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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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“—Be patient, for the prize I'll bring thee to,
Shall hoodwink this mischance—.”

[figure description] Page 046.[end figure description]

The air, audacity, and language of the unknown
mariner, had produced a marked sensation among
the passengers of the periagua. It was plain, by the
playfulness that lurked about the coal-black eye of
la belle Barbérie, that she had been amused by his
sarcasms, though the boldness of his manner had
caused her to maintain the reserve which she believed
necessary to her sex and condition. The Patroon
studied the countenance of his mistress, and, though
half offended by the freedom of the intruder, he had
believed it wisest to tolerate his liberties, as the natural
excesses of a spirit that had been lately released
from the monotony of a sea-life. The repose which
usually reigned in the countenance of the Alderman
had been a little troubled; but he succeeded in concealing
his discontent from any impertinent observation.
When the chief actor in the foregoing scene,
therefore, saw fit to withdraw, the usual tranquillity
was restored, and his presence appeared to be forgotten.

An ebbing tide and a freshening breeze quickly
carried the periagua past the smaller islands of the
bay, and brought the cruiser called the Coquette
more distinctly into view. This vessel, a ship of twenty
guns, lay abreast of the hamlet on the shores of Staten
Island, which was the destination of the ferry-boat.
Here was the usual anchorage of outward-bound
ships, which awaited a change of wind; and
it was here, that vessels then, as in our times, were
subject to those examinations and delays which are
imposed for the safety of the inhabitants of the city.

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[figure description] Page 047.[end figure description]

The Coquette was alone, however; for the arrival
of a trader, from a distant port, was an event of
unfrequent occurrence, at the commencement of the
eighteenth century.

The course of the periagua brought her within
fifty feet of the sloop-of-war. As the former approached,
a movement of curiosity and interest occurred
among those she contained.

“Take more room for your milk-maid,” grumbled
the Alderman, observing that the schipper was willing
to gratify his passengers, by running as near as
possible to the dark sides of the cruiser. “Seas and
oceans! is not York-bay wide enough, that you must
brush the dust out of the muzzles of the guns of yon
lazy ship? If the Queen knew how her money was
eaten and drunk, by the idle knaves aboard her, she
would send them all to hunt for freebooters among
the islands. Look at the land, Alida, child, and you'll
think no more of the fright the gaping dunce is giving
thee; he only wishes to show his skill in steering.”

But the niece manifested none of the terror that
the uncle was willing to ascribe to her fears. Instead
of turning pale, the color deepened on her cheeks, as
the periagua came dancing along, under the lee of
the cruiser; and if her respiration became quicker
than usual, it was scarcely produced by the agitation
of alarm. The near sight of the tall masts, and of
the maze of cordage that hung nearly above their
heads, however, prevented the change from being
noted. A hundred curious eyes were already peeping
at them, through the ports, or over the bulwarks
of the ship, when suddenly, an officer, who wore the
undress of a naval captain of that day, sprang into
the main rigging of the cruiser, and saluted the party
in the periagua, by waving his hat, hurriedly, like
one who was agreeably taken by surprise.

“A fair sky and gentle breezes to each and all!”
he cried with the hearty manner of a seaman. “I

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[figure description] Page 048.[end figure description]

kiss my hand to the fair Alida; and the Alderman
will take a sailor's good wishes; Mr. Van Staats, I
salute you.”

“Ay,” muttered the burgher, “your idlers have
nothing better to do, than to make words answer for
deeds. A lazy war and a distant enemy make you
seamen the lords of the land, Captain Ludlow.”

Alida blushed still deeper, hesitated, and then, by
a movement that was half involuntary, she waved
her handkerchief. The young Patroon arose, and
answered the salutation by a courteous bow. By
this time the ferry-boat was nearly past the ship, and
the scowl was quitting the face of the Alderman,
when the mariner of the India-shawl sprang to his
feet, and, in a moment, he stood again in the centre
of their party.

“A pretty sea-boat, and a neat show aloft!” he
said, as his understanding eye scanned the rigging of
the royal cruiser, taking the tiller at the same time,
with all his former indifference, from the hands of the
schipper. “Her Majesty should have good service
from such a racer, and no doubt the youth in her
rigging is a man to get most out of his craft. We'll
take another observation. Draw away your head-sheet,

The stranger had put the helm a-lee, while speaking,
and by the time the order he had given was
uttered, the quick-working boat was about, and
nearly filled on the other tack. In another minute,
she was again brushing along the side of the sloop-of-war.
A common complaint against this hardy interference
with the regular duty of the boat, was
about to break out of the lips of the Alderman and
the schipper, when he of the India-shawl lifted his
cap, and addressed the officer in the rigging, with all
the self-possession he had manifested in the intercourse
with those nearer his person.

“Has Her Majesty need of a man in her service,

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who has seen, in his time, more blue water than hard
ground; or is there no empty berth in so gallant a
cruiser, for one who must do a seaman's duty, or

The descendant of the king-hating Ludlows, as
the Lord Cornbury had styled the race of the commander
of the Coquette, was quite as much surprised
by the appearance of him who put this question, as
he was by the coolness with which a mariner of
ordinary condition presumed to address an officer who
bore so high a commission as his own. He had, however,
sufficient time to recollect in whose presence
he stood, ere he replied, for the stranger had again
placed the helm a-lee, and caused the foresail to be
thrown aback;—a change that made the periagua

“The Queen will always receive a bold mariner
in her pay, if he come prepared to serve with skill
and fidelity,” he said; “as a proof of which, let a
rope be thrown the periagua; we shall treat more
at our ease under Her Majesty's pennant. I shall
be proud to entertain Alderman Van Beverout, in
the mean time: and a cutter will always be at his
command, when he shall have occasion to quit us.”

“Your land-loving Aldermen find their way from
a Queen's cruiser to the shore, more easily than a
seaman of twenty years' experience;” returned the
other, without giving the burgher time to express his
thanks for the polite offer of the other. “You have
gone through the Gibraltar passage, without doubt,
noble captain, being a gentleman that has got so fine
a boat under his orders?”

“Duty has taken me into the Italian seas, more
than once,” answered Ludlow, half disposed to resent
this familiarity, though too anxious to keep the
periagua near, to quarrel with him who so evidently
had produced the unexpected pleasure.

-- 050 --

[figure description] Page 050.[end figure description]

“Then you know that, though a lady might fan a
ship through the straits eastward, it needs a Levant
breeze to bring her out again. Her Majesty's pennants
are long, and when they get foul around the
limbs of a thoroughly-bred sea-dog, it passes all his
art to clear the jam. It is most worthy of remark,
that the better the seaman, the less his power to cast
loose the knot!”

“If the pennant be so long, it may reach farther
than you wish!—But a bold volunteer has no occasion
to dread a press.”

“I fear the berth I wish is filled,” returned the
other, curling his lip: “let draw the fore-sheet, lad;
we will take our departure, leaving the fly of the
pennant well under our lee. Adieu, brave Captain;
when you have need of a thorough rover, and dream
of stern-chases and wet sails, think of him who visited
your ship at her lazy moorings.”

Ludlow bit his lip, and though his fine face reddened
to the temples, he met the arch glance of Alida,
and laughed. But he who had so hardily braved the
resentment of a man, powerful as the commander
of a royal cruiser in a British colony, appeared to
understand the hazard of his situation. The periagua
whirled round on her heel, and the next minute it
was bending to the breeze, and dashing through the
little waves towards the shore. Three boats left the
cruiser at the same moment. One, which evidently
contained her captain, advanced with the usual dignified
movement of a barge landing an officer of rank,
but the others were urged ahead with all the earnestness
of a hot chase.

“Unless disposed to serve the Queen, you have
not done well, my friend, to brave one of her commanders
at the muzzles of his guns,” observed the
Patroon, so soon as the state of the case became too
evident to doubt of the intentions of the man-of-war's

-- 051 --

[figure description] Page 051.[end figure description]

“That Captain Ludlow would gladly take some of
us out of this boat, by fair means or by foul, is a fact
clear as a bright star in a cloudless night; and, well
knowing a seaman's duty to his superiors, I shall
leave him to his choice.”

“In which case you will shortly eat Her Majesty's
bread,” pithily returned the Alderman.

“The food is unpalatable, and I reject it—and
yet here is a boat, whose crew seem determined to
make one swallow worse fare.”

The unknown mariner ceased speaking, for the
situation of the periagua, was truly getting to be a
little critical. At least so it seemed to the less-instructed
landsmen, who were witnesses of this unexpected
rencontre. As the ferry-boat had drawn in
with the island, the wind hauled more through the
pass which communicates with the outer bay, and
it became necessary to heave about, twice, in order
to fetch to windward of the usual landing-place.
The first of these manœuvers had been executed,
and as it necessarily changed their course, the passengers
saw that the cutter to which the stranger alluded
was enabled to get within-shore of them; or
nearer to the wharf, where they ought to land, than
they were themselves. Instead of suffering himself
to be led off by a pursuit, that he knew might easily
be rendered useless, the officer who commanded this
boat cheered his men, and pulled swiftly to the point
of debarkation. On the other hand, a second cutter,
which had already reached the line of the periagua's
course, lay on its oars, and awaited its approach.
The unknown mariner manifested no intention to
avoid the interview. He still held the tiller, and as
effectually commanded the little vessel as if his authority
were of a more regular character. The audacity
and decision of his air and conduct, aided by
the consummate manner in which he worked the
boat, might alone have achieved this momentary

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usurpation, had not the general feeling against impressment
been so much in his favor.

“The devil's fangs!” grumbled the schipper. “If
you should keep the Milk-Maid away, we shall lose
a little in distance, though I think the man-of-war's
men will be puzzled to catch her, with a flowing

“The Queen has sent a message by the gentleman,”
the mariner rejoined: “it would be unmannerly
to refuse to hear it.”

“Heave-to, the periagua!” shouted the young
officer, in the cutter. “In Her Majesty's name, I
command you, obey.”

“God bless the royal lady!” returned he of the
foul anchors and gay shawl, while the swift ferry-boat
continued to dash ahead. “We owe her duty,
and are glad to see so proper a gentleman employed
in her behalf.”

By this time the boats were fifty feet asunder.
No sooner was there room, than the periagua once
more flew round, and commenced anew its course,
dashing in again towards the shore. It was necessary,
however, to venture within an oar's-length of the
cutter, or to keep away,—a loss of ground to which
he who controlled her movements showed no disposition
to submit. The officer arose, and, as the periagua
drew near, it was evident his hand held a pistol,
though he seemed reluctant to exhibit the weapon.
The mariner stepped aside, in a manner to offer a
full view of all in his group, as he sarcastically observed—

“Choose your object, Sir; in such a party, a man
of sentiment may have a preference.”

The young man colored, as much with shame at
the degrading duty he had been commissioned to
perform, as with vexation at his failure. Recovering
his self-composure, however, he lifted his hat to la
belle Barbérie, and the periagua dashed on, in

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[figure description] Page 053.[end figure description]

triumph. Still the leading cutter was near the shore,
where it soon arrived, the crew lying on their oars
at the end of the wharf, in evident expectation of
the arrival of the ferry-boat. At this sight, the schipper
shook his head, and looked up in the bold face
of his passenger, in a manner to betray how much
his mind misgave the result. But the tall mariner
maintained his coolness, and began to make merry
allusions to the service which he had braved with so
much temerity, and from which no one believed he
was yet likely to escape. By the former manœuvres,
the periagua had gained a position well to windward
of the wharf; and she was now steered close upon
the wind, directly for the shore. Against the consequences
of a perseverance in this course, however,
the schipper saw fit to remonstrate.

“Shipwrecks and rocky bottoms!” exclaimed the
alarmed waterman. “A Holland galliot would go to
pieces, if you should run her in among those stepping-stones,
with this breeze! No honest boatman loves to
see a man stowed in a cruiser's hold, like a thief
caged in his prison; but when it comes to breaking
the nose of the Milk-Maid, it is asking too much of
her owner, to stand by and look on.”

“There shall not be a dimple of her lovely countenance
deranged,” answered his cool passenger.
“Now, lower away your sails, and we'll run along
the shore, down to yon wharf. 'Twould be an ungallant
act to treat the dairy-girl with so little ceremony,
gentlemen, after the lively foot and quick evolutions
she has shown in our hehalf. The best dancer
in the island could not have better played her part,
though jigging under the music of a three-stringed

By this time the sails were lowered, and the periagua
was gliding down towards the place of landing,
running always at the distance of some fifty feet
from the shore.

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“Every craft has its allotted time, like a mortal,”
continued the inexplicable mariner of the India-shawl.
“If she is to die a sudden death, there is
your beam-end and stern-way, which takes her into
the grave without funeral service, or parish prayers;
your dropsy is being water-logged; gout and rheumatism
kill like a broken back and loose joints; indigestion
is a shifting cargo, with guns adrift; the gallows
is a bottomry-bond, with lawyers' fees; while
fire, drowning, death by religious melancholy, and
suicide, are a careless gunner, sunken rocks, false
lights, and a lubberly captain.”

Ere any were apprized of his intention, this
singular being then sprang from the boat on the cap
of a little rock, over which the waves were washing,
whence he bounded, from stone to stone, by vigorous
efforts, till he fairly leaped to land. In another
minute, he was lost to view, among the dwellings of
the hamlet.

The arrival of the periagua, which immediately
after reached the wharf, the disappointment of the
cutter's crew, and the return of both the boats to
their ship, succeeded as matters of course.

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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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