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The Water-Witch or, The Skimmer of the Seas By James Fenimore Cooper Characters: 26715

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Beseech you, Sir, were you present at this relation?"

Winter's Tale.

On the following morning, the windows of the Lust in Rust denoted the presence of its owner. There was an air of melancholy, and yet of happiness, in the faces of many who were seen about the buildings and the grounds, as if a great good had been accompanied by some grave and qualifying circumstances of sorrow. The negroes wore an air of that love of the extraordinary which is the concomitant of ignorance, while those of the more fortunate class resembled men who retained a recollection of serious evils that were past.

In the private apartment of the burgher, however, an interview took place which was characterized by an air of deep concern. The parties were only the free-trader and the Alderman. But it was apparent, in the look of each, that they met like men who had interesting and serious matters to discuss. Still, one accustomed to the expressions of the human countenance might have seen, that while the former was about to introduce topics in which his feelings were powerfully enlisted, the other looked only to the grosser interests of his commerce.

"My minutes are counted;" said the mariner, stepping into the centre of the room, and facing his companion. "That which is to be said, must be said briefly. The inlet can only be passed on the rising water, and it will ill consult your opinions of prudence, were I to tarry, till the hue and cry, that will follow the intelligence of that which has lately happened in the offing, shall be heard in the Province."

"Spoken with a rover's discretion! This reserve will perpetuate friendship, which is nought weakened by your activity in our late uncomfortable voyage on the yards and masts of Queen Anne's late cruiser. Well! I wish no ill-luck to any loyal gentleman in Her Majesty's service; but it is a thousand pities that thou wert not ready, now the coast is clear, with a good heavy inward cargo! The last was altogether an affair of secret drawers, and rich laces; valuable in itself, and profitable in the exchange: but the colony is sadly in want of certain articles that can only be landed at leisure."

"I come on other matters. There have been transactions between us, Alderman Van Beverout, that you little understand."

"You speak of a small mistake in the last invoice?-'Tis all explained, Master Skimmer, on a second examination; and thy accuracy is as well established as that of the bank of England."

"Established or not, let him who doubts cease to deal.-I have no other motto than 'confidence,' nor any other rule but 'justice.'"

"You overrun my meaning, friend of mine. I intimate no suspicions; but accuracy is the soul of commerce, as profit is its object. Clear accounts, with reasonable balances, are the surest cements of business intimacies. A little frankness operates, in a secret trade, like equity in the courts; which reestablishes the justice that the law has destroyed.-What is thy purpose?"

"It is now many years, Alderman Van Beverout, since this secret trade was commenced between you and my predecessor,-he, whom you have thought my father, but who only claimed that revered appellation by protecting the helplessness and infancy of the orphan child of a friend."

"The latter circumstance is new to me;" returned the burgher, slowly bowing his head. "It may explain certain levities which have not been without their embarrassment. 'Tis five-and-twenty years, come August, Master Skimmer, and twelve of them have been under thy auspices. I will not say that the adventures might not have been better managed; as it is, they are tolerable. I am getting old, and think of closing the risks and hazards of life-two or three, or, at the most, four or five, lucky voyages, must, I think, bring a final settlement between us."

"'Twill be made sooner. I believe the history of my predecessor was no secret to you. The manner in which he was driven from the marine of the Stuarts, on account of his opposition to tyranny; his refuge with an only daughter, in the colonies; and his final recourse to the free-trade for a livelihood, have often been alluded to between us."

"Hum-I have a good memory for business, Master Skimmer, but I am as forgetful as a new-made lord of his pedigree, on all matters that should be overlooked. I dare say, however, it was as you have stated."

"You know, that when my protector and predecessor abandoned the land, he took his all with him upon the water."

"He took a wholesome and good-going schooner, Master Skimmer, with an assorted freight of chosen tobacco, well ballasted with stones from off the seashore. He was no foolish admirer of sea-green women, and flaunting brigantines. Often did the royal cruisers mistake the worthy dealer for an industrious fisherman!"

"He had his humors, and I have mine. But you forget a part of the freight he carried;-a part that was not the least valuable."

"There might have been a bale of marten's furs-for the trade was just getting brisk in that article."

"There was a beautiful, an innocent, and an affectionate girl---"

The Alderman made an involuntary movement which nearly hid his countenance from his companion.

"There was, indeed, a beautiful, and, as you say, a most warm-hearted girl, in the concern!" he uttered, in a voice that was subdued and hoarse. "She died, as I have heard from thyself, Master Skimmer, in the Italian seas. I never saw the father, after the last visit of his child to this coast."

"She did die, among the islands of the Mediterranean. But the void she left in the hearts of all who knew her, was filled, in time, by her-daughter."

The Alderman started from his chair, and, looking the free-trader intently and anxiously in the face, he slowly repeated the word-

"Daughter!"

"I have said it.-Eudora is the daughter of that injured woman-need I say, who is the father?"

The burgher groaned, and, covering his face with his hands, he sunk back into his chair, shivering convulsively.

"What evidence have I of this?" he at length muttered-"Eudora is thy sister!"

The answer of the free-trader was accompanied by a melancholy smile.

"You have been deceived. Save the brigantine my being is attached to nothing. When my own brave father fell by the side of him who protected my youth, none of my blood were left. I loved him as a father, and he called me son, while Eudora was passed upon you as the child of a second marriage But here is sufficient evidence of her birth."

The Alderman took a paper, which his companion put gravely into his hand, and his eyes ran eagerly over its contents. It was a letter to himself from the mother of Eudora, written after the birth of the latter, and with the endearing affection of a woman. The love between the young merchant and the fair daughter of his secret correspondent had been less criminal on his part than most similar connexions. Nothing but the peculiarity of their situation, and the real embarrassment of introducing to the world one whose existence was unknown to his friends, and their mutual awe of the unfortunate but still proud parent, had prevented a legal marriage. The simple forms of the colony were easily satisfied, and there was even some reason to raise a question whether they had not been sufficiently consulted to render the offspring legitimate. As Myndert Van Beverout, therefore, read the epistle of her whom he had once so truly loved, and whose loss had, in more senses than one, been to him an irreparable misfortune, since his character might have yielded to her gentle and healthful influence, his limbs trembled, and his whole frame betrayed the violence of extreme agitation. The language of the dying woman was kind and free from reproach, but it was solemn and admonitory. She communicated the birth of their child; but she left it to the disposition of her own father, while she apprized the author of its being of its existence; and, in the event of its ever being consigned to his care, she earnestly recommended it to his love. The close was a leave-taking, in which the lingering affections of this life were placed in mournful contrast to the hopes of the future.

"Why has this so long been hidden from me?" demanded the agitated merchant-"Why, oh reckless and fearless man! have I been permitted to expose the frailties of nature to my own child?"

The smile of the free-trader was bitter, and proud.

"Mr. Van Beverout, we are no dealers of the short voyage. Our trade is the concern of life;-our world, the Water-Witch. As we have so little of the interests of the land, our philosophy is above its weaknesses. The birth of Eudora was concealed from you, at the will of her grandfather. It might have been resentment;-it might have been pride.-Had it been affection, the girl has that to justify the fraud."

"And Eudora, herself?-Does she-or has she long known the truth?"

"But lately. Since the death of our common friend, the girl has been solely dependent on me for counsel and protection. It is now a year since she first learned she was not my sister. Until then, like you, she supposed us equally derived from one who was the parent of neither. Necessity has compelled me, of late, to keep her much in the brigantine."

"The retribution is righteous!" groaned the Alderman, "I am punished for my pusillanimity, in the degradation of my own child!"

The step of the free-trader, as he advanced nearer to his companion, was full of dignity; and his keen eye glowed with the resentment of an offended man.

"Alderman Van Beverout," he said, with stern rebuke in his voice, "you receive your daughter, stainless as was her unfortunate mother, when necessity compelled him whose being was wrapped up in hers, to trust her beneath your roof. We of the contraband have our own opinions, of right and wrong, and my gratitude, no less than my principles, teaches me that the descendant of my benefactor is to be protected, not injured. Had I, in truth, been the brother of Eudora, language and conduct more innocent could not have been shown her, than that she has both heard and witnessed while guarded by my care."

"From my soul, I thank thee!" burst from the lips the Alderman. "The girl shall be acknowledged; and with such a dowry as I can give, she may yet hope for a suitable and honorable marriage."

"Thou may'st bestow her on thy favorite Patroon;" returned the Skimmer, with a calm but sad eye. "She is more than worthy of all he can return. The man is willing to take her, for he is not ignorant of her sex and history. That much I thought due to Eudora herself, when fortune placed the young man in my power."

"Thou art only too honest for this wicked world, Master Skimmer! Let me see the loving pair, and bestow my blessing, on the instant!"

The free-trader turned slowly away, and, opening a door, he motioned for those within to enter. Alida instantly appeared, leading the counterfeit Seadrift, clad in the proper attire of her sex. Although the burgher had often seen the supposed sister of the Skimmer in her female habiliments, she never before had struck him as a being of so rare beauty as at that moment. The silken whiskers had been removed, and in their places were burning cheeks, that were rather enriched than discolored by the warm touches of the sun. The dark glossy ringlets, that were no longer artfully converted to the purposes of the masquerade, fell naturally in curls about the temples and brows, shading a countenance which in general was playfully arch, though at that moment it was shadowed by reflection and feeling. It is seldom that two such beings are seen together, as those who now knelt at the feet of the merchant. In the breast of the latter, the accustomed and lasting love of the uncle and protector appeared, for an instant, to struggle with the new-born affection of a parent. Nature was too strong for even his blunted and perverted sentiments; and, calling his child aloud by name, the selfish and calculating Alderman sunk upon the neck of Eudora, and wept. It would have been difficult to trace the emotions of the stern but observant free-trader, as he watched the progress of this scene. Distrust, uneasiness, and finally melancholy, were in his eye. With the latter expression predominant, he quitted the room, like one who felt a stranger had no right to witness emotions so sacred.

Two hours later, and the principal personages of the narrative were assembled on the margin of the Cove, beneath the shade of an oak that seemed coeval with the continent. The brigantine was aweigh; and, under a light show of canvas, she was making easy stretches in the little basin, resembling, by the ease and grace of her movements, some beautiful swan sailing up and down in the enjoyment of its instinct. A boat had just touched the shore, and the 'Skimmer of the Seas' stood near, stretching out a hand to aid the boy Zephyr to land.

"We subjects of the elements are slaves to superstition;" he said, when the light foot of the child touched the ground. "It is the consequence of lives which ceaselessly present dangers superior to our powers. For many years have I believed that some great good, or some greater evil, would accompany the first visit of this boy to the land. For the first time, his foot now stands on solid

earth. I await the fulfilment of the augury!"

"It will be happy;" returned Ludlow-"Alida and Eudora will instruct him in the opinions of this simple and fortunate country, and he seemeth one likely to do early credit to his schooling."

"I fear the boy will regret the lessons of the sea-green lady!--Captain Ludlow, there is yet a duty to perform, which, as a man of more feeling than you may be disposed to acknowledge, I cannot neglect. I have understood that you are accepted by la belle Barbérie?"

"Such is my happiness."

"Sir, in dispensing with explanation of the past you have shown a noble confidence, that merits a return. When I came upon this coast, it was with a determination of establishing the claims of Eudora to the protection and fortune of her father. If i distrusted the influence and hostility of one so placed, and so gifted to persuade, as this lady, you will remember it was before acquaintance had enabled me to estimate more than her beauty. She was seized in her pavilion by my agency, and transported as a captive to the brigantine."

"I had believed her acquainted with the history of her cousin, and willing to aid in some fantasy which was to lead to the present happy restoration of the latter to her natural friends."

"You did her disinterestedness no more than justice. As some atonement for the personal wrong, and as the speediest and surest means of appeasing her alarm, I made my captive acquainted with the facts. Eudora then heard, also for the first time, the history of her origin. The evidence was irresistible, and we found a generous and devoted friend where we had expected a rival."

"I knew that Alida could not prove less generous!" cried the admiring Ludlow, raising the hand of the blushing girl to his lips. "The loss of fortune is a gain, by showing her true character!"

"Hist-hist-" interrupted the Alderman-"there is little need to proclaim a loss of any kind. What must be done in the way of natural justice, will doubtless be submitted to; but why let all in the colony know how much, or how little, is given with a bride?"

"The loss of fortune will be amply met;" returned the free-trader. "These bags contain gold. The dowry of my charge is ready at a moment's warning, whenever she shall make known her choice."

"Success and prudence!" exclaimed the burgher. "There is no less than a most commendable forethought in thy provision, Master Skimmer; and whatever may be the opinion of the Exchequer Judges of thy punctuality and credit, it is mine that there are less responsible men about the bank of England itself!--This money is, no doubt, that which the girl can lawfully claim in right of her late grand father!"

"It is."

"I take this to be a favorable moment to speak plainly on a subject which is very near my heart, and which may as well be broached under such favorable auspices as under any other. I understand, Mr. Van Staats, that, on a further examination of your sentiments towards an old friend, you are of opinion that a closer alliance than the one we had contemplated will most conduce to your happiness?"

"I will acknowledge that the coldness of la belle Barbérie has damped my own warmth;" returned the Patroon of Kinderhook, who rarely delivered himself of more, at a time, than the occasion required.

"And, furthermore, I have been told, Sir, that an intimacy of a fortnight has given you reason to fix your affections on my daughter, whose beauty is hereditary, and whose fortune is not likely to be diminished by this act of justice on the part of that upright and gallant mariner."

"To be received into the favor of your family, Mr. Van Beverout, would leave me little to desire in this life."

"And as for the other world, I never heard of a Patroon of Kinderhook who did not leave us with comfortable hopes for the future; as in reason they should, since few families in the colony have done more for the support of religion than they. They gave largely to the Dutch churches in Manhattan; have actually built, with their own means, three very pretty brick edifices on the Manor, each having its Flemish steeple and suitable weather-cocks besides having done something handsome towards the venerable structure in Albany. Eudora, my child, this gentleman is a particular friend, and as such I can presume to recommend him to thy favor. You are not absolutely strangers; but, in order that you may have every occasion to decide impartially, you will remain here together for a month longer, which will enable you to choose without distraction and confusion. More than this, for the present, it is unnecessary to say; for it is my practice to leave all matters of this magnitude entirely to Providence."

The daughter, on whose speaking face the color went and came like lights changing in an Italian sky, continued silent.

"You have happily put aside the curtain which concealed a mystery that no longer gave me uneasiness;" interrupted Ludlow, addressing the free-trader. "Can you do more, and say whence came this letter?"

The dark eye of Eudora instantly lighted. She looked at the 'Skimmer of the Seas,' and laughed.

"'Twas another of those womanly artifices which have been practised in my brigantine. It was thought that a young commander of a royal cruiser would be less apt to watch our movements, were his mind bent on the discovery of such a correspondent."

"And the trick has been practised before?"

"I confess it.-But I can linger no longer. In a few minutes, the tide will turn, and the inlet become impassable. Eudora, we must decide on the fortunes of this child. Shall he to the ocean again?-or shall he remain, to vary his life with a landsman's chances?"

"Who and what is the boy?" gravely demanded the Alderman.

"One dear to both," rejoined the free-trader "His father was my nearest friend, and his mother long watched the youth of Eudora. Until this moment, he has, been our mutual care,-he must now choose between us."

"He will not quit me!" hastily interrupted the alarmed Eudora-"Thou art my adopted son, and none can guide thy young mind like me. Thou hast need of woman's tenderness, Zephyr, and wilt not quit me?"

"Let the child be the arbiter of his own fate. I am credulous on the point of fortune, which is, at least, a happy belief for the contraband."

"Then let him speak. Wilt remain here, amid these smiling fields, to ramble among yonder gay and sweetly-scented flowers?-or wilt thou back to the water, where all is vacant and without change?"

The boy looked wistfully into her anxious eye, and then he bent his own hesitating glance on the calm features of the free-trader.

"We can put to sea," he said; "and when we make the homeward passage again, there will be many curious things for thee, Eudora!"

"But this may be the last opportunity to know the land of thy ancestors. Remember how terrible is the ocean in its anger, and how often the brigantine has been in danger of shipwreck!"

"Nay, that is womanish!--I have been on the royal-yard in the squalls, and it never seemed to me that there was danger."

"Thou hast the unconsciousness and reliance of a ship-boy! But those who are older, know that the life of a sailor is one of constant and imminent hazard.-Thou hast been among the islands in the hurricane, and hast seen the power of the elements!"

"I was in the hurricane, and so was the brigantine; and there you see how taut and neat she is aloft, as if nothing had happened!"

"And you saw us yesterday floating on the open sea, while a few ill-fastened spars kept us from going into its depths!"

"The spars floated, and you were not drowned; else, I should have wept bitterly, Eudora."

"But thou wilt go deeper into the country, and see more of its beauties-its rivers, and its mountains-its caverns, and its woods. Here all is change, while the water is ever the same."

"Surely, Eudora, you forget strangely!--Here it is all America. This mountain is America; yonder land across the bay is America, and the anchorage of yesterday was America. When we shall run off the coast, the next land-fall will be England, or Holland, or Africa; and with a good wind, we may run down the shores of two or three countries in a day."

"And on them, too, thoughtless boy! If you lose this occasion, thy life will be wedded to hazard!"

"Farewell, Eudora!" said the urchin, raising his mouth to give and receive the parting kiss.

"Eudora, adieu!" added a deep and melancholy voice, at her elbow. "I can delay no longer, for my people show symptoms of impatience. Should this be the last of my voyages to the coast, thou wilt not forget those with whom thou hast so long shared good and evil!"

"Not yet-not yet-you will not quit us yet! Leave me the boy-leave me some other memorial of the past, besides this pain!"

"My hour has come. The wind is freshening, and I trifle with its favor. 'Twill be better for thy happiness that none know the history of the brigantine; and a few hours will draw a hundred curious eyes, from the town, upon us."

"What care I for their opinions?-thou wilt not-cannot-leave me, yet!"

"Gladly would I stay, Eudora, but a seaman's home is his ship. Too much precious time is already wasted. Once more, adieu!"

The dark eye of the girl glanced wildly about her. It seemed, as if in that one quick and hurried look, it drank in all that belonged to the land and its enjoyments.

"Whither go you?" she asked, scarce suffering her voice to rise above a whisper. "Whither do you sail, and when do you return?"

"I follow fortune. My return may be distant-never!--Adieu then, Eudora-be happy with the friends that Providence hath given thee!"

The wandering eyes of the girl of the sea became still more unsettled. She grasped the offered hand of the free-trader in both her own, and wrung it in an impassioned and unconscious manner. Then releasing her hold, she opened wide her arms, and cast them convulsively about his unmoved and unyielding form.

"We will go together!--I am thine, and thine only!"

"Thou knowest not what thou sayest, Eudora!" gasped the Skimmer-"Thou hast a father-friend-husband-"

"Away, away!" cried the frantic girl, waving her hand wildly towards Alida and the Patroon, who advanced as if hurrying to rescue her from a precipice-"Thine, and thine only!"

The smuggler released himself from her frenzied grasp, and, with the strength of a giant, he held the struggling girl at the length of his arm, while he endeavored to control the tempest of passion that struggled within him.

"Think, for one moment, think!" he said. "Thou wouldst follow an outcast-an outlaw-one hunted and condemned of men!"

"Thine, and thine only!"

"With a ship for a dwelling-the tempestuous ocean for a world!--"

"Thy world is my world!--thy home, my home!--thy danger, mine!"

The shout which burst out of the chest of the 'Skimmer of the Seas' was one of uncontrollable exultation.

"Thou art mine!" he cried. "Before a tie like this, the claim of such a father is forgotten! Burgher, adieu!--I will deal by thy daughter more honestly than thou didst deal by my benefactor's child!"

Eudora was lifted from the ground as if her weight had been that of a feather; and, spite of a sudden and impetuous movement of Ludlow and the Patroon, she was borne to the boat. In a moment, the bark was afloat, with the gallant boy tossing his sea-cap upward in triumph. The brigantine, as if conscious of what had passed, wore round like a whirling chariot; and, ere the spectators had recovered from their confusion and wonder, the boat was hanging at the tackles. The free-trader was seen on the poop, with an arm cast about the form of Eudora, waving a hand to the motionless group on the shore, while the still half-unconscious girl of the ocean signed her faint adieus to Alida and her father. The vessel glided through the inlet, and was immediately rocking on the billows of the surf. Then, taking the full weight of the southern breeze, the fine and attenuated spars bent to its force, and the progress of the swift-moving craft was apparent by the bubbling line of its wake.

The day had begun to decline, before Alida and Ludlow quitted the lawn of the Lust in Rust. For the first hour, the dark hull of the brigantine was seen supporting the moving cloud of canvas. Then the low structure vanished, and sail after sail settled into the water, until nothing was visible but a speck of glittering white. It lingered for a minute, and was swallowed in the void.

The nuptials of Ludlow and Alida were touched with a shade of melancholy. Natural affection in one, and professional sympathy in the other, had given them a deep and lasting interest in the fate of the adventurers.

Years passed away, and months were spent at the villa, in which a thousand anxious looks were cast upon the ocean. Each morning, during the early months of summer, did Alida hasten to the windows of her pavilion, in the hope of seeing the vessel of the contraband anchored in the Cove:-but always without success. It never returned;-and though the rebuked and disappointed Alderman caused many secret inquiries to be made along the whole extent of the American coast, he never again heard of the renowned 'Skimmer of the Seas' or of his matchless Water-Witch.

The End

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