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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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“Sirs, take your places, and be vigilant.”

Henry IV.

The succeeding day was one in which the weather
had a fixed character. The wind was east, and,
though light, not fluctuating. The air had that thick
and hazy appearance, which properly belongs to the
Autumn in this climate, but which is sometimes seen
at midsummer, when a dry wind blows from the
ocean. The roll of the surf, on the shore, was
regular and monotonous, and the currents of the air
were so steady as to remove every apprehension of
a change. The moment to which the action of the
tale is transferred, was in the earlier hours of the

At that time the Coquette lay again at her
anchors, just within the shelter of the cape. There
were a few small sails to be seen passing up the bay;
but the scene, as was common at that distant day,
presented little of the activity of our own times, to
the eye. The windows of the Lust in Rust were
again open, and the movement of the slaves, in and
about the villa, announced the presence of its master.

The Alderman was in truth, at the hour named,
passing the little lawn in front of la Cour des Fées,
accompanied by Oloff Van Staats and the commander
of the cruiser. It was evident, by the frequent
glances which the latter threw in the direction of
the pavilion, that he still thought of her who was
absent; while the faculties of the two others were
either in better subjection, or less stimulated by

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anxiety. One who understood the character of the individual,
and who was acquainted with the past,
might have suspected, by this indifference on the
part of the Patroon, placed as it was in such a singular
contrast to a sort of mysterious animation which
enlivened a countenance whose ordinary expression
was placid content, that the young suitor thought
less than formerly of the assets of old Etienne, and
more of the secret pleasure he found in the singular
incidents of which he had been a witness.

“Propriety and discretion!” observed the burgher,
in reply to a remark of one of the young men—“I
say again, for the twentieth time, that we shall have
Alida Barbérie back among us, as handsome, as innocent,
ay, and as rich, as ever!—perhaps I should
also say, as wilful. A baggage, to worry her old
uncle, and two honorable suitors, in so thoughtless a
manner! Circumstances, gentlemen,” continued the
wary merchant, who saw that the value of the hand
of which he had to dispose, was somewhat reduced
in the market, “have placed you on a footing, in my
esteem. Should my niece, after all, prefer Captain
Ludlow for a partner in her worldly affairs, why it
should not weaken friendship between the son of
old Stephanus Van Staats and Myndert Van Beverout.
Our grandmothers were cousins, and there
should be charities in the same blood.”

“I could not wish to press my suit,” returned the
Patroon, “when the lady has given so direct a hint
that it is disagreeable—”

“Hint me no hints! Do you call this caprice of a
moment, this trifling, as the captain here would call
it, with the winds and tides, a hint! The girl has
Norman blood in her veins, and she wishes to put
animation into the courtship. If bargains were to
be interrupted by a little cheapening of the buyer,
and some affectation of waiting for a better market
in the seller, Her Majesty might as well order her

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custom-houses to be closed at once, and look to other
sources for revenue. Let the girl's fancy have its
swing, and the profits of a year's peltry against thy
rent-roll, we shall see her penitent for her folly, and
willing to hear reason. My sister's daughter is no
witch, to go journeying for ever about the world, on
a broomstick!”

“There is a tradition in our family,” said Oloff
Van Staats, his eye lighting with a mysterious excitement,
while he affected to laugh at the folly he
uttered, “that the great Poughkeepsie fortune-teller
foretold, in the presence of my grandmother, that a
Patroon of Kinderhook should intermarry with a
witch. So, should I see la Belle in the position you
name, it would not greatly alarm me.”

“The prophecy was fulfilled at the wedding of
thy father!” muttered Myndert, who, notwithstanding
the outward levity with which he treated the
subject, was not entirely free from secret reverence
for the provincial soothsayers, some of whom continued
in high repute, even to the close of the last
century. “His son would not else have been so
clever a youth! But here is Captain Ludlow looking
at the ocean, as if he expected to see my niece
rise out of the water, in the shape of a mermaid.”

The commander of the Coquette pointed to the
object which attracted his gaze, and which, appearing
as it did at that moment, was certainly not of a
nature to lessen the faith of either of his companions
in supernatural agencies.

It has been said that the wind was dry and the
air misty, or rather so pregnant with a thin haze, as
to give it the appearance of a dull, smoky light. In
such a state of the weather, the eye, more especially
of one placed on an elevation, is unable to distinguish
what is termed the visible horizon at sea. The two
elements become so blended, that our organs cannot
tell where the water ends, or where the void of the

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heavens commences. It is a consequence of this indistinctness,
that any object seen beyond the apparent
boundary of water, has the appearance of floating
in the air. It is rare for the organs of a landsman
to penetrate beyond the apparent limits of the
sea, when the atmosphere exhibits this peculiarity,
though the practised eye of a mariner often detects
vessels, which are hid from others, merely because
they are not sought in the proper place. The deception
may also be aided by a slight degree of refraction.

“Here;” said Ludlow, pointing in a line that
would have struck the water some two or three
leagues in the offing. “First bring the chimney of
yonder low building on the plain, in a range with
the dead oak on the shore, and then raise your eyes
slowly, till they strike a sail.”

“That ship is navigating the heavens!” exclaimed
Myndert! “Thy grandmother was a sensible woman,
Patroon; she was a cousin of my pious progenitor,
and there is no knowing what two clever old
ladies, in their time, may have heard and seen,
when such sights as this are beheld in our own!”

“I am as little disposed as another, to put faith in
incredible things,” gravely returned Oloff Van Staats;
“and yet, if required to give my testimony, I should
be reluctant to say, that yonder vessel is not floating
in the heavens!”

“You might not give it to that effect, in safety;
said Ludlow. “It is no other than a half-rigged
brigantine, on a taut bowline, though she bears no
great show of canvas. Mr. Van Beverout, Her Majesty's
cruiser is about to put to sea.”

Myndert heard this declaration in visible dissatisfaction.
He spoke of the virtue of patience, and
of the comforts of the solid ground; but when he
found the intention of the Queen's servant was not
to be shaken, he reluctantly professed an intention of

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repeating the personal experiment of the preceding
day. Accordingly, within half an hour, the whole
party were on the banks of the Shrewsbury, and
about to embark in the barge of the Coquette.

“Adieu, Monsieur François;” said the Alderman,
nodding his head to the ancient valet, who stood with
a disconsolate eye on the shore. “Have a care of
the movables in la Cour des Fées; we may have further
use for them.”

“Mais, Monsieur Beevre, mon devoir, et, ma foi,
suppose la mèr was plus agréable, mon désir shall be
to suivre Mam'selle Alide. Jamais personne de la
famille Barbérie love de sea; mais, Monsieur, comment
faire? I shall die sur la mèr de douleur; and I
shall die d'ennui, to rester ici, bien sûr!”

“Come then, faithful François,” said Ludlow.
“You shall follow your young mistress; and perhaps,
on further trial, you may be disposed to think the
lives of us seamen more tolerable than you had believed.”

After an eloquent expression of countenance, in
which the secretly-amused though grave-looking
boat's-crew thought the old man was about to give
a specimen of his powers of anticipation, the affectionate
domestic entered the barge. Ludlow felt for
his distress, and encouraged him by a look of approbation.
The language of kindness does not always
need a tongue; and the conscience of the valet smote
him with the idea that he might have expressed
himself too strongly, concerning a profession to which
the other had devoted life and hopes.

“La mer, Monsieur le Capitaine,” he said, with an
acknowledging reverence, “est un vaste théâtre de
la gloire. Voilà Messieurs de Tourville et Dougay
Trouin; ce sont des hommes, vraiment remarquables!
mais Monsieur, quant à toute la famille de
Barbérie, we have toujours un sentiment plus favorable
pour la terre.”

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“I wish your whimsical jade of a mistress, Master
François, had found the same sentiment,” dryly observed
Myndert: “for let me tell you, this cruising
about in a suspicious vessel is as little creditable to
her judgment as—cheer up, Patroon; the girl is only
putting thy mettle to the trial, and the sea air will
do no damage to her complexion or her pocket. A
little predilection for salt water must raise the girl
in your estimation, Captain Ludlow!”

“If the predilection goes no further than to the
element, Sir;” was the caustic answer. “But, deluded
or not, erring or deceived, Alida Barbérie is
not to be deserted, the victim of a villain's arts. I
did love your niece, Mr. Van Beverout, and—pull
with a will, men; fellows, are you sleeping on the

The sudden manner in which the young man interrupted
himself, and the depth of tone in which he
spoke to the boat's-crew, put an end to the discourse.
It was apparent that he wished to say no more, and
that he even regretted the weakness which had induced
him to say so much. The remainder of the
distance, between the shore and the ship, was passed
in silence.

When Queen Anne's cruiser was seen doubling
Sandy-Hook, past meridian on the 6th June (sea-time)
in the year 17—, the wind, as stated in an ancient
journal, which was kept by one of the midshipmen,
and is still in existence, was light, steady at
south, and by-west-half-west. It appears, by the
same document, that the vessel took her departure
at seven o'clock, P. M., the point of Sandy-Hook
bearing west-half-south, distant three leagues. On
the same page which contains these particulars, it is
observed, under the head of remarks—“Ship under
starboard steering-sails, forward and aft, making six
knots. A suspicious half-rigged brigantine lying-to
in the eastern board, under her mainsail, with

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foretopsail to the mast; light and lofty sails and jib
loose; foresail in the brails. Her starboard steering-sail-booms
appear to be rigged out, and the gear rove,
ready for a run. This vessel is supposed to be the
celebrated hermaphrodite, the Water-Witch, commanded
by the notorious `Skimmer of the Seas,' and
the same fellow who gave us so queer a slip, yesterday.
The Lord send us a cap-full of wind, and we'll
try his heels, before morning!—Passengers, Alderman
Van Beverout, of the second ward of the City
of New-York, in Her Majesty's province of the same
name; Oloff Van Staats, Esq. commonly called the
Patroon of Kinderhook, of the same colony; and a
qualmish-looking old chap, in a sort of marine's jacket,
who answers when hailed as Francis. A rum
set taken altogether, though they seem to suit the
Captain's fancy. Mem.—Each lipper of a wave
works like tartar emetic on the lad in marine gear.”

As no description of ours can give a more graphic
account of the position of the two vessels in question,
at the time named, than that which is contained in
the foregoing extract, we shall take up the narrative
at that moment, which the reader will see must, in
the 43d degree of latitude, and in the month of June,
have been shortly after the close of the day.

The young votary of Neptune, whose opinions
have just been quoted, had indeed presumed on his
knowledge of the localities, in affirming the distance
and position of the cape, since the low sandy point
was no longer visible from the deck. The sun had
set, as seen from the vessel, precisely in the mouth
of the Raritan; and the shadows from Navesink, or
Neversink as the hills are vulgarly called, were
thrown far upon the sea. In short, the night was
gathering round the mariners, with every appearance
of settled and mild weather, but of a darkness
deeper than is common on the ocean. Under such
circumstances, the great object was to keep on the

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track of the chase, during the time when she must
necessarily be hid from their sight.

Ludlow walked into the lee-gangway of his ship,
and, leaning with his elbow on the empty hammock-cloths,
he gazed long and in silence at the object of
his pursuit. The Water-Witch was lying in the
quarter of the horizon most favorable to being seen.
The twilight, which still fell out of the heavens, was
without glare in that direction; and for the first time
that day, he saw her in her true proportions. The
admiration of a seaman was blended with the other
sensations of the young man. The brigantine lay in
the position that exhibited her exquisitely-moulded
hull and rakish rig to the most advantage. The head,
having come to the wind, was turned towards her
pursuer; and as the bows rose on some swell that
was heavier than common, Ludlow saw, or fancied
he saw, the mysterious image still perched on her
cut-water, holding the book to the curious, and ever
pointing with its finger across the waste of water. A
movement of the hammock-cloths caused the young
sailor to bend his head aside, and he then saw that
the master had drawn as near to his person as discipline
would warrant. Ludlow had a great respect
for the professional attainments that his inferior unquestionably
possessed; and he was not without some
consideration for the chances of a fortune, which had
not done much to reward the privations and the services
of a seaman old enough to be his father. The
recollection of these facts always disposed him to be
indulgent to a man who had little, beyond his seaman-like
character and long experience, to recommend

“We are likely to have a thick night, Master Trysail,”
said the young captain, without deeming it necessary
to change his look, “and we may yet be
brought on a bowline, before yonder insolent is overhauled.”

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The master smiled, like one who knew more than
he expressed, and gravely shook his head.

“We may have many pulls on our bowlines, and
some squaring of yards, too, before the Coquette (the
figure-head of the sloop-of-war was also a female)
gets near enough to the dark-faced woman, under
the bowsprit of the brigantine, to whisper her mind.
You and I have been nigh enough to see the white
of her eyes, and to count the teeth she shows, in that
cunning grin of hers,—and what good has come of
our visit? I am but a subordinate, Captain Ludlow,
and I know my duty too well not to be silent in a
squall, and I hope too well not to know how to speak
when my commander wishes the opinions of his officers
at a council; and therefore mine, just now, is
perhaps different from that of some others in this
ship, that I will not name, who are good men, too,
though none of the oldest.”

“And what is thy opinion, Trysail?—the ship is
doing well, and she carries her canvas bravely.”

“The ship behaves like a well-bred young woman
in the presence of the Queen; modest, but stately—
but, of what use is canvas, in a chase where witch-craft
breeds squalls, and shortens sail in one vessel,
while it gives flying kites to another! If Her Majesty,
God bless her! should be ever persuaded to do
so silly a thing as to give old Tom Trysail a ship, and
the said ship lay, just here-a-way, where the Coquette
is now getting along so cleverly, why then, as in duty
bound, I know very well what her commander would

“Which would be—?”

“To, in all studding-sails, and bring the vessel on
the wind.”

“That would be to carry you to the southward,
while the chase lies here in the eastern board!”

“Who can say, how long she will lie there? They
told us, in York, that there was a Frenchman, of

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our burthen and metal, rummaging about among the
fishermen, lower down on the coast. Now, Sir, no
man knows that the war is half over better than myself,
for not a ha'penny of prize-money has warmed
my pocket, these three years;—but, as I was saying,
if a Frenchman will come off his ground, and will run
his ship into troubled water, why—whose fault is it
but his own? A pretty affair might be made out of
such a mistake, Captain Ludlow; whereas running
after yonder brigantine, is flapping out the Queen's
canvas for nothing. The vessel's bottom will want
new sheathing, in my poor opinion, before you catch

“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 topsails 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

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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 none
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

“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

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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 partner.”

“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

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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 wornout
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 thousand

“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,

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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 vaga-bond
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
dirty level!”

“Reasoned like a countryman of Newton, and
with an eloquence that would do credit to Cicero! I

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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

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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 movements.”

“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 momentary activity.

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

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front of that light—we certainly near him fast—let
there be silence, fore and aft the ship. The rogues
mistake our bearings!”

“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

“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?”

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“Luff you may, a little,—luff, or we shall crush

As this order was given, Ludlow passed swiftly
forward. He found the boarders 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 come.

“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

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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-topsail was thrown
to the mast. In this position the cruiser lay, waiting
for the morning light, in order to give greater certainty
to her movements.

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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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