Chapter I. [XII]

“Come on, Nerissa; I have work in hand,  

That you, yet, know not of. — “

Merchant of Venice.

Notwithstanding the active movements, which had taken place, in and around the buildings of the Lust in Rust, during the night which ended with our last chapter, none but the initiated were in the smallest degree aware of their existence. Oloff Van Staats was early a-foot, and when he appeared on the lawn, to scent the morning air, there was nothing visible, to give rise to a suspicion that aught extraordinary had occurred, during his slumbers. La Cour des Fées was still closed, but the person of the faithful François was seen, near the abode of his young mistress, busied in some of those pretty little offices, that can easily be imagined would be agreeable to a maiden, of her years and station. Van Staats of Kinderhook had as little of romance in his composition, as could well be in a youth of five and twenty, who was commonly thought to be enamoured, and who was not altogether ignorant of the conventional sympathies of the passion. The man was mortal, and as the personal attractions of la belle Barberie were sufficiently obvious, he had not entirely escaped the fate, which seems nearly inseparable from young fancy, when excited by beauty. He drew nigh to the pavillion, and, by a guarded but decisive manoeuvre, he managed to come so the valet, as to render a verbal communication, not only natural, but nearly unavoidable.

“A fair morning and a healthful air, Monsieur François;” commenced the young Patroon, acknowledging the low salute of the domestic, by gravely lifting his own beaver. “This is a comfortable abode for the warm months, and one, it might be well to visit oftener.”

“When Monsieur le Patteron, shall be de lor’ of ce manoir, aussi, he shall come when he shall have la volonté,” returned François, who knew that a pleasantry of his ought not to be construed into an engagement on the part of her he served, while it could not fail to be agreeable to him, who heard it. “Monsieur de Van Staats, est grand propriétaire sur la rivière, and one day, peut-être, he shall be propriétaire sur la mèr!”

“I have thought of imitating the example of the Alderman, honest Francis, and of building a villa on the coast; but there will be time for that, when I shall find myself more established in life! Your young Mistress is not yet moving, Francis?”

“Ma foi, Non — Mam’selle Alide sleep! — ‘tis good symptôme, Monsieur Patteron, pour les jeunes personnes, to tres bien sleep. Monsieur, et toute la famille de Barberie sleep à merveille! Oui, c’est toujours une famille remarquable, pour le sommeil!”

“Yet one would wish to breathe this fresh and invigorating air, which comes from off the sea, like a balm, in the early hours of the day.”

“Sans doute, Monsieur. C’est un miracle, how Mam’selle love de air! Personne do not love air more, as Mam’selle Alide. Bah! — It was grand plaisir to see how Monsieur de Barberie love de air!”

“Perhaps, Mr. Francis, your young lady is ignorant of the hour. It might be well to knock at the door, or perhaps at the window. I confess, I should much admire to see her bright face, smiling from that window, on this soft morning scene.”

It is not probable that the imagination of the Patroon of Kinderhook ever before took so high a flight, and there was reason to suspect, by the wavering and alarmed glance that he cast around him, after so unequivocal an expression of weakness, that he already repented his temerity. François, who would not willingly disoblige a man, that was known to possess a hundred thousand acres of land, with manorial rights, besides personals of no mean amount, felt embarrassed by the request, but was enabled to recollect in time, that the heiress was known to possess a decision of character, that might chuse to control her own pleasures.

“Well, I shall be too happy to knock; mais, Monsieur sais, dat sleep est si agréable, pour les jeunes personnes! On n’a jamais knock, dans la famille de Monsieur de Barberie, and je suis sûr, que Mam’selle Alide, do not love to hear de knock — pourtant, si Monsieur le Patteron le veut, I shall consult ses — Voila! Monsieur Bevre, qui vient sans knock à la fenêtre. J’ai l’honneur de vous laisser avec Monsieur Al’erman.”

And so the complaisant, but still considerate valet, bowed himself out of a dilemna, that he found, as he muttered to himself, while retiring, ‘tant soit peu ennuyant’.

The air and manner of the Alderman, as he approached his guest, were, like the character of the man, hale, hearty and a little occupied with his own enjoyments and feelings. He hemmed thrice, ere he was near enough to speak, and each of the strong expirations seemed to invite the admiration of the Patroon, for the strength of his lungs, and for the purity of the atmosphere, around a villa which acknowledged him for its owner.

“Zephyrs and Spas! but this is the abode of health, Patroon!” cried the burgher, as soon as these demonstrations of his own bodily condition, had been sufficiently repeated. “One sometimes feels in this air equal to holding a discourse, across the Atlantic, with his friends at Scheveling, or the Helder. A broad and deep chest, air like this from the sea, with a clear conscience, and a lucky hit in the way of trade, cause the lungs of a man to play as easily and as imperceptibly, as the wings of a humming bird. — Let me see; there are few four-score men in thy stock. The last Patroon closed the books at sixty six; and his father went but a little beyond seventy. I wonder, there has never been an intermarriage, among you, with the Van Courtlandts; that blood is as good as an insurance to four score and ten, of itself.”

“I find the air of your villa, Mr. Van Beverout, a cordial, that one could wish to take often,” returned the other, who had far less of the brusque manner of the trader, than his companion. “It is a pity that all who have the choice, do not profit by their opportunities to breathe it.”

“You allude to the lazy mariners, in yon vessel! Her Majesty’s servants, are seldom in a hurry, and as for this brigantine in the cove, the fellow seems, to have gotten in by magic! I warrant me, now, the rogue is there for no good, and that the Queen’s Exchequer will be none the richer for his visit. Harkee, you Brom,” calling to an aged black, who was working at no great distance from the dwelling, and who was deep in his master’s confidence, “hast seen any boats plying, between yonder roguish+looking brigantine and the land?”

The negro shook his head, like the earthen image of a mandarin and laughed loud and heartily.

“I b’rieve he do all he mischief among a yankee, an’ he only come here to take he breat’,” said the wily slave. “Well, I wish, wid all a heart, dere would come free trader, some time, along our shore. Dat gib a chance to poor black man, to make an honest penny!”

“You see, Patroon, human nature itself rises against monopoly! That was the voice of instinct, speaking with the tongue of Brom, and it is no easy task, for a merchant, to keep his dependants obedient to laws, which, in themselves, create so constant a temptation to break them. Well, well; we will always hope for the best, and endeavour to act like dutiful subjects. The boat is not amiss, as to form and rig, let her come from where she will. — Dost think the wind will be off the land, this morning?”

“There are signs of a change in the clouds. One could wish, that all should be out in the air to taste this pleasant sea- breeze, while it lasts.”

“Come, come,” cried the Alderman, who had for a moment, studied the state of the heavens with a solicitude, that he feared might attract his companion’s attention. “We will taste our breakfast. This is the spot to shew the use of teeth! The negroes have not been idle during the night, Mr. Van Staats — he- e-em — I say, Sir, they have not been idle: — And we shall have a choice among the dainties of the river and bay. — That cloud above the mouth of Rariton appears to rise, and we may yet have a breeze at west!”

“Yonder comes a boat in the direction of the city,” observed the other, reluctantly obeying a motion of the Alderman, to retire to the appartment, where they were accustomed to break their fasts. “To me it seems to approach, with more than ordinary speed.”

“There are stout arms at its oars! Can it be a messenger for the cruiser! no — it rather steers more for our own landing. These Jersey-men are often overtaken by the night, between York and their own doors. And now, Patroon, we will to our knives and forks, like men, who have taken the best stomachics.”

“And are we to refresh ourselves alone,” demanded the young man, who ever and anon, cast a sidelong and wistful glance, at the closed and immovable shutters, of la Cour des Fées.

“Thy mother hath spoilt thee, young Oloff; unless the coffee comes from a pretty female hand, it loses its savour. I take thy meaning, and think none the worse of thee; for the weakness is natural at thy years. Celibacy and Independance! A man must get beyond forty, before he is ever sure of being his own master. Come hither, Master Francis. It is time my niece had shaken off this laziness, and shown her bright face to the sun. We wait for her fair services, at the table. — I see nothing of that lazy hussy, Dinah, any more than of her mistress.”

“Assurément non, Monsieur,” returned the valet. “Mam’selle Dinah do not love trop d’activité. Mais Monsieur Al’erman, elles sont jeunes, toutes les deux! Le sommeil est bien salutaire, pour la jeunesse.”

“The girl is no longer in her cradle, Francis, and it is time to rattle at the windows. As for the black minx, who should have been up and at her duty this hour, there will be a balance to settle between us. Come, Patroon: — The appetite will not await the laziness of a wilful girl; we will to the table. — Dost think the wind will stand at west this morning?”

Thus saying, the Alderman led the way into the little parlour, where a neat and comfortable service invited them, to break their morning fast. He was followed by Oloff Van Staats, with a lingering step, for the young man really longed to see the windows of the pavillion open, and the fair face of Alida smiling, amid the other beautiful objects of the scene. François proceeded to take such measures to arouse his mistress, as he believed to comport with his duty to her uncle, and his own ideas of bienséance. After some little delay, the Alderman and his guest took their seats at the table, the former loudly protesting against the necessity of waiting for the idle, and throwing in an occasional moral, concerning the particular merit of punctuality in domestic economy, as well as in the affairs of commerce.

“The ancients divided time,” said the some+what pertinacious commentator, “into years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and moments, as they divided numbers into units, tens, hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands; and both with an object. If we commence at the bottom, and employ well the moments, Mr. Van Staats, we turn the minutes into tens, the hours into hundreds, and the weeks and months into thousands — ay! and when there is a happy state of trade, into tens of thousands! Missing an hour, therefore, is somewhat like dropping an important figure in a complex calculation, and the whole labour may be useless, for want of punctuality in one, as for want of accuracy in the other. Your father, the late Patroon, was, what may be called a minute man. — He was as certain to be seen in his pew, at church, at the stroke of the clock, as to pay a bill, when its items had been properly examined. Ah! it was a blessing, to hold one of his notes, though they were far scarcer than broad pieces, or bullion. I have heard it said, Patroon, that the manor is backed by plenty of Johannes and Dutch ducats?”

“The descendant has no reason to reproach his ancestors, with want of foresight.”

“Prudently answered; — not a word too much, nor too little: A principle on which all honest men, settle their accounts. By proper management, such a foundation might be made to uphold an estate that should count thousands, with the best of Holland, or England. Growth and Majority! Patroon; but we of the colonies must come to man’s estate in time, like our cousins on the dykes of the low Countries, or our rulers among the smitheys of England. — Erasmus, look at that cloud over the Rariton, and tell me if it rises.”

The negro reported that the vapour was stationary, and, at the same time, by way of episode, he told his master that the boat which had been seen approaching the land, had reached the wharf, and that some of its crew, were ascending the hill towards the Lust in Rust.

“Let them come of all hospitality,” returned the Alderman heartily; “I warrant me, they are honest farmers, from the interior, a-hungered with the toil of the night. Go tell the cook to feed them with the best, and bid them welcome. And harkee, boy; — if there be among them any comfortable yeoman, bid the man enter and sit at our table. This is not a country, Patroon, to be nice about the quality of the cloth, a man has on his back, or whether he wears a wig, or only his own hair. — What is the fellow gaping at

Erasmus rubbed his eyes, and then showing his teeth to the full extent of a double row, that glittered like pearls, he gave his master to understand, that the negro, introduced to the reader under the name of Euclid, and who was certainly his own brother of the half blood, the mother’s side, was entering the villa. The intelligence caused a sudden cessation of the masticating process in the Alderman, who had not, however, time to express his wonder, ere two doors simultaneously opened, and François presented himself at the one, while the shining and doubting face of the slave from town darkened the other. The eyes of Myndert rolled first to this side, and then to that, a certain misgiving of the heart preventing him from speaking to either, for he saw, in the disturbed features of each, omens that bade him prepare himself for unwelcome tidings. The reader will perceive, by the description we shall give, that there was abundant reason for the sagacious burgher’s alarm.

The visage of the valet, at all times meagre and long, seemed extended to far more than its usual dimensions, the under jaw appearing fallen and trebly attenuated. The light-blue, protruding eyes were open to the utmost, and they expressed a certain confused wildness, that was none the less striking, for the painful expression of mental suffering, with which it was mingled. Both hands were raised, with the palms outward, while the shoulders of the poor fellow, were elevated so high, as entirely to destroy the little symmetry, that nature had bestowed on that particular part of his frame.

On the other hand, the look of the negro was guilty, dogged and cunning His eye leered askance, seeming to wish to play around the person of his master, as it will be seen, his language endeavoured to play around his understanding. The hands crushed the crown of a woolen hat, between their fingers, and one of his feet, described semicircles with its toe, by performing nervous evolutions on its heel.

“Well!” ejaculated Myndert, regarding each in turn. ” — What news from the Canadas? — Is the queen dead, or has she restored the colony, to the United Provinces?”

“Mam’selle Alide! — ” exclaimed, or rather groaned François.

“The poor dumb beast! — ” muttered Euclid.

The knives and the forks fell from the hands of Myndert and his guest, as it were by a simultaneous paralysis. The latter involuntarily arose, while the former planted his solid person still more firmly in its seat, like one, who was preparing to meet some severe and expected shock, with all the physical resolution he could muster.

“ — What of my niece? — What of my geldings? — You have called upon Dinah?”

“Sans doute, Monsieur!”

“ — And you kept the keys of the stable?”

“I nebber let him go, at all!”

“ — And you bade her call her mistress?”

“She no make answair, du tout.”

“ — The animals were fed and watered, as I ordered?”

“Em nebber take he food, better!”

“ — You entered the chamber of my niece, yourself, to awake her?”

“Monsieur a raison.”

“What the devil has befallen the innocent?”

“He lose he stomach quite, and I t’ink it great time ‘fore it ebber come back.”

“ — Mister Francis, I desire to know the answer of Monsieur Barberie’s daughter.”

“Mam’selle no répond, Monsieur; pas un syllabe!”

“ — Drenchers and fleams! The beauty should have been drenched and blooded — “

“He’m too late for dat, Masser, on honour.”

“ — The obstinate hussey! This comes of her Huguenot breed, a race that would quit house and lands, rather than change its place of worship!”

“La famille de Barberie est honorable, Monsieur, mais le Grand Monarque fut un peu trop exigeant. Vraiment, la dragonade était mal avisée, pour faire des chrétiens!”

“Apoplexies and hurry! you should have sent for the farrier to administer to the sufferer, thou black hound!”

“E’m go for a butcher, masser, to save he skin, for he war’ too soon dead.”

The word dead produced a sudden pause. The preceeding dialogue had been so rapid, and question and answer, no less than the ideas of the principal speaker, had got so confused, that, for a moment, he was actually at a loss to understand, whether the last great debt of nature had been paid by la belle Barberie, or one of the Flemish geldings. Until now, consternation as well as the confusion of the interview, had constrained the Patroon, to be silent, but he profited by the breathing time to interpose.

“It is evident, Mr. Van Beverout,” he said, speaking with a tremor in the voice, which betrayed his own uneasiness,” that some untoward event has occurred. Perhaps the negro and I had better retire, that you may question Francis, concerning that, which hath befallen Mademoiselle Barberie, more at your leisure.”

The Alderman was recalled from a profound stupour by this gentlemanlike and considerate proposal. He bowed his acknowledgements, and permitted Mr. Van Staats to quit the room; but when Euclid would have followed, he signed to the negro to remain.

“I may have occasion to question thee farther,” he said, in a voice that had lost most of that compass and depth, for which it was so remarkable. “Stand there, sirrah, and be in readiness to answer. And now, Mister Francis, I desire to know, why my niece declines taking her breakfast with myself and my guest?”

“Mon dieu, Monsieur, it is not possible y répondre. Les sentiments des demoiselles are nevair decidés!”

“Go then, and say to her, that my sentiments are decided to curtail certain bequests and devises, which have consulted her interests more, than strict justice to others of my blood — ay, and even of my name, might dictate.”

“Monsieur y réfléchira. Mam’selle Alide be so young personne!”

“Old or young, my mind is made up; and so to your Cour des Fées, and tell the lazy minx as much. — Thou hast ridden that innocent, thou scowling imp of darkness!”

“Mais, pensez-y, je vous en prie, Monsieur. Mam’selle shall nevair se sauver encore; jamais, je vous en répond.”

“What is the fellow jabbering, about!” exclaimed the Alderman, whose mouth fell nearly to the degree, that rendered the countenance of the valet so singularly expressive of distress. “Where is my niece, Sir; and what means this allusion to her absence?”

“La fille de Monsieur de Barberie n’y est pas!” cried François, whose heart was too full to utter more. The aged and affectionate domestic, laid his hand on his breast, with an air of acute suffering, and then remembering the presence of his superior, he turned, bowed with a manner of profound condolence, struggled manfully with his own emotion, and succeeded in getting out of the room, with dignity and steadiness.

It is due to the character of Alderman Van Beverout to say, that the blow occasioned by the sudden death of the Flemish gelding, lost some of its force, in consequence of so unlooked for a report, concerning the inexplicable absence of his niece. Euclid was questioned, menaced and even anathematized, more than once, during the next ten minutes, but the cunning slave succeeded in confounding himself so effectually with the rest of his connexions of the half blood, during the search, which instantly followed the report of François, that his crime was partially forgotten.

On entering la Cour des Fées it was, in truth, found to want her, whose beauty and grace, had lent its chief attraction. The outer rooms, which were small, and ordinarily occupied during the day, by François and the negress called Dinah, and in the night by the latter only, were in the state, in which they might be expected to be seen. The apartment of the attendant furnished evidence, that its occupant had quitted it in haste, though there was every appearance of her having retired to rest, at the usual hour. Clothes were scattered carelessly about, and though most of her personal effects had disappeared, enough remained to prove, that her departure had been hurried, and unforseen.

On the other hand the little saloon, with the dressing-room and bed-room of la belle Barberie were in a state of the most studied arrangement. Not an article of furniture was displaced, a door ajar, or a window open. The pavillion had evidently been quitted, by its ordinary passage, and the door had been closed, in the customary manner, without using the fastenings. The bed had evidently not been entered, for the linen was smooth and untouched. In short, so complete was the order of the place, that yielding to a powerful natural feeling the Alderman called aloud on his truant niece, by name, as if he expected to see her appear from some place, in which she had secreted her person, in idle sport. But this touching expedient was vain. The voice sounded hollow through the deserted rooms, and though all waited long to listen, there came no playful, or laughing answer back.

“Alida!” cried the burgher, for the fourth and last time, “come forth, child; I forgive thee thy idle sport, and all I have said of disinheritance was but a jest. Come forth, my sister’s daughter, and kiss thy old uncle!”

The Patroon turned, aside, as he heard a man so known for his worldliness, yielding to the power of nature, and the lord of a hundred thousand acres, forgot his own disappointment, in the force of sympathy.

“Let us retire,” he said, gently urging the burgher to quit the place. “A little reflection will enable us to decide what should be done.”

The Alderman complied. Before quitting the place, however, its closets and drawers were examined, and the search left no further doubts of the step which the young heiress had taken. Her clothes, books, utensils for drawing, and even the lighter instruments of music, had disappeared.