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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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“This will prove a brave kingdom to me;
Where I shall have my music, for nothing!”

During the time past in the secret conference of
the cabin, Ludlow and the Patroon were held in discourse
on the quarter-deck, by the hero of the India-shawl.
The dialogue was professional, as Van Staats
maintained his ancient reputation for taciturnity.
The appearance of Myndert, thoughtful, disappointed,
and most evidently perplexed, caused the ideas of all
to take a new direction. It is probable that the
burgher believed he had not yet bid enough to
tempt the free-trader to restore his niece; for, by
his air, it was apparent his mind was far from being
satisfied that she was not in the vessel. Still, when
questioned by his companions concerning the result
of his interview with the free-trader, for reasons best
understood by himself, he was fain to answer evasively.

“Of one thing rest satisfied,” he said; “the misconception
in this affair will yet be explained, and
Alida Barbérie return unfettered, and with a character
as free from blemish as the credit of the Van
Stoppers of Holland. The fanciful-looking person in
the cabin denies that my niece is here, and I am inclined
to think the balance of truth is on his side.

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I confess, if one could just look into the cabins, without
the trouble of rummaging lockers and cargo, the
statement would give more satisfaction; but—hem—
gentlemen, we must take the assertion on credit, for
want of more sufficient security.

Ludlow looked at the cloud above the mouth of
the Raritan, and his lip curled in a haughty smile.

“Let the wind hold here, at east,” he said, “and
we shall act our pleasure, with both lockers and

“Hist! the worthy Master Tiller may overhear
this threat—and, after all, I do not know whether
prudence does not tell us, to let the brigantine

“Mr. Alderman Van Beverout,” rejoined the Captain,
whose cheek had reddened to a glow, “my duty
must not be gauged by your affection for your niece.
Though content that Alida Barbérie should quit the
country, like an article of vulgar commerce, the
commander of this vessel must get a passport of Her
Majesty's cruiser, ere she again enter the high sea.”

“Wilt say as much to the sea-green lady?” asked
the mariner of the shawl, suddenly appearing at his

The question was so unexpected and so strange,
that it caused an involuntary start; but, recovering
his recollection on the instant, the young sailor
haughtily replied—

“Or to any other monster thou canst conjure!”

“We will take you at the word. There is no
more certain method of knowing the past or the
future, the quarter of the heavens from which the
winds are to come, or the season of the hurricanes,
than by putting a question to our mistress. She who
knows so much of hidden matters, may tell us what
you wish to know. We will have her called, by the
usual summons.”

Thus saying, the mariner of the shawl gravely

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quitted his guests, and descended into the inferior
cabins of the vessel. It was but a moment, before
there arose sounds from some secret though not distant
quarter of the brigantine, that caused, in some
measure, both surprise and pleasure to Ludlow and
the Patroon. Their companion had his motives for
being insensible to either of these emotions.

After a short and rapid symphony, a wind-instrument
took up a wild strain, while a human voice was
again heard chanting to the music, words which
were so much involved by the composition of the air,
as to render it impossible to trace more than that
their burthen was a sort of mysterious incantation of
some ocean deity.

“Squeaking and flutes!” grumbled Myndert, ere
the last sounds were fairly ended. “This is down-right
heathenish; and a plain-dealing man, who does
business above-board, has good reason to wish himself
honestly at church. What have we to do with
land-witches, or water-witches, or any other witch-craft,
that we stay in the brigantine, now it is known
that my niece is not to be found aboard her; and,
moreover, even admitting that we were disposed to
traffic, the craft has nothing in her that a man of
Manhattan should want. The deepest bog of thy
manor, Patroon, is safer ground to tread on, than the
deck of a vessel that has got a reputation like that
of this craft.”

The scenes of which he was a witness, had produced
a powerful effect on Van Staats of Kinderhook.
Of a slow imagination, but of a powerful and vast
frame, he was not easily excited, either to indulge in
fanciful images, or to suffer personal apprehension.
Only a few years had passed since men, who in other
respects were enlightened, firmly believed in the existence
of supernatural agencies in the control of the
affairs of this life; and though the New-Netherlanders
had escaped the infatuation which prevailed so

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generally in the religious provinces of New-England,
a credulous superstition, of a less active quality, possessed
the minds of the most intelligent of the Dutch
colonists, and even of their descendants so lately as
in our own times. The art of divination was particularly
in favor; and it rarely happened, that any
inexplicable event affected the fortunes or comforts
of the good provincialists, without their having recourse
to some one of the more renowned fortune-tellers
of the country, for an explanation. Men of
slow faculties love strong excitement, because they
are insensible to less powerful impulses, as men of
hard heads find most enjoyment in strong liquors.
The Patroon was altogether of the sluggish cast; and
to him there was consequently a secret, but deep
pleasure, in his present situation.

“What important results may flow from this adventure,
we know not, Mr. Alderman Van Beverout,”
returned Oloff Van Staats; “and I confess a desire
to see and hear more, before we land. This `Skimmer
of the Sea's is altogether a different man from
what our rumors in the city have reported; and, by
remaining, we may set public opinion nearer to the
truth. I have heard my late venerable aunt—”

“Chimney-corners and traditions! The good lady
was no bad customer of these gentry, Patroon; and
it is lucky that they got no more of thy inheritance,
in the way of fees. You see the Lust in Rust against
the mountain there; well, all that is meant for the
public is on the outside, and all that is intended for
my own private gratification is kept within-doors.
But here is Captain Ludlow, who has matters of the
Queen on his hands, and the gentleman will find it
disloyal to waste the moments in this juggling.”

“I confess the same desire to witness the end,”
dryly returned the commander of the Coquette.
“The state of the wind prevents any immediate
change in the positions of the two vessels; and why

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not get a farther insight into the extraordinary character
of those who belong to the brigantine?”

“Ay, there it is!” muttered the Alderman between
his teeth. “Your insights and outsights lead
to all the troubles of life. One is never snug with
these fantastics, which trifle with a secret, like a fly
fluttering round a candle, until his wings get burnt.”

As his companions seemed resolved to stay, however,
there remained no alternative for the burgher,
but patience. Although apprehension of some indiscreet
exposure was certainly the feeling uppermost
in his mind, he was not entirely without some of the
weakness which caused Oloff Van Staats to listen
and to gaze with so much obvious interest and secret
awe. Even Ludlow, himself, felt more affected than
he would have willing owned, by the extraordinary
situation in which he was placed. No man is entirely
insensible to the influence of sympathy, let it
exert its power in what manner it will. Of this the
young sailor was the more conscious, through the
effect that was produced on himself, by the grave
exterior and attentive manner of all the mariners
of the brigantine. He was a seaman of no mean
accomplishments; and, among other attainments that
properly distinguish men of his profession, he had
learned to know the country of a sailor, by those
general and distinctive marks which form the principal
difference between men whose common pursuit
has in so great a degree created a common character.
Intelligence, at that day, was confined to narrow
limits among those who dwelt on the ocean.
Even the officer was but too apt to be one of rude
and boisterous manners, of limited acquirements,
and of deep and obstinate prejudices. No wonder,
then, that the common man was, in general, ignorant
of most of those opinions which gradually enlighten
society. Ludlow had seen, on entering the
vessel, that her crew was composed of men of

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different countries. Age and personal character seemed
to have been more consulted, in their selection, than
national distinctions. There was a Finlander, with
a credulous and oval physiognomy, sturdy but short
frame, and a light vacant eye; and a dark-skinned
seaman of the Mediterranean, whose classical outline
of feature was often disturbed by uneasy and
sensitive glances at the horizon. These two men had
come and placed themselves near the group on the
quarter-deck, when the last music was heard; and
Ludlow had ascribed the circumstance to a sensibility
to melody, when the child Zephyr stole to their side,
in a manner to show that more was meant by the
movement than was apparent in the action itself.
The appearance of Tiller, who invited the party to
re-enter the cabin, explained its meaning, by showing
that these men, like themselves, had business
with the being, who, it was pretended, had so great
an agency in controlling the fortunes of the brigantine.

The party, who now passed into the little anteroom,
was governed by very different sensations.
The curiosity of Ludlow was lively, fearless, and a
little mingled with an interest that might be termed
professional; while that of his two companions was
not without some inward reverence for the mysterious
power of the sorceress. The two seamen manifested
dull dependence, while the boy exhibited, in
his ingenuous and half-terrified countenance, most
unequivocally the influence of childish awe. The
mariner of the shawl was grave, silent, and, what
was unusual in his deportment, respectful. After
a moment's delay, the door of the inner apartment
was opened by Seadrift himself, and he signed for the
whole to enter.

A material change had been made in the arrangement
of the principal cabin. The light was entirely
excluded from the stern, and the crimson curtain had

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been lowered before the alcove. A small window,
whose effect was to throw a dim obscurity within,
had been opened in the side. The objects on which
its light fell strongest, received a soft coloring from
the hues of the hangings.

The free-trader received his guests with a chastened
air, bowing silently, and with less of levity in
his mien than in the former interview. Still Ludlow
thought there lingered a forced but sad smile
about his handsome mouth; and the Patroon gazed
at his fine features, with the admiration that one
might feel for the most favored of those who were
believed to administer at some supernatural shrine.
The feelings of the Alderman were exhibited only by
some half-suppressed murmurs of discontent, that
from time to time escaped him, notwithstanding a
certain degree of reverence, that was gradually prevailing
over his ill-concealed dissatisfaction.

“They tell me, you would speak with our mistress,”
said the principal personage of the vessel, in
a subdued voice. “There are others, too, it would
seem, who wish to seek counsel from her wisdom.
It is now many months since we have had direct
converse with her, though the book is ever open to
all applicants for knowledge. You have nerves for
the meeting?”

“Her Majesty's enemies have never reproached
me with their want,” returned Ludlow, smiling incredulously.
“Proceed with your incantations, that
we may know.”

“We are not necromancers, Sir, but faithful mariners,
who do their mistress's pleasure. I know that
you are sceptical; but bolder men have confessed
their mistakes, with less testimony. Hist! we are
not alone. I hear the opening and shutting of the
brigantine's transoms.”

The speaker then fell back nearly to the line in
which the others had arranged themselves, and

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awaited the result in silence. The curtain rose to a low
air on the same wind-instrument; and even Ludlow
felt an emotion more powerful than interest, as he
gazed on the object that was revealed to view.

A female form, attired, as near as might be, like
the figure-head of the vessel, and standing in a similar
attitude, occupied the centre of the alcove. As
in the image, one hand held a book with its page
turned towards the spectators, while a finger of the
other pointed ahead, as if giving to the brigantine its
course. The sea-green drapery was floating behind,
as if it felt the influence of the air; and the face had
the same dark and unearthly hue, with its malign
and remarkable smile.

When the start and the first gaze of astonishment
were over, the Alderman and his companions glanced
their eyes at each other, in wonder. The smile on
the look of the free-trader became less hidden, and
it partook of triumph.

“If any here has aught to say to the lady of our
bark, let him now declare it. She has come far, at
our call, and will not tarry long.”

“I would then know,” said Ludlow, drawing a
heavy breath, like one recovering from some sudden
and powerful sensation, “if she I seek be within the

He who acted the part of mediator in this extraordinary
ceremony, bowed and advanced to the book,
which, with an air of deep reverence, he consulted,
reading, or appearing to read, from its pages.

“You are asked here, in return for that you inquire,
if she you seek is sought in sincerity?”

Ludlow reddened; the manliness of the profession
to which he belonged, however, overcame the reluctance
natural to self-esteem; and he answered,

“She is.”

“But you are a mariner; men of the sea place

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their affections, often, on the fabric in which they
dwell. Is the attachment for her you seek, stronger
than love of wandering, of your ship, your youthful
expectations, and the glory that forms a young soldier's

The commander of the Coquette hesitated. After
a moment of pause, like that of self-examination, he

“As much so, as may become a man.”

A cloud crossed the brow of his interrogator, who
advanced and again consulted the pages of the book.

“You are required to say, if a recent event has
not disturbed your confidence in her you seek?”

“Disturbed—but not destroyed.”

The sea-green lady moved, and the pages of the
mysterious volume trembled, as if eager to deliver
their oracles.

“And could you repress curiosity, pride, and all
the other sentiments of your sex, and seek her favor,
without asking explanation, as before the occurrence
of late events?”

“I would do much to gain a kind look from Alida
de Barbérie; but the degraded spirit, of which you
speak, would render me unworthy of her esteem.
If I found her as I lost her, my life should be devoted
to her happiness; and if not, to mourning that one
so fair should have fallen!”

“Have you ever felt jealousy?”

“First let me know if I have cause?” cried the
young man, advancing a step towards the motionless
form, with an evident intent to look closer into its

The hand of the mariner of the shawl arrested
him, with the strength of a giant.

“None trespass on the respect due our mistress,”
coolly observed the vigorous seaman, while he motioned
to the other to retreat.

A fierce glance shot from his eye; and then the

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recollection of his present helplessness came, in season,
to restrain the resentment of the offended officer.

“Have you ever felt jealousy?” continued his undisturbed

“Would any love, that have not?”

A gentle respiration was heard in the cabin, during
the short pause that succeeded, though none could
tell whence it came. The Alderman turned to regard
the Patroon, as if he believed the sigh was his;
while the startled Ludlow looked curiously around
him, at a loss to know who acknowledged, with so
much sensibility, the truth of his reply.

“Your answers are well,” resumed the free-trader,
after a pause longer than usual. Then, turning to
Oloff Van Staats, he said, “Whom, or what, do you

“We come on a common errand.”

“And do you seek in all sincerity?”

“I could wish to find.”

“You are rich in lands and houses; is she you
seek, dear to you as this wealth?”

“I esteem them both, since one could not wish to
tie a woman he admired to beggary.”

The Alderman hemmed so loud as to fill the cabin,
and then, startled at his own interruption, he involuntarily
bowed an apology to the motionless form in
the alcove, and regained his composure.

“There is more of prudence than of ardor in
your answer. Have you ever felt jealousy?”

“That has he!” eagerly exclaimed Myndert.
“I've known the gentleman raving as a bear that
has lost its cub, when my niece has smiled, in church,
for instance, though it were only in answer to a nod
from an old lady. Philosophy and composure, Patroon!
Who the devil knows, but Alida may hear of
this questioning?—and then her French blood will
boil, to find that your love has always gone as regularly
as a town-clock.”

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“Could you receive her, without inquiring into
past events?”

“That would he—that would he!” returned the
Alderman. “I answer for it, that Mr. Van Staats
complies with all engagements, as punctually as the
best house in Amsterdam, itself.”

The book again trembled, but it was with a
waving and dissatisfied motion.

“What is thy will with our mistress?” demanded
the free-trader, of the fair-haired sailor.

“I have bargained with some of the dealers of my
country, for a wind to carry the brigantine through
the inlet.”

“Go.—The Water-Witch will sail when there is
need;—and you?”

“I wish to know whether a few skins I bought
last night, for a private venture, will turn to good

“Trust the sea-green lady for your profits. When
did she ever let any fail, in a bargain. Child, what
has brought thee hither?”

The boy trembled, and a little time elapsed before
he found resolution to answer.

“They tell me it is so queer to be upon the land!”

“Sirrah! thou hast been answered. When others
go, thou shalt go with them.”

“They say 'tis pleasant to taste the fruits from off
the very trees—”

“Thou art answered. Gentlemen, our mistress
departs. She knows that one among you has threatened
her favorite brigantine with the anger of an
earthly Queen; but it is beneath her office to reply
to threats so idle. Hark! her attendants are in

The wind-instrument was once more heard, and
the curtain slowly fell to its strains. A sudden and
violent noise, resembling the opening and shutting of
some massive door, succeeded—and then all was still.

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When the sorceress had disappeared, the free-trader
resumed his former ease of manner, seeming to speak
and act more naturally. Alderman Van Beverout
drew a long breath, like one relieved; and even the
mariner of the gay shawl stood in an easier and more
reckless attitude than while in her presence. The
two seamen and the child withdrew.

“Few who wear that livery have ever before
seen the lady of our brigantine,” continued the free-trader,
addressing himself to Ludlow; “and it is
proof that she has less aversion to your cruiser, than
she in common feels to most of the long pennants
that are abroad on the water.”

“Thy mistress, thy vessel, and thyself, are alike
amusing!” returned the young seaman, again smiling
incredulously, and with some little official pride. “It
will be well, if you maintain this pleasantry much
longer, at the expense of Her Majesty's customs.”

“We trust to the power of the Water-Witch.
She has adopted our brigantine as her abode, given
it her name, and guides it with her hand. 'Twould
be weak to doubt, when thus protected.”

“There may be occasion to try her virtues. Were
she a spirit of the deep waters, her robe would be
blue. Nothing of a light draught can escape the

“Dost not know that the color of the sea differs
in different climes? We fear not, but you would
have answers to your questions. Honest Tiller will
carry you all to the land, and, in passing, the book
may again be consulted. I doubt not she will leave
us some further memorial of her visit.”

The free-trader then bowed, and retired behind
the curtain, with the air of a sovereign dismissing
his visiters from an audience; though his eye glanced
curiously behind him, as he disappeared, as if to
trace the effect which had been produced by the interview.
Alderman Van Beverout and his friends

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were in the boat again, before a syllable was exchanged
between them. They had followed the
mariner of the shawl, in obedience to his signal; and
they quitted the side of the beautiful brigantine,
like men who pondered on what they had just witnessed.

Enough has been betrayed, in the course of the
narrative, perhaps, to show that Ludlow distrusted,
though he could not avoid wondering at, what he
had seen. He was not entirely free from the superstition
that was then so common among seamen;
but his education and native good sense enabled
him, in a great measure, to extricate his imagination
from that love of the marvellous, which is more or
less common to all. He had fifty conjectures concerning
the meaning of what had passed, and not
one of them was true; though each, at the instant,
seemed to appease his curiosity, while it quickened
his resolution to pry further into the affair. As for
the Patroon of Kinderhook, the present day was one
of rare and unequalled pleasure. He had all the
gratification which strong excitement can produce
in slow natures; and he neither wished a solution of
his doubts, nor contemplated any investigation that
might destroy so agreeable an illusion. His fancy
was full of the dark countenance of the sorceress;
and when it did not dwell on a subject so unnatural,
it saw the handsome features, ambiguous smile, and
attractive air, of her scarcely less admirable minister.

As the boat got to a little distance from the vessel,
Tiller stood erect, and ran his eye complacently
over the perfection of her hull and rigging.

“Our mistress has equipped and sent upon the
wide and unbeaten sea, many a bark,” he said;
“but never a lovelier than our own!—Captain Ludlow,
there has been some double-dealing between us;
but that which is to follow, shall depend on our skill,

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seamanship, and the merits of the two crafts. You
serve Queen Anne, and I the sea-green lady. Let
each be true to his mistress, and Heaven preserve
the deserving!—Wilt see the book, before we make
the trial?”

Ludlow intimated his assent, and the boat approached
the figure-head. It was impossible to prevent
the feeling, which each of our three adventurers,
not excepting the Alderman, felt when they
came in full view of the motionless image. The mysterious
countenance appeared endowed with thought,
and the malign smile seemed still more ironical than

“The first question was yours, and yours must be
the first answer,” said Tiller, motioning for Ludlow to
consult the page which was open. “Our mistress deals
chiefly in verses from the old writer, whose thoughts
are almost as common to us all, as to human nature.”

“What means this?” said Ludlow, hastily—

“She, Claudio, that you wrong'd, look, you restore.
—love her Angelo;
I have confess'd her, and I know her virtue.”

“These are plain words; but I would rather that
another priest should shrive her whom I love!”

“Hist!—Young blood is swift and quickly heated.
Our lady of the bark will not relish hot speech, over
her oracles.—Come, Master Patroon, turn the page
with the rattan, and see what fortune will give.”

Oloff Van Staats raised his powerful arm, with
the hesitation, and yet with the curiosity, of a girl.
It was easy to read in his eye, the pleasure his heavy
nature felt in the excitement; and yet it was easy
to detect the misgivings of an erroneous education,
by the seriousness of all the other members of his
countenance. He read aloud—

“I have a motion much imports your good;
Whereto, if you'll a willing ear incline,

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What's mine is yours, and what is yours is mine:—
So bring us to our palace, where we'll show,
What's yet behind, that's meet you all should know.”

Measure For Measure.

“Fair-dealing, and fairer speech! `What's yours
is mine, and what is mine is yours,' is Measure for
Measure, truly, Patroon!” cried the Alderman. “A
more equitable bargain cannot be made, when the
assets are of equal value. Here is encouragement,
in good sooth; and now, Master Mariner, we will
land and proceed to the Lust in Rust, which must be
the place meant in the verses. `What's yet behind,'
must be Alida, the tormenting baggage! who has
been playing hide-and-seek with us, for no other
reason than to satisfy her womanish vanity, by showing
how uncomfortable she could make three grave
and responsible men. Let the boat go, Master Tiller,
since that is thy name; and many thanks for thy

“Twould give grave offence to leave the lady,
without knowing all she has to say. The answer
now concerns you, worthy Alderman; and the rattan
will do its turn, in your hand, as well as in that of

“I despise a pitiful curiosity, and content myself
with knowing what chance and good luck teach,”
returned Myndert. “There are men in Manhattan
ever prying into their neighbors' credit, like frogs
lying with their noses out of water; but it is enough
for me to know the state of my books, with some
insight into that of the market.”

“It will not do.—This may appease a quiet conscience,
like your own, Sir; but we of the brigantine
may not trifle with our mistress. One touch of the
rattan will tell you, whether these visits to the Water-Witch
are likely to prove to your advantage.”

Myndert wavered. It has been said, that, like
most others of his origin in the colony, he had a

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secret leaning to the art of divination: and the words
of the hero of the shawl contained a flattering allusion
to the profits of his secret commerce. He took
the offered stick, and, by the time the page was
turned, his eyes were ready enough to consult its contents.
There was but a line, which was also quoted
as coming from the well-known comedy of `Measure
for Measure.'

“Proclaim it, Provost, round about the city.”

In his eagerness Myndert read the oracle aloud,
and then he sunk into his seat, affecting to laugh at
the whole as a childish and vain conceit.

“Proclamation, me, no proclamations! Is it a time
of hostilities, or of public danger, that one should go
shouting with his tidings through the streets? Measure
for Measure, truly! Harkee, Master Tiller, this
sea-green trull of thine is no better than she should
be; and unless she mends her manner of dealing, no
honest man will be found willing to be seen in her
company. I am no believer in necromancy—though
the inlet has certainly opened this year, altogether
in an unusual manner—and therefore I put little
faith in her words; but as for saying aught of me
or mine, in town or country, Holland or America,
that can shake my credit, why I defy her! Still, I
would not willingly have any idle stories to contradict;
and I shall conclude by saying, you will do well
to stop her mouth.”

“Stop a hurricane, or a tornado! Truth will come
in her book, and he that reads must expect to see it—
Captain Ludlow, you are master of your movements,
again; for the inlet is no longer between you
and your cruiser. Behind you hillock is the boat and
crew you missed. The latter expect you. And now,
gentlemen, we leave the rest to the green lady's
guidance, our own good skill, and the winds! I salute

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The moment his companions were on the shore,
the hero of the shawl caused his boat to quit it; and
in less than five minutes it was seen swinging, by its
tackles, at the stern of the brigantine.

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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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