Chapter XI. [XXII]

“What country, friends, is this?”

“ — Illyria, lady.”

What you will.

Men are as much indebted to a fortuitous concurrence of circumstances, for the characters they sustain in this world, as to their personal qualities. The same truth is applicable to the reputations of ships. The properties of a vessel, like those of an individual, may have their influence on her good, or evil fortune, still something is due to the accidents of life, in both. Although the breeze, which came so opportunely to the aid of the Water Witch, soon filled the sails of the Coquette, it caused no change in the opinions of her crew, concerning the fortunes of that ship, while it served to heighten the reputation which the Skimmer of the Seas had already obtained, as a mariner who was more than favoured, by happy chances, in the thousand emergencies of his hazardous profession. Trysail, himself, shook his head, in a manner that expressed volumes, when Ludlow vented his humour on what the young man termed the luck of the smuggler, and the crews of the boats gazed after the retiring brigantine, as the inhabitants of Japan would now most probably regard the passage of some vessel propelled by steam. As Mr. Luff was not neglectful of his duty, it was not long before the Coquette approached her boats. The delay occasioned by hoisting in the latter, enabled the chase to increase the space between the two vessels, to such a distance, as to place her altogether beyond the reach of shot. Ludlow, however, gave his orders to pursue, the moment the ship was ready, and he hastened to conceal his disappointment in his own cabin.

“Luck is a merchant’s surplus, while a living profit is the reward of his wits!” observed Alderman Van Beverout, who could scarce conceal the satisfaction he felt, at the unexpected and repeated escapes of the brigantine. “Many a man gains doubloons, when he only looked for dollars, and many a market falls, while the goods are in the course of clearance. There are Frenchmen enough, Capt. Ludlow, to keep a brave officer in good humour, and the less reason to fret about a trifling mischance, in overhauling a smuggler.”

“I know not how highly you may prize your niece, Mr. Van Beverout, but were I the uncle of such a woman, the idea that she had become the infatuated victim, of the arts of yon reckless villian, would madden me!”

“Paroxysms and Straight-Jackets! Happily you are not her uncle, Capt. Ludlow, and therefore the less reason to be uneasy. The girl has a French fancy, and she is rummaging the smuggler’s silks and laces; when her choise is made, we shall have her back again, more beautiful than ever, for a little finery.”

“Choice! Oh, Alida, Alida! This is not the election that we had reason to expect from thy cultivated mind, and proud sentiments!”

“The cultivation is my work, and the pride is an inheritance from old Etienne de Barberie;” drily rejoined Myndert. “But complaints never lowered a market, nor raised the funds. Let us send for the patroon, and take counsel coolly, as to the easiest manner of finding our way back to the Lust in Rust, before her Majesty’s ship gets too far from the coast of America.”

“Thy pleasantry is unseasonable, sir. Your patroon is gone with your niece, and a pleasant passage they are likely to enjoy, in such company! We lost him in the expedition, with our boats.”

The Alderman stood aghast.

“Lost! — Oloff Van Staats lost, in the expedition of the boats! Evil betide the day when that discreet and affluent youth should be lost to the colony! Sir, you know not what you utter, when you hazard so rash an opinion. The death of the young Patroon of Kinderhook would render one of the best and most substantial of our families extinct, and leave the third best estate in the Province, without a direct heir!”

“The calamity is not so overwhelming;” returned the Captain, with bitterness. “The gentleman has boarded the smuggler, and gone with la belle Barberie to examine his silks and laces!”

Ludlow then explained the manner in which the patroon had disappeared. When perfectly assured that no bodily harm had befallen his friend, the satisfaction of the Alderman was quite as vivid, as his consternation had been apparent, but the moment before.

“Gone with la belle Barberie, to examine silks and laces!” he repeated, rubbing his hands together, in delight. “Ay, there the blood of my old friend, Stephanus, begins to show itself! Your true Hollander is no mercurial French+man, to beat his head and make grimaces at a shift in the wind, or a woman’s frown; nor a blustering Englishman (you are of the colony yourself, young gentleman) to swear a big oath and swagger; but, as you see, a quiet, persevering, and, in the main, an active son of old Batavia, who watches his opportunity, and goes into the very presence of — “

“Whom?” — demanded Ludlow, perceiving that the Alderman had paused.

“Of his enemy; seeing that all the enemies of the Queen are necessarily the enemies of every loyal subject. Bravo, young Oloff! thou art a lad after my own heart, and no doubt — no doubt — fortune will favour the brave! Had a Hollander a proper footing on this earth, Capt. Cornelius Ludlow, we should hear a different tale concerning the right to the Narrow Seas, and indeed to most other questions of commerce.”

Ludlow arose, with a bitter smile on his face, though with no ill feeling towards the man whose exultation was so natural.

“Mr. Van Staats may have reason to congratulate himself on his good fortune,” he said, “though I much mistake if even his enterprise will succeed, against the wiles of one so artful, and of an appearance so gay, as the man whose guest he has now become. Let the caprice of others be what it may, Alderman Van Beverout, my duty must be done. The smuggler, aided by chance and artifice, has thrice escaped me; the fourth time it may be our fortune. If this ship possesses the power to destroy the lawless rover, let him look to his fate!”

With this menace on his lips, Ludlow quitted the cabin, and went to resume his station on deck, and to renew his unwearied watching of the movements of the chase.

The change in the wind was altogether in favor of the brigantine. It brought her to windward, and was the means of placing the two vessels in positions that enabled the Water Witch to profit the most, by her peculiar construction. Consequently, when Ludlow reached his post, he saw that the swift and light craft had trimmed every thing close upon the wind, and that she was already so far ahead, as to render the chances of bringing her again within range of his guns, almost desperate; unless indeed, some of the many vicissitudes, so common on the ocean, should interfere in his behalf. There remained little else to be done, therefore, but to crowd every sail on the Coquette, that the ship would bear, and to endeavour to keep within sight of the chase during the hours of darkness, which must so shortly succeed. But before the sun had fallen to the level of the water, the hull of the Water Witch had disappeared, and when the day closed, no part of her airy outline was visible, but that which was known to belong to her upper and lighter spars. In a few minutes afterwards, darkness covered the ocean, and the seamen of the royal cruiser were left to pursue their object, at random.

How far the Coquette had run during the night does not appear, but when her commander made his appearance, on the following morning, his long and anxious gaze met no other reward than a naked horizon. On every side, the sea presented the same waste of water. No object was visible, but the sea-fowl wheeling on his wide wing, and the summits of the irregular and green billows. Throughout that and many succeeding days, the cruiser continued to plough the ocean, sometimes running large, with every thing opened to the breeze that the wide booms would spread, and, at others, pitching and labouring with adverse winds, as if bent on prevailing over the obstacles which even nature presented to her progress. The head of the worthy Alderman had got completely turned, and though he patiently awaited the result, before the week was ended, he knew not even the direction on which the ship was steering. At length he had reason to believe that the end of their cruise approached. The efforts of the seamen were observed to relax, and the ship was permitted to pursue her course, under easier sail.

It was past meridian, on one of those days of moderate exertion, that François was seen stealing from below, and staggering from gun to gun, to a place in the centre of the ship, where he habitually took the air, in good weather, and where he might dispose of his person, equally without presuming too far on the good nature of his superiors, and without courting to much intimacy with the coarser herd, who composed the common crew.

“Ah!” exclaimed the valet, addressing his remark to the midshipman, who has already been mentioned by the name of Hopper — “Voilà la terre! Quel bonheur! I shall be so happy — le batiment be trop agréable, mais vous savez, Monsieur Aspirant, que je ne suis point marin — What be le nom du pays?”

“They call it, France,” returned the boy, who understood enough of the other’s language to comprehend his meaning; “and a very good country it is — for those that like it.”

“Ma foi, non!” — exclaimed François, recoiling a pace, between amazement and delight.

“Dites-moi, Monsieur Hoppair,” continued the valet, laying a trembling finger on the arm of the remorseless young rogue; “est-ce la France?”

“One would think a man of your observation could tell that for himself. Do you not see the church tower, with a château in the back ground, and a village built in a heap, by its side. Now look into yon wood! There is a walk, straight as a ship’s wake in smooth water, and one-two-three — ay, eleven statues, with just one nose, among them all!”

“Ma foi — dere is not, no wood, and no château, and no village, and no statue, and no no nose, — mais Monsieur, je suis agé — est-ce la France?”

“Oh you miss nothing by having an indifferent sight, for I shall explain it all, as we go along. You see yonder hill-side, looking like a pattern card, of green and yellow stripes, or a signal book, with the flags of all nations, placed side by side — well, that is — les champs; and this beautiful wood, with all the branches trimmed, till it looks like so many raw marines at drill, is — la forêt — “

The credulity of the warm-hearted valet could swallow no more, but assuming a look of commiseration and dignity, he drew back, and left the young tyro of the sea, to enjoy his joke, with a companion who just then joined him.

In the mean time, the Coquette continued to advance. The château, and churches, and villages of the midshipman, soon changed into a low sandy beach, with a back ground of stunted pines, relieved, here and there, by an opening, in which appeared the comfortable habitation and numerous outbuildings of some substantial yeoman, or occasionally embellished by the residence of a country proprietor. Towards noon, the crest of a hill rose from the sea, and, just as the sun set behind the barrier of mountain, the ship passed the sandy cape, and anchored at the spot that she had quitted, when first joined by her commander, after his visit to the brigantine. The vessel was soon moored, the light yards were struck, and a boat was lowered into the water. Ludlow and the Alderman then descended the side, and proceeded towards the mouth of the Shrewsbury. Although it was nearly dark, before they had reached the shore, there remained light enough to enable the former to discover an object, of unusual appearance, floating in the bay, and at no great distance from the direction of his barge. He was led by curiosity to steer for it.

“Cruisers and Water-Witches!” muttered Myndert, when they were near enough to perceive the nature of the floating object. “That brazen hussy haunts us, as if we had robbed her of gold! Let us set foot on land, and nothing short of a deputation from the City Council, shall ever tempt me to wander from my own abode, again!”

Ludlow shifted the helm of the boat, and resumed the course towards their river. He required no explanation to tell him more of the nature of the artifice, by which he had been duped. The nicely balanced tub, the upright spar, and the extinguished lantern, with the features of the female of the malign smile traced on its horn faces, reminded him, at once, of the false light, by which the Coquette had been lured from her course, on the night she sailed in pursuit of the brigantine.