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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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“—Well, Jessica, go in;
Perhaps, I will return immediately;
Do as I bid you,
Shut doors after you: Fast bind, fast find;
A proverb never stale, in thrifty mind.”
Merchant of Venice.

[figure description] Page 095.[end figure description]

The decision, with which la demoiselle Barbérie
had dismissed her suitor, was owing to some consciousness
that she had need of opportunity to reflect
on the singular nature of the events which had just
happened, no less than to a sense of the impropriety
of his visiting her at that hour, and in a manner so
equivocal. But, like others who act from feverish
impulses, when alone the maiden repented of her
precipitation; and she remembered fifty questions
which might aid in clearing the affair of its mystery,
that she would now gladly put. It was too late,
however, for she had heard Ludlow take his leave,
and had listened, in breathless silence, to his footstep,
as he passed the shrubbery of her little lawn. François
reappeared at the door, to repeat his wishes for
her rest and happiness, and then she believed she
was finally alone for the night, since the ladies of
that age and country, were little apt to require the
assistance of their attendants, in assuming, or in divesting
themselves of, their ordinary attire.

It was still early, and the recent interview had
deprived Alida of all inclination for sleep. She
placed the lights in a distant corner of the apartment,
and approached a window. The moon had
so far changed its position, as to cast a different light
upon the water. The hollow washing of the surf,
the dull but heavy breathing of the air from the
sea, and the soft shadows of the trees and mountain,

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were much the same. The Coquette lay, as before,
at her anchor near the cape, and the Shrewsbury
glittered towards the south, until its surface was concealed
by the projection of a high and nearly perpendicular

The stillness was profound, for, with the exception
of the dwelling of the family who occupied the
estate nearest the villa, there was no other habitation
within some miles of the place. Still the solitude
of the situation was undisturbed by any apprehension
of danger, or any tradition of violence from
rude and lawless men. The peaceable character of
the colonists, who dwelt in the interior country, was
proverbial, and their habits simple; while the ocean
was never entered by those barbarians, who then
rendered some of the seas of the other hemisphere
as fearful as they were pleasant.

Notwithstanding this known and customary character
of tranquillity, and the lateness of the hour,
Alida had not been many moments in her balcony,
before she heard the sound of oars. The stroke was
measured, and the noise low and distant, but it was
too familiar to be mistaken. She wondered at the
expedition of Ludlow, who was not accustomed to
show such haste in quitting her presence, and leaned
over the railing to catch a glimpse of his departing
boat. Each moment she expected to see the little
bark issue from out of the shadows of the land, into
the sheet of brightness which stretched nearly to the
cruiser. She gazed long, and in vain, for no barge
appeared, and yet the sound had become inaudible.
A light still hung at the peak of the Coquette, a sign
that the commander was out of his vessel.

The view of a fine ship, seen by the aid of the
moon, with its symmetry of spars, and its delicate
tracery of cordage, and the heavy and grand movements
of the hull as it rolls on the sluggish billows
of a calm sea, is ever a pleasing and indeed an

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imposing spectacle. Alida knew that more than a
hundred human beings slept within the black and
silent mass, and her thoughts insensibly wandered to
the business of their daring lives, their limited abode,
and yet wandering existence, their frank and manly
qualities, their devotion to the cause of those who
occupied the land, their broken and interrupted connexion
with the rest of the human family, and finally
to those weakened domestic ties, and to that reputation
for inconstancy, which are apparently a natural
consequence of all. She sighed, and her eye wandered
from the ship to that ocean on which it was
constructed to dwell. From the distant, low, and
nearly imperceptible shore of the island of Nassau,
to the coast of New-Jersey, there was one broad and
untenanted waste. Even the sea-fowl rested his
tired wing, and slept tranquilly on the water. The
broad space appeared like some great and unfrequented
desert, or rather like a denser and more
material copy of the firmament by which it was

It has been mentioned that a stunted growth of
oaks and pines covered much of the sandy ridge that
formed the cape. The same covering furnished a
dark setting to the waters of the Cove. Above this
outline of wood, which fringed the margin of the sea.
Alida now fancied she saw an object in motion. At
first, she believed some ragged and naked tree, of
which the coast had many, was so placed as to deceive
her vision, and had thrown its naked lines upon
the back-ground of water, in a manner to assume
the shape and tracery of a light-rigged vessel. But
when the dark and symmetrical spars were distinctly
seen, gliding past objects that were known to be stationary,
it was impossible to doubt their character.
The maiden wondered, and her surprise was not unmixed
with apprehension. It seemed as if the stranger,
for such the vessel must needs be, was recklessly

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approaching a surf, that, in its most tranquil moments,
was dangerous to such a fabric, and that he
steered, unconscious of hazard, directly upon the
land. Even the movement was mysterious and unusual.
Sails there were none; and yet the light and
lofty spars were soon hid behind a thicket that covered
a knoll near the margin of the sea. Alida
expected, each moment, to hear the cry of mariners
in distress, and then, as the minutes passed and no
such fearful sound interrupted the stillness of the
night, she began to bethink her of those lawless rovers,
who were known to abound among the Carribean
isles, and who were said sometimes even to
enter and to refit, in the smaller and more secret
inlets of the American continent. The tales, coupled
with the deeds, character, and fate of the notorious
Kidd, were then still recent, and although magnified
and colored by vulgar exaggerations, as all such
tales are known to be, enough was believed, by the
better instructed, to make his life and death the
subject of many curious and mysterious rumors. At
this moment, she would have gladly recalled the
young commander of the Coquette, to apprize him
of the enemy that was nigh; and then, ashamed of
terrors that she was fain to hope savored more of
woman's weakness than of truth, she endeavored to
believe the whole some ordinary movement of a
coaster, who, familiar with his situation, could not
possibly be either in want of aid, or an object of
alarm. Just as this natural and consoling conclusion
crossed her mind, she very audibly heard a step in
her pavilion. It seemed near the door of the room
she occupied. Breathless, more with the excitement
of her imagination, than with any actual fear created
by this new cause of alarm, the maiden quitted
the balcony, and stood motionless to listen. The door,
in truth, was opened, with singular caution, and, for
an instant, Alida saw nothing but a confused area,

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in the centre of which appeared the figure of a
menacing and rapacious freebooter.

“Northern lights and moonshine!” growled Alderman
Van Beverout, for it was no other than the
uncle of the heiress, whose untimely and unexpected
visit had caused her so much alarm. “This sky-watching,
and turning of night into day, will be the
destruction of thy beauty, niece; and then we shall
see how plenty Patroons are for husbands! A bright
eye and a blooming cheek are thy stock in trade,
girl; and she is a spendthrift of both, who is out of
her bed when the clock hath struck ten.”

“Your discipline would deprive many a beauty
of the means of using her power,” returned la demoiselle,
smiling, as much at the folly of her recent
fears, as with affection for her reprover. “They
tell me, that ten is the witching time of night, for the
necromancy of the dames of Europe.”

“Witch me no witches! The name reminds one
of the cunning Yankees, a race that would outwit
Lucifer himself, if left to set the conditions to their
bargain. Here is the Patroon, wishing to let in a
family of the knaves among the honest Dutchmen of
his manor; and we have just settled a dispute between
us, on this subject, by making the lawful

“Which, it may be proper to hope, dearest uncle,
was not the trial by battle?”

“Peace and olive-branches, no! The Patroon of
Kinderhook is the last man in the Americas, that is
likely to suffer by the blows of Myndert Van Bever-out.
I challenged the boy to hold a fine eel, that
the blacks have brought out of the river to help in
breaking our morning fasts, that it might be seen if
he were fit to deal with the slippery rogues. By the
merit of the peaceable St. Nicholas! but the son of
old Hendrick Van Staats had a busy time of it!
The lad griped the fish, as the ancient tradition has

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it that thy uncle clenched the Holland florin, when
my father put it between my fingers, within the
month, in order to see if the true saving grace was
likely to abide in the family for another generation.
My heart misgave me for a moment; for young Oloff
has the fist of a vice, and I thought the goodly
names of the Harmans, and Rips, Corneliuses, and
Dircks of the manor rent-roll were likely to be contaminated
by the company of an Increase or a
Peleg; but just as the Patroon thought he had the
watery viper by the throat, the fish gave an unexpected
twist, and slid through his fingers by the tail.
Flaws and loop-holes! but that experiment has as
much wisdom as wit in it!”

“And to me, it seemeth better, now that Providence
has brought all the colonies under one government,
that these prejudices should be forgotten. We
are a people, sprung from many nations, and our
effort should be to preserve the liberality and intelligence,
while we forget the weaknesses, of all.”

“Bravely said, for the child of a Huguenot! But
I defy the man, who brings prejudice to my door. I
like a merry trade, and a quick calculation. Let
me see the man in all New-England, that can tell
the color of a balance-sheet quicker than one that
can be named, and I'll gladly hunt up the satchel
and go to school again. I love a man the better for
looking to his own interests, I; and, yet common
honesty teaches us, that there should be a convention
between men, beyond which none of reputation
and character ought to go.”

“Which convention shall be understood, by every
man, to be the limits of his own faculties; by which
means the dull may rival the quick of thought. I
fear me, uncle, there should be an eel kept on every
coast, to which a trader comes!”

“Prejudice and conceit, child, acting on a drowsy
head; 'tis time thou seekest thy pillow, and in the

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morning we shall see if young Oloff of the Manor
shall have better success with thy favor, than with
the prototype of the Jonathans. Here, put out these
flaring candles, and take a modest lamp to light thee
to thy bed. Glaring windows, so near midnight,
give a house an extravagant name, in the neighborhood.”

“Our reputation for sobriety may suffer in the
opinion of the eels,” returned Alida, laughing, “but
here are few others, I believe, to call us dissipated.”

“One never knows—one never knows—” muttered
the Alderman, extinguishing the two large candles
of his niece, and substituting his own little hand-lamp
in their place. “This broad light only invites
to wakefulness, while the dim taper I leave is good
as a sleeping draught. Kiss me, wilful one, and draw
thy curtains close, for the negroes will soon rise to
load the periagua, that they may go up with the
tide to the city. The noise of the chattering black-guards
may disturb thy slumbers!”

“Truly, it would seem there was little here to
invite such active navigation,” returned Alida, saluting
the cheek of her uncle at his order. “The love
of trade must be strong, when it finds the materials
of commerce, in a solitude like this.”

“Thou hast divined the reason, child. Thy father
Monsieur de Barbérie had his peculiar opinions on
the subject, and doubtless he did not fail to transmit
some of them to his offspring. And yet, when the
Huguenot was driven from his château and his clayey
Norman lands, the man had no distaste, himself, for
an account-current, provided the balance was in his
own favor. Nations and characters! I find but little
difference, after all, in trade; whether it be driven
with a Mohawk for his pack of furs, or with a Seigneur,
who has been driven from his lands. Each
strives to get the profit on his own side of the account,
and the loss on that of his neighbor. So rest

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thee well, girl; and remember that matrimony is no
more than a capital bargain, on whose success depends
the sum-total of a woman's comfort—and so
once more, good night.”

La belle Barbérie attended her uncle, dutifully,
to the door of her pavilion, which she bolted after
him; and then, finding her little apartment gloomy
by the light of the small and feeble lamp he had left,
she was pleased to bring its flame in contact with the
wicks of the two candles he had just extinguished.
Placing the three, near each other, on a table, the
maiden again drew nigh a window. The unexpected
interview with the Alderman had consumed several
minutes, and she was curious to know more of the
unaccountable movements of the mysterious vessel.

The same deep silence reigned about the villa,
and the slumbering ocean was heaving and setting
as heavily as before. Alida again looked for the boat
of Ludlow; but her eye ran over the whole distance
of the bright and broad streak, between her and the
cruiser, in vain. There was the slight ripple of the
water in the glittering of the moon's rays, but no
speck, like that the barge would make, was visible.
The lantern still shone at the cruiser's peak. Once,
indeed, she thought the sound of oars was again to
be heard, and much nearer than before; and yet
no effort of her quick and roving sight could detect
the position of the boat. But to all these doubts succeeded
an alarm which sprang from a new and very
different source.

The existence of the inlet, which united the
ocean with the waters of the Cove, was but little
known, except to the few whose avocations kept
them near the spot. The pass being much more than
half the time closed, its varying character, and the
little use that could be made of it under any circumstances,
prevented the place from being a subject of
general interest, with the coasters. Even when open,

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the depth of its water was uncertain, since a week
or two of calms, or of westerly winds, would permit
the tides to clean its channel, while a single easterly
gale was sufficient to choke the entire inlet with
sand. No wonder, then, that Alida felt an amazement
which was not quite free from superstitious alarm,
when, at that hour and in such a scene, she saw a
vessel gliding, as it were unaided by sails or sweeps,
out of the thicket that fringed the ocean side of the
Cove, into its very centre.

The strange and mysterious craft was a brigantine
of that mixed construction, which is much used, even
in the most ancient and classical seas of the other
hemisphere, and which is supposed to unite the advantages
of both a square and of a fore-and-aft rigged
vessel, but which is nowhere seen to display the
same beauty of form, and symmetry of equipment,
as on the coasts of this Union. The first and smallest
of its masts had all the complicated machinery of a
ship, with its superior and inferior spars, its wider
reaching, though light and manageable yards, and
its various sails, shaped and arranged to meet every
vicissitude and caprice of the winds; while the latter,
or larger of the two, rose like the straight trunk of
a pine from the hull, simple in its cordage, and
spreading a single sheet of canvas, that, in itself, was
sufficient to drive the fabric with vast velocity
through the water. The hull was low, graceful in
its outlines, dark as the raven's wing, and so modelled
as to float on its element like a sea-gull riding the
billows. There were many delicate and attenuated
lines among its spars, which were intended to spread
broader folds of canvas to the light airs, when necessary;
but these additions to the tracery of the machine,
which added so much to its beauty by day,
were now, seen as it was by the dimmer and more
treacherous rays of the moon, scarcely visible. In
short, as the vessel had entered the Cove floating

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with the tide, and it was so singularly graceful and
fairy-like in form, that Alida, at first, was fain to discredit
her senses, and to believe it no more than some
illusion of the fancy. Like most others, she was ignorant
of the temporary inlet, and, under the circumstances,
it was not difficult to lend a momentary
credence to so pleasing an idea.

But the delusion was only momentary. The brigantine
turned in its course, and, gliding into the part
of the Cove where the curvature of the shores
offered most protection from the winds and waves,
and perhaps from curious eyes, its motion ceased. A
heavy plunge in the water was audible even at the
villa, and Alida then knew that an anchor had fallen
into the bay.

Although the coast of North America offered little
to invite lawless depredation, and it was in general
believed to be so safe, yet the possibility that cupidity
might be invited by the retired situation of her uncle's
villa, did not fail to suggest itself to the mind of the
young heiress. Both she and her guardian were
reputed to be wealthy; and disappointment, on the
open sea, might drive desperate men to the commission
of crimes that in more prosperous moments
would not suggest themselves. The freebooters were
said to have formerly visited the coast of the neighboring
island, and men were just then commencing
those excavations for hidden treasures and secreted
booty, which have been, at distant intervals, continued
to our own time.

There are situations in which the mind insensibly
gives credit to impressions, that the reason in common
disapproves. The present was one in which Alida
de Barbérie, though of a resolute and even a masculine
understanding, felt disposed to believe there
might be truth in those tales, that she had hitherto
heard, only to deride. Still keeping her eye on the
motionless vessel, she drew back into her window,

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and wrapped the curtain round her form, undecided
whether to alarm the family or not, and acting under
a vague impression that, though so distant, her person
might be seen. She was hardly thus secreted, before
the shrubbery was violently agitated, a footstep was
heard in the lawn beneath her window, and then
one leaped so lightly into the balcony, and from the
balcony into the centre of the room, that the passage
of the figure seemed like the flitting of some creature
of supernatural attributes.

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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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