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Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 [1831], The water-witch, volume 1 (Carey & Lea, Philadelphia) [word count] [eaf061v1].
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“—What, has this thing appeared again, to-night?”


The face of man is the log-book of his thoughts,
and Captain Ludlow's seems agreeable,” observed a
voice, that came from one, who was not far from
the commander of the Coquette, while the latter
was still enacting the pantomime described in the
close of the preceding chapter.

“Who speaks of thoughts and log-books, or who
dares to pry into my movements?” demanded the
young sailor, fiercely.

“One who has trifled with the first and scribbled
in the last too often, not to know how to meet a
squall, whether it be seen in the clouds or only on
the face of man. As for looking into your movements,
Captain Ludlow, I have watched too many
big ships in my time, to turn aside at each light

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cruiser that happens to cross my course. I hope, Sir,
you have an answer; every hail has its right to a
civil reply.”

Ludlow could scarce believe his senses, when, on
turning to face the intruder, he saw himself confronted
by the audacious eye and calm mien of the
mariner who had, once before that morning, braved
his resentment. Curbing his indignation, however,
the young man endeavored to emulate the coolness
which, notwithstanding his inferior condition, imparted
to the air of the other something that was imposing,
if it were not absolutely authoritative. Perhaps the
singularity of the adventure aided in effecting an
object, that was a little difficult of attainment in one
accustomed to receive so much habitual deference
from most of those who made the sea their home.
Swallowing his resentment, the young commander

“He that knows how to face his enemies with
spirit, may be accounted sufficiently bold; but he
who braves the anger of his friends, is foolhardy.”

“And he who does neither, is wiser than both,”
rejoined the reckless hero of the sash. “Captain
Ludlow, we meet on equal terms, at present, and
the parley may be managed with some freedom.”

“Equality is a word that ill applies to men of stations
so different.”

“Of our stations and duties it is not necessary to
speak. I hope that, when the proper time shall come,
both may be found ready to be at the first, and equal
to discharge the last. But Captain Ludlow, backed
by the broadside of the Coquette and the cross-fire
of his marines, is not Captain Ludlow alone, on a sea-bluff,
with a crutch no better than his own arm, and
a stout heart. As the first, he is like a spar supported
by backstays and forestays, braces and standing
rigging; while, as the latter, he is the stick, which
keeps its head aloft by the soundness and quality of

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its timber. You have the appearance of one who
can go alone, even though it blew heavier than at
present, if one may judge of the force of the breeze,
by the manner it presses on the sails of yonder boat
in the bay.”

“Yonder boat begins to feel the wind, truly!”
said Ludlow, suddenly losing all other interest in the
appearance of the periagua which held Alida and
her friends, and which, at that instant, shot out from
beneath the cover of the hill into the broad opening
of Raritan bay. “What think you of the time, my
friend? a man of your years should speak with knowledge
of the weather.”

“Women and winds are only understood, when
fairly in motion,” returned he of the sash; “now,
any mortal who consulted comfort and the skies,
would have preferred a passage in Her Majesty's
ship Coquette, to one in yonder dancing periagua;
and yet the fluttering silk we see, in the boat, tells
us there is one who has thought otherwise.”

“You are a man of singular intelligence,” cried
Ludlow, again facing the intruder; “as well as one
of singular—”

“Effrontery,” rejoined the other, observing that
the commander hesitated. Let the commissioned
officer of the Queen speak boldly; I am no better
than a top-man, or at most a quarter-master.”

“I wish to say nothing disagreeable, but I find
your knowledge of my offer to convey the lady and
her friends to the residence of Alderman Van Beverout,
a little surprising.”

“And I see nothing to wonder at, in your offer to
convey the lady anywhere, though the liberality to
her friends is not an act of so clear explanation.
When young men speak from the heart, their words
are not uttered in whispers.”

“Which would imply that you overheard our conversation.
I believe it, for here is cover at hand to

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conceal you. It may be, Sir, that you have eyes, as
well as ears.”

“I confess to have seen your countenance, changing
sides, like a member of parliament turning to a
new leaf in his conscience, at the Minister's signal,
while you overhauled a bit of paper—”

“Whose contents you could not know!”

“Whose contents I took to be some private orders,
given by a lady who is too much of a coquette herself,
to accept your offer to sail in a vessel of the
same name.”

“By Heavens, the fellow has reason in his inexplicable
impudence!” muttered Ludlow, pacing backward
and forward beneath the shadow of the tree.
“The language and the acts of the girl are in contradiction;
and I am a fool to be trifled with, like a
midshipman fresh broken loose from his mother's
apron-string. Harkee, Master-a-a—You've a name I
suppose, like any other straggler on the ocean.”

“Yes. When the hail is loud enough to be heard,
I answer to the call of Thomas Tiller.”

“Well then, Master Tiller, so clever a seaman
should be glad to serve the Queen.”

“Were it not for duty to another, whose claim
comes first, nothing could be more agreeable than to
lend a lady in distress a helping hand.”

“And who is he, who may prefer a claim to your
services, in competition with the majesty of these
realms?” demanded Ludlow, with a little of the
pretension that, when speaking of its privileges, is
apt to distinguish the manner of one who has been
accustomed to regard royalty with reverence.

“Myself. When our affairs call us the same way,
no one can be readier than I, to keep Her Majesty's
company; but—”

“This is presuming too far, on the trifling of a
moment,” interrupted Ludlow; “you know, sirrah,
that I have the right to command your services,

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without entering into a parley for them; and which,
notwithstanding your gay appearance, may, after all,
be little worth the trouble.”

“There is no need to push matters to extremity,
between us, Captain Ludlow,” resumed the stranger,
who had appeared to muse for a moment, “If I have
baffled your pursuit once to-day, it was perhaps to
make my merit in entering the ship freely, less undeniable.
We are here alone, and your Honor will
account it no boasting, if I say that a man, well
limbed and active, who stands six feet between plank
and carline, is not likely to be led against his will,
like a yawl towing at the stern of a four-and-forty.
I am a seaman, Sir; and though the ocean is my
home, I never venture on it without sufficient footing.
Look abroad from this hill, and say whether there
is any craft in view, except the cruiser of the Queen,
which would be likely to suit the taste of a mariner
of the long voyage?”

“By which you would have me understand, you
are here in quest of service?”

“Nothing less; and though the opinion of a foremast
Jack may be of little value, you will not be displeased
to hear, that I might look further without
finding a prettier sea-boat, or a swifter, than the one
which sails under your own orders. A seaman of
your station, Captain Ludlow, is not now to learn,
that a man speaks differently, while his name is his
own, and after he has given it away to the crown;
and therefore I hope my present freedom will not be
long remembered.”

“I have met men of your humor before, my friend,
and I have not now to learn, that a thorough man-of-war's
man is as impudent on shore, as he is obedient
afloat.—Is that a sail, in the offing, or is it the
wing of a sea-fowl, glittering in the sun?”

“It may be either,” observed the audacious mariner,
turning his eye leisurely towards the open ocean,

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“for we have a wide look-out from this windy bluff.
Here are gulls sporting above the waves, that turn
their feathers towards the light.”

“Look more seaward. That spot of shining white
should be the canvas of some craft, hovering in the

“Nothing more probable, in so light a breeze.
Your coasters are in and out, like water-rats on a
wharf, at any hour of the twenty-four—and yet to
me it seems the comb of a breaking sea.”

“'Tis snow-white duck; such as your swift rover
wears on his loftier spars!”

“A duck that is flown,” returned the stranger
drily, “for it is no longer to be seen. These fly-aways,
Captain Ludlow, give us seamen many sleepless nights
and idle chases. I was once running down the coast
of Italy, between the island of Corsica and the main,
when one of these delusions beset the crew, in a
manner that hath taught me to put little faith in
eyes, unless backed by a clear horizon and a cool

“I'll hear the circumstance,” said Ludlow, withdrawing
his gaze from the distant ocean, like one
who was satisfied his senses had been deceived.
“What of this marvel of the Italian seas?”

“A marvel truly, as your Honor will confess, when
I read you the affair, much in the words I had it
logged, for the knowledge of all concerned. It was
the last hour of the second dog-watch, on Easter-Sunday,
with the wind here at south-east, easterly.
A light air filled the upper canvas, and just gave us
command of the ship. The mountains of Corsica,
with Monte Christo and Elba, had all been sunk
some hours, and we were on the yards, keeping a
look-out for a land-fall on the Roman coast. A low,
thick bank of drifting fog lay along the sea, in-shore
of us, which all believed to be the sweat of the land,
and thought no more of; though none wished to

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enter it, for that is a coast where foul airs rise, and
through which the gulls and land-birds refuse to fly.
Well, here we lay, the mainsail in the brails, the
topsails beating the mast-heads, like a maiden fanning
herself when she sees her lover, and nothing full,
but the upper duck, with the sun fairly below the
water in the western board. I was then young, and
quick of eye, as of foot, and therefore among the
first to see the sight!”

“Which was—?” said Ludlow, interested in
spite of his assumed air of indifference.

“Why, here just above the bank of foul air, that
ever rests on that coast, there was seen an object,
that looked like ribs of bright light, as if a thousand
stars had quitted their usual berths in the heaven, to
warn us off the land, by a supernatural beacon. The
sight was in itself altogether out of nature and surprising.
As the night thickened, it grew brighter
and more glowing, as if 'twere meant in earnest to
warn us from the coast. But when the word was
passed to send the glasses aloft, there was seen a glittering
cross on high, and far above the spars on which
earthly ships carry their private signals.”

“This was indeed extraordinary! and what did
you, to come at the character of the heavenly

“We wore off shore, and left it a clear berth for
bolder mariners. Glad enough was I to see, with the
morning sun, the snowy hills of Corsica, again!”

“And the appearance of that object was never

“Nor ever will be. I have since spoke with the
mariners of that sea concerning the sight, but never
found any who could pretend to have seen it. There
was indeed one bold enough to say, there is a church,
far inland, of height and magnitude sufficient to be
seen some leagues at sea, and that, favored by our
position and the mists that hung above the low

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grounds, we had seen its upper works, looming above
the fogs, and lighted for some brilliant ceremony;
but we were all too old in seaman's experience to
credit so wild a tale. I know not but a church may
loom, as well as a hill or a ship; but he, who pretends
to say, that the hands of man can thus pile stones
among the clouds, should be certain of believers, ere
he pushes the tale too far.”

“Your narrative is extraordinary, and the marvel
should have been looked into closer. It may truly
have been a church, for there stands an edifice at
Rome, which towers to treble the height of a cruiser's

“Having rarely troubled churches, I know not
why a church should trouble me,” said the mariner
of the sash, while he turned his back on the ocean,
as if indisposed to regard the waste of water longer.
“It is now twelve years since that sight was seen,
and though a seaman of many voyages, my eyes
have not looked upon the Roman coast, from that
hour to this. Will your Honor lead the way from
the bluff, as becomes your rank?”

“Your tale of the burning cross and looming
church, Master Tiller, had almost caused me to forget
to watch the movements of yon periagua,” returned
Ludlow, who still continued to face the bay. “That
obstinate old Dutchman—I say, Sir, that Mr.
Alderman Van Beverout has greater confidence in
this description of craft than I feel myself. I like
not the looks of yonder cloud, which is rising from
out the mouth of Raritan; and here, seaward, we
have a gloomy horizon.—By Heaven! there is a sail
playing in the offing, or my eye hath lost its use and

“Your Honor sees the wing of the sporting gull,
again; it had been nigh to deceive my sight, which
would be to cheat the look-out of a man that has the
advantage of some ten or fifteen years' more

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practice in marine appearances. I remember once, when
beating in among the islands of the China seas, with
the trades here at south-east—”

“Enough of your marvels, friend; the church is
as much as I can swallow, in one morning—It may
have been a gull! for I confess the object small; yet
it had the steadiness and size of a distant sail! There
is some reason to expect one on our coast, for whom
a bright and seaman's watch must be had.”

“This may then leave me a choice of ships,”
rejoined Tiller. “I thank your Honor for having
spoken, before I had given myself away to the Queen;
who is a lady that is much more apt to receive gifts
of this nature, than to return them.”

“If your respect aboard shall bear any proportion
to your hardihood on shore, you may be accounted
a model of civility! But a mariner of your pretension
should have some regard to the character of
the vessel in which he takes service.”

“That of which your Honor spoke, is then a buccaneer?”

“If not a buccaneer, one but little better. A
lawless trader, under the most favorable view; and
there are those who think that he, who has gone so
far, has not stopt short of the end. But the reputation
of the `Skimmer of the Seas' must be known to
one who has navigated the ocean, long as you.”

“You will overlook the curiosity of a seafaring
man, in a matter of his profession,” returned the
mariner of the sash, with strong and evident interest
in his manner. “I am lately from a distant ocean,
and though many tales of the buccaneers of the islands
have been narrated, I do not remember to have
heard of that rover, before his name came into the
discourse between me and the schipper of the boat,
that plies between this landing and the city. I am
not, altogether, what I seem, Captain Ludlow; and
when further acquaintance and hard service shall

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have brought me more before the eyes of my commander,
he may not repent having induced a thorough
seaman to enter his ship, by a little condescension
and good-nature shown while the man was still
his own master. Your Honor will take no offence at
my boldness, when I tell you, I should be glad to
know more of this unlawful trader.”

Ludlow riveted his eyes on the unmoved and
manly countenance of his companion. There was
a vague and undefined suspicion in the look; but it
vanished, as the practised organs drank in the assurance,
which so much physical promise afforded,
of the aid of a bold and active mariner. Rather
amused than offended by the freedom of the request,
he turned upon his heel, and as they descended the
bluff, on their way towards the place of landing, he
continued the dialogue.

“You are truly from a distant ocean,” said the
young captain of the Coquette, smiling like a man
who apologizes to himself for an act of what he
thought undue condescension, “if the exploits of a
brigantine known by the name of the `Water-Witch,”
and of him who commands her, under the fit appellation
of the `Skimmer of the Seas,' have not yet
reached your ears. It is now five summers, since
orders have been in the colonies for the cruisers to
be on the alert to hunt the picaroon; and it is even
said, the daring smuggler has often braved the pennants
of the narrow seas. 'Twould be a bigger ship,
if not knighthood, to the lucky officer who should
catch the knave!”

“He must drive a money-gaining trade, to run
these risks, and to brave the efforts of so many skilful
gentlemen! May I add to a presumption that your
Honor already finds too bold, if one may judge by a
displeased eye, by asking if report speaks to the face
and other particulars of the person of this—

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free-trader, one must call him, though freebooter should
be a better word.”

“What matters the personal condition of a rogue?”
said Captain Ludlow, who perhaps remembered,
that the freedom of their intercourse had been carried
as far as comported with prudence.

“What matter, truly! I asked because the description
answers a little to that of a man I once
knew, in the seas of farther India, and who has long
since disappeared, though no one can say whither he
has gone. But this `Skimmer of the Seas' is some
Spaniard of the Main, or perhaps a Dutchman come
from the country that is awash, in order to taste of

“Spaniard of the southern coast never carried so
bold a sail in these seas, nor was there ever known
a Dutchman with so light a heel. The fellow is
said to laugh at the swiftest cruiser out of England!
As to his figure, I have heard little good of it. 'Tis
said, he is some soured officer of better days, who
has quitted the intercourse of honest men, because
roguery is so plainly written on his face, that he
vainly tries to hide it.”

“Mine was a proper man, and one that need not
have been ashamed to show his countenance among
his fellows,” said he of the sash. “This cannot be
the same, if indeed there be any on the coast.—Is't
known, your Honor, that the man is truly here?”

“So goes a rumor; though so many idle tales have
led me before to seek the smuggler where he was
not, that I give but little faith to the report.—The
periagua has the wind more at west, and the cloud
in the mouth of the Raritan is breaking into scud.
The Alderman will have a lucky run of it!”

“And the gulls have gone more seaward—a certain
sign of pleasant weather;” returned the other,
glancing a quick but keen look over the horizon,

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in the offing. “I believe our rover, with his light
duck, has taken flight among them!”

“We will then go in pursuit. My ship is bound
to sea; and it is time, Master Tiller, that I know in
what berth you are willing to serve the Queen.”

“God bless her Majesty! Anne is a royal lady,
and she had a Lord High Admiral for her husband.
As for a berth, Sir, one always wishes to be captain,
even though he may be compelled to eat his rations
in the lee-scuppers. I suppose the first-lieutenancy
is filled, to your Honor's liking?”

“Sirrah, this is trifling; one of your years and
experience need not be told, that commissions are
obtained by service.”

“Under favor;—I confess the error. Captain
Ludlow, you are a man of honor, and will not deceive
a sailor who puts trust in your word.”

“Sailor, or landsman, he is safe who has the

“Then, Sir, I ask it. Suffer me to enter your
ship; to look into my future messmates, and to judge
of their characters; to see if the vessel suits my
humor; and then to quit her, if I find it convenient.”

“Fellow,” said Ludlow, “this impudence almost
surpasseth patience!”

“The request is reasonable, as can be shown;”
gravely returned the unknown mariner. “Now,
Captain Ludlow of the Coquette would gladly tie
himself, for better for worse, to a fair lady who is
lately gone on the water, and yet there are thousands
who might be had with less difficulty.”

“Still deeper and deeper in thy effrontery—and
what if this be true?”

“Sir, a ship is a seaman's mistress—nay, when
fairly under a pennant, with a war declared, he
may be said to be wedded to her, lawfully or not.
He becomes `bone of her bone, and flesh of her
flesh, until death doth them part.' To such a long

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compact, there should be liberty of choice. Has not
your mariner a taste, as well as your lover? The
harpings and counter of his ship are the waist and
shoulders; the rigging, the ringlets; the cut and fit
of the sails, the fashion of the millinery; the guns
are always called the teeth, and her paint is the
blush and bloom! Here is matter of choice, Sir;
and, without leave to make it, I must wish your
Honor a happy cruise, and the Queen a better servitor.”

“Why, Master Tiller,” cried Ludlow, laughing,
“you trust too much to these stunted oaks, if you
believe it exceeds my power to hunt you out of
their cover, at pleasure. But I take you at your
word. The Coquette shall receive you on these conditions,
and with the confidence that a first-rate city
belle would enter a country ball-room.”

“I follow in your Honor's wake, without more
words,” returned he of the sash, for the first time
respectfully raising his canvas cap to the young commander.
“Though not actually married, consider
me a man betrothed.”

It is not necessary to pursue the discourse between
the two seamen any further. It was maintained,
and with sufficient freedom on the part of the inferior,
until they reached the shore, and came in full
view of the pennant of the Queen; when, with the
tact of an old man-of-war's man, he threw into his
manner all the respect that was usually required by
the difference of rank.

Half an hour later, the Coquette was rolling at a
single anchor, as the puffs of wind came off the hills
on her three topsails; and shortly after, she was seen
standing through the Narrows, with a fresh south-westerly
breeze. In all these movements, there
was nothing to attract attention. Notwithstanding
the sarcastic allusions of Alderman Van Beverout,
the cruiser was far from being idle; and her passage

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outward was a circumstance of so common occurrence,
that it excited no comment among the boatmen
of the bay, and the coasters, who alone witnessed
her departure.

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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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