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Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 [1831], The water-witch, volume 1 (Carey & Lea, Philadelphia) [word count] [eaf061v1].
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“What, shall this speech he spoke for our excuse?
Or shall we on without apology.”
Romeo and Juliet.

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The fine estuary which penetrates the American
coast, between the fortieth and forty-first degrees of
latitude, is formed by the confluence of the Hudson,
the Hackensack, the Passaic, the Raritan, and a multitude
of smaller streams; all of which pour their
tribute into the ocean, within the space named. The
islands of Nassau and Staten are happily placed to
exclude the tempests of the open sea, while the deep
and broad arms of the latter offer every desirable
facility for foreign trade and internal intercourse.
To this fortunate disposition of land and water, with
a temperate climate, a central position, and an immense
interior, that is now penetrated, in every direction,
either by artificial or by natural streams, the
city of New-York is indebted for its extraordinary
prosperity. Though not wanting in beauty, there
are many bays that surpass this in the charms of
scenery; but it may be questioned if the world possesses
another site that unites so many natural advantages
for the growth and support of a widely-extended
commerce. As if never wearied with her
kindness, Nature has placed the island of Manhattan
at the precise point that is most desirable for the
position of a town. Millions might inhabit the spot,
and yet a ship should load near every door; and
while the surface of the land just possesses the inequalities
that are required for health and cleanliness,
its bosom is filled with the material most needed in

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The consequences of so unusual a concurrence of
favorable circumstances, are well known. A vigorous,
healthful, and continued growth, that has no
parallel even in the history of this extraordinary
and fortunate country, has already raised the insignificant
provincial town of the last century to the
level of the second-rate cities of the other hemisphere.
The New-Amsterdam of this continent already rivals
its parent of the other; and, so far as human powers.
may pretend to predict, a few fleeting years will
place her on a level with the proudest capitals of

It would seem that, as Nature has given its periods
to the stages of animal life, it has also set limits to
all moral and political ascendency. While the city
of the Medici is receding from its crumbling walls,
like the human form shrinking into “the lean and
slipper'd pantaloon,” the Queen of the Adriatic
sleeping on her muddy isles, and Rome itself is only
to be traced by fallen temples and buried columns,
the youthful vigor of America is fast covering the
wilds of the West with the happiest fruits of human

By the Manhattanese, who is familiar with the
forest of masts, the miles of wharves, the countless
villas, the hundred churches, the castles, the smoking
and busy vessels that crowd his bay, the daily increase
and the general movement of his native town,
the picture we are about to sketch will scarcely be
recognized. He who shall come a generation later
will probably smile, that subject of admiration
should have been found in the existing condition of
the city: and yet we shall attempt to carry the
recollections of the reader but a century back, in
the brief history of his country.

As the sun rose on the morning of the 3d of June,
171-, the report of a cannon was heard rolling along
the waters of the Hudson. Smoke issued from an

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embrasure of a small fortress, that stood on the point
of land where the river and the bay mingle their
waters. The explosion was followed by the appearance
of a flag, which, as it rose to the summit of its
staff and unfolded itself heavily in the light current
of air, showed the blue field and red cross of the
English ensign. At the distance of several miles, the
dark masts of a ship were to be seen, faintly relieved
by the verdant back-ground of the heights of Staten
Island. A little cloud floated over this object, and
then an answering signal came dull and rumbling to
the town. The flag that the cruiser set was not
visible in the distance.

At the precise moment that the noise of the first
gun was heard, the door of one of the principal
dwellings of the town opened, and a man, who might
have been its master, appeared on its stoop, as the
ill-arranged entrances of the buildings of the place
are still termed. He was seemingly prepared for
some expedition that was likely to consume the day.
A black of middle age followed the burgher to the
threshold; and another negro, who had not yet reached
the stature of manhood, bore under his arm a
small bundle, that probably contained articles of the
first necessity to the comfort of his master.

“Thrift, Mr. Euclid, thrift is your true philosopher's
stone;” commenced, or rather continued in a
rich full-mouthed Dutch, the proprietor of the dwelling,
who had evidently been giving a leave-taking
charge to his principal slave, before quitting the
house—“Thrift hath made many a man rich, but it
never yet brought any one to want. It is thrift
which has built up the credit of my house, and,
though it is said by myself, a broader back and firmer
base belongs to no merchant in the colonies. You
are but the reflection of your master's prosperity,
you rogue, and so much the greater need that you
look to his interests. If the substance is wasted, what

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will become of the shadow? When I get delicate,
you will sicken: when I am a-hungered, you will be
famished; when I die, you may be—ahem—Euclid.
I leave thee in charge with goods and chattels, house
and stable, with my character in the neighborhood.
I am going to the Lust in Rust, for a mouthful of
better air. Plague and fevers! I believe the people
will continue to come into this crowded town, until
it gets to be as pestilent as Rotterdam in the dog-days.
You have now come to years when a man obtains
his reflection, boy, and I expect suitable care and
discretion about the premises, while my back is turned.
Now, harkee, sirrah: I am not entirely pleased
with the character of thy company. It is not altogether
as respectable as becomes the confidential
servant of a man of a certain station in the world.
There are thy two cousins, Brom and Kobus,
who are no better than a couple of blackguards;
and as for the English negro, Diomede—he is a
devil's imp! Thou hast the other locks at disposal,
and,” drawing with visible reluctance the instrument
from his pocket, “here is the key of the stable. Not
a hoof is to quit it, but to go to the pump—and see
that each animal has its food to a minute. The
devil's roysterers! a Manhattan negro takes a Flemish
gelding for a gaunt hound that is never out of
breath, and away he goes, at night, scampering along
the highways like a Yankee witch switching through
the air on a broomstick—but mark me, master
Euclid, I have eyes in my head, as thou knowest by
bitter experience! D'ye remember, ragamuffin, the
time when I saw thee, from the Hague, riding the
beasts, as if the devil spurred them, along the dykes
of Leyden, without remorse as without leave?”

“I alway b'rieve some make-mischief tell Masser,
dat time;” returned the negro sulkily, though not
without doubt.

“His own eyes were the tell-tales. If masters had

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no eyes, a pretty world would the negroes make of
it! I have got the measure of every black heel, on
the island, registered in the big book you see me so
often looking into, especially on Sundays; and, if
either of the tire-legs I have named dares to enter
my grounds, let him expect to pay a visit to the city
Provost. What do the wild-cats mean? Do they
think that the geldings were bought in Holland;
with charges for breaking in, shipment, insurance,
freight, and risk of diseases, to have their flesh melted
from their ribs like a cook's candle?”

“Ere no'tin' done in all 'e island, but a color' man
do him! He do a mischief, and he do all a work,
too! I won'er what color Masser t'ink war' Captain

“Black or white, he was a rank rogue; and you
see the end he came to. I warrant you, now, that
water-thief began his iniquities by riding the neighbors'
horses, at night. His fate should be a warning
to every negro in the colony. The imps of darkness!
The English have no such scarcity of rogues at home,
that they could not spare us the pirate to hang up
on one of the islands, as a scarecrow to the blacks
of Manhattan.”

“Well, I t'ink 'e sight do a white man some good,
too;” returned Euclid, who had all the pertinacity
of a spoiled Dutch negro, singularly blended with
affection for him in whose service he had been born.
“I hear ebbery body say, 'er'e war' but two color'
man in he ship, and 'em bot' war' Guinea-born.”

“A modest tongue, thou midnight scamperer! look
to my geldings—Here—here are two Dutch florins,
three stivers, and a Spanish pistareen for thee; one
of the florins is for thy old mother, and with the
others thou canst lighten thy heart in the Paus merrymakings—
if I hear that either of thy rascally cousins,
or the English Diomede, has put a leg across
beast of mine, it will be the worse for all Africa!

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Famine and skeletons! here have I been seven years
trying to fatten the nags, and they still look more like
weasels than a pair of solid geldings.”

The close of this speech was rather muttered in
the distance, and by way of soliloquy, than actually
administered to the namesake of the great mathematician.
The air of the negro had been a little equivocal,
during the parting admonition. There was an
evident struggle, in his mind, between an innate love
of disobedience, and a secret dread of his master's
means of information. So long as the latter continued
in sight, the black watched his form in doubt;
and when it had turned a corner, he stood at gaze,
for a moment, with a negro on a neighboring stoop;
then both shook their heads significantly, laughed
aloud, and retired. That night, the confidential servant
attended to the interests of his absent master,
with a fidelity and care which proved he felt his own
existence identified with that of a man who claimed
so close a right in his person; and just as the clock
struck ten, he and the negro last mentioned mounted
the sluggish and over-fattened horses, and galloped,
as hard as foot could be laid to the earth, several
miles deeper into the island, to attend a frolic at one
of the usual haunts of the people of their color and

Had Alderman Myndert Van Beverout suspected
the calamity which was so soon to succeed his absence,
it is probable that his mien would have been
less composed, as he pursued his way from his own
door, on the occasion named. That he had confidence
in the virtue of his menaces, however, may be inferred
from the tranquillity which immediately took
possession of features that were never disturbed,
without wearing an appearance of unnatural effort.
The substantial burgher was a little turned of fifty;
and an English wag, who had imported from the
mother country a love for the humor of his nation,

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had once, in a conflict of wits before the city council,
described him to be a man of alliterations. When
called upon to explain away this breach of parliamentary
decorum, the punster had gotten rid of the
matter, by describing his opponent to be “short, solid
and sturdy, in stature; full, flushed and funny, in
face; and proud, ponderous and pragmatical, in propensities.”
But, as is usual, in all sayings of effort,
there was more smartness than truth in this description;
though, after making a trifling allowance for
the coloring of political rivalry, the reader may receive
its physical portion as sufficiently descriptive
to answer all the necessary purposes of this tale. If
we add, that he was a trader of great wealth and
shrewdness, and a bachelor, we need say no more in
this stage of the narrative.

Notwithstanding the early hour at which this industrious
and flourishing merchant quitted his abode,
his movement along the narrow streets of his native
town was measured and dignified. More than once,
he stopped to speak to some favorite family-servant,
invariably terminating his inquiries after the health
of the master, by some facetious observation adapted
to the habits and capacity of the slave. From this,
it would seem, that, while he had so exaggerated
notions of domestic discipline, the worthy burgher
was far from being one who indulged, by inclination,
in the menaces he has been heard to utter. He had
just dismissed one of these loitering negroes, when,
on turning a corner, a man of his own color, for the
first time that morning, suddenly stood before him.
The startled citizen made an involuntary movement
to avoid the unexpected interview, and then, perceiving
the difficulty of such a step, he submitted,
with as good a grace as if it had been one of his own

“The orb of day—the morning gun—and Mr.
Alderman Van Beverout!” exclaimed the individual

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encountered. “Such is the order of events, at this
early hour, on each successive revolution of our

The countenance of the Alderman had barely
time to recover its composure, ere he was required
to answer to this free and somewhat facetious salutation.
Uncovering his head, he bowed so ceremoniously
as to leave the other no reason to exult in his
pleasantry, as he answered—

“The colony has reason to regret the services of
a governor who can quit his bed so soon. That we
of business habits stir betimes, is quite in reason; but
there are those in this town, who would scarce believe
their eyes did they enjoy my present happiness.”

“Sir, there are many in this colony who have
great reason to distrust their senses, though none can
be mistaken in believing they see Alderman Van
Beverout in a well-employed man. He that dealeth
in the produce of the beaver must have the animal's
perseverance and forethought! Now, were I a king-at-arms,
there should be a concession made in thy
favor, Myndert, of a shield bearing the animal mordant,
a mantle of fur, with two Mohawk hunters for
supporters, and the motto, `Industry.”'

“Or what think you, my Lord,” returned the
other, who did not more than half relish the pleasantry
of his companion, “of a spotless shield for a
clear conscience, with an open hand for a crest, and
the motto, `Frugality and Justice?”'

“I like the open hand, though the conceit is pretending.
I see you would intimate that the Van
Beverouts have not need, at this late day, to search
a herald's office for honors. I remember, now I bethink
me, on some occasion to have seen their bearings;
a windmill, courant; dyke, coulant; field, vert,
sprinkled with black cattle—No! then, memory is

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treacherous; the morning air is pregnant with food
for the imagination!”

“Which is not a coin to satisfy a creditor, my
Lord,” said the caustic Myndert.

“Therein has truth been, pithily, spoken. This
is an ill-judged step, Alderman Van Beverout, that
lets a gentleman out by night, like the ghost in Hamlet,
to flee into the narrow house with the crowing
of the cock. The ear of my royal cousin hath been
poisoned, worse than was the ear of `murdered Denmark,
' or the partisans of this Mister Hunter would
have little cause to triumph.”

“Is it not possible to give such pledges to those
who have turned the key, as will enable your lordship
to apply the antidote.”

The question stuck a chord that changed the
whole manner of the other. His air, which had
borne the character of a genteel trifler, became
more grave and dignified; and notwithstanding there
was the evidence of a reckless disposition in his features,
dress and carriage, his tall and not ungraceful
form, as he walked slowly onward, by the side of the
compact Alderman, was not without much of that
insinuating ease and blandishment, which long familiarity
with good company can give even to the lowest
moral worth.

“Your question, worthy Sir, manifests great goodness
of heart, and corroborates that reputation for generosity,
the world so freely gives. It is true that the
Queen has been persuaded to sign the mandate of
my recall, and it is certain that Mr. Hunter has the
government of the colony; but these are facts that
might be reversed, were I once in a position to approach
my kinswoman. I do not disclaim certain
indiscretions, Sir; it would ill become me to deny
them, in presence of one whose virtue is as severe as
that of Alderman Van Beverout. I have my failings;
perhaps, as you have just been pleased to intimate,

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it would have been better had my motto been frugality;
but the open hand, dear Sir, is a part of the
design you will not deny me, either. If I have weaknesses,
my enemies cannot refuse to say that I never
yet deserted a friend.”

“Not having had occasion to tax your friendship,
I shall not be the first to make the charge.”

“Your impartiality has come to be a proverb! `As
honest as Alderman Van Beverout;' `as generous as
Alderman Van Beverout,' are terms in each man's
mouth; some say `as rich;' (the small blue eye of
the burgher twinkled.) But honesty, and riches,
and generosity, are of little value, without influence.
Men should have their natural consideration in society.
Now is this colony rather Dutch than English,
and yet, you see, how few names are found in
the list of the Council, that have been known in the
province half a century! Here are your Alexanders
and Heathcotes, your Morris's and Kennedies, de
Lanceys and Livingstons, filling the Council and the
legislative halls; but we find few of the Van Rensselaers,
Van Courtlandts, Van Schuylers, Stuyvesants,
Van Beekmans, and Van Beverouts, in their natural
stations. All nations and religions have precedency,
in the royal favor, over the children of the Patriarchs.
The Bohemian Felipses; the Huguenot de
Lanceys, and Bayards, and Jays; the King-hating
Morrises and Ludlows—in short, all have greater
estimation in the eyes of government, than the most
ancient Patroon!”

“This has long and truly been the case. I cannot
remember when it was otherwise!”

“It may not be denied. But it would little become
political discretion to affect precipitancy in the judgment
of character. If my own administration can
be stigmatized with the same apparent prejudice, it
proves the clearer how strong is misrepresentation at
home. Time was wanting to enlighten my mind,

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and that time has been refused me. In another year,
my worthy Sir, the Council should have been filled
with Van's!”

“In such a case, my Lord, the unhappy condition
in which you are now placed might indeed have
been avoided.”

“Is it too late to arrest the evil? It is time Anne
had been undeceived, and her mind regained. There
wanteth nothing to such a consummation of justice,
Sir, but opportunity. It touches me to the heart, to
think that this disgrace should befall one so near the
royal blood! 'Tis a spot on the escutcheon of the
crown, that all loyal subjects must feel desirous to
efface, and so small an effort would effect the object,
too, with certain—Mr. Alderman Myndert Van Beverout—?”

“My Lord, late Governor,” returned the other,
observing that his companion hesitated.

“What think you of this Hanoverian settlement?—
Shall a German wear the crown of a Plantagenet?”

“It hath been worn by a Hollander.”

“Aptly answered! Worn, and worn worthily!
There is affinity between the people, and there is
reason in that reply. How have I failed in wisdom,
in not seeking earlier the aid of thy advice, excellent
Sir! Ah, Myndert, there is a blessing on the enterprises
of all who come of the Low Countries!”

“They are industrious to earn, and slow to squander.”

“That expenditure is the ruin of many a worthy
subject! And yet accident—chance—fortune—or
whatever you may choose to call it, interferes nefariously,
at times, with a gentleman's prosperity. I
am an adorer of constancy in friendship, Sir, and
hold the principle that men should aid each other
through this dark vale of life—Mr. Alderman Van

“My Lord Cornbury?”

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“I was about to say, that should I quit the Province,
without expressing part of the regret I feel, at
not having sooner ascertained the merits of its original
owners, and your own in particular, I should do
injustice to sensibilities, that are only too acute for
the peace of him who endures them.”

“Is there then hope that your lordship's creditors
will relent, or has the Earl furnished means to open
the prison-door?”

“You use the pleasantest terms, Sir!—but I love
directness of language, above all other qualities. No
doubt the prison-door, as you have so clearly expressed
it, might be opened, and lucky would be the man
who should turn the key. I am pained when I think
of the displeasure of the Queen, which, sooner or
later, will surely visit my luckless persecutors. On
the other hand, I find relief in thinking of the favor
she will extend to those who have proved my friends,
in such a strait. They that wear crowns love not to
see disgrace befall the meanest of their blood, for
something of the taint may sully even the ermine of
Majesty.—Mr. Alderman—!”

“My Lord?”

“—How fare the Flemish geldings?”

“Bravely, and many thanks, my Lord; the rogues
are fat as butter! There is hope of a little rest for
the innocents, since business calls me to the Lust in
Rust. There should be a law, Lord Governor, to gibbet
the black that rides a beast at night.”

“I bethought of some condign punishment for so
heartless a crime, but there is little hope for it under
the administration of this Mr. Hunter. Yes, Sir;
were I once more in the presence of my royal cousin,
there would quickly be an end to this delusion, and
the colony should be once more restored to a healthful
state. The men of a generation should cease to
lord it over the men of a century. But we must be
wary of letting our design, my dear Sir, get wind; it

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is a truly Dutch idea, and the profits, both pecuniary
and political, should belong to the gentlemen of that
descent—My dear Van Beverout—?”

“My good Lord?”

“Is the blooming Alida obedient? Trust me, there
has no family event occurred, during my residence
in the colony, in which I have taken a nearer interest,
than in that desirable connexion. The wooing
of the young Patroon of Kinderhook is an affair
of concern to the province. It is a meritorious

“With an excellent estate, my Lord!”

“And a gravity beyond his years.”

“I would give a guarantee, at a risk, that two-thirds
of his income goes to increase the capital, at
the beginning of each season!”

“He seems a man to live on air!”

“My old friend, the last Patroon, left noble assets,”
continued the Alderman, rubbing his hands; “besides
the manor.”

“Which is no paddock!”

“It reaches from the Hudson to the line of Massachusetts.
A hundred thousand acres of hill and bottom,
and well peopled by frugal Hollanders.”

“Respectable in possession, and a mine of gold in
reversion! Such men, Sir, should be cherished. We
owe it to his station to admit him to a share of this,
our project to undeceive the Queen. How superior
are the claims of such a gentleman to the empty
pretensions of your Captain Ludlow!”

“He has truly a very good and an improving estate!”

“These Ludlows, Sir, people that fled the realm
for plotting against the crown, are offensive to a loyal
subject. Indeed, too much of this objection may be
imputed to many in the province, that come of English
blood. I am sorry to say, that they are fomenters
of discord, disturbers of the public mind, and

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captious disputants about prerogatives and vested
rights. But there is a repose in the Dutch character
which lends it dignity! The descendants of the Hollanders
are men to be counted on; where we leave
them to-day, we see them to-morrow. As we say in
politics, Sir, we know where to find them. Does it
not seem to you particularly offensive that this Captain
Ludlow should command the only royal cruiser
on the station?”

“I should like it better, my Lord, were he to serve
in Europe,” returned the Alderman, glancing a look
behind him, and lowering his voice. “There was
lately a rumor that his ship was in truth to be sent
among the islands.”

“Matters are getting very wrong, most worthy
Sir; and the greater the necessity there should be
one at court to undeceive the Queen. Innovators
should be made to give way to men whose names
are historical, in the colony.”

“'Twould be no worse for Her Majesty's credit.”

“'Twould be another jewel in her crown! Should
this Captain Ludlow actually marry your niece, the
family would altogether change its character—I
have the worst memory—thy mother, Myndert, was

“The pious woman was a Van Busser.”

“The union of thy sister with the Huguenot then
reduces the fair Alida to the quality of a half-blood.
The Ludlow connexion would destroy the leaven of
the race! I think the man is penniless!”

“I cannot say that, my Lord, for I would not willingly
injure the credit of my worst enemy; but,
though wealthy, he is far from having the estate of
the young Patroon of Kinderhook.”

“He should indeed be sent into the Indies—Myndert—?”

“My Lord?”

“It would be unjust to my sentiments in favor of

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Mr. Oloff Van Staats, were we to exclude him from
the advantages of our project. This much shall I
exact from your friendship, in his favor; the necessary
sum may be divided, in moieties, between you;
a common bond shall render the affair compact; and
then, as we shall be masters of our own secret, there
can be little doubt of the prudence of our measures.
The amount is written in this bit of paper.”

“Two thousand pounds, my Lord!”

“Pardon me, dear Sir; not a penny more than
one for each of you. Justice to Van Staats requires
that you let him into the affair. Were it not for the
suit with your niece, I should take the young gentleman
with me, to push his fortunes at court.”

“Truly, my Lord, this greatly exceeds my means.
The high prices of furs the past season, and delays
in returns have placed a seal upon our silver—”

“The premium would be high.”

“Coin is getting so scarce, daily, that the face of
a Carolus is almost as great a stranger, as the face
of a debtor—”

“The returns certain.”

“While one's creditors meet him, at every corner—”

“The concern would be altogether Dutch.”

“And last advices from Holland tell us to reserve
our gold, for some extraordinary movements in the
commercial world.”

“Mr. Alderman Myndert Van Beverout!”

“My Lord Viscount Cornbury—”

“Plutus preserve thee, Sir—but have a care!
though I scent the morning air, and must return, it
is not forbid to tell the secrets of my prison-house.
There is one, in yonder cage, who whispers that the
`Skimmer of the Seas' is on the coast! Be wary,
worthy burgher, or the second part of the tragedy
of Kidd may yet be enacted in these seas.”

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I leave such transactions to my superiors,” retorted
the Alderman, with another stiff and ceremonious
bow. “Enterprises that are said to have occupied
the Earl of Bellamont, Governor Fletcher, and my
Lord Cornbury, are above the ambition of an humble

“Adieu, tenacious Sir; quiet thine impatience for
the extraordinary Dutch movements!” said Cornbury,
affecting to laugh, though he secretly felt the
sting the other had applied, since common report
implicated not only him, but his two official predecessors,
in several of the lawless proceedings of the
American Buccaneers: “Be vigilant, or la demoiselle
Barbérie will give another cross to the purity of the
stagnant pool!”

The bows that were exchanged were strictly in
character. The Alderman was unmoved, rigid, and
formal, while his companion could not forget his ease
of manner, even at a moment of so much vexation.
Foiled in an effort, that nothing but his desperate
condition, and nearly desperate character, could have
induced him to attempt, the degenerate descendant
of the virtuous Clarendon walked towards his place
of confinement, with the step of one who assumed a
superiority over his fellows, and yet with a mind so
indurated by habitual depravity, as to have left it
scarcely the trace of a dignified or virtuous quality.

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Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 [1831], The water-witch, volume 1 (Carey & Lea, Philadelphia) [word count] [eaf061v1].
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