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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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“—Alack, what heinous sin is it in me,
To be ashamed, to be my father's child!
But though I am a daughter to his blood,
I am not to his manners.—”
Merchant of Venice.

[figure description] Page 117.[end figure description]

The moment the stranger was again alone, the
entire expression of his countenance underwent a
change. The reckless and bold expression deserted
his eye, which once more became soft, if not pensive,
as it wandered over the different elegant objects that
served to amuse the leisure of la belle Barbérie.
He arose, and touched the strings of a lute, and then,
like Fear, started back, as if recoiling at the sound
he had made. All recollection of the object of his
visit was evidently forgotten, in a new and livelier
interest; and had there been one to watch his movements,
the last motive imputed to his presence would
probably have been the one that was true. There
was so little of that vulgar and common character,
which is usually seen in men of his pursuit, in the gentle
aspect and subdued air of his fine features, that
it might be fancied he was thus singularly endowed
by nature, in order that deception might triumph.
If there were moments when a disregard of opinion
was seen in his demeanor, it rather appeared assumed
than easy; and even when most disposed to
display lawless indifference to the ordinary regulations
of society, in his interview with the Alderman,
it had been blended with a reserve of manner that
was strangely in contrast with his humor.

On the other hand, it were idle to say that Alida
de Barbérie had no unpleasant suspicions concerning
the character of her uncle's guest. That baneful
influence, which necessarily exerts itself near an

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irresponsible power, coupled with the natural indifference
with which the principal regards the dependant,
had caused the English Ministry to fill too
many of their posts of honor and profit, in the colonies,
with needy and dissolute men of rank, or of
high political connexions at home. The Province of
New-York had, in this respect, been particularly unfortunate.
The gift of it by Charles to his brother and
successor, had left it without the protection of those
charters and other privileges that had been granted
to most of the governments of America. The connexion
with the crown was direct, and, for a long
period, the majority of the inhabitants were considered
as of a different race, and of course as of one
less to be considered, than that of their conquerors.
Such was the laxity of the times on the subject of
injustice to the people of this hemisphere, that the
predatory expeditions of Drake and others against
the wealthy occupants of the more southern countries,
seem to have left no spots on their escutcheons;
and the honors and favors of Queen Elizabeth had
been liberally extended to men who would now be
deemed freebooters. In short, that system of violence
and specious morality, which commenced with
the gifts of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the bulls of
the Popes, was continued, with more or less of modification,
until the descendants of those single-minded
and virtuous men who peopled the Union, took the
powers of government into their own hands, and
proclaimed political ethics that were previously as
little practised as understood.

Alida knew that both the Earl of Bellamont and
the unprincipled nobleman who has been introduced
in the earlier pages of this tale, had not escaped the
imputation of conniving at acts on the sea, far more
flagrant than any of an unlawful trade; and it will
therefore create little surprise, that she saw reason
to distrust the legality of some of her uncle's

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speculations, with less pain than might be felt by one of
her sex and opinions at the present hour. Her suspicions,
however, fell far short of the truth; for it were
scarce possible to have presented a mariner, who
bore about him fewer of those signs of his rude calling,
than he whom she had so unexpectedly met.

Perhaps, too, the powerful charm, that existed in
the voice and countenance of one so singularly gifted
by nature, had its influence in persuading Alida to
reappear. At all events, she was soon seen to enter
the room, with an air, that manifested more of curiosity
and wonder, than of displeasure.

“My niece has heard that thou comest from the
old countries, Master Seadrift,” said the wary Alderman,
who preceded Alida, “and the woman is uppermost
in her heart. Thou wilt never be forgiven,
should the eye of any maiden in Manhattan get sight
of thy finery before she has passed judgment on its

“I cannot wish a more impartial or a fairer judge;”
returned the other, doffing his cap in the gallant and
careless manner of his trade. “Here are silks from
the looms of Tuscany, and Lyonnois brocades, that
any Lombard, or dame of France, might envy. Ribbons
of every hue and dye, and laces that seem to
copy the fret-work of the richest cathedral of your

“Thou hast journeyed much, in thy time, Master
Seadrift, and speakest of countries and usages with
understanding,” said the Alderman. “But how stand
the prices of these precious goods? Thou knowest
the long war, and the moral certainty of its continuance;
this German succession to the throne, and the
late earthquakes in the country, too, have much unsettled
prices, and cause us thoughtful burghers to
be wary in our traffic.—Didst inquire the cost of
geldings, when last in Holland?”

“The animals go a-begging!—As to the value of

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my goods, that you know is fixed; for I admit of no
parley between friends.”

“Thy obstinacy is unreasonable, Master Seadrift.
A wise merchant will always look to the state of the
market, and one so practised should know that a
nimble sixpence multiplies faster than a slow-moving
shilling. 'Tis the constant rolling of the ball that
causes the snow to cleave! Goods that come light
should not go heavy, and quick settlements follow
sudden bargains. Thou knowest our York saying,
that `first offers are the best.”

“He that likes may purchase, and he that prefers
his gold to fine laces, rich silks, and stiff brocades,
has only to sleep with his money-bags under his pillow.
There are others who wait, with impatience,
to see the articles; and I have not crossed the Atlantic,
with a freight that scarcely ballasts the brigatine,
to throw away the valuables on the lowest

“Nay, uncle,” said Alida, in a little trepidation,
“we cannot judge of the quality of Master Seadrift's
articles, by report. I dare to say, he has not
landed without a sample of his wares?”

“Custom and friendships!” muttered Myndert;
“of what use is an established correspondence, if it
is to be broken on account of a little cheapening?
But produce thy stores, Mr. Dogmatism; I warrant
me the fashions are of some rejected use, or that
the color of the goods be impaired by the usual negligence
of thy careless mariners. We will, at least,
pay thee the compliment to look at the effects.”

“'Tis as you please,” returned the other. “The
bales are in the usual place, at the wharf, under the
inspection of honest Master Tiller—but if so inferior
in quality, they will scarce repay the trouble of the

“I'll go, I'll go,” said the Alderman, adjusting his
wig and removing his spectacles; “'twould not be

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treating an old correspondent well, to refuse to look
at his samples,—thou wilt follow, Master Seadrift,
and so I will pay thee the compliment to examine
the effects—though the long war, the glut of furs,
the over-abundance of the last year's harvests, and
the perfect quiet in the mining districts, have thrown
all commerce flat on its back. I'll go, however;
lest thou shouldst say, thy interests were neglected.
Thy Master Tiller is an indiscreet agent; he gave
me a fright to-day, that exceeds any alarm I have
felt since the failure of Van Halt, Balance, and

The voice of Myndert became inaudible, for, in
his haste not to neglect the interests of his guest,
the tenacious trader had already quitted the room,
and half of his parting speech was uttered in the
antechamber of the pavilion.

“'Twould scarce comport with the propriety of
my sex, to mingle with the seamen, and the others
who doubtless surround the bales,” said Alida, in
whose face there was a marked expression of hesitation
and curiosity.

“It will not be necessary,” returned her companion.
“I have, at hand, specimens of all that you
would see.—But, why this haste? We are yet in
the early hours of the night, and the Alderman will
be occupied long, ere he comes to the determination
to pay the prices my people are sure to ask. I am
lately from off the sea, beautiful Alida, and thou
canst not know the pleasure I find in breathing even
the atmosphere of a woman's presence.”

La belle Barbérie retired a step or two, she knew
not why; and her hand was placed upon the cord of
the bell, before she was aware of the manner in
which she betrayed her alarm.

“To me it does not seem that I am a creature so
terrific, that thou need'st dread my presence,” continued
the gay mariner, with a smile that expressed

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as much of secret irony, as of that pensive character
which had again taken possession of his countenance;
“but ring, and bring your attendants to relieve
fears that are natural to thy sex, and therefore
seducing to mine. Shall I pull the cord?—for this
pretty hand trembles too much, to do its office.”

“I know not that any would answer, for it is past
the hour of attendance;—it is better that I go to the
examination of the bales.”

The strange and singularly-attired being, who occasioned
so much uneasiness to Alida, regarded her a
moment with a kind and melancholy solicitude.

“Thus they are all, till altered by too much intercourse
with a cold and corrupt world!” he rather
whispered, than uttered aloud. “Would that thus
they might all continue! Thou art a singular compound
of thy sex's weakness, and of manly resolution,
belle Barbérie; but trust me,” and he laid his hand
on his heart with an earnestness that spoke well for
his sincerity; “ere word, or act, to harm or to offend
thee, should proceed from any who obey will of
mine, nature itself must undergo a change. Start
not, for I call one to show the specimens you would

He then applied a little silver whistle to his lips,
and drew a low signal from the instrument, motioning
to Alida to await the result, without alarm. In half
a minute, there was a rustling among the leaves of
the shrubbery, a moment of attentive pause, and
then a dark object entered the window, and rolled
heavily to the centre of the floor.

“Here are our commodities, and trust me the
price shall not be dwelt on, between us,” resumed
Master Seadrift, undoing the fastenings of the little
bale, that had entered the saloon, seemingly without
the aid of hands. “These goods are so many gages
of neutrality, between us; so approach, and

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examine, without fear. You will find some among
them to reward the hazard.”

The bale was now open, and as its master appeared
to be singularly expert in suiting a female fancy, it
became impossible for Alida to resist any longer. She
gradually lost her reserve, as the examination proceeded;
and before the owner of the treasures had
got into the third of his packages, the hands of the
heiress were as actively employed as his own, in
gaining access to their view.

“This is a stuff of the Lombard territories,” said
the vender of the goods, pleased with the confidence
he had succeeded in establishing between his beautiful
customer and himself. “Thou seest, it is rich,
flowery, and variegated as the land it came from.
One might fancy the vines and vegetation of that
deep soil were shooting from this labor of the loom—
nay, the piece is sufficient for any toilette, however
ample; see, it is endless as the plains that reared the
little animal who supplies the texture. I have parted
of that fabric to many dames of England, who have
not disdained to traffic with one that risks much in
their behalf.”

“I fear there are many who find a pleasure in
these stuffs, chiefly because their use is forbidden.”

“'Twould not be out of nature! Look; this box
contains ornaments of the elephant's tooth, cut by a
cunning artificer in the far Eastern lands; they do
not disfigure a lady's dressing-table, and have a
moral, for they remind her of countries where the
sex is less happy than at home. Ah! here is a
treasure of Mechlin, wrought in a fashion of my own

“'Tis beautifully fancied, and might do credit to
one who professed the painter's art.”

“My youth was much employed in these conceits,”
returned the trader, unfolding the rich and delicate
lace, in a manner to show that he had still pleasure

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in contemplating its texture and quality. “There
was a compact between me and the maker, that
enough should be furnished to reach from the high
church-tower of his town, to the pavement beneath;
and yet, you see how little remains! The London
dames found it to their taste, and it was not easy to
bring even this trifle into the colonies.”

“You chose a remarkable measure for an article
that was to visit so many different countries, without
the formalities of law!”

“We thought to start in the favor of the church,
which rarely frowns on those who respect its privileges.
Under the sanction of such authority, I will
lay aside all that remains, certain it will be needed
for thy use.”

“So rare a manufacture should be costly?”

La belle Barbérie spoke hesitatingly, and as she
raised her eyes, they met the dark organs of her
companion, fixed on her face, in a manner that
seemed to express a consciousness of the ascendency
he was gaining. Startled, at she knew not what,
the maiden again added hastily—

“This may be fitter for a court lady, than a girl
of the colonies.”

“None who have yet worn of it, so well become
it;—I lay it here, as a make-weight in my bargain
with the Alderman.—This is satin of Tuscany; a
country where nature exhibits its extremes, and one
whose merchants were princes. Your Florentine
was subtle in his fabrics, and happy in his conceits
of forms and colors, for which he stood indebted to
the riches of his own climate. Observe—the hue of
this glossy surface is scarcely so delicate as I have
seen the rosy light, at even, playing on the sides of
his Apennines!”

“You have then visited the regions, in whose
fabrics you deal?” said Alida, suffering the articles

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to fall from her hand, in the stronger interest she
began to feel in their owner.

“'Tis my habit. Here have we a chain from the
city of the Isles. The hand of a Venetian could alone
form these delicate and nearly insensible links. I refused
a string of spotless pearls for that same golden

“It was indiscreet, in one who trades at so much

“I kept the bauble for my pleasure!—Whim is
sometimes stronger than the thirst of gain; and this
chain does not quit me, till I bestow it on the lady
of my love.”

“One so actively employed can scarcely spare
time to seek a fitting object for the gift.”

“Is merit and loveliness in the sex, so rare? La
belle Barbérie speaks in the security of many conquests,
or she would not deal thus lightly, in a matter
that is so serious with most females.”

“Among other countries your vessel hath visited
a land of witchcraft, or you would not pretend to a
knowledge of things, that, in their very nature, must
be hidden from a stranger.—Of what value may be
those beautiful feathers of the ostrich?”

“They came of swarthy Africa, though so spotless
themselves. The bunch was had, by secret traffic,
from a Moorish man, in exchange for a few skins of
Lachrymæ Christi, that he swallowed with his eyes
shut. I dealt with the fellow, only in pity for his
thirst, and do not pride myself on the value of the
commodity. It shall go, too, to quicken love between
me and thy uncle.”

Alida could not object to this liberality, though she
was not without a secret opinion that the gifts were
no more than delicate and well-concealed offerings
to herself. The effect of this suspicion was two-fold;
it caused the maiden to become more reserved in the
expression of her tastes, though it in no degree

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lessened her confidence in, and admiration of, the wayward
and remarkable trader.

“My uncle will have cause to commend thy generous
spirit,” said the heiress, bending her head a
little coldly, at this repeated declaration of her companion's
intentions, “though it would seem that, in
trade, justice is as much to be desired as generosity;—
this seemeth a curious design, wrought with the

“It is the labor of many a day, fashioned by the
hand of a recluse. I bought it of a nun, in France,
who passed years in toil, upon the conceit, which is
of more value than the material. The meek daughter
of solitude wept when she parted with the fabric,
for, in her eyes, it had the tie of association and
habit. A companion might be lost to one who lives
in the confusion of the world, and it should not
cause more real sorrow, than parting from the product
of her needle, gave that mild resident of the

“And is it permitted for your sex to visit those
places of religious retirement?” asked Alida. “I
come of a race that pays little deference to monastic
life, for we are refugees from the severity of Louis;
but yet I never heard my father charge these females
with being so regardless of their vows.”

“The fact was so repeated to me; for, surely, my
sex are not admitted to traffic, directly, with the
modest sisters;” (a smile, that Alida was half-disposed
to think bold, played about the handsome mouth of
the speaker) “but it was so reported. What is your
opinion of the merit of woman, in thus seeking refuge
from the cares, and haply from the sins, of the
world, in institutions of this order.”

“Truly the question exceedeth my knowledge.
This is not a country to immure females, and the
custom causes us of America little thought.”

“The usage hath its abuses,” continued the dealer

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in contraband, speaking thoughtfully; “but it is not
without its good. There are many of the weak and
vain, that would be happier in the cloisters, than if
left to the seductions and follies of life.—Ah! here is
work of English hands. I scarcely know how the
articles found their way into the company of the
products of the foreign looms. My bales contain, in
general, little that is vulgarly sanctioned by the law.
Speak me, frankly, belle Alida, and say if you share
in the prejudices against the character of us freetraders?”

“I pretend not to judge of regulations that exceed
the knowledge and practices of my sex,” returned
the maiden, with commendable reserve. “There
are some who think the abuse of power a justification
of its resistance, while others deem a breach of
law to be a breach of morals.”

“The latter is the doctrine of your man of invested
moneys and established fortune! He has entrenched
his gains behind acknowledged barriers,
and he preaches their sanctity, because they favor
his selfishness. We skimmers of the sea—”

Alida started so suddenly, as to cause her companion
to cease speaking.

“Are my words frightful, that you pale at their

“I hope they were used rather in accident, than
with their dreaded meaning. I would not have it
said—no! 'tis but a chance that springs from some
resemblance in your callings. One, like you, can
never be the man whose name has grown into a

“One like me, beautiful Alida, is much as fortune
wills. Of what man, or of what name, wouldst

“'Tis nothing,” returned la belle Barbérie, gazing
unconsciously at the polished and graceful features
of the stranger, longer than was wont in maiden.

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“Proceed with your explanation;—these are rich

“They come of Venice, too; but commerce is
like the favor which attends the rich, and the Queen
of the Adriatic is already far on the decline. That
which causes the increase of the husbandman, occasions
the downfall of a city. The lagunes are filling
with fat soil, and the keel of the trader is less frequent
there than of old. Ages hence, the plow may
trace furrows where the Bucentaur has floated!
The outer India passage has changed the current of
prosperity, which ever rushes in the widest and
newest track. Nations might learn a moral, by
studying the sleepy canals and instructive magnificence
of that fallen town; but pride fattens on its
own lazy recollections, to the last!—As I was saying,
we rovers deal little in musty maxims, that are made
by the great and prosperous at home, and are trumpeted
abroad, in order that the weak and unhappy
should be the more closely riveted in their fetters.”

“Methinks you push the principle further than is
necessary, for one whose greatest offence against
established usage is a little hazardous commerce.
These are opinions, that might unsettle the world.”

“Rather settle it, by referring all to the rule of
right. When governments shall lay their foundations
in natural justice, when their object shall be to remove
the temptations to err, instead of creating
them, and when bodies of men shall feel and acknowledge
the responsibilities of individuals—why,
then the Water-Witch, herself, might become a
revenue-cutter, and her owner an officer of the

The velvet fell from the hands of la bella Barb
érie, and she arose from her seat with precipitation.

“Speak plainly,” said Alida, with all her natural
firmness. “With whom am I about to traffic?”

“An outcast of society—a man condemned in the

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opinions of the world—the outlaw—the flagrant
wanderer of the ocean—the lawless `Skimmer of
the Seas!' ” cried a voice, at the open window.

In another minute, Ludlow was in the room.
Alida uttered a shriek, veiled her face in her robe,
and rushed from the apartment.

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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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