“ — His daughter, and the heir of his kingdom,
— hath referred herself,
Unto a poor but worthy gentleman: — “
When Alderman Van Beverout and Ludlow drew near to the Lust in Rust, it was already dark. Night had overtaken them at some distance from the place of landing, and the mountain already threw its shadow across the river, the narrow strip of land that separated it from the sea, and far upon the ocean, itself. Neither had an opportunity of making his observations on the condition of things, in and about the villa, until they had ascended nearly to its level, and had even entered the narrow but fragrant lawn, in its front. Just before they arrived at the gate, which opened on the latter, the Alderman paused, and addressed his companion, with more of the manner of their ancient confidence, than he had manifested during the few preceding days of their intercourse.
“You must have observed, that the events of this little excursion on the water, have been rather of a domestic than of a public character;” he said. “Thy father was a very ancient and much esteemed friend of mine, and I am far from certain, that there is not some affinity between us, in the way of intermarriages. Thy worthy mother, who was a thrifty woman, and a small talker, had some of the blood of my own stock. It would grieve me to see the good understanding, which these recollections have created, in any manner interrupted. I admit, sir, that revenue is to the state, what the soul is to the body, the moving and governing principle, and that, as the last would be a tenantless house without its inhabitant, so the first would be an exacting and troublesome master, without its proper products. But, there is no need of pushing a principle to extremities! If this brigantine be, as your appear to suspect, and indeed as we have some reason from various causes to infer, the vessel called the Water Witch, she might have been a legal prize, had she fallen into your power; but now that she has escaped, I cannot say what may be your intentions, but were thy excellent father, the worthy member of the King’s Council living, so discreet a man would think much before he opened his lips, to say more than is discreet, on this or any other subject.”
“Whatever course I may believe my duty dictates, you may safely rely on my discretion concerning the — the remarkable — the very decided step which your niece has seen proper to take;” returned the young man, who did not make this allusion to Alida without betraying, by the tremor of his voice, how great was her influence still over him. “I see no necessity of violating the domestic feelings, to which you allude, by aiding to feed the ears of the idly curious, with the narrative of her errors.”
Ludlow stopped suddenly, leaving the uncle to infer what he would wish to add.
“This is generous, and manly, and like a loyal — lover, Capt. Ludlow,” returned the Alderman; “though it is not exactly what I intended to suggest. We will not, however, multiply words, in the night air — ha! when the cat is asleep the mice are seen to play! Those night-riding, horse-racing blacks have taken possession of Alida’s pavillion, and we may be thankful the poor girl’s rooms are not as large as Harlaem Common, or we should hear the feet of some hard-driven beast gallopping about, in them.”
The Alderman, in his turn, cut short his speech, and started as if one of the spukes of the colony, had suddenly presented itself to his eyes. His language had drawn the look of his companion towards la Cour des Fées, and Ludlow had, at the same moment as the uncle, caught an unequivocal view of la belle Barberie, as she moved before the open window of her apartment. The latter was about to rush forward, but the hand of Myndert arrested the impetuous movement.
“Here is more matter for our wits, than our legs;” observed the cool and prudent burgher. “That was the form of my ward and niece, or the daughter of old Etienne Barberie has a double — Francis- -Didst thou not see the image of a woman, at the window of the pavillion, or are we deceived by our wishes? I have some times been deluded, in an unaccountable manner, Capt. Ludlow, when my mind has been thoroughly set on the bargain, in the quality of the goods, for the most liberal of us all, are subject to mental weaknesses of this nature when hope is alive!”
“Certainement, oui!” exclaimed the eager valet. “Quel malheur to be obligé to go on la mèr, when Mam’selle Alide nevair quit la maison! J’étais sûr, que nous nous trompions, car jamais la famille de Barberie, love to be marins!”
“Enough, good Francis; the family Barberie is as earthy as a fox. Go and notify the idle rogues in my kitchen, that their master is at hand, and remember that there is no necessity of speaking of all the wonders we have seen on the great deep. Capt. Ludlow, we will now join my dutiful niece, with as little fracas as possible.”
Ludlow eagerly accepted the invitation, and instantly followed the dogmatical and seemingly unmoved Alderman, towards the dwelling. As the lawn was crossed they involuntarily paused, a moment, to look in at the open windows of the pavillion.
La belle Barberie had ornamented la Cour des Fées, with a portion of that national taste, which she inherited from her father. The heavy magnificence that distinguished the reign of Louis XIV., had scarcely descended to one of the middling rank of Monsieur de Barberie, who had consequently brought with him, to the place of his exile, merely those tasteful usages, which appear almost exclusively the property of the people from whom he had sprung, without the encumbrance and cost of the more pretending fashions of the period. These usages had become blended with the more domestic and comfortable habits of English, or what is nearly the same thing, of American life, an union which, when it is found, perhaps produces the most just and happy medium of the useful and the agreeable. Alida was seated by a small table of mahogany, deeply absorbed in the contents of a little volume, that lay before her. By her side, stood a tea service, the cups, and the vessels of which, were of the diminutive size then used, though exquisitely wrought and of the most beautiful material. Her dress was a negligée suited to her years, and her whole figure breathed that air of comfort, mingled with grace, which seems to be the proper quality of the sex, and which renders the privacy of an elegant woman so attractive and peculiar. Her mind was intent on the book, and the little silver urn hissed at her elbow, apparently unheeded.
“This is the picture I have loved to draw,” half whispered Ludlow, “when gales and storms have kept me on the deck, through+out many a dreary and tempestuous night! When body and mind have been impatient of fatigue, this is the repose I have most covetted, and for which I have even dared to hope!”
“The China trade will come to something, in time, and you are an excellent judge of comfort, Master Ludlow;” returned the Alderman. “That girl now has a warm glow on her cheek, which would seem to swear she never faced a breeze in her life, and it is not easy to fancy that one, who looks so comfortable, has lately been frolicing among the dolphins. Let us enter.”
Alderman Van Beverout was not accustomed to use much ceremony in his visits to his niece. Without appearing to think any announcement necessary, therefore, the dogmatical burgher coolly opened a door, and ushered his companion, into the pavillion.
If the meeting between la belle Alida and her guests was distinguished by the affected indifference of the latter, their seeming ease was quite equalled by that of the lady. She laid aside her book, with a calmness that might have been expected had they parted but an hour before, and which sufficiently assured both Ludlow and her uncle, that their return was known, and their presence expected. She simply arose at their entrance, and with a smile that betokened breeding, rather than feeling, she requested them to be seated. The composure of his niece had the effect to throw the Alderman into a brown study, while the young sailor scarcely knew which to admire the most, the exceeding loveliness of a woman, who was always so beautiful, or her admirable self-possession, in a scene that most others would have found sufficiently embarassing. Alida, herself, appeared to feel no necessity for any explanation, for when her guests were seated, she took occasion to say, while busied in pouring out the tea —
“You find me prepared to offer the refreshment of a cup of delicious bohea. I think, my uncle calls it the tea of the Caernarvon Castle.”
“A lucky ship, both in her passages and her wares! Yes, it is the article you name, and I can recommend it to all who wish to purchase. But, niece of mine, will you condescend to acquaint this commander in her Majesty’s service, and a poor Alderman of her good city of New York, how long you may have been expecting our company?”
Alida felt at her girdle, and drawing out a small and richly ornamented watch, she coolly examined its hands, as if to learn the hour.
“We are nine. I think it was past the turn of the day, when Dinah first mentioned that this pleasure might be expected. But, I should also tell you, that packages, which seem to contain letters, have arrived from town.”
This was giving a new and sudden direction to the thoughts of the Alderman. He had refrained from entering on those explanations, which the circumstances seemed to require, because he well knew that he stood on dangerous ground, and that more might be said than he wished his companion to hear, no less than from amazement at the composure of his ward. He was not sorry therefore to have an excuse to delay the enquiries that appeared so much in character as that of reading the communications of his business correspondents. Swallowing the contents of the tiny cup he held, at a gulp, the eager merchant seized the packet that Alida now offered, and muttering a few words of apology to Ludlow, he left the pavillion.
Until now, the commander of the Coquette had not spoken. Wonder, mingled with indignation, sealed his mouth, though he had endeavoured to penetrate the veil which Alida had drawn around her conduct and motives, by a diligent use of his eyes. During the first few moments of the interview, he thought that he could detect, in the midst of her studied calmness, a melancholy smile struggling around her beautiful mouth, but only once, had their looks met, as she turned her full, rich, and dark eyes furtively on his face, as if she were curious to know the effect produced by her manner, on the mind of the young sailor.
“Have the enemies of the Queen reason to regret the cruise of the Coquette,” said la belle, hurriedly, when she found her glance detected; “or have they dreaded to encounter a prowess, that has already proved their inferiority?”
“Fear, or prudence, or perhaps I might say conscience, has made them wary;” returned Ludlow, pointedly emphasizing the latter word. “We have run, from the Hook to the edge of the Grand Bank, and returned, with+out success.”
“’Tis unlucky. But though the French escaped, have none of the lawless met with punishment? There is a rumour, among the slaves, that the brigantine, which visited us, is an object of suspicion to the Government?”
“Suspicion! — But I may apply to la belle Barberie to know whether the character, her commander has obtained, be merited?”
Alida smiled, and her admirer thought, sweetly as ever.
“It would be a sign of extraordinary oomplaisance, were Captain Ludlow to apply to the girls of the colony, for instruction in his duty! We may be secret encouragers of the contraband, but surely we are not to be suspected of any greater familiarity with their movements. These hints may compel me to abandon the pleasures of the Lust in Rust, and to seek air and health, in some less exposed situation. Happily the banks of the Hudson offer many, that one need be fastidious indeed to reject — !
“Among which you count the Manor House of Kinderhook?”
Again Alida smiled, and Ludlow thought it was triumphantly.
“The dwelling of Oloff Van Staats is said to be commodious, and not badly placed. I have seen it, — “
“In your images of the future?” said the young man, observing she hesitated.
Alida laughed downright. But immediately recovering her self- command she replied —
“Not so fancifully. My knowledge, of the beauties of the house of Mr. Van Staats, is confined to very unpoetical glimpses from the river, in passing and repassing. The chimnies are twisted in the most approved style of the Dutch Brabant, and although wanting the stork’s nests on their summits, it seems as if there might be that woman’s tempter comfort, around the hearths beneath. The offices, too, have an enticing air, for a thrifty housewife!”
“Which office, in compliment to the worthy patroon, you intend shall not long be vacant?”
Alida was playing with a spoon, curiously wrought to represent the stem and leaves of a tea-plant. She started, dropped the implement, and raised her eyes to the face of her companion. The look was steady, and not without an interest in the evident concern, betrayed by the young man.
“It will never be filled, by me Ludlow;” was the answer, uttered solemnly, and with a decision that denoted a resolution fixed.
“That declaration removes a mountain! — Oh! Alida, if you could as easily, — “
“Hush!” whispered the other, rising and standing for a moment, in a attitude of intense expectation. Her eye became brighter, and the bloom on her cheek even deeper than before, while pleasure and hope were both strongly depicted on her beautiful face — “Hush!’ she continued, motioning to Ludlow to repress his feelings.” Did you hear nothing?”
The disappointed, and yet admiring young man, was silent, though he watched her singularly interested air, and lovely features, with all the intenseness that seemed to characterize her own deportment. As no sound followed that which Alida had heard, or fancied she had heard, she resumed her seat, and appeared to lend her attention, once more, to her companion.
“You were speaking of mountains? — ” she said, scarce knowing what she uttered. “The passage between the bays of Newburgh and Tappan, has scarce a rival, as I have heard, from travelled men. — “
I was indeed speaking of a mountain, but it was of one that weighs me to the earth. Your inexplicable conduct and cruel indifference have heaped it on my feelings, Alida. You have said that there is no hope for Oloff Van Staats, and one syllable, spoken with your native ingenuousness and sincerity, has had the effect to blow all my apprehensions, from that quarter to the winds. There remains only to account for your absence, to resume the whole of your power over one, who is but too readily disposed to confide in all you say or do.”
La belle Barberie seemed touched. Her glance at the young sailor was kinder, and her voice wanted some of its ordinary steadiness, in the reply.
“That power has then been weakened?”
“You will despise me if I say, no; — you will distrust me, if I say, yes.”
“Then silence seems the course best adapted to maintain our present amity. — Surely I heard a blow struck, lightly, on the shutter of that window?”
“Hope sometimes deceives us. This repeated belief would seem to say that you expect a visiter?”
A distinct tap on the shutter confirmed the impression of the mistress of the pavillion. Alida looked at her companion, and appeared embarassed. Her colour varied, and she seemed anxious to utter something, that either her feelings, or her prudence suppressed.
“Capt. Ludlow, you have once before been an unexpected witness of an interview in la Cour des Fées, that has, I fear, subjected me to unfavourable surmises. But one manly, and generous as yourself, can have indulgence for the little vanities of woman. I expect a visit, that perhaps a Queen’s officer should not countenance.”
“I am no exciseman to pry into wardrobes and secret repositories, but one whose duty it is to act only on the high seas, and against the more open violators of the law. If you have any without, whose presence you desire, let them enter, without dread of my office. When we meet, in a more suitable place, I shall know how to take my revenge.”
His companion looked grateful, and bowed her acknowledgments. She then made a ringing sound, by using a spoon on the interior of one of the vessels of the tea equipage. The shrubbery, which shaded a window, stirred, and presently, the young stranger, already so well known in the former pages of this work, and in the scenes of the brigantine, appeared in the low balcony. His person was scarcely seen, before a light bale of goods was tossed past him, into the centre of the room.
“I send my certificate of character as an avant courier;” said the gay dealer in contraband, or Master Seadrift as he was called by the Alderman, touching his cap, gallantly, to the mistress of la Cour des Fées, and then, somewhat more ceremoniously, to her companion, after which he returned the gold-bound covering to its seat, on a bed of rich and glossy curls, and sought his package. Here is one more customer than I bargained for, and I look to more than common gain! We have met before, Capt. Ludlow.”
“We have, Sir Skimmer of the Seas, and we shall meet again. Winds may change, and fortune yet favour the right!”
“We trust to the sea-green lady’s care;” returned the extraordinary smuggler, pointing with a species of reverence, real or affected, to the image that was beautifully worked, in rich colours, on the velvet of his cap. What has been, will be, and the past gives a hope for the future. We meet, here, on neutral ground, I trust.”
“I am the commander of a royal cruiser, sir;” haughtily returned the other.
“Queen Anne may be proud of her servant! — but we neglect our affairs. A thousand pardons, lovely mistress of la Cour des Fées. This meeting of two rude mariners does a slight to your beauty, and little credit to the fealty due the sex. Having done with all complements, I have to offer certain articles, that never failed to cause the brightest eyes to grow more brillant, and at which Dutchesses have gazed, with many longings.”
“You speak with confidence of your associations, Master Seadrift, and rate noble personages, among your customers, as familiarly as if you dealt in offices of state.”
“This skilful servitor of the Queen will tell you, lady, that the wind which is a gale on the Atlantic, may scarce cool the burning cheek of a girl, on the land, and that the links in life, are as curiously interlocked, as the ropes of a ship. The Ephesian temple and the Indian wigwam rested on the same earth.”
“From which you infer that rank does not alter nature. We must admit, Capt. Ludlow, that Master Seadrift understands a woman’s heart, when he tempts her with stores of tissues, gay as these!”
Ludlow had watched the speakers in silence. The manner of Alida was far less embarassed, than when he had before seen her in the smuggler’s company, and his blood fired, when he saw that their eyes met with a secret and friendly intelligence. He had remained, however, with a resolution to be calm, and to know the worst. Conquering the expression of his feelings, by a great effort, he answered, with an exterior of composure, though not without some of that bitterness in his emphasis, which he felt at his heart.
“If Master Seadrift has this knowledge, he may value himself on his good fortune;” was the reply.
“Much intercourse with the sex, who are my best customers, has something help’d me;” returned the cavalier dealer in contraband. “Here is a brocade whose fellow is worn openly in the presence of our Royal Mistress, though it came from the forbidden looms of Italy, and the ladies of the court return from patriotically dancing, in the fabrics of home, to please the public eye, once in the year, to wear these more agreeable inventions, all the rest of it, to please themselves. Tell me, why does the Englishman, with his pale sun spend thousands to force a sickly imitation of the gifts of the tropics, but because he pines for forbidden fruit; or why does your Paris gourmand roll a fig on his tongue, that a Lazzarone of Naples would cast into his bay, but because he wishes to enjoy the bounties of a low latitude, under a watery sky. I have seen an individual feast on the eau sucré of an European pine, that cost a guinea, while his palate would have refused the same fruit, with its delicious compound of acid and sweet, mellowed to ripeness under a burning sun, merely because he could have it for nothing. This is the secret of our patronage, and as the sex are most liable to its influence, we owe them most gratitude.”
“You have travelled, Master Seadrift,” returned la belle smiling, while she tossed the rich contents of the bale on the carpet, “and treat of usages as familiarly as you speak of dignities.”
“The lady of the sea-green mantle does not permit an idle servant. We follow the direction of her guiding hand; sometimes it points our course among the isles of the Adriatic, and at others, on your stormy American coasts. There is little of Europe between Gibraltar and the Cattegat, that I have not visited.”
“But Italy has been the favourite, if one may judge by the number of her fabrics, that you produce.”
“Italy, France, and Flanders divide my custom; though you are right, in believing the former most in favour. Many years of early life did I pass on the noble coasts of that romantic region. One who protected and guided my infancy and youth, even left me for a time, under instruction, on the little plain of Sorrento.”
“And where can this plain be found? — for the residence of so famous a rover may, one day, become the theme of song, and is likely to occupy the leisure of the curious.”
“The grace of the speaker may well excuse the irony! Sorrento is a village on the southern shore of the renowned Naples bay. Fire has wrought many changes in that soft, but wild country, and if, as religionists believe, the fountains of the great deep were ever broken up, and the earth’s crust disturbed, to permit its secret springs to issue on the surface, this may have been one of the spots chosen, by him whose touch leaves marks that are indelible, in which to show his power. The bed of the earth, itself, in all that region, appears to have been but the vomitings of volcanos, and the Sorrentine passes his peaceable life in the bed of an extinguished crater. “Tis curious to see in what manner the men of the middle ages have built their town, on the margin of the sea, where the element has swallowed one half the ragged basin, and how they have taken the yawning crevices, of the tufo, for ditches to protect their walls! I have visited many lands, and seen nature in nearly every clime, but no spot has yet presented, in a single view, so pleasant a combination of natural objects, mingled with mighty recollections, as that lovely abode on the Sorrentine cliffs!”
“Recount me these pleasures, that in memory seem so agreable, while I examine further into the contents of the bale.”
The gay young free-trader paused, and he seemed lost in images of the past. Then, with a melancholy smile, he soon continued. “Though many years are gone” he said,” I can recal the beauties of that scene, as vividly as if they still stood before the eye. Our abode was on the verge of the cliffs. In front lay the deep blue water, and on its further shore, was a line of objects, such as accident or design rarely assembles, in one view. Fancy thyself, lady, at my side, and follow the curvature of the northem shore, as I trace the outline of that glorious scene! That high, mountainous, and ragged island, on the extreme left, is modern Ischia. Its origin is unknown, though piles of lava lie along its coast, which seems fresh as that thrown from the mountain yesterday. The long, low, bit of land, insulated like its neighbour, is called Procida, a scion of ancient Greece. Its people still preserve in dress and speech marks of their origin. The narrow strait conducts to you a high and naked bluff. That is the Misenum, of old. Here Eneas came to land, and Rome held her fleets, and thence Pliny took the water to get a nearer view of the labours of the volcano, after its awakening from centuries of sleep. In the hollow of the ridge, between that naked bluff and the next swell of the mountain, lie the fabulous Styx, the Elysian fields, and the place of the dead, as fixed by the Mantuan. More on the height and nearer to the sea, lie, buried in the earth, the vast vaults of the Piscina Mirabile, and the gloomy caverns of the Hundred Chambers; places that equally denote the luxury and the despotism of Rome. Nearer to the vast pile of castle, that is visible so many leagues, is the graceful and winding Baian harbour, and against the side of its sheltering hills, once lay the city of villas. To that sheltered hill, emperors, consuls, poets, and warriors, crowded from the capital, in quest of repose, and to breathe the pure air of a spot, in which pestilence has since made it abode. The earth is still covered with the remains of their magnificence, and ruins of temples and baths are scattered freely, among the olives and fig-trees of the peasant. A fainter bluff limits the north eastern boundary of the little bay. On it, once, stood the dwellings of emperors. There Caesar sought retirement, and the warm springs on its side, are yet called the baths of the bloody Nero. That small conical hill, which, as you see, possesses a greener and fresher look than the adjoining land, is a cone rejected by the cauldron beneath, but two brief centuries since. It occupies, in part, the site of the ancient Lucrine lake. All that remains of that famous receptacle of the epicure, is the small and shallow sheet at its base, which is separated from the sea by a mere thread of sand. More in the rear, and surrounded by dreary hills, lie the waters of Avernus. On their banks still stand the ruins of a temple, in which rites were celebrated to the infernal deities. The grotto of the Sybil pierces that ridge on the left, and the Cumaean passage is nearly in its rear. The town, which is seen a mile to the right, is Pozzuoli; a port of the ancients, and a spot now visited for its temples of Jupiter and Neptune, its mouldering amphitheatre, and its half buried tombs. Here Caligula attempted his ambitious bridge, and while crossing thence to Baiae, the vile Nero had the life of his own mother assailed. It was there, too, that holy Paul came to land, when journeying a prisoner to Rome. The small, but high island, nearly in its front, is Nisida, the place to which Marcus Brutus retired, after the deed at the foot of Pompey’s statue, where he possessed a villa, and whence he and Cassius sailed to meet the shade, and the vengeance of the murdered Caesar, at Philippi. Then comes a crowd of sites more known in the middle ages, though just below that mountain, in the back-ground, is the famous subterranean road of which Strabo and Seneca are said to speak, and through which the peasant still daily drives his ass, to the markets of the modern city. At its entrance, is the reputed tomb of Virgil, and then commences an amphitheatre of white and terraced dwellings. This is noisy Napoli, itself, crowned with its rocky castle of St. Elmo! The vast plain, to the right, is that which held the enervating Capua, and so many other cities on its bosom. To this succeeds the insulated mountain of the volcano, with its summit torn in triple tops. ‘Tis said that villas and villages, towns and cities, lie buried beneath the vineyards and palaces which crowd its base. The ancient and unhappy city of Pompeii stood on that luckless plain, which, following the shores of the bay, comes next, and then we take up the line of the mountain promontory, which forms the Sorrentine side of the water!”
“One who has had such schooling, should know better how to turn it to a good account;” said Ludlow, sternly, when the excited smuggler ceased to speak.
“In other lands, men derive their learning from books; in Italy, children acquire knowledge by the study of visible things;” was the undisturbed answer.
“Some from this country are fond of believing that our own bay, these summer skies, and the climate in general, should have a strict resemblance to those of a region, which lies precisely in our own latitude;” observed Alida, so hastily, as to betray a desire to preserve the peace between her guests.
“That your Manhattan and Rariton waters are broad , and pleasant, none can deny, and that lovely beings dwell on their banks, lady,” returned Seadrift, gallantly lifting his cap, “my own senses have witnessed. But ‘twere wiser to select some other point of your excellence, for comparison, than a competition with the glorious waters, the fantastic and mountain isles, and the sunny hill-sides of modern Napoli! ‘Tis certain the latitude is even in your favour, and that a beneficent sun does not fail of its office, in one region more than in the other. But the forests of America are still too pregnant of vapors and exhalations, not to impair the purity of the native air. If I have seen much of the Mediterranean, neither am I a stranger to these coasts. While there are so many points of resemblance in their climates, there are also many and marked causes of difference.”
“Teach us, then, what forms these distinctions, that, in speaking of our bay and skies, we may not be led into error.”
“You do me honor, lady; I am of no great schooling and of humble powers of speech. Still, the little that observation may have taught me, shall not be churlishly witheld. Your Italian atmosphere, taking the humidity of the seas, is sometimes hazy. Still water in large bodies, other than in the two seas, is little known, in those distant countries. Few objects, in nature, are drier than an Italian river, during those months when the sun has most influence. The effect is visible in the air, which is in general elastic, dry, and obedieut to the general laws of the climate. There floats less exhaltation in the form of fine and nearly invisible vapour than in these wooded regions. — At least, so he of whom I spoke, as one who guided my youth, was wont to say.”
“You hesitate to tell us of our skies, our evening light, and of our bay?”
“It shall be said, and said sincerely — Of the bays, each seems to have been appropriated to that, for which nature most intended it. — The one is poetic, indolent, and full of graceful but glorious beauty; more pregnant of enjoyment than of usefulness. The other will, one day, be the mart of the world!”
“You still shrink from pronouncing on their beauty;” said Alida, disappointed, in spite of an affected indifference to the subject.
“It is ever the common fault of old communities to overvalue themselves, and to undervalue new actors in the great drama of nations, as men long successful disregard the efforts of new aspirants for favor;” said Seadrift, while he looked with amazement, at the pettish eye of the frowning beauty. “In this instance, however, Europe has not so greatly erred. They who see much resemblance between the bay of Naples and this of Manhattan, have fertile brains, since it rests, altogether, on the circumstance that there is much water in both, and a passage between an island and the main land, in one, to resemble a passage between two islands in the other. This is an estuary, that a gulf; and while the former has the green and turbid water of a shelving shore, and of tributary rivers, the, I take latter has the blue and limpid element of a deep sea. In these distinctions I stake no account, of ragged and rocky mountains, with the indescribable play of golden and rosy light upon their broken surfaces, nor of a coast that teems with the recollections of three thousand years!”
“I fear to question more. But surely our skies may be mentioned, even by the side of those you vaunt?”
“Of the skies, truly, you have more reason to be confident. I remember that standing on the Capo di Monte, which overlooks the little, picturesque, and crowded beach of the Marina Grande, at Sorrento, a spot that teems with all that is poetic in the fisherman’s life, he of whom I have spoken, once pointed to the transparent vault above, and said, ‘there is the moon of America!’ The colours of the rocket were not more vivid than the stars that night, for a Tramontana had swept every impurity from the air, far upon the neighbouring sea. But nights like that are rare, indeed, in any clime! The inhabitants of low latitudes enjoy them occasionally; those of higher, never.”
“And then our flattering belief, that these western sunsets rival those of Italy, is delusion?”
“Not so, lady. They rival, without resembling. The colour of the étui, on which so fair a hand is resting, is not softer than the hues one sees in the heavens of Italy. But if your evening sky wants the pearly light, the rosy clouds, and the soft tints which, at that hour, melt into each other, across the entire vault of Napoli, it far excels in the vividness of the glow, in the depth of the transitions, and in the richness of colours. Those are only more delicate, while these are more gorgeous! When there shall be less exhalation from your forests, the same causes may produce the same effects. Until then, America must be content to pride herself on an exhibition of nature’s beauty, in a new, though scarcely in a less pleasing, form.”
“Then they who come among us, from Europe, are but half right, when they deride the pretensions of our bay and heavens?”
“Which is much nearer the truth than they are wont to be, on the subject of this continent. Speak of the many rivers, the double outlet, the numberless basins, and the unequalled facilities of your Manhattan harbour, for in time, they will come to render all the beauties of the unrivalled bay of Naples vain; but tempt not the stranger to push the comparison beyond. Be grateful for your skies, lady, for few live under fairer, or more beneficent — But I tire you with these opinions, when here are colours that have more charms for a young and lively imagination, than even the tints of nature!”
La belle Barberie smiled on the dealer in contraband, with an interest that sickened Ludlow, and she was about to reply, in better humour, when the voice of her uncle announced his near approach.