The Water-Witch or, The Skimmer of the Seas
James Fenimore Cooper

Part 9 out of 9

"I knew that Alida could not prove less generous!" cried the admiring
Ludlow, raising the hand of the blushing girl to his lips. "The loss of
fortune is a gain, by showing her true character!"

"Hist--hist--" interrupted the Alderman--"there is little need to proclaim
a loss of any kind. What must be done in the way of natural justice, will
doubtless be submitted to; but why let all in the colony know how much, or
how little, is given with a bride?"

"The loss of fortune will be amply met;" returned the free-trader. "These
bags contain gold. The dowry of my charge is ready at a moment's warning,
whenever she shall make known her choice."

"Success and prudence!" exclaimed the burgher. "There is no less than a
most commendable forethought in thy provision, Master Skimmer; and
whatever may be the opinion of the Exchequer Judges of thy punctuality and
credit, it is mine that there are less responsible men about the bank of
England itself!--This money is, no doubt, that which the girl can lawfully
claim in right of her late grand father!"

"It is."

"I take this to be a favorable moment to speak plainly on a subject which
is very near my heart, and which may as well be broached under such
favorable auspices as under any other. I understand, Mr. Van Staats, that,
on a further examination of your sentiments towards an old friend, you are
of opinion that a closer alliance than the one we had contemplated will
most conduce to your happiness?"

"I will acknowledge that the coldness of la belle Barberie has damped my
own warmth;" returned the Patroon of Kinderhook, who rarely delivered
himself of more, at a time, than the occasion required.

"And, furthermore, I have been told, Sir, that an intimacy of a fortnight
has given you reason to fix your affections on my daughter, whose beauty
is hereditary, and whose fortune is not likely to be diminished by this
act of justice on the part of that upright and gallant mariner."

"To be received into the favor of your family, Mr. Van Beverout, would
leave me little to desire in this life."

"And as for the other world, I never heard of a Patroon of Kinderhook who
did not leave us with comfortable hopes for the future; as in reason they
should, since few families in the colony have done more for the support of
religion than they. They gave largely to the Dutch churches in Manhattan;
have actually built, with their own means, three very pretty brick
edifices on the Manor, each having its Flemish steeple and suitable
weather-cocks besides having done something handsome towards the venerable
structure in Albany. Eudora, my child, this gentleman is a particular
friend, and as such I can presume to recommend him to thy favor. You are
not absolutely strangers; but, in order that you may have every occasion
to decide impartially, you will remain here together for a month longer,
which will enable you to choose without distraction and confusion. More
than this, for the present, it is unnecessary to say; for it is my
practice to leave all matters of this magnitude entirely to Providence."

The daughter, on whose speaking face the color went and came like lights
changing in an Italian sky, continued silent.

"You have happily put aside the curtain which concealed a mystery that no
longer gave me uneasiness;" interrupted Ludlow, addressing the
free-trader. "Can you do more, and say whence came this letter?"

The dark eye of Eudora instantly lighted. She looked at the 'Skimmer of
the Seas,' and laughed.

"'Twas another of those womanly artifices which have been practised in my
brigantine. It was thought that a young commander of a royal cruiser would
be less apt to watch our movements, were his mind bent on the discovery of
such a correspondent."

"And the trick has been practised before?"

"I confess it.--But I can linger no longer. In a few minutes, the tide
will turn, and the inlet become impassable. Eudora, we must decide on the
fortunes of this child. Shall he to the ocean again?--or shall he remain,
to vary his life with a landsman's chances?"

"Who and what is the boy?" gravely demanded the Alderman.

"One dear to both," rejoined the free-trader "His father was my nearest
friend, and his mother long watched the youth of Eudora. Until this
moment, he has, been our mutual care,--he must now choose between us."

"He will not quit me!" hastily interrupted the alarmed Eudora--"Thou art
my adopted son, and none can guide thy young mind like me. Thou hast need
of woman's tenderness, Zephyr, and wilt not quit me?"

"Let the child be the arbiter of his own fate. I am credulous on the point
of fortune, which is, at least, a happy belief for the contraband."

"Then let him speak. Wilt remain here, amid these smiling fields, to
ramble among yonder gay and sweetly-scented flowers?--or wilt thou back to
the water, where all is vacant and without change?"

The boy looked wistfully into her anxious eye, and then he bent his own
hesitating glance on the calm features of the free-trader.

"We can put to sea," he said; "and when we make the homeward passage
again, there will be many curious things for thee, Eudora!"

"But this may be the last opportunity to know the land of thy ancestors.
Remember how terrible is the ocean in its anger, and how often the
brigantine has been in danger of shipwreck!"

"Nay, that is womanish!--I have been on the royal-yard in the squalls, and
it never seemed to me that there was danger."

"Thou hast the unconsciousness and reliance of a ship-boy! But those who
are older, know that the life of a sailor is one of constant and imminent
hazard.--Thou hast been among the islands in the hurricane, and hast seen
the power of the elements!"

"I was in the hurricane, and so was the brigantine; and there you see how
taut and neat she is aloft, as if nothing had happened!"

"And you saw us yesterday floating on the open sea, while a few
ill-fastened spars kept us from going into its depths!"

"The spars floated, and you were not drowned; else, I should have wept
bitterly, Eudora."

"But thou wilt go deeper into the country, and see more of its
beauties--its rivers, and its mountains--its caverns, and its woods. Here
all is change, while the water is ever the same."

"Surely, Eudora, you forget strangely!--Here it is all America. This
mountain is America; yonder land across the bay is America, and the
anchorage of yesterday was America. When we shall run off the coast, the
next land-fall will be England, or Holland, or Africa; and with a good
wind, we may run down the shores of two or three countries in a day."

"And on them, too, thoughtless boy! If you lose this occasion, thy life
will be wedded to hazard!"

"Farewell, Eudora!" said the urchin, raising his mouth to give and receive
the parting kiss.

"Eudora, adieu!" added a deep and melancholy voice, at her elbow. "I can
delay no longer, for my people show symptoms of impatience. Should this be
the last of my voyages to the coast, thou wilt not forget those with whom
thou hast so long shared good and evil!"

"Not yet--not yet--you will not quit us yet! Leave me the boy--leave me
some other memorial of the past, besides this pain!"

"My hour has come. The wind is freshening, and I trifle with its favor.
'Twill be better for thy happiness that none know the history of the
brigantine; and a few hours will draw a hundred curious eyes, from the
town, upon us."

"What care I for their opinions?--thou wilt not--cannot--leave me, yet!"

"Gladly would I stay, Eudora, but a seaman's home is his ship. Too much
precious time is already wasted. Once more, adieu!"

The dark eye of the girl glanced wildly about her. It seemed, as if in
that one quick and hurried look, it drank in all that belonged to the
land and its enjoyments.

"Whither go you?" she asked, scarce suffering her voice to rise above a
whisper. "Whither do you sail, and when do you return?"

"I follow fortune. My return may be distant--never!--Adieu then,
Eudora--be happy with the friends that Providence hath given thee!"

The wandering eyes of the girl of the sea became still more unsettled. She
grasped the offered hand of the free-trader in both her own, and wrung it
in an impassioned and unconscious manner. Then releasing her hold, she
opened wide her arms, and cast them convulsively about his unmoved and
unyielding form.

"We will go together!--I am thine, and thine only!"

"Thou knowest not what thou sayest, Eudora!" gasped the Skimmer--"Thou
hast a father--friend--husband--"

"Away, away!" cried the frantic girl, waving her hand wildly towards Alida
and the Patroon, who advanced as if hurrying to rescue her from a
precipice--"Thine, and thine only!"

The smuggler released himself from her frenzied grasp, and, with the
strength of a giant, he held the struggling girl at the length of his arm,
while he endeavored to control the tempest of passion that struggled
within him.

"Think, for one moment, think!" he said. "Thou wouldst follow an
outcast--an outlaw--one hunted and condemned of men!"

"Thine, and thine only!"

"With a ship for a dwelling--the tempestuous ocean for a world!--"

"Thy world is my world!--thy home, my home!--thy danger, mine!"

The shout which burst out of the chest of the 'Skimmer of the Seas' was
one of uncontrollable exultation.

"Thou art mine!" he cried. "Before a tie like this, the claim of such a
father is forgotten! Burgher, adieu!--I will deal by thy daughter more
honestly than thou didst deal by my benefactor's child!"

Eudora was lifted from the ground as if her weight had been that of a
feather; and, spite of a sudden and impetuous movement of Ludlow and the
Patroon, she was borne to the boat. In a moment, the bark was afloat, with
the gallant boy tossing his sea-cap upward in triumph. The brigantine, as
if conscious of what had passed, wore round like a whirling chariot; and,
ere the spectators had recovered from their confusion and wonder, the boat
was hanging at the tackles. The free-trader was seen on the poop, with an
arm cast about the form of Eudora, waving a hand to the motionless group
on the shore, while the still half-unconscious girl of the ocean signed
her faint adieus to Alida and her father. The vessel glided through the
inlet, and was immediately rocking on the billows of the surf. Then,
taking the full weight of the southern breeze, the fine and attenuated
spars bent to its force, and the progress of the swift-moving craft was
apparent by the bubbling line of its wake.

The day had begun to decline, before Alida and Ludlow quitted the lawn of
the Lust in Rust. For the first hour, the dark hull of the brigantine was
seen supporting the moving cloud of canvas. Then the low structure
vanished, and sail after sail settled into the water, until nothing was
visible but a speck of glittering white. It lingered for a minute, and was
swallowed in the void.

The nuptials of Ludlow and Alida were touched with a shade of melancholy.
Natural affection in one, and professional sympathy in the other, had
given them a deep and lasting interest in the fate of the adventurers.

Years passed away, and months were spent at the villa, in which a thousand
anxious looks were cast upon the ocean. Each morning, during the early
months of summer, did Alida hasten to the windows of her pavilion, in the
hope of seeing the vessel of the contraband anchored in the Cove:--but
always without success. It never returned;--and though the rebuked and
disappointed Alderman caused many secret inquiries to be made along the
whole extent of the American coast, he never again heard of the renowned
'SKIMMER OF THE SEAS' or of his matchless WATER-WITCH.

The End


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