and reasonable language, and such as
satisfies me you understand the subject. I shall say no more, than just to
add, that Captain Ludlow desires there may be no indecent language, nor,
for that matter, any rough treatment of the people of the brigantine,
over and above the knocking on the head, and cutting of throats, that may
be necessary to take her. In this particular, you will take example by me,
who, being older, have more experience than most of you, and who, in all
reason, should better know when and where to show his manhood. Lay about
you like men, so long as the free-traders stand to their quarters--but
remember mercy, in the hour of victory! You will on no account enter the
cabins; on this head my orders are explicit, and I shall make no more of
throwing the man into the sea, who dares to transgress them, than if he
were a dead Frenchman; and, as we now clearly understand each other, and
know our duty so well, there remains no more than to do it. I have said
nothing of the prize-money, [a cheer] seeing you are men that love the
Queen and her honor, more than lucre, [a cheer]; but this much I can
safely promise, that there will be the usual division, [a cheer] and as
there is little doubt but the rogues have driven a profitable trade, why
the sum-total is likely to be no trifle." [Three hearty cheers.]
The report of a pistol from the barge, which was immediately followed by a
gun from the cruiser, whose shot came whistling between the masts of the
Water-Witch, was the signal to resort to the ordinary means of victory.
The master cheered, in his turn; and in a full, steady, and deep voice, he
gave the order to 'pull away!' At the same instant, the barge and yawl
were seen advancing towards the object of their common attack, with a
velocity that promised to bring the event to a speedy issue.
Throughout the whole of the preparations in and about the Coquette, since
the moment when the breeze failed, nothing had been seen of the crew of
the brigantine. The beautiful fabric lay rolling on the heaving and
setting waters; but no human form appeared to control her movements, or
to make the arrangements that seemed so necessary for her defence. The
sails continued hanging as they had been left by the breeze, and the hull
was floating at the will of the waves. This deep quiet was undisturbed by
the approach of the boats; and if the desperate individual, who was known
to command the free-trader, had any intentions of resistance, they had
been entirely hid from the long and anxious gaze of Ludlow. Even the
shouts, and the dashing of the oars on the water, when the boats commenced
their final advance, produced no change on the decks of the chase; though
the commander of the Coquette saw her head-yards slowly and steadily
changing their direction. Uncertain of the object of this movement, he
rose on the seat of his boat, and, waving his hat, cheered the men to
greater exertion. The barge had got within a hundred feet of the broadside
of the brigantine, when the whole of her wide folds of canvas were seen
swelling outwards. The exquisitely-ordered machinery of spars, sails, and
rigging, bowed towards the barge, as in the act of a graceful
leave-taking, and then the light hull glided ahead, leaving the boat to
plow through the empty space which it had just occupied. There needed no
second look to assure Ludlow of the inefficacy of further pursuit, since
the sea was already ruffled by the breeze which had so opportunely come to
aid the smuggler. He signed to Trysail to desist; and both stood looking,
with disappointed eyes, at the white and bubbling streak which was left by
the wake of the fugitive.
But while the Water-Witch left the boats, commanded by the captain and
master of the Queen's cruiser, behind her, she steered directly on the
course that was necessary to bring her soonest in contact with the yawl.
For a few moments, the crew of the latter believed it was their own
advance that brought them so rapidly near their object; and when the
midshipman who steered the boat discovered his error, it was only in
season to prevent the swift brigantine from passing over his little bark.
He gave the yawl a wide sheer, and called to his men to pull for their
lives. Oloff Van Staats had placed himself at the head of the boat, armed
with a banger, and with every faculty too intent on the expected attack,
to heed a danger that was scarcely intelligible to one of his habits. As
the brigantine glided past, he saw her low channels bending towards the
water, and, with a powerful effort, he leaped into them, shouting a sort
of war-cry, in Dutch. At the next instant, he threw his large frame over
the bulwarks, and disappeared on the deck of the smuggler.
When Ludlow had caused his boats to assemble on the spot which the chase
had so lately occupied, he saw that the fruitless expedition had been
attended by no other casualty than the involuntary abduction of the
Patroon of Kinderhook.
"What country, friends, is this?"
What You Will.
Men are as much indebted to a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, for
the characters they sustain in this world, as to their personal qualities.
The same truth is applicable to the reputations of ships. The properties
of a vessel, like those of an individual, may have their influence on her
good or evil fortune; still, something is due to the accidents of life, in
both. Although the breeze, which came so opportunely to the aid of the
Water-Witch, soon filled the sails of the Coquette, it caused no change in
the opinions of her crew concerning the fortunes of that ship; while it
served to heighten the reputation which the 'Skimmer of the Seas' had
already obtained, as a mariner who was more than favored by happy chances,
in the thousand emergencies of his hazardous profession. Trysail, himself,
shook his head, in a manner that expressed volumes, when Ludlow vented his
humor on what the young man termed the luck of the smuggler; and the crews
of the boats gazed after the retiring brigantine, as the inhabitants of
Japan would now most probably regard the passage of some vessel propelled
by steam. As Mr. Luff was not neglectful of his duty, it was not long
before the Coquette approached her boats. The delay occasioned by hoisting
in the latter, enabled the chase to increase the space between the two
vessels, to such a distance, as to place her altogether beyond the reach
of shot. Ludlow, however, gave his orders to pursue, the moment the ship
was ready; and he hastened to conceal his disappointment in his own cabin.
"Luck is a merchant's surplus, while a living profit is the reward of his
wits!" observed Alderman Van Beverout, who could scarce conceal the
satisfaction he felt, at the unexpected and repeated escapes of the
brigantine. "Many a man gains doubloons, when he only looked for dollars;
and many a market falls, while the goods are in the course of clearance.
There are Frenchmen enough, Captain Ludlow to keep a brave officer in
good-humor; and the less reason to fret about a trifling mischance in
overhauling a smuggler."
"I know not how highly you may prize your niece, Mr. Van Beverout; but
were I the uncle of such a woman, the idea that she had become the
infatuated victim of the arts of yon reckless villain, would madden me!"
"Paroxysms and straight-jackets! Happily you are not her uncle, Captain
Ludlow, and therefore the less reason to be uneasy. The girl has a French
fancy, and she is rummaging the smuggler's silks and laces; when her
choice is made, we shall have her back again, more beautiful than ever,
for a little finery."
"Choice! Oh, Alida, Alida! this is not the election that we had reason to
expect from thy cultivated mind and proud sentiments!"
"The cultivation is my work, and the pride is an inheritance from old
Etienne de Barberie;" dryly rejoined Myndert. "But complaints never
lowered a market, nor raised the funds. Let us send for the Patroon, and
take counsel coolly, as to the easiest manner of finding our way back to
the Lust in Rust, before Her Majesty's ship gets too far from the coast of
"Thy pleasantry is unseasonable, Sir. Your Patroon is gone with your
niece, and a pleasant passage they are likely to enjoy, in such company!
We lost him, in the expedition with our boats."
The Alderman stood aghast.
"Lost!--Oloff Van Staats lost, in the expedition of the boats! Evil
betide the day when that discreet and affluent youth should be lost to the
colony! Sir, you know not what you utter when you hazard so rash an
opinion. The death of the young Patroon of Kinderhook would render one of
the best and most substantial of our families extinct, and leave the third
best estate in the Province without a direct heir!"
"The calamity is not so overwhelming;" returned the captain, with
bitterness. "The gentleman has boarded the smuggler, and gone with la
belle Barberie to examine his silks and laces!"
Ludlow then explained the manner in which the Patroon had disappeared.
When perfectly assured that no bodily harm had befallen his friend, the
satisfaction of the Alderman was quite as vivid, as his consternation had
been apparent but the moment before.
"Gone with la belle Barberie, to examine silks and laces!" he repeated,
rubbing his hands together, in delight. "Ay, there the blood of my old
friend, Stephanus, begins to show itself! Your true Hollander is no
mercurial Frenchman, to beat his head and make grimaces at a shift in the
wind, or a woman's frown; nor a blustering Englishman (you are of the
colony yourself, young gentleman) to swear a big oath and swagger; but, as
you see, a quiet, persevering, and, in the main, an active son of old
Batavia, who watches his opportunity, and goes into the very presence
"Whom?"--demanded Ludlow, perceiving that the Alderman had paused.
"Of his enemy; seeing that all the enemies of the Queen are necessarily
the enemies of every loyal subject. Bravo, young Oloff! thou art a lad
after my own heart, and no doubt--no doubt--fortune will favor the brave!
Had a Hollander a proper footing on this earth, Captain Cornelius Ludlow,
we should hear a different tale concerning the right to the Narrow Seas,
and indeed to most other questions of commerce."
Ludlow arose with a bitter smile on his face, though with no ill feeling
towards the man whose exultation was so natural.
"Mr. Van Staats may have reason to congratulate himself on his good
fortune," he said, "though I much mistake if even his enterprise will
succeed, against the wiles of one so artful, and of an appearance so gay,
as the man whose guest he has now become. Let the caprice of others be
what it may, Alderman Van Beverout, my duty must be done. The smuggler,
aided by chance and artifice, has thrice escaped me; the fourth time, it
may be our fortune. If this ship possesses the power to destroy the
lawless rover, let him look to his fate!"
With this menace on his lips, Ludlow quitted the cabin, to resume his
station on the deck, and to renew his unwearied watching of the movements
of the chase.
The change in the wind was altogether in favor of the brigantine. It
brought her to windward, and was the means of placing the two vessels in
positions that enabled the Water-Witch to profit the most by her peculiar
construction. Consequently, when Ludlow reached his post, he saw that the
swift and light craft had trimmed every thing close upon the wind, and
that she was already so far ahead, as to render the chances of bringing
her again within range of his guns almost desperate; unless, indeed, some
of the many vicissitudes, so common on the ocean, should interfere in his
behalf. There remained little else to be done, therefore, but to crowd
every sail on the Coquette that the ship would bear, and to endeavor to
keep within sight of the chase, during the hours of darkness which must so
shortly succeed. But before the sun had fallen to the level of the water,
the hull of the Water-Witch had disappeared; and when the day closed, no
part of her airy outline was visible, but that which was known to belong
to her upper and lighter spars. In a few minutes afterwards, darkness
covered the ocean; and the seamen of the royal cruiser were left to pursue
their object, at random.
How far the Coquette had run during the night does not appear, but when
her commander made his appearance on the following morning, his long and
anxious gaze met no other reward than a naked horizon. On every side, the
sea presented the same waste of water. No object was visible, but the
sea-fowl wheeling on his wide wing, and the summits of the irregular and
green billows. Throughout that and many succeeding days, the cruiser
continued to plow the ocean, sometimes running large, with every thing
opened to the breeze that the wide booms would spread, and, at others,
pitching and laboring with adverse winds, as if bent on prevailing over
the obstacles which even nature presented to her progress. The head of the
worthy Alderman had got completely turned; and though he patiently awaited
the result, before the week was ended, he knew not even the direction in
which the ship was steering. At length he had reason to believe that the
end of their cruise approached. The efforts of the seamen were observed to
relax, and the ship was permitted to pursue her course, under easier sail.
It was past meridian, on one of those days of moderate exertion, that
Francois was seen stealing from below, and staggering from gun to gun, to
a place in the centre of the ship, where he habitually took the air, in
good weather, and where he might dispose of his person, equally without
presuming too far on the good-nature of his superiors, and without
courting too much intimacy with the coarser herd who composed the common
"Ah!" exclaimed the valet, addressing his remark to the midshipman who has
already been mentioned by the name of Hopper--"Voila la terre! Quel
bonheur! I shall be so happy--le batiment be trop agreable, mais vous
savez, Monsieur Aspirant; que je ne suis point marin--What be le nom du
"They call it, France," returned the boy, who understood enough of the
other's language to comprehend his meaning; "and a very good country it
is--for those that like it."
"Ma foi, non!"--exclaimed Francois, recoiling a pace, between amazement
"Call it Holland, then, if you prefer that country most."
"Dites-moi, Monsieur Hoppair," continued the valet, laying a trembling
finger on the arm of the remorseless young rogue; "est-ce la France?"
"One would think a man of your observation could tell that for himself. Do
you not see the church-tower, with a chateau in the back-ground, and a
village built in a heap, by its side. Now look into yon wood! There is a
walk, straight as a ship's wake in smooth water, and one--two--three--ay,
eleven statues, with just one nose among them all!"
"Ma foi--dere is not no wood, and no chateau and no village, and no
statue, and no no nose,--mais Monsieur, je suis age--est-ce la France?"
"Oh, you miss nothing by having an indifferent sight, for I shall explain
it all, as we go along. You see yonder hill-side, looking like a
pattern-card, of green and yellow stripes, or a signal-book, with the
flags of all nations, placed side by side--well, that is--les champs; and
this beautiful wood, with all the branches trimmed till it looks like so
many raw marines at drill, is--la foret----"
The credulity of the warm-hearted valet could swallow no more; but,
assuming a look of commiseration and dignity, he drew back, and left the
young tyro of the sea to enjoy his joke with a companion who just then
In the meantime, the Coquette continued to advance. The chateau, and
churches, and villages, of the midshipman, soon changed into a low sandy
beach, with a back-ground of stunted pines, relieved here and there, by an
opening, in which appeared the comfortable habitation and numerous
out-buildings of some substantial yeoman, or occasionally embellished by
the residence of a country proprietor. Towards noon, the crest of a hill
rose from the sea: and, just as the sun set behind the barrier of
mountain, the ship passed the sandy cape, and anchored at the spot that
she had quitted when first joined by her commander after his visit to the
brigantine. The vessel was soon moored, the light yards were struck, and a
boat was lowered into the water. Ludlow and the Alderman then descended
the side, and proceeded towards the mouth of the Shrewsbury. Although it
was nearly dark before they had reached the shore, there remained light
enough to enable the former to discover an object of unusual appearance
floating in the bay, and at no great distance from the direction of his
barge. He was led by curiosity to steer for it.
"Cruisers and Water-Witches!" muttered Myndert, when they were near enough
to perceive the nature of the floating object. "That brazen hussy haunts
us, as if we had robbed her of gold! Let us set foot on land, and nothing
short of a deputation from the City Council shall ever tempt me to wander
from my own abode, again!"
Ludlow shifted the helm of the boat, and resumed his course towards the
river. He required no explanation, to tell him more of the nature of the
artifice, by which he had been duped. The nicely-balanced tub, the
upright spar, and the extinguished lantern, with the features of the
female of the malign smile traced on its horn faces, reminded him, at
once, of the false light by which the Coquette had been lured from her
course, on the night she sailed in pursuit of the brigantine.
"--His daughter, and the heir of his kingdom,
--hath referred herself
Unto a poor but worthy gentleman:--"
When Alderman Van Beverout and Ludlow drew near to the Lust in Rust, it
was already dark. Night had overtaken them, at some distance from the
place of landing; and the mountain already threw its shadow across the
river, the narrow strip of land that separated it from the sea, and far
upon the ocean itself. Neither had an opportunity of making his
observations on the condition of things in and about the villa, until they
had ascended nearly to its level, and had even entered the narrow but
fragrant lawn in its front. Just before they arrived at the gate which
opened on the latter, the Alderman paused, and addressed his companion,
with more of the manner of their ancient confidence, than he had
manifested during the few preceding days of their intercourse.
"You must have observed, that the events of this little excursion on the
water, have been rather of a domestic than of a public character;" he
said. "Thy father was a very ancient and much-esteemed friend of mine, and
I am far from certain that there is not some affinity between us, in the
way of intermarriages. Thy worthy mother, who is a thrifty woman, and a
small talker, had some of the blood of my own stock. It would grieve me to
see the good understanding, which these recollections have created, in any
manner interrupted. I admit, Sir, that revenue is to the state what the
soul is to the body--the moving and governing principle; and that, as the
last would be a tenantless house without its inhabitants, so the first
would be an exacting and troublesome master without its proper products.
But there is no need of pushing a principle to extremities! If this
brigantine be, as you appear to suspect, and indeed as we have some reason
from various causes to infer, the vessel called the Water-Witch she might
have been a legal prize had she fallen into your power; bait now that she
has escaped, I cannot say what may be your intentions; but were thy
excellent father, the worthy member of the King's Council, living, so
discreet a man would think much before he opened his lips, to say more
than is discreet, on this or any other subject."
"Whatever course I may believe my duty dictates, you may safely rely on my
discretion concerning the--the remarkable--the very decided step which
your niece has seen proper to take;" returned the young man, who did not
make this allusion to Alida without betraying, by the tremor of his voice,
how great was her influence still over him. "I see no necessity of
violating the domestic feelings to which you allude, by aiding to feed the
ears of the idly curious, with the narrative of her errors."
Ludlow stopped suddenly, leaving the uncle to infer what he would wish to
"This is generous, and manly, and like a loyal--lover, Captain Ludlow,"
returned the Alderman; "though it is not exactly what I intended to
suggest. We will not, however, multiply words in the night air--ha! when
the cat is asleep, the mice are seen to play! Those night-riding,
horse-racing blacks have taken possession of Alida's pavilion; and we may
be thankful the poor girl's rooms are not as large as Harlaem Common, or
we should hear the feet of some hard-driven beast galloping about in
The Alderman, in his turn, cut short his speech, and started as if one of
the spukes of the colony had suddenly presented itself to his eyes. His
language had drawn the look of his companion towards la Cour des Fees; and
Ludlow had, at the same moment as the uncle, caught an unequivocal view of
la belle Barberie, as she moved before the open window of her apartment.
The latter was about to rush forward, but the hand of Myndert arrested the
"Here is more matter for our wits, than our legs;" observed the cool and
prudent burgher. "That was the form of my ward and niece, or the daughter
of old Etienne Barberie has a double.--Francis! didst thou not see the
image of a woman at the window of the pavilion, or are we deceived by our
wishes? I have sometimes been deluded in an unaccountable manner, Captain
Ludlow, when my mind has been thoroughly set on the bargain, in the
quality of the goods; for the most liberal of us all are subject to mental
weakness of this nature, when hope is alive!"
"Certainement, oui!" exclaimed the eager valet "Quel malheur to be oblige
to go on la mer, when Mam'selle Alide nevair quit la maison! J'etais sur,
que nous nous trompions, car jamais la famille de Barberie love to be
"Enough, good Francis; the family of Barberie is as earthy as a fox. Go
and notify the idle rogues in my kitchen, that their master is at hand;
and remember, that there is no necessity for speaking of all the wonders
we have seen on the great deep. Captain Ludlow, we will now join my
dutiful niece, with as little fracas as possible."
Ludlow eagerly accepted the invitation, and instantly followed the
dogmatical and seemingly unmoved Alderman towards the dwelling. As the
lawn was crossed, they involuntarily paused, a moment, to look in at the
open windows of the pavilion.
La belle Barberie had ornamented la Cour des Fees, with a portion of that
national taste, which she inherited from her father. The heavy
magnificence that distinguished the reign of Louis XIV. had scarcely
descended to one of the middling rank of Monsieur de Barberie, who had
consequently brought with him to the place of his exile, merely those
tasteful usages which appear almost exclusively the property of the people
from whom he had sprung, without the encumbrance and cost of the more
pretending fashions of the period. These usages had become blended with
the more domestic and comfortable habits of English, or what is nearly the
same thing, of American life--an union which, when it is found, perhaps
produces the most just and happy medium of the useful and the agreeable.
Alida was seated by a small table of mahogany, deeply absorbed in the
contents of a little volume that lay before her. By her side stood a
tea-service, the cups and the vessels of which were of the diminutive size
then used, though exquisitely wrought, and of the most beautiful material.
Her dress was a negligee suited to her years; and her whole figure
breathed that air of comfort, mingled with grace, which seems to be the
proper quality of the sex, and which renders the privacy of an elegant
woman so attractive and peculiar. Her mind was intent on the book, and the
little silver urn hissed at her elbow, apparently unheeded.
"This is the picture I have loved to draw," half-whispered Ludlow, "when
gales and storms have kept me on the deck, throughout many a dreary and
tempestuous night! When body and mind have been impatient of fatigue, this
is the repose I have most coveted, and for which I have even dared to
"The China trade will come to something, in time and you are an excellent
judge of comfort, Master Ludlow;" returned the Alderman. "That girl now
has a warm glow on her cheek, which would seem to swear she never faced a
breeze in her life; and it is not easy to fancy, that one who looks so
comfortable has lately been frolicking among the dolphins.--Let us enter."
Alderman Van Beverout was not accustomed to use much ceremony in his
visits to his niece. Without appearing to think any announcement
necessary, therefore, the dogmatical burgher coolly opened a door, and
ushered his companion into the pavilion.
If the meeting between la belle Alida and her guests was distinguished by
the affected indifference of the latter, their seeming ease was quite
equalled by that of the lady. She laid aside her book, with a calmness
that might have been expected had they parted but an hour before, and
which sufficiently assured both Ludlow and her uncle that their return was
known and their presence expected. She simply arose at their entrance, and
with a smile that betokened breeding, rather than feeling, she requested
them to be seated. The composure of his niece had the effect to throw the
Alderman into a brown study, while the young sailor scarcely knew which to
admire the most, the exceeding loveliness of a woman who was always so
beautiful, or her admirable self-possession in a scene that most others
would have found sufficiently embarrassing. Alida, herself, appeared to
feel no necessity for any explanation; for, when her guests were seated,
she took occasion to say, while busied in pouring out the tea--
"You find me prepared to offer the refreshment of a cup of delicious
bohea. I think, my uncle calls it the tea of the Caernarvon Castle."
"A lucky ship, both in her passages and her wares! Yes, it is the article
you name; and I can recommend it to all who wish to purchase. But niece of
mine, will you condescend to acquaint this commander in Her Majesty's
service, and a poor Alderman of her good city of New-York, how long you
may have been expecting our company?"
Alida felt at her girdle, and, drawing out a small and richly-ornamented
watch, she coolly examined its hands, as if to learn the hour.
"We are nine. I think it was past the turn of the day, when Dinah first
mentioned that this pleasure might be expected. But, I should also tell
you, that packages which seem to contain letters have arrived from town."
This was giving a new and sudden direction to the thoughts of the
Alderman. He had refrained from entering on those explanations which the
circumstances seemed to require, because he well knew that he stood on
dangerous ground, and that more might be said than he wished his companion
to hear, no less than from amazement at the composure of his ward. He was
not sorry, therefore, to have an excuse to delay his inquiries, that
appeared so much in character as that of reading the communications of his
business correspondents. Swallowing the contents of the tiny cup he held,
at a gulp, the eager merchant seized the packet that Alida now offered;
and, muttering a few words of apology to Ludlow, he left the pavilion.
Until now, the commander of the Coquette had not spoken. Wonder, mingled
with indignation, sealed his mouth, though he had endeavored to penetrate
the veil which Alida had drawn around her conduct and motives, by a
diligent use of his eyes. During the first few moments of the interview,
he thought that he could detect, in the midst of her studied calmness, a
melancholy smile struggling around her beautiful mouth; but only once had
their looks met, as she turned her full, rich, and dark eyes furtively on
his face, as if she were curious to know the effect produced by her manner
on the mind of the young sailor.
"Have the enemies of the Queen reason to regret the cruise of the
Coquette?" said la Belle, hurriedly, when she found her glance detected;
"or have they dreaded to encounter a prowess that has already proved their
"Fear, or prudence, or perhaps I might say conscience, has made them
wary;" returned Ludlow, pointedly emphasizing the latter word. "We have
run from the Hook to the edge of the Grand Bank, and returned without
"'Tis unlucky. But, though the French escaped, have none of the lawless
met with punishment? There is a rumor among the slaves, that the
brigantine which visited us is an object of suspicion to the Government?"
"Suspicion!--But I may apply to la belle Barberie, to know whether the
character her commander has obtained be merited?"
Alida smiled, and, her admirer thought, sweetly as ever.
"It would be a sign of extraordinary complaisance, were Captain Ludlow to
apply to the girls of the colony for instruction in his duty! We may be
secret encouragers of the contraband, but surely we are not to be
suspected of any greater familiarity with their movements. These hints may
compel me to abandon the pleasures of the Lust in Rust, and to seek air
and health in some less exposed situation. Happily the banks of the Hudson
offer many, that one need be fastidious indeed to reject."
"Among which you count the Manor House of Kinderhook?"
Again Alida smiled, and Ludlow thought it was triumphantly.
"The dwelling of Oloff Van Staats is said to be commodious, and not badly
placed. I have seen it,------"
"In your images of the future?" said the young man, observing she
Alida laughed downright. But, immediately recovering her self-command, she
"Not so fancifully. My knowledge of the beauties of the house of Mr. Van
Staats, is confined to very unpoetical glimpses from the river, in passing
and repassing. The chimneys are twisted in the most approved style of the
Dutch Brabant, and, although wanting the stork's nests on their summits,
it seems as if there might be that woman's tempter, comfort, around the
hearths beneath. The offices, too, have an enticing air, for a thrifty
"Which office, in compliment to the worthy Patroon, you intend shall not
long be vacant?"
Alida was playing with a spoon, curiously wrought to represent the stem
and leaves of a tea-plant. She started, dropped the implement, and raised
her eyes to the face of her companion. The look was steady, and not
without an interest in the evident concern betrayed by the young man.
"It will never be filled by me, Ludlow;" was the answer, uttered solemnly,
and with a decision that denoted a resolution fixed.
"That declaration removes a mountain!--Oh! Alida, if you could as
"Hush!" whispered the other, rising and standing for a moment in an
attitude of intense expectation. Her eye became brighter, and the bloom on
her cheek even deeper than before, while pleasure and hope were both
strongly depicted on her beautiful face--"Hush!" she continued, motioning
to Ludlow to repress his feelings. "Did you hear nothing?"
The disappointed and yet admiring young man was silent, though he watched
her singularly interesting air, and lovely features, with all the
intenseness that seemed to characterize her own deportment. As no sound
followed that which Alida had heard or fancied she had heard, she resumed
her seat, and appeared to lend her attention once more to her companion.
"You were speaking of mountains?" she said, scarce knowing what she
Back to Full Books