Welcome to PhiloLogic  
   home |  the ARTFL project |  download |  documentation |  sample databases |   
Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 [1831], The water-witch, volume 1 (Carey & Lea, Philadelphia) [word count] [eaf061v1].
To look up a word in a dictionary, select the word with your mouse and press 'd' on your keyboard.

Previous section

Next section


“Why look you, how you stare!
I would be friends with you, and have your love.”

The first impulse of Alida, at this second invasion
of her pavilion, was certainly to flee. But timidity
was not her weakness, and as natural firmness
gave her time to examine the person of the individual
who had so unceremoniously entered, curiosity
aided in inducing her to remain. Perhaps a vague,
but a very natural, expectation that she was again
to dismiss the commander of the Coquette, had its
influence on her first decision. In order that the
reader may judge how far this boldness was excusable,
we shall describe the person of the intruder.

The stranger was one in the very bud of young
and active manhood. His years could not have exceeded
two-and-twenty, nor would he probably have
been thought so old, had not his features been shaded
by a rich, brown hue, that in some degree served as
a foil to a natural complexion, which, though never
fair, was still clear and blooming. A pair of dark,

-- 106 --

[figure description] Page 106.[end figure description]

bushy, and jet-black, silken whiskers, that were in
singular contrast to eye-lashes and brows of almost
feminine beauty and softness, aided also in giving a
decided expression to a face that might otherwise
have been wanting in some of that character which
is thought essential to comeliness in man. The forehead
was smooth and low; the nose, though prominent
and bold in outline, of exceeding delicacy in
detail; the mouth and lips full, a little inclined to be
arch, though the former appeared as if it might at
times be pensive; the teeth were even and unsullied;
and the chin was small, round, dimpled, and so carefully
divested of the distinguishing mark of the sex,
that one could fancy nature had contributed all its
growth to adorn the neighboring cheeks and temples.
If to these features be added a pair of full and
brilliant coal-black eyes, that appeared to vary their
expression at their master's will, the reader will at
once see, that the privacy of Alida had been invaded
by one whose personal attractions might, under other
circumstances, have been dangerous to the imagination
of a female, whose taste was in some degree
influenced by a standard created by her own loveliness.

The dress of the stranger was as unique as his
personal attractions were extraordinary. The fashion
of the garments resembled that of those already described
as worn by the man who has announced
himself as Master Tiller; but the materials were
altogether richer, and, judging only from the exterior,
more worthy of the wearer.

The light frock was of a thick purple silk, of an
Indian manufacture, cut with exceeding care to fit
the fine outlines of a form that was rather round,
than square; active, than athletic. The loose trowsers
were of a fine white jean, the cap of scarlet
velvet, ornamented with gold, and the body was
belted with a large cord of scarlet silk, twisted in

-- 107 --

[figure description] Page 107.[end figure description]

the form of a ship's cable. At the ends of the latter,
little anchors, wrought in bullion, were attached as
gay and fitting appendages.

In contrast to an attire so whimsical and uncommon,
however, a pair of small and richly-mounted
pistols were at the stranger's girdle; and the haft
of a curiously-carved Asiatic dagger was seen projecting,
rather ostentatiously, from between the folds
of the upper garment.

“What cheer! what cheer!” cried a voice, that
was more in harmony with the appearance of the
speaker, than with the rough, professional salutation
he uttered, so soon as he had fairly landed in the
centre of Alida's little saloon. “Come forth, my
dealer in the covering of the beaver, for here is one
who brings gold to thy coffers. Ha! now that this
trio of lights hath done its office, it may be extinguished,
lest it pilot others to the forbidden haven!”

“Your pardon, Sir,” said the mistress of the pavilion,
advancing from behind the curtain, with an
air of coolness that her beating heart had nigh betrayed
to be counterfeit; “having so unexpected a
guest to entertain, the additional candles are necessary.”

The start, recoil, and evident alarm of the intruder,
lent Alida a little more assurance; for courage
is a quality that appears to gain force, in a degree
proportioned to the amount in which it is abstracted
from the dreaded object. Still, when she saw a hand
on a pistol, the maiden was again about to flee; nor
was her resolution to remain confirmed, until she
met the mild and alluring eye of the intruder, as,
quitting his hold of the weapon, he advanced with
an air so mild and graceful, as to cause curiosity to
take the place of fear.

“Though Alderman Van Beverout be not punctual
to his appointment,” said the gay young stranger,
“he has more than atoned for his absence by the

-- 108 --

[figure description] Page 108.[end figure description]

substitute he sends. I hope she comes authorized to
arrange the whole of our treaty?”

“I claim no right to hear, or to dictate, in matters
not my own. My utmost powers extend to expressing
a desire, that this pavilion may be exempt from
the discussion of affairs, as much beyond my knowledge
as they are separated from my interests.”

“Then why this signal?” demanded the stranger,
pointing, with a serious air, to the lights that still
burned near each other in face of an open window.
“It is awkward to mislead, in transactions that are
so delicate!”

“Your allusion, Sir, is not understood. These
lights are no more than what are usually seen in my
apartment at this hour—with, indeed, the addition
of a lamp, left by my uncle, Alderman Van Bever-out.”

“Your uncle!” exclaimed the other, advancing so
near Alida, as to cause her to retire a step, his countenance
expressing a deep and newly-awakened interest—
“your uncle!—This, then, is one far-famed
and justly extolled; la belle Barbérie!” he added,
gallantly lifting his cap, as if he had just discovered
the condition and the unusual personal attractions of
his companion.

It was not in nature for Alida to be displeased.
All her fancied causes of terror were forgotten; for,
in addition to their improbable and uncertain nature,
the stranger had sufficiently given her to understand,
that he was expected by her uncle. If we add,
that the singular attraction and softness of his face
and voice aided in quieting her fears, we shall probably
do no violence either to the truth or to a very
natural feeling. Profoundly ignorant of the details
of commerce, and accustomed to hear its mysteries
extolled as exercising the keenest and best faculties
of man, she saw nothing extraordinary in those who
were actively engaged in the pursuit having reasons

-- 109 --

[figure description] Page 109.[end figure description]

for concealing their movements from the jealousy
and rivalry of competitors. Like most of her sex,
she had great dependence on the characters of those
she loved; and, though nature, education, and habit,
had created a striking difference between the guardian
and his ward, their harmony had never been
interrupted by any breach of affection.

“This then is la belle Barbérie!” repeated the
young sailor, for such his dress denoted him to be,
studying her features with an expression of face, in
which pleasure vied with evident and touching melancholy.
“Fame hath done no injustice, for here is
all that might justify the folly or madness of man!”

“This is familiar dialogue for an utter stranger,”
returned Alida, blushing, though the quick dark eye
that seemed to fathom all her thoughts, saw it was
not in anger. “I do not deny that the partiality of
friends, coupled with my origin, have obtained the
appellation, which is given, however, more in playfulness
than in any serious opinion of its being merited—
and now, as the hour is getting late, and this
visit is at least unusual, you will permit me to seek
my uncle.”

“Stay!” interrupted the stranger—“it is long—
very long, since so soothing, so gentle a pleasure has
been mine! This is a life of mysteries, beautiful
Alida, though its incidents seem so vulgar, and of
every-day occurrence. There is mystery in its beginning
and its end; in its impulses; its sympathies,
and all its discordant passions. No, do not quit me.
I am from off the sea, where none but coarse and
vulgar-minded men have long been my associates;
and thy presence is a balm to a bruised and wounded

Interested, if possible, more by the touching and
melancholy tones of the speaker, than by his extraordinary
language, Alida hesitated. Her reason told
her that propriety, and even prudence, required she

-- 110 --

[figure description] Page 110.[end figure description]

should apprize her uncle of the stranger's presence;
but propriety and prudence lose much of their influence,
when female curiosity is sustained by a secret
and powerful sympathy. Her own eloquent eye met
the open and imploring look of organs, that seemed
endowed with the fabled power to charm; and while
her judgment told her there was so much to alarm,
her senses pleaded powerfully in behalf of the gentle

“An expected guest of my uncle will have leisure
to repose, after the privations and hardships of so
weary a voyage,” she said. “This is a house whose
door is never closed against the rites of hospitality.”

“If there is aught about my person or attire, to
alarm you,” returned the stranger, earnestly, “speak,
that it may be cast away—These arms—these foolish
arms, had better not have been here,” he added,
casting the pistols and dagger indignantly, through a
window, into the shrubbery; “Ah! if you knew how
unwillingly I would harm any—and, least of all, a
woman—you would not fear me!”

“I fear you not,” returned la Belle, firmly. “I
dread the misconceptions of the world.”

“What world is here to disturb us? Thou livest
in thy pavilion, beautiful Alida, remote from towns
and envy, like some favored damsel, over whose
happy and charmed life presides a benignant genius.
See, here are all the pretty materials, with which
thy sex seeks innocent and happy amusement. Thou
touchest this lute, when melancholy renders thought
pleasing; here are colors to mock, or to eclipse, the
beauties of the fields and the mountain, the flower,
and the tree; and from these pages are culled
thoughts, pure and rich in imagery, as thy spirit is
spotless, and thy person lovely!”

Alida listened in amazement; for, while he spoke,
the young mariner touched the different articles he
named, with a melancholy interest, which seemed to

-- 111 --

[figure description] Page 111.[end figure description]

say how deeply he regretted that fortune had placed
him in a profession, in which their use was nearly

“It is not common for those who live on the sea,
to feel this interest in the trifles which constitute a
woman's pleasure,” she said, lingering, spite of her
better resolution to depart.

“The spirit of our rude and boisterous trade is
then known to you?”

“It were not possible for the relation of a merchant,
so extensively known as my uncle, to be ignorant
altogether of mariners.”

“Ay, here is proof of it,” returned the stranger,
speaking so quick as again to betray how sensitively
his mind was constructed. “The History of the
American Buccaneers is a rare book to be found in
a lady's library! What pleasure can a mind like
that of la belle Barbérie find in these recitals of
bloody violence?”

“What pleasure, truly!” returned Alida, half
tempted, by the wild and excited eye of her companion,
notwithstanding all the contradictory evidence
which surrounded him, to believe she was addressing
one of the very rovers in question. “The book was
lent me by a brave seaman, who holds himself in
readiness to repress their depredations; and while
reading of so much wickedness, I endeavor to recall
the devotion of those who risk their lives, in order
to protect the weak and innocent—My uncle will be
angered, should I longer delay to apprize him of
your presence.”

“A single moment! It is long—very long, since I
have entered a sanctuary like this! Here is music!
and there the frame for the gaudy tambour—these
windows look on a landscape, soft as thine own nature;
and yonder ocean can be admired without
dreading its terrific power, or feeling disgust at its
coarser scenes. Thou shouldst be happy, here!”

-- 112 --

[figure description] Page 112.[end figure description]

The stranger turned, and perceived that he was
alone. Disappointment was strongly painted on his
handsome face; but, ere there was time for second
thought, another voice was heard grumbling at the
door of the saloon.

“Compacts and treaties! What, in the name of
good faith, hath brought thee hither? Is this the way
to keep a cloak on our movements? or dost suppose
that the Queen will knight me, for being known as
thy correspondent?”

“Lanterns and false-beacons!” returned the other,
mimicking the voice of the disconcerted burgher, and
pointing to the lights that still stood where last described.
“Can the port be entered without respecting
the land-marks and signals?”

“This comes of moonlight and sentiment! When
the girl should have been asleep, she is up, gazing at
the stars, and disconcerting a burgher's speculations.—
But fear thee not, Master Seadrift; my niece has
discretion, and if we have no better pledge for her
silence, there is that of necessity; since there is no
one here for a confidant, but her old Norman valet,
and the Patroon of Kinderhook, both of whom are
dreaming of other matter than a little gainful traffic.”

“Fear thee not, Alderman;” returned the other,
still maintaining his air of mockery. “We have the
pledge of character, if no other; since the uncle
cannot part with reputation, without the niece sharing
in the loss.”

“What sin is there in pushing commerce a step
beyond the limits of the law? These English are a
nation of monopolists; and they make no scruple of
tying us of the colonies, hand and foot, heart and
soul, with their acts of Parliament, saying `with us
shalt thou trade, or not at all.' By the character of
the best burgomaster of Amsterdam, and they came
by the province, too, in no such honesty, that we
should lie down and obey!”

-- 113 --

[figure description] Page 113.[end figure description]

“Wherein there is much comfort to a dealer in
the contraband. Justly reasoned, my worthy Alderman.
Thy logic will, at any time, make a smooth
pillow, especially if the adventure be not without its
profit. And now, having so commendably disposed
of the moral of our bargain, let us approach its legitimate,
if not its lawful, conclusion. There,” he
added, drawing a small bag from an inner pocket of
his frock, and tossing it carelessly on a table; “there
is thy gold. Eighty broad Johannes is no bad return
for a few packages of furs; and even avarice itself
will own, that six months is no long investment for
the usury.”

“That boat of thine, most lively Seadrift, is a
marine humming-bird!” returned Myndert, with a
joyful tremor of the voice, that betrayed his deep
and entire satisfaction. “Didst say just eighty? But
spare thyself the trouble of looking for the memorandum;
I will tell the gold myself, to save thee
the trouble. Truly, the adventure hath not been
bad! A few kegs of Jamaica, with a little powder
and lead, and a blanket or two, with now and then
a penny bauble for a chief, are knowingly, ay! and
speedily transmuted into the yellow metal, by thy
good aid.—This affair was managed on the French

“More northward, where the frost helped the bargain.
Thy beavers and martens, honest burgher,
will be flaunting in the presence of the Emperor, at
the next holidays. What is there in the face of the
Braganza, that thou studiest it so hard?”

“The piece seems none of the heaviest—but, luckily,
I have scales at hand,—”

“Hold!” said the stranger, laying his hand, which,
according to a fashion of that day, was clad in a
delicate and scented glove, lightly on the arm of the
other: “No scales between us, Sir! That was taken
in return for thy adventure; heavy or light, it must

-- 114 --

[figure description] Page 114.[end figure description]

go down. We deal in confidence, and this hesitation
offends me. Another such doubt of my integrity,
and our connexion is at an end.”

“A calamity I should deplore, quite or nearly as
much as thyself,” returned Myndert, affecting to
laugh; though he slipped the suspected doubloon
into the bag again, in a manner that at once removed
the object of contention from view. “A little
particularity in the balance part of commerce serves
to maintain friendships. But a trifle shall not cause
us to waste the precious time.—Hast brought goods
suited to the colonies?”

In plenty.”

“And ingeniously assorted? Colonies and monopoly!
—But there is a two-fold satisfaction in this clandestine
traffic! I never get the notice of thy arrival,
Master Seadrift, but the heart within me leapeth of
gladness! There is a double pleasure in circumventing
the legislation of your London wiseacres!”

“The chiefest of which is—?”

“A goodly return for the investment, truly—I desire
not to deny the agency of natural causes; but,
trust me, there is a sort of professional glory in thus
defeating the selfishness of our rulers. What! are
we born of woman, to be used as the instruments of
their prosperity! Give us equal legislation, a right to
decide on the policy of enactments, and then, like a
loyal and obedient subject,—”

“Thou wouldst still deal in the contraband!”

“Well, well, multiplying idle words is not multiplying
gold. The list of the articles introduced can
be forthcoming?”

“It is here, and ready to be examined. But there
is a fancy come over me, Alderman Van Beverout,
which, like others of my caprices, thou knowest must
have its way. There should be a witness to our

“Judges and juries! Thou forgettest, man, that a

-- 115 --

[figure description] Page 115.[end figure description]

clumsy galliot could sail through the tightest clause
of these extra-legal compacts. The courts receive
the evidence of this sort of traffic, as the grave receives
the dead; to swallow all, and be forgotten.”

“I care not for the courts, and little desire do I
feel to enter them. But the presence of la belle
Barbérie may serve to prevent any misconceptions,
that might bring our connexion to a premature close.
Let her be summoned.”

“The girl is altogether ignorant of traffic, and it
might unsettle her opinions of her uncle's stability.
If a man does not maintain credit within his own
doors, how can he expect it in the streets?”

“Many have credit on the highway, who receive
none at home. But thou knowest my humor; no
niece—no traffic.”

“Alida is a dutiful and affectionate child, and I
would not willingly disturb her slumbers. Here is
the Patroon of Kinderhook, a man who loves English
legislation as little as myself;—he will be less
reluctant to see an honest shilling turned into gold.
I will awake him: no man was ever yet offended at
an offer to share in a profitable adventure.”

“Let him sleep on. I deal not with your lords of
manors and mortgages. Bring forth the lady, for
there will be matter fit for her delicacy.”

“Duty and the ten commandments! You never
had the charge of a child, Master Seadrift, and cannot
know the weight of responsibility—”

“No niece—no traffic!” interrupted the wilful
dealer in contraband, returning his invoice to his
pocket, and preparing to rise from the table, where
he had already seated himself.—“The lady knows
of my presence; and it were safer for us both, that
she entered more deeply into our confidence.”

“Thou art as despotic as the English navigation-law!
I hear the foot of the child still pacing her
chamber, and she shall come. But there need be no

-- 116 --

[figure description] Page 116.[end figure description]

explanations, to recall old intercourse.—The affair
can pass as a bit of accidental speculation—a by-play,
in the traffic of life.”

“As thou pleasest. I shall deal less in words than
in business. Keep thine own secrets, burgher, and
they are safe. Still, I would have the lady, for there
is a presentiment that our connexion is in danger.”

“I like not that word presentiment,” grumbled
the Alderman, taking a light, and snuffing it with
deliberate care; “drop but a single letter, and one
dreams of the pains and penalties of the Exchequer.—
Remember thou art a trafficker, who conceals his
appearance on account of the cleverness of his speculations.”

“That is my calling, to the letter. Were all
others as clever, the trade would certainly cease.—
Go, bring the lady.”

The Alderman, who probably saw the necessity of
making some explanation to his niece, and who, it
would seem, fully understood the positive character
of his companion, no longer hesitated; but, first casting
a suspicious glance out of the still open window,
he left the room.

-- 117 --

Previous section

Next section

Cooper, James Fenimore, 1789-1851 [1831], The water-witch, volume 1 (Carey & Lea, Philadelphia) [word count] [eaf061v1].
Powered by PhiloLogic