Chapter II. [XIII]

“-Ay, that way goes the game.  

Now I perceive that she hath made compare  

Between our statures — “

Midsummer-night’s Dream.

The tide of existence floats downward, and with it go, in their greatest strength, all those affections, that unite families and kindred. We learn to know our parents in the fulness of their reason, and commonly in the perfection of their bodily strength. Reverence and respect, both mingle with our love; but the affection, with which we watch the helplessness of infancy, the interest with which the we see the ingenuous and young profiting by our care, the pride of improvement, and the magic of hope create an intensity of sympathy, in their favour, that almost equals the identity of self-love. There is a mysterious and double existence, in the tie that binds the parent to the child. With a volition and passions of its own, the latter has power to plant a sting in the bosom of the former, that shall wound as acutely as the errors, which arise from mistakes almost from crimes of its own. But, when the misconduct of the descendant can be traced to neglect, or to a vicious instruction, then, indeed, even the pang of a wounded conscience, may be added to the sufferings of those, who have gone before. Such, in some measure, was the nature of the pain that Alderman Van Beverout was condemned to feel, when at leisure to reflect on the ill judged measure, that had been taken by la belle Barberie.

“She was a pleasant and coaxing minx, Patroon,” said the burgher, pacing the room they occupied, with a quick and heavy step, and speaking unconsciously of his niece, as of one already beyond the interests of life; “and as wilful and headstrong, as an unbroken colt. — Thou hard-riding imp! I shall never find a match for the poor disconsolate survivor. — But the girl, had a thousand agreeable and delightful ways with her, that made her the delight of my old days. She has not done wisely, to desert the friend and guardian of her youth, ay, even of her childhood, in order to seek protection from strangers. This is an unhappy world, Mr. Van Staats! All our calculations come to naught, and it is in the power of fortune, to reverse the most reasonable and wisest of our expectations. A gale of wind drives the richly freighted ship to the bottom, a sudden fall in the markets, robs us of our gold, as the November wind strips the oak of its leaves, and bankruptcies and decayed credit, often afflict the days of the oldest houses, as disease saps the strength of the body: — Alida! Alida! thou hast wounded one, that never harmed thee, and rendered my age miserable!”

“It is vain to contend with the inclinations,” returned the proprietor of the manor, sighing in a manner, that did no discredit to the sincerity of his remark. “I could have been happy to have placed your niece in the situation that my respected mother filled, with so much dignity and credit, but it is now to late-”

“We don’t know that; — we don’t know that;” interrupted the Alderman, who still clung to the hope of effecting the first great wish of his heart, with the pertinacity, with which he would have clung to the terms of any other fortunate bargain. “We should never despair, Mr. Van Staats, as long as the transaction is left open.”

“The manner in which Mademoiselle Barberie has expressed her preference, is so very decided, that I see no hope of completing the arrangement.”

“Mere coquetry, Sir, mere coquetry! The girl has disappeared in order to enhance the value of her future submission. One should never regard a treaty at an end, so long as reasonable hopes remain, that it may be productive to the parties.”

“I fear, Sir, there is more of the coquette, in this step of the young lady, than a gentleman can overlook,” returned the Patroon a little drily, and with far more point, than he was accustomed to use. “If the commander of her Majesty’s cruiser be not a happy man, he will not have occasion to reproach his mistress with disdain!”

“I am not certain, Mr. Van Staats, that in the actual situation of our stipulations, I ought to overlook an inuendo, that seems to reflect on the discretion of my ward. Capt. Ludlow — well sirrah; what is the meaning of this impertinence?”

“He’m waiting, to see Masser,” returned the gaping Erasmus, who stood with the door in his hand, admiring the secret intelligence of his Master, who had so readily anticipated his errand.

“Who is waiting? — What does the simpleton mean?”

“I mean ‘a gentle’um, Masser say.”

“The fortunate man is here to remind us of his success,” haughtily observed Van Staats of Kinderhook. “There can be no necessity of my presence, at an interview between Alderman Van Beverout and his nephew.”

The justly mortified Patroon bowed ceremoniously to the equally disappointed burgher, and left the room the moment he had done speaking. The negro took his retreat, as a favorable symptom, for one who was generally known to be his rival, and he hastened to inform the young captain, that the coast was clear.

The meeting, that instantly succeeded, was sufficiently constrained and awkward. Alderman Van Beverout assumed a manner of offended authority, and wounded affection, while the officer of the Queen, wore an air of compelled submission, to a duty that he found to be disagreeable. The introduction of the discourse was consequently ceremonious, and punctiliously observant of courtesy.

“It has become my office,” continued Ludlow, after the preliminaries had been observed, “to express the surprise I feel, that a vessel of the exceedingly equivocal appearance of the brigantine, that is anchored in the cove, should be found in a situation to create unpleasant suspicions, concerning the commercial propriety of a merchant, so well known as Mr. Alderman Van Beverout.”

“The credit of Myndert Van Beverout is too well established, Capt. Cornelius Ludlow, to be affected by the accidental position of ships and bays. I see two vessels anchored near the Lust in Rust, and if called upon to give my testimony before the Queen in Council, I should declare that the one which wears her Royal Pendant had done more wrong to her subjects, than the stranger. But what harm is known of the latter?”

“I shall not conceal any of the facts, for I feel that this is a case, in which a gentleman of your station has the fullest right to the benefit of explanations — “

“Hem — ” interrupted the burgher, who disliked the manner in which his companion had opened the interview, and who thought he saw the commencement of a forced compromise in the turn it was taking; — “Hem — I commend your moderation, Capt. Ludlow. Sir, we are flattered in having a native of the province in so honorable a command on the coast. Be seated I pray you, young gentleman, that we may converse more at leisure. The Ludlows are an ancient and well established family in the colonies, and though they were no friends of King Charles, why — we have others here in the same predicament. There are few crowns in Europe that might not trace some of their discontented subjects to these colonies, and the greater the reason, say I, why we should not be too hasty in giving faith to the wisdom of this European legislation. I do not pretend, Sir, to admire all the commercial regulations which flow from the wisdom of her Majesty’s counsellors. Candour forbids that I should deny this truth, but — what of the Brigantine in the Cove?”

“It is not necessary to tell one so familiar with the affairs of commerce, of the character of a vessel called the Water-Witch, nor of that of its lawless commander, the notorious Skimmer of the Seas.”

“Capt. Ludlow is not about to accuse Alderman Van Beverout of a connexion with such a man!” exclaimed the burgher, rising as it were involuntarily, and actually recoiling a foot or two, apparently under the force of indignation and surprise.

“Sir, I am not commissioned to accuse any of the Queen’s subjects. My duty is to guard her interests on the water, to oppose her open enemies, and to uphold her royal prerogatives.”

“An honorable employment, and one I doubt not that is honorably discharged. Resume your seat, Sir, for I foresee that the conference is likely to end as it should, between a son of the late very respectable King’s counsellor and his father’s friend. You have reason then for thinking that this brigantine, which has so suddenly appeared in the cove, has some remote connexion with the Skimmer of the Seas?”

“I believe the vessel to be the famous Water-Witch itself, and her commander to be, of course, that well known adventurer.”

“Well, Sir — well, Sir — this may be so. It is impossible for me to deny it — but what should such a reprobate be doing here, under the guns of a queen’s cruiser?”

“Mr. Alderman, my admiration of your niece is not unknown to you.”

“I have suspected it, Sir;” returned the burgher, who believed the tenor of the compromise was getting clearer, but who still waited to know the exact value of the concessions the other party would make, before he closed a bargain, in a hurry, of which he might repent at his leisure — “Indeed, it has even been the subject of some discourse between us.”

“This admiration induced me to visit your villa, the past night, — “

“This is a fact too well established, young gentleman.”

“Whence I took away — ” Ludlow hesitated, as if anxious to select his words —

“Alida Barberie.”

“Alida Barberie!”

“Ay, Sir; my niece, or perhaps I should say my heiress, as well as the heiress of old Etienne de Barberie. The cruise was short, Capt. Cornelius Ludlow, but the prize-money will be ample — unless indeed a claim to neutral privileges should be established, in favour of part of the cargo!”

“Sir, your pleasantry is amusing, but I have little leisure for its enjoyment. That I visited the Cour des Fées shall not be denied. I think la belle Barberie will not be offended, under the circumstances, with this acknowledgment.”

“If she is, the jade has a rare squeamishness, after what has passed!”

“I pretend not to judge of more than my duty. The desire to serve my Royal Mistress had induced me, Mr. Van Beverout, to cause a seaman of odd attire and audacious deportment to enter the Coquette. You will know the man, when I tell you that he was your companion in the island ferry boat.”

“Yes, yes, I confess there was a mariner of the long voyage, there, who caused much surprise, and some uneasiness to myself, and niece, as well as to Van Staats of Kinderhook.”

Ludlow smiled, like one not be deceived, as he continued.

“Well, Sir, this man so far succeeded, as to tempt me to suffer him to land, under the obligation of some half extorted promise — we came into the river together, and entered your grounds, in company.”

Alderman Van Beverout now began to listen like a man who dreaded, while he desired to catch, each syllable. Observing that Ludlow paused, and watched his countenance with a cool and steady eye, he recovered his self-command, and affected a mere ordinary curiosity, while he signed to him to proceed.

“I am not sure I tell Alderman Van Beverout any thing that is new,” resumed the young officer, “when I add, that the fellow suffered me to visit the pavillion, and then contrived to lead me into an ambush of lawless men, having previously succeeded in making captives of my boat’s crew.”

“Seizures and warrants!” exclaimed the burgher, in his natural strong and hasty manner of speaking. “This is the first I have heard of the affair. It was ill-judged, to call it by no other term.”

Ludlow seemed relieved, when he saw, by the undisguised amazement of his companion, that the latter was, in truth, ignorant of the manner in which he had been detained.

“It might not have been, Sir, had our watch been as vigilant as their artifice was deep,” he continued. “But I was little guarded, and having no means to reach my ship, I — “

“Ay, ay, Capt. Ludlow; it is not necessary to be so circumstantial; you proceeded to the wharf, and — “

“Perhaps, Sir, I obeyed my feelings, rather than my duty,” observed Ludlow, colouring high, when he perceived that the burgher paused to clear his throat. “I returned to the Pavillon, where — “

“You persuaded a niece to forget her duty, to her uncle and protector.”

“This is a harsh and most unjustifiable charge, both as respects the young lady and my+self. I can distinguish between a very natural desire to posses articles of commerce, that are denied by the laws, and a more deliberate and mercenary plot against the revenue of the country. I believe there are few of her years and sex, who would refuse to purchase the articles I saw presented to the eyes of la belle Barberie, especially when the utmost hazard could be no more than their loss, as they were already introduced into the country.”

“A just discrimination, and one likely to render the arrangement of our little affairs less difficult! I was sure that my old friend the counsellor would not have left a son of his ignorant of principles, more especially as he was about to embark in a profession of so much responsibility. — And so, my niece had the imprudence to entertain a dealer in contraband?”

“Alderman Van Beverout, there were boats in motion on the water, between this landing and the brigantine in the Cove. A periagua even left the river for the city, at the extraordinary hour of midnight!”

“Sir, boats will move on the water, when the hands of man set them in motion; but what have I to answer for in the matter. If goods have entered the provinces, without license, why, they must be found and condemned; and if free traders are on the coast, they should be caught. Would it not be well, to proceed to town and lay the fact of this strange brigantine’s presence before the Governor, without delay?”

“I have other intentions. If, as you say, goods have gone up the bay, it is too late for me to stop them, but it is not too late to attempt to seize yon brigantine. Now, I would perform this duty in a manner as little likely to offend any of reputable name, as my allegiance will admit.”

“Sir, I extol this discretion — Not that there is any testimony to implicate more than the crew, but credit is a delicate flower, and it should be handled tenderly. I see an opening for an arrangement — but, we will, as in duty bound, hear your propositions first, since you may be said to speak with the authority of the Queen. I will merely surmise that terms should be moderate, between friends; — perhaps I should say, between connexions, Capt. Ludlow.”

“I am flattered by the word, Sir,” returned the young sailor, smiling with an expression of delight. “First suffer me to be admitted to the charming Cour des Fées, but for a moment.”

“That is a favour which can hardly be refused you, who may be said to have a right, now, to enter the pavillion at pleasure,” returned the Alderman, unhesitatingly leading the way, through the long passage, to the deserted apartments of his niece, and continuing the blind allusions to the affairs of the preceeding night, in the same indirect manner as had distinguished the dialogue during the whole interview. “I shall not be unreasonable, young gentleman, and here is the pavillion of my neice; I wish I could add, and here also is its mistress!”

“And is la belle Barberie no longer a tenant of la Cour des Fées!” demanded Ludlow, in a surprise too natural to be feigned.

Alderman Van Beverout regarded the young man, in wonder; pondered a moment to consider how far denying a knowledge of the absence of his niece might benefit the officer, in the pending negotiation, and then he drily observed, “boats passed on the water, during the night. If the men of Capt. Ludlow were at first imprisoned, I presume they were set at liberty, at the proper time.”

“They are carried I know not whither — the boat itself is gone, and I am here alone.”

“Am I to understand, Capt. Ludlow, that Alida Barberie has not fled my house during the past night, to seek a refuge in your ship?”

“Fled!” echoed the young man, in a voice of horror. “Has Alida de Barberie fled from the house of her uncle, at all!”

“Capt. Ludlow, this is not acting. On the honor of a gentleman, are you ignorant of my niece’s absence?”

The young commander did not answer, but striking his head fiercely, he smothered words that were unintelligible to his companion. When this momentary burst of feeling was past, he sunk into a chair, and gazed about him, in stupid amazement. All this pantomine was inexplicable to the Alderman, who, however, began to see that more of the conditions of the arrangement in hand, were beyond the controul of his companion, than he had at first believed. Still the plot thickened, rather than grew clear, and he was afraid to speak, lest he might utter more than was prudent. The silence, therefore, continued for quite a minute, during which time the parties sat gazing at each other, in dull wonder.

“I shall not deny, Capt. Ludlow, that I believed you had prevailed on my niece to fly a+board the Coquette, for, though a man who has always kept his feelings in his own command, as the safest manner of managing particular interests, yet I am not to learn that rash youth is often guilty of folly. I am now equally at a loss, with yourself, to know what has become of her, since here she is not.”

“Hold!” eagerly interrupted Ludlow. “A boat left your wharf, for the city, in the earlier hours of the morning. Is it not possible that she may have taken a passage in it?”

“It is not possible. I have reasons to know — in short, Sir, she is not there.”

“Then is the unfortunate — the lovely — the indiscreet girl forever lost to herself and us!” exclaimed the young sailor, actually groaning under his mental agony. “Rash, mercenary, man! to what an act of madness has this thirst of gold driven one so fair — would I could say — so pure and so innocent!”

But while the distress of the lover was thus violent, and caused him to be so little measured in his terms of reproach, the uncle of the fair offender appeared to be lost in surprise. Though la belle Barberie had so well preserved the decorum and reserve of her sex, as to leave even her suitors in doubt of the way her inclinations tended, the watchful Alderman had long suspected that the more ardent, open and manly commander of the Coquette was likely to triumph, over one so cold in exterior and so cautious in his advances, as the Patroon of Kinderhook. When, therefore, it became apparent Alida had disappeared, he quite naturally inferred that she had taken the simplest manner of defeating all his plans for favouring the suit of the latter, by throwing herself, at once, into the arms of the young sailor. The laws of the colonies offered few obstacles to the legalty of their union, and when Ludlow appeared that morning, he firmly believed that he beheld one, who, if he were not so already, was inevitably soon to become his nephew. But the suffering of the disappointed youth could not be counterfeited, and prevented from adhering to his first opinion, the perplexed Alderman seemed utterly at a loss to conjecture what could have become of his niece. Wonder rather than pain possessed him, and when he suffered his ample chin to repose on the finger and thumb of one hand, it was with the air of a man that revolved, in his mind, all the plausible points of some knotty question.

“Holes and corners!” he muttered, after a long silence, “the wilful minx cannot be playing at hide and seek with her friends! The hussey had ever too much of la famille de Barberie, and her high Norman blood about her, as that silly old valet has it, to stoop to such childish trifling. Gone she certainly is,” he continued, looking, again, into the empty drawers and closets, “and with her the valuables have disappeared. The guitar is missing — the lute I sent across the ocean to purchase, an excellently toned Dutch lute, that cost every stiver of one hundred guilders, is also wanting, and all the-hem — the recent accessions have disappeared. And there too, are my sister’s jewels, that I persuaded her to bring along, to guard against accidents, while our backs are turned, they are not to be seen. François! François! Thou long tried servitor of Etienne Barberie, what the devil has become of thy mistress?”

“Mais, Monsieur,” returned the disconsolate valet, whose decent features exhibited all the signs of unequivocal suffering, “she no tell le pauvre François! En supposant, que Monsieur ask le capitaine, he shall probablement know.”

The burgher cast a quick suspicious glance at Ludlow, and shook his head, to express his belief that the young man was true.

“Go; desire Mr. Van Staats of Kinderhook to favor us with his company.”

“Hold,” cried Ludlow, motioning to the valet to withdraw. “Mr. Beverout, an uncle should be tender of the errors of one so dear, as this cruel unreflecting girl. You cannot think of abandoning her to so frightful a fortune!”

“I am not addicted to abandoning any thing, Sir, to which my title is just and legal. But you speak in enigmas. If you are acquainted with the place where my niece is secreted, avow it, frankly, and permit me to take those measures which the case requires.”

Ludlow reddened to his forehead, and he struggled powerfully, with his pride and his regrets.

“It is useless to attempt concealing the step which Alida Barberie has been pleased to take,” he said, a smile so bitter passing over his features, as to lend them the expression of severe mockery; “she has chosen more worthily than either of us could have believed; she has found a companion more suited to her station, her character and her sex, than Van Staats of Kinderhook, or a poor commander of a Queen’s ship!”

“Cruisers and manors! What in the name of mysteries is thy meaning? The girl is not here; you declare she is not on board of the Coquette, and there remains only, — “

“The brigantine;” groaned the young sailor, uttering the word by a violent effort of the will.

“The brigantine!” repeated the Alderman, slowly. “My niece can have nothing to do a+board a dealer in contraband. That is to say, Alida Barberie is not a trader.”

“Alderman Van Beverout, if we wish to escape the contamination of vice, its society must be avoided. There was one in the pavillion, of a mien and assurance, the past night, that might delude an angel; ah! Woman! woman! thy mind is composed of vanities, and thy imagination is thy bitterest foe!”

“Women and vanities!” echoed the amazed burgher.” My niece, the heiress of old Etienne Marie de Barberie, and the sought of so many of honorable names and respectable professions, to be a refugee with a rover! — always supposing your opinions of the character of the brigantine to be just. This is a conjecture too improbable, to be true.”

“The eye of a lover, Sir, may be keener than that of a guardian — call it jealousy if you will, — would to Heaven my suspicions were untrue! — but if she be not there, where is she?”

The opinion of the Alderman seemed staggered. If la belle Barberie had not yielded to the fascinations of that wayward, but seductive, eye and smile, to that singular beauty of face, and to the secret and often irresistable charm that encircles eminent personal attractions, when aided by mystery, to what had she yielded, and whither had she fled!

These were reflections that now began to pass through the thoughts of the Alderman, as they had already planted stings in the bosom of Ludlow. With reflection, conviction began slowly to assert its power. But the truth did not gleam upon the mind of the calculating and wary merchant, with the same instinctive readiness that it had flashed upon the jealous faculties of the lover. He pondered on each circumstance, of the interview between the dealer in contraband and his niece, recalled the manner and discourse of the former, drew certain general and vague conjectures concerning the power which novelty, when coupled by circumstances of romance, might exercise over a female fancy, and dwelt long and secretly on some important facts that were alone known to him+self, before his judgment finally settled down into the same opinion, as that which his companion had formed, with all the sensitiveness of of jealous alarm.

“Woman and vagaries!” muttered the burgher, after his study was ended. “Their conceits are as uncertain as the profits of a whaling voyage, or the luck of a sportsman. Capt. Ludlow, your assistance will be needed in this affair, and, as it may not be too late since there are few priests in the brigantine — always supposing her character to be what you affirm — my niece may yet see her error, and be disposed to reward so much assiduity and attachment.”

“My services shall always be ready, so long as they can be useful to Alida Barberie,” returned the young officer with haste, and yet a little coldly. “It will be time enough to speak of the reward, when we shall have succeeded.”

“The less noise that is made about a little domestic inconvenience like this, the better; and I would therefore suggest the propriety of keeping our suspicions of the character of the vessel a secret, until we shall be better informed.”

The captain bowed his assent to the proposal.

“And now that we are of the same mind, in the preliminaries, we will seek the Patroon of Kinderhook, who has a claim to participate in our confidence.”

Myndert then led the way from the empty and melancholy Cour des Fées, with a step that had regained its busy and firm tread, and a countenance that expressed far more of vexation and weariness, than of real sorrow.