“ — I’ll give thee a wind.
“ — Thou art kind.
“ — And I another.
“ — I myself have all the other.”
The cloud above the mouth of the Rariton had not risen. On the contrary, the breeze still came from off the sea, and the brigantine in the Cove, with the cruiser of the queen, still lay at their anchors, like two floating habitations that were not intended to be removed. The hour was that at which the character of the day becomes fixed, and there was no longer any expectation that a land wind would enable the vessel of the free trader to re-pass the inlet, before the turn of the tide, which was again running swiftly on the flood.
The windows of the Lust in Rust were open, as when its owner was present, and the menials were employed, in and about the villa, in their customary occupations; though it was evident, by the manner in which they stopped to converse, and by the frequent conferences, which had place in secret corners, that they wondered none the less at the unaccountable disappearance of their young mistress. In all other respects, the villa and its grounds were, as usual, quiet and seemingly deserted.
But there was a groupe collected beneath the shade of an oak on the margin of the cove, and at a point where it was rare for man to be seen. This little party appeared to be in waiting for some expected communication from the brigantine, since they had taken post on the side of the inlet, next the cape, and in a situation so retired, as to be entirely hid from any passing observation of those who might enter, or leave the mouth of the Shrewsbury. In short, they were on the long, low and narrow barrier of sand, that now forms the projection of the Hook, and which, by the temporary breach that the Cove had made between its own waters and that of the ocean was then an island.
“Snug should be the motto of a merchant,” observed one of these individuals, whose opinions will sufficiently announce his name to the reader. “He should be snug in his dealings, and snug in his manner of conducting them; snug in his credits, and above all snug in his speculations. There is as little need, gentlemen, in calling in the aid of a posse comitatus, for a sensible man to keep his household in order, as that a discreet trader should go whistling through the public markets, with the history of his operations. I gladly court two so worthy assistants, as Capt. Cornelius Ludlow and Mr. Oloff Van Staats, for I know there will be no useless gossip concerning the trifling derangement that hath occurred. Ah! the black hath had communications with the free trader — always supposing the opinion of Mr. Ludlow concerning the character of the vessel to be just — and he is quitting the brigantine.”
Neither of the companions of the Alderman made any reply. Each watched the movement of the skiff that contained their messenger, and each seemed to feel an equal interest in the result of his errand. Instead, however, of approaching the spot where his master and his two friends expected him, the negro, though he knew that his boat was necessary to enable the party to re-cross the inlet, pulled directly for the mouth of the river, a course that was exactly contrary to the one he was expected to take.
“Rauk discobedience!” grumbled the incensed master. “The irreverent dog is deserting us, on this neck of barren sand, where we are cut off from all communication with the interior, and are as completely without intelligence of the state of the market, and other necessaries, as men in a desert!”
“Here comes one that seems disposed to bring us to a parley,” observed Ludlow, whose practised eye had first detected a boat quitting the side of the brigantine, as well as the direction it was about to steer.
The young commander was not deceived, for a light cutter, that played like a bubble on its element, was soon approaching the shore, where the three expectants were seated. When it was near enough to render sight perfectly distinct, and speech audible without an effort, the crew ceased rowing, and permitted the boat to lie in a state of rest. The mariner of the India-shawl then arose in the stern-sheets, and examined the thicket behind the party, with a curious and suspicious eye. After a sufficient search, he signed to his crew to force the cutter still nigher to the land, and spoke.
“Who has affairs with any of the brigantine?” he coolly demanded, wearing the air of one who had no reason to anticipate the object of their visit. “She has little left that can turn to profit, unless she parts with her beauty.”
“Truly, good stranger,” returned the Alderman, laying a sufficient emphasis on the latter word, “here are none disposed to a traffic, which might not be pleasing to the authorities of the country, were its nature known. We come with a desire to be admitted to a conference with the commander of the vessel, on a matter of especial, but private concern.”
“Why send a public officer on the duty? I see one, there, in the livery of Queen Anne. We are no lovers of her Majesty’s servants, and would not willingly form disagreeable acquaintances.”
Ludlow nearly bit through his lip, in endeavouring to repress his anger, at the cool confidence of one who had already treated him with so little ceremony, and then momentarily forgetting his object, in professional pride, and perhaps we might add in the habits of his rank, he interrupted the dialogue —
“If you see the livery of the Royal Authority,” he said haughtily, “you must be sensible it is worn by one who is commissioned to cause its rights to be respected. I demand the name and character of yon brigantine?”
“As for character, she is, like any other beauty, something vituperated; nay, some carry their envy so far, as to call it cracked! But, we are jolly mariners that sail her, and little heed crazy reports at the expense of our mistress. As for a name, we answer any hail that is fairly spoken and well meant. Call us ‘Honesty’ if you will, for want of the register.”
“There is much reason to suspect your vessel of illegal practices, and, in the name of the Queen, I demand access to her papers, and the liberty of a free search into her cargo and crew. Else will there be necessity to bring her under the guns of the cruiser, which lies at no great distance, waiting only for orders.”
“It takes no scholar to read our documents, Capt. Ludlow, for they are written by a light keel on the rolling waters, and he who follows in our wake, may guess at their authority. If you wish to overhaul our cargo, you must look sharply into the cuffs and aprons, the negligées and stomachers of the Governor’s lady, at the next ball at the fort; or pry into the sail that is set above the farthingales of the wife and daughters of your Admiralty Judge! We are no cheesemongers, to break the shins of a boarding officer, among boxes and butter-tubs.”
“Your brigantine has a name, sirrah, and in her Majestys Authority I demand to know it.”
“Heaven forbid that any here should dispute the Queen’s right! You are a seaman, Capt. Ludlow, and have an eye for comeliness in a craft, as well as in a woman. Look at those harpings! There is no fall of a shoulder can equal that curve, in grace or richness; this sheer surpasses the justness and delicacy of any waist, and there you see the transoms, swelling and rounded like the outlines of a Venus. Ah! she is a bewitching creature, and no wonder that, floating as she does, on the seas, they should have called her — “
“Water-Witch!” said Ludlow, finding that the other paused.
“You deserve to be one of the sisterhood your+self, Capt. Ludlow, for this readiness in divination!”
“Amazement and Surprise, Patroon!” exclaimed Myndert, with a tremendous hem. “Here is a discovery to give a respectable merchant more uneasiness than the undutiful conduct of fifty nieces! This vessel is then the famous brigantine of the notorious Skimmer of the Seas, a man whose misdeeds in commerce are as universally noted, as the stoppage of a general dealer! Pray, Master Mariner, do not distrust our purposes. We do not come, sent by any authority of the country, to pry into your past transactions, of which it is quite unnecessary for you to speak, and far less to indulge in any unlawful thirst of gain, by urging a traffic that is forbidden by the law. We wish solely to confer with the celebrated free trader and rover, who must if your account be true, command the vessel, for a few minutes, on an affair of common interest to the three. This officer of the Queen is obliged, by his duty, to make certain demands of you, with which you will comply, or not, at your own good discretion; and since her Majesty’s cruiser is so far beyond reach of bullet, it cannot be expected you will do otherwise; but further than that, he has no present intention to proceed. Parlies and civilities! Capt. Ludlow, we must speak the man fair, or he will leave us to get over the inlet, and back to the Lust in Rust as we may; and that, too, as empty handed as we came. Remember our stipulations, without observing which I shall withdraw from the adventure, altogether.”
Ludlow bit his lip and continued silent. The seaman of the shawl, or Master Tiller, as he has been more than once called, again narrowly examined the back-ground, and caused his boat to approach so near the land, that it was possible to step into it, by the stern.
“Enter,” he said to the Captain of the Coquette, who needed no second invitation; “enter, for a valuable hostage is a safe pledge, in a truce. The Skimmer, is no enemy to good company, and I have done justice to the queen’s servitor, by introducing him already, by name and character.”
“Fellow, the success of your deception may cause you to triumph, for a time, but remember that the Coquette — “
“Is a wholesome boat, whose abilities I have taken, to the admeasurement of her moment glass;” observed Tiller, very coolly taking the words out of the other’s mouth. “But as there is business to be done with the Skimmer, we will speak more of this anon.”
The mariner of the shawl, who had maintained his former audacious demeanour, now became grave, and he spoke to his crew with authority, bidding them pull the boat to the side of the brigantine.
The exploits, the mysterious character, and the daring of the Water Witch, and of him who sailed her, were in that day, the frequent subjects of anger, admiration and surprise. Those who found pleasure in the marvellous, listened to the wonders that were recounted of her speed and boldness, with pleasure; they who had been so often foiled in their attempts to arrest the hardy dealers in contraband, reddened at her name; and all wondered at the success and intelligence with which her movements were controlled. It will, therefore, create no astonishment when we say, that Ludlow and the Patroon drew near to the light and graceful fabric, with an interest that deepened at each stroke of the oars. So much of a profession which, in that age, was particularly marked and apart, from the rest of mankind, in habits and opinions, had been interwoven into the character of the former, that he could not see the just proportions, the graceful outlines of the hull, or the exquisite symmetry and neatness of the spars and rigging, without experiencing a feeling some+what allied to that, which undeniable superiority excites in the heart of even a rival. There was also a taste in the style of the merely ornamental parts of the delicate machine, which caused as much surprise as her model and rig.
Seamen in all ages, and in every state of their art, have been ambitious of bestowing on their floating habitations, a style of decoration which, while appropriate to their element, should be thought somewhat analogous, to the architectural ornaments of the land. Piety, superstition and national usages affect these characteristic ornaments, which are still seen, in different quarters of the world, to occasion broad distinctions between the appearances of vessels. In one, the rudder-head is carved with the resemblance of some hideous monster; another shows goggling eyes and lolling tongues from its cat-heads; this, has the patron saint, or the ever kind Marie embossed upon its mouldings, or bows, while that is covered with the allegorical emblems of country and duty. Few of these efforts of nautical art are succesful, though a better taste appears to be gradually redeeming even this branch of human industry from the rubbish of barbarism, and to be elevating it to a state which shall do no violence to the more fastidious opinions of the age. But the vessel of which we write, though constructed at so remote a period, would have done credit to the improvements of our own time.
It has been said that the hull of this celebrated smuggler was low, dark, moulded with exquisite art, and so justly balanced as to ride upon its element like a sea-fowl. For a little distance above the water, it showed a blue that vied with the colour of the deep ocean, the use of copper being then unknown, while the more superior parts were of a jet black, delicately relieved by two lines, of a straw-colour, that were drawn, with mathematical accuracy, parallel to the plane of her upper works, and consequently converging slightly towards the sea, beneath her counter. Glossy hammock-cloths concealed the persons of those who were on the deck, while the close bulwarks gave the brigantine the air of a vessel equipped for war. Still the eye of Ludlow ran curiously along the whole extent of the two straw- coloured lines, seeking in vain some evidence of the weight and force of her armament. If she had ports, at all, they were so ingeniously concealed, as to escape the keenest of his glances. The nature of the rig has been already described. Partaking of the double character of brig and schooner, the sails and spars of the forward mast being of the former, while those of the after- mast were of the latter construction, seamen have given to this class of shipping, the familiar name of Hermaphrodites. But, though there might be fancied, by this term, some want of the proportions that constitute seemliness, it will be remembered that the departure was only from some former rule of art, and that no violence had been done to those universal and permanent laws, which constitute the charm of nature. The models of glass, which are seen representing the machinery of a ship, are not more exact, or just in their lines, than were the cordage and spars of this brigantine. Not a rope varied from its true direction, not a sail, but it resembled the neat folds of some prudent housewife, not a mast or a yard, was there, but it rose into the air, or stretched its arms, with the most fastidious attention to symmetry. All was airy, fanciful and full of grace, seeming to lend to the fabric a character of unreal lightness and speed. As the boat drew near her side, a change of the air caused the buoyant bark to turn, like a vane, in its current, and as the long and pointed proportions of her head-gear came into view, Ludlow saw beneath the bowsprit, an image that might be supposed to make, by means of allegory, some obvious allusions to the character of the vessel. A female form, fashioned with the carver’s best skill, stood on the projection of the cut-water. The figure rested lightly on the ball of one foot, while the other was suspended in an easy attitude, resembling the airy posture of the famous Mercury of the Bolognese. The drapery was fluttering, scanty, and of a light sea-green tint, as if it had imbibed a hue from the element beneath. The face was of that dark bronzed colour which human ingenuity has, from time immemorial, adopted as the best medium to pourtray a super+human expression. The locks were dishevelled, wild, and rich, the eye full of such a meaning as might be fancied to glitter in the organs of a sorceress, while a smile so strangely meaning and malign played about the mouth, that the young sailor started, when it first met his view, as if a living thing had returned his look.
“Witchcraft and Necromancy!” grumbled the Alderman, as this extraordinary image came suddenly on his vision also. “Here is a brazen looking hussey! and one who might rob the Queen’s treasury, itself, without remorse! Your eyes are young, Patroon; what is it that the minx holds, so impudently, above her head?”
“It seems an open book, with letters of red, written on its pages. One need not be a conjuror, to divine it is no extract from the bible.”
“Nor from the statute books of Queen Anne. I warrant me, tis a ledger of profit gained in her many wanderings. Goggling and Leers! the bold air of the confident creature is enough to put an honest man out of countenance!”
“Wilt read the motto of the witch?” demanded he of the India-shawl, whose eye had been studying the detail of the brigantine’s equipment, rather than attending to the object which so much attracted the looks of his companions. “The night air has taut’ned the cordage of that flying-jib-boom, fellows, until it begins to lift its nose like a squeamish cockney, when he holds it over salt-water! See to it, and bring the spar in line; else shall we have a reproof from the sorceress, who little likes to have any of her limbs deranged. Here, gentlemen, the opinions of the lady may be read, as clearly as woman’s mind, can ever be fathomed.”
While speaking to his crew, Tiller had changed the direction of the boat, and it was soon lying, in obedience to a motion of his hand, directly beneath the wild and significant-looking image, just described. The letters in red were now distinctly visible, and when Alderman Van Beverout had adjusted his spectacles, each of the party read the following sentence.
“Albeit, I neither lend nor borrow,
By taking, n giving of excess,
Yet to supply the ripe wants of my friend,
I’ll break a custom.”
Merchant of Venice.
“The brazen!” exclaimed Myndert, when he had got through this quotation from the immortal bard. “Ripe, or green, one could not wish to be the friend of so impudent a thing, and then to impute such sentiments to any respectable commercial man, whether of Venice, or of Amsterdam! Let us board the brigantine, friend mariner, and end the connexion, ere foul mouths begin to traduce our motives for the visit.”
“The over-driven ship ploughs the seas too deep, for speed; we shall get into port, in better season, without this haste. Wilt take another look into the dark lady’s pages? A woman’s mind is never known, at the first answer!”
The speaker raised the rattan he still carried, and caused a page of painted metal to turn on hinges, that were so artfully concealed as not to be visible. A new surface, with another extract, was seen.
“What is it, what is it, Patroon?” demanded the burgher, who appeared greatly to distrust the discretion of the sorceress! Follies and Rhymes! but this is the way of the whole sex; when nature has denied them tongues, they invent other means of speech.”
“Porters of the sea and land,
Thus do go, about, about;
Thrice to thine, and thrice to thine,
And thrice again to make up nine.”
“Rank nonsense!” continued the burgher! “It is well for those who can, to add thrice and thrice to their stores, but look you, Patroon, it is a thriviug trade that can double the value of the adventure, and that with reasonable risks, and months of patient watching.”
“We have other pages,” resumed Tiller, “but our affairs drag, for want of attending to them. One may read much good matter in the book of the sorceress, when there is leisure and opportunity. I often take occasion, in the calms, to look into her volume, and it is rare to find the same moral twice told, as these brave seamen can swear.”
The mariners at the oars confirmed this assertion, by their grave and believing faces, while their superior caused the boat to quit the place, and the image of the Water Witch was left floating, in solitude, above her proper element.
The arrival of the cutter produced no sensation, among those who were found on the deck of the brigantine. The mariner of the shawl welcomed his companions, frankly and heartily, and then he left them, for a minute, to make their observations, while he discharged some duty in the interior of the vessel. The moments were not lost, as powerful curiosity induced all of the visiters to gaze about them, in the manner in which men study the appearance of any celebrated object, that has long been known only by reputation. It was quite apparent that even Alderman Van Beverout had penetrated farther into the mysteries of the beautful brigantine, than he had ever before been. But it was Ludlow who gathered most from this brief opportunity, and whose understanding glances so rapidly and eagerly ran over all that a seaman could wish to examine.
An admirable neatness reigned in every part. The planks of the deck resembled the work of the cabinet maker, rather than the coarser labour which is generally seen in such a place, and the same excellence of material, and exactness in the finish, were visible in the ceilings of the light bulwarks, the railings, and all the other objects which necessarily came conspicuously into view, in the construclion of such a fabric. Brass was tastefully, rather than lavishly used, on many of those parts were metal was necessary, and the paint of the interior was every where a light and delicate straw-colour. Armament there was none, or at least none visible, nor did the fifteen or twenty grave-looking seamen, who were silently lounging, with folded arms, about the vessel, appear to be those who would find pleasure in scenes of violence. They were, without an exception, men who had reached the middle age, of weather-worn and thoughtful countenances, many of them even shewing heads, that had begun to be grizled more by time than even by exposure. Thus much, Ludlow had been enabled to ascertain ere they were rejoined by Tiller. When the latter again came on deck, he showed however no desire to conceal any of the perfection of his habitation.
“The wilful sorceress is no niggard in accommodating her followers,” said the mariner, observing the manner in which the Queen’s officer was employed. “Here you see, the Skimmer keeps room enough for an admiral, in his cabins, and the fellows are berth’d aft, far beyond the foremast, — wilt step to the hatch, and look below?”
The captain and his companions did as desired, and to the amazement of the former, he percieved that, with the exception of a sort of room fitted with large and water-tight lockers, which were placed in full view, all the rest of the brigantine, was occupied by the accommodations of her officers and crew.
“The world gives us the reputation of free+traders,” continued Tiller, smiling maliciously; “but if the Admiralty court was here, big wigs and high staffs, judge and jury, it would be at a loss to bring us to conviction. There is iron to keep the lady on her feet, and water, with some garnish of Jamaica, and the wines of old Spain and the islands, to cheer the hearts and cool the mouths of my fellows, beneath that deck, and more than that, there is not. We have stores for the table and the breeze, beyond yon bulk-head, and here are lockers beneath you, that are — empty! See, one is open; it is neat as any draw in a lady’s bureau. This is no place for your Dutchman’s strong waters, or the coarse skins of your tobacconist. Odd’s my life! He who would go on the scent of the Water-Witch’s lading, must follow your beauty in her satins, or your parson in his band and gown. There would be much lamentation in the church, and many a heavy hearted bishop were it known that the good craft had come to harm!”
“There must be an end to this audacious trifling with the law,” said Ludlow, “and the time may be nearer than you suppose.”
“I look at the pages of the lady’s book, in the pride of each morning, for we have it aboard here, that when she intends to serve us foul, she will at least be honest enough to give a warning. The mottos often change, but her words are ever true. Tis hard to overtake the driving mist, Capt. Ludlow, and he must hold good way with the wind, itself, who wishes to stay long in our company.”
“Many a boastful sailor has been caught. The breeze that is good for the light of draught, and the breeze that is good for the deep keel, are different. You may live to learn what a stout spar, a wide arm, and a steady hull can do.”
“The lady of the wild eye and wicked smile protect me! I have seen the witch buried fathoms deep in brine, and the glittering water falling from her tresses like golden stars, but never have I read an untruth in her pages. There is good intelligence between her and some on board, and trust me she knows the paths of the ocean too well, ever to steer a wrong course. But we prate like gossipping river-men. — Wilt see the Skimmer of the Seas?”
“Such is the object of our visit,” returned Ludlow, whose heart beat violently at the name of the redoubtable rover. “If you are not he, bring us where he is.”
“Speak lower; if the lady under the bow+sprit hear such treason against her favourite, I’ll not answer for her good will. If I am not he!” added the hero of the India-shawl, laughing freely. “Well an ocean is bigger than a sea, and a bay is not a gulph. You shall have an opportunity of judging between us, noble captain, and then I leave opinions to each man’s wisdom. Follow.”
He quitted the hatchway, and led his companions toward the accommodations, in the stern of the vessel.