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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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“His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate;—”
Two Gentlemen of Veroma.

[figure description] Page 023.[end figure description]

The philosophy of Alderman Van Beverout was
not easily disturbed. Still there was a play of the
nether muscles of the face, which might be construed
into self-complacency at his victory, while a certain
contraction of those which controlled the expression
of the forehead seemed to betray a full consciousness
of the imminent risk he had run. The left hand was
thrust into a pocket, where it diligently fingered the
provision of Spanish coin without which the merchant
never left his abode; while the other struck
the cane it held on the pavement, with the force of
a resolute and decided man. In this manner he proceeded
in his walk, for several minutes longer, shortly
quitting the lower streets, to enter one that ran along
the ridge, which crowned the land, in that quarter
of the island. Here he soon stopped before the door
of a house which, in that provincial town, had altogether
the air of a patrician dwelling.

Two false gables, each of which was surmounted
by an iron weathercock, intersected the roof of this
building, and the high and narrow stoop was built of
the red free-stone of the country. The material of
the edifice itself was, as usual, the small, hard brick
of Holland, painted a delicate cream-color.

A single blow of the massive glittering knocker
brought a servant to the door. The promptitude with
which this summons was answered showed that, notwithstanding
the early hour, the Alderman was an
expected guest. The countenance of him who acted
as porter betrayed no surprise when he saw the person
who applied for admission, and every movement
of the black denoted preparation and readiness for

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his reception. Declining his invitation to enter, however,
the Alderman placed his back against the iron
railing of the stoop, and opened a discourse with the
negro. The latter was aged, with a head that was
grizzled, a nose that was levelled nearly to the plane
of his face, features that were wrinkled and confused,
and with a form which, though still solid, was bending
with its load of years.

“Brave cheer to thee, old Cupid!” commenced
the burgher, in the hearty and cordial manner with
which the masters of that period were wont to address
their indulged slaves. “A clear conscience is
a good night-cap, and you look bright as the morning
sun! I hope my friend the young Patroon has slept
sound as yourself, and that he has shown his face
already, to prove it.”

The negro answered with the slow clipping manner
that characterized his condition and years.

“He'm werry wakeful, Masser Al'erman. I t'ink
he no sleep half he time, lately. All he a'tiverty
and wiwacerty gone, an' he do no single t'ing but
smoke. A gentle'um who smoke alway, Masser
Al'erman, get to be a melercholy man, at last. I do
t'ink'ere be one young lady in York who be he deat',
some time!”

“We'll find the means to get the pipe out of his
mouth,” said the other, looking askance at the black,
as if to express more than he uttered. “Romance
and pretty girls play the deuce with our philosophy,
in youth, as thou knowest by experience, old Cupid.”

“I no good for any t'ing, dat-a-way, now, not'ing,”
calmly returned the black. “I see a one time, when
few color' man in York hab more respect among a
fair sec', but dat a great while gone by. Now, de
modder of your Euclid, Masser Al'erman, war' a
pretty woman, do' she hab but poor conduc'. Den
a war' young heself, and I use to visit at de Al'erman's
fadder's; afore a English come, and when ole

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Patroon war' a young man. Golly! I great affection
for Euclid, do' a young dog nebber come a near me!”

“He's a blackguard! My back is no sooner turned,
than the rascal's atop of one of his master's geldings.”

“He'm werry young, master My'nert: no one get
a wis'om fore a gray hair.”

He's forty every minute, and the rogue gets impudence
with his years. Age is a reverend and respectable
condition, when it brings gravity and thought;
but, if a young fool be tiresome, an old fool is contemptible.
I'll warrant me, you never were so
thoughtless, or so heartless, Cupid, as to ride an over-worked
beast, at night!”

“Well, I get pretty ole, Masser Myn'ert, an' I
forget all he do when a young a young man. But here be'e
Patroon, who know how to tell'e Al'erman such t'ing
better than a poor color' slave.”

“A fair rising and a lucky day to you, Patroon!”
cried the Alderman, saluting a large, slow-moving,
gentlemanly-looking young man of five-and-twenty,
who advanced, with the gravity of one of twice that
number of years, from the interior of the house, towards
its outer door. “The winds are bespoken,
and here is as fine a day as ever shone out of a clear
sky, whether it came from the pure atmosphere of
Holland, or of old England itself. Colonies and patronage!
If the people on the other side of the ocean
had more faith in mother Nature, and less opinion of
themselves, they would find it very tolerable breathing
in the plantations. But the conceited rogues are
like the man who blew the bellows, and fancied he
made the music; and there is never a hobbling imp
of them all, but he believes he is straighter and
sounder, than the best in the colonies. Here is our
bay, now, as smooth as if it were shut in with twenty
dykes, and the voyage will be as safe as if it were
made on a canal.”

“Dat werry well, if a do it,” grumbled Cupid, who

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busied himself affectionately about the person of his
master. “I t'ink it alway better to travel on'e land,
when a gentle'um own so much as Masser Oloff. Der'
war”e time a ferry-boat go down, wid crowd of people;
and nobody ebber come up again to say how he

“Here is some mistake!” interrupted the Alderman,
throwing an uneasy glance at his young friend.
“I count four-and-fifty years, and remember no such

“He'm werry sing'lar how a young folk do forget!
'Ere war' drown six people in dat werry-boat. A two
Yankee, a Canada Frenchman, and a poor woman
from a Jarseys. Ebbery body war' werry sorry for
a poor woman from a Jarseys!”

“Thy tally is false, Master Cupid,” promptly rejoined
the Alderman, who was rather expert at
figures. “Two Yankees, a Frenchman, and your
Jersey woman, make but four.”

“Well, den I s'pose 'ere war' one Yankee; but I
know all war' drown, for'e Gubbenor lose he fine
coach-horses in dat werry-boat.”

“The old fellow is right, sure enough; for I remember
the calamity of the horses, as if it were but
yesterday. But Death is monarch of the earth, and
none of us may hope to escape his scythe, when the
appointed hour shall come! Here are no nags to lose,
to-day; and we may commence our voyage, Patroon,
with cheerful faces and light hearts. Shall we proceed?”

Oloff Van Staats, or the Patroon of Kinderhook,
as, by the courtesy of the colony, he was commonly
termed, did not want for personal firmness. On the
contrary, like most of those who were descended
from the Hollanders, he was rather distinguished for
steadiness in danger, and obstinacy in resistance. The
little skirmish which had just taken place, between
his friend and his slave, had proceeded from their

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several apprehensions; the one feeling a sort of parental
interest in his safety, and the other having
particular reasons for wishing him to persevere in
his intention to embark, instead of any justifiable
cause in the character of the young proprietor himself.
A sign to the boy who bore a portmanteau,
settled the controversy; and then Mr. Van Staats
intimated his readiness to move.

Cupid lingered on the stoop, until his master had
turned a corner; then, shaking his head with all the
misgivings of an ignorant and superstitious mind, he
drove the young fry of blacks, who thronged the door,
into the house, closing all after him with singular and
scrupulous care. How far the presentiment of the
black was warranted by the event, will be seen in
the course of the narrative.

The wide avenue, in which Oloff Van Staats
dwelt, was but a few hundred yards in length. It
terminated, at one end, with the fortress; and at the
other, it was crossed by a high stockade, which bore
the name of the city walls; a defence that was provided
against any sudden irruption of the Indians,
who then hunted, and even dwelt in some numbers,
in the lower counties of the colony.

It requires great familiarity with the growth of
the town, to recognize, in this description, the noble
street that now runs for a league through the centre
of the island. From this avenue, which was then, as
it is still, called the Broadway, our adventurers descended
into a lower quarter of the town, holding
free converse by the way.

“That Cupid is a negro to keep the roof on a
house, in its master's absence, Patroon,” observed the
Alderman, soon after they had left the stoop. “He
looks like a padlock, and one might sleep, without a
dream, with such a guardian near his dwelling. I
wish I had brought the honest fellow the key of my

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“I have heard my father say, that the keys of his
own were always better near his own pillow,” coolly
returned the proprietor of a hundred thousand acres.

“Ah, the curse of Cain! It is needless to look for
the fur of a marten on the back of a cat. But, Mr.
Van Staats, while walking to your door this morning,
it was my fortune to meet the late governor, who is
permitted by his creditors to take the air, at an hour
when he thinks the eyes of the impertinent will be
shut. I believe, Patroon, you were so lucky as to get
back your moneys, before the royal displeasure visited
the man?”

“I was so lucky as never to trust him.”

“That was better still, for it would have been a
barren investment—great jeopardy to principal, and
no return. But we had discourse of various interests,
and, among others, something was hazarded concerning
your amatory pretensions to my niece.”

“Neither the wishes of Oloff Van Staats, nor the
inclinations of la belle Barbérie, are a subject for the
Governor in Council,” said the Patroon of Kinder-hook,

“Nor was it thus treated. The Viscount spoke me
fair, and, had he not pushed the matter beyond discretion,
we might have come to happier conclusions.”

“I am glad that there was some restraint in the

“The man certainly exceeded reason, for he led
the conference into personalities that no prudent man
could relish. Still he said it was possible that the
Coquette might yet be ordered for service among the

It has been said, that Oloff Van Staats was a fair
personable young man of vast stature, and with much
of the air of a gentleman of his country; for, though
a British subject, he was rather a Hollander in feelings,
habits, and opinions. He colored at the allusion
to the presence of his known rival, though his

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companion was at a loss to discover whether pride or
vexation was at the bottom of his emotion.

“If Captain Ludlow prefer a cruise in the Indies,
to duty on this coast, I hope he may obtain his wish,”
was the cautious answer.

“Your liberal man enjoys a sounding name, and
an empty coffer,” observed the Alderman, drily. “To
me it seems that a petition to the admiral to send so
meritorious an officer on service where he may distinguish
himself, should deserve his thanks. The free-booters
are playing the devil's game with the sugar
trade, and even the French are getting troublesome,
further south.”

“He has certainly the reputation of an active

“Blixum and philosophy! If you wish to succeed
with Alida, Patroon, you must put more briskness
into the adventure. The girl has a cross of the
Frenchman in her temper, and none of your deliberations
and taciturnities will gain the day. This
visit to the Lust in Rust is Cupid's own handywork,
and I hope to see you both return to town as amicable
as the Stadholder and the States General,
after a sharp struggle for the year's subsidy has been
settled by a compromise.”

“The success of this suit is the affair nearest my—”
The young man paused as if surprised at his
own communicativeness; and, taking advantage of
the haste in which his toilette had been made, he
thrust a hand into his vest, covering with its broad
palm a portion of the human frame which poets do
not describe as the seat of the passions.

“If you mean stomach, Sir, you will not have
reason to be disappointed,” retorted the Alderman, a
little more severely than was usual with one so cautious.
“The heiress of Myndert Van Beverout will
not be a penniless bride, and Monsieur Barbérie did
not close the books of life without taking good care

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of the balance-sheet—but yonder are those devils of
ferrymen quitting the wharf without us! Scamper
ahead, Brutus, and tell them to wait the legal minute.
The rogues are never exact; sometimes starting before
I am ready, and sometimes keeping me waiting
in the sun, as if I were no better than a dried dunfish.
Punctuality is the soul of business, and one of
my habits does not like to be ahead, nor behind his

In this manner the worthy burgher, who would
have been glad to regulate the movements of others,
on all occasions, a good deal by his own, vented his
complaints, while he and his companion hurried on
to overtake the slow-moving boat in which they were
to embark. A brief description of the scene will not
be without interest, to a generation that may be
termed modern in reference to the time of which
we write.

A deep narrow creek penetrated the island, at this
point, for the distance of a quarter of a mile. Each
of its banks had a row of buildings, as the houses
line a canal in the cities of Holland. As the natural
course of the inlet was necessarily respected, the
street had taken a curvature not unlike that of a
new moon. The houses were ultra-Dutch, being low,
angular, fastidiously neat, and all erected with their
gables to the street. Each had its ugly and inconvenient
entrance, termed a stoop, its vane or weather-cock,
its dormer-windows, and its graduated battlement-walls.
Near the apex of one of the latter, a
little iron crane projected into the street. A small
boat, of the same metal, swung from its end,—a sign
that the building to which it was appended was the

An inherent love of artificial and confined navigation
had probably induced the burghers to select
this spot, as the place whence so many craft departed
from the town; since, it is certain, that the two

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rivers could have furnished divers points more favorable
for such an object, inasmuch as they possess the
advantage of wide and unobstructed channels.

Fifty blacks were already in the street, dipping
their brooms into the creek, and flourishing water
over the side-walks, and on the fronts of the low
edifices. This light but daily duty was relieved by
clamorous collisions of wit, and by shouts of merriment,
in which the whole street would join, as with
one joyous and reckless movement of the spirit.

The language of this light-hearted and noisy race
was Dutch, already corrupted by English idioms, and
occasionally by English words;—a system of change
that has probably given rise to an opinion, among
some of the descendants of the earlier colonists, that
the latter tongue is merely a patois of the former.
This opinion, which so much resembles that certain
well-read English scholars entertain of the plagiarisms
of the continental writers, when they first begin to
dip into their works, is not strictly true; since the
language of England has probably bestowed as much
on the dialect of which we speak, as it has ever received
from the purer sources of the school of Holland.
Here and there, a grave burgher, still in his
night-cap, might be seen with a head thrust out of
an upper window, listening to these barbarisms of
speech, and taking note of all the merry jibes, that
flew from mouth to mouth with an indomitable
gravity, that no levity of those beneath could undermine.

As the movement of the ferry-boat was necessarily
slow, the Alderman and his companion were enabled
to step into it, before the fasts were thrown aboard.
The periagua, as the craft was called, partook of a
European and an American character. It possessed
the length, narrowness, and clean bow, of the canoe,
from which its name was derived, with the flat bottom
and lee-boards of a boat constructed for the

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shallow waters of the Low Countries. Twenty years
ago, vessels of this description abounded in our rivers;
and even now, their two long and unsupported masts,
and high narrow-headed sails, are daily seen bending
like reeds to the breeze, and dancing lightly over the
billows of the bay. There is a variety of the class,
of a size and pretension altogether superior to that
just mentioned, which deserves a place among the
most picturesque and striking boats that float. He
who has had occasion to navigate the southern shore
of the Sound must have often seen the vessel to which
we allude. It is distinguished by its great length, and
masts which, naked of cordage, rise from the hull
like two tall and faultless trees. When the eye runs
over the daring height of canvas, the noble confidence
of the rig, and sees the comparatively vast machine
handled with ease and grace by the dexterity of two
fearless and expert mariners, it excites some such
admiration as that which springs from the view of a
severe temple of antiquity. The nakedness and simplicity
of the construction, coupled with the boldness
and rapidity of its movements, impart to the craft
an air of grandeur, that its ordinary uses would not
give reason to expect.

Though, in some respects, of singularly aquatic
habits, the original colonists of New-York were far
less adventurous, as mariners, than their present descendants.
A passage across the bay did not often
occur in the tranquil lives of the burghers; and it is
still within the memory of man, that a voyage between
the two principal towns of the State was an
event to excite the solicitude of friends, and the anxiety
of the traveller. The perils of the Tappaan Zee,
as one of the wider reaches of the Hudson is still
termed, was often dealt with by the good wives of
the colony, in their relations of marvels; and she
who had oftenest encountered them unharmed, was
deemed a sort of marine amazon.

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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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