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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 28
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The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 28 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3084

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The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 28

Chapter XXVIII

"--What care these roarers for the name of king?"

Tempest.


The Manhattanese will readily comprehend the situation of the two vessels; but those of our countrymen who live in distant parts of the Union, may be glad to have the localities explained.

Though the vast estuary, which receives the Hudson and so many minor streams, is chiefly made by an indentation of the continent, that portion of it which forms the port of New-York is separated from the ocean by the happy position of its islands. Of the latter, there are two, which give the general character to the basin, and even to a long line of coast; while several, that are smaller, serve as useful and beautiful accessories to the haven and to the landscape. Between the bay of Raritan and that of New-York there are two communications, one between the islands of Staten and Nassau, called the Narrows, which is the ordinary ship-channel of the port, and the other between Staten and the main, which is known by the name of the Kilns. It is by means of the latter, that vessels pass into the neighboring waters of New-Jersey, and have access to so many of the rivers of that state. But while the island of Staten does so much for the security and facilities of the port, that of Nassau produces an effect on a great extent of coast. After sheltering one-half of the harbor from the ocean, the latter approaches so near the continent as to narrow the passage between them to the length of two cables, and then stretching away eastward for the distance of a hundred miles, it forms a wide and beautiful sound. After passing a cluster of islands, at a point which lies forty leagues from the city, by another passage, vessels can gain the open sea.

The seaman will at once understand, that the tide of flood must necessarily flow into these vast estuaries from different directions. The current which enters by Sandy-Hook (the scene of so much of this tale) flows westward into the Jersey rivers, northward into the Hudson, and eastward along the arm of the sea that lies between Nassau and the Main. The current, that comes by the way of Montauk, or the eastern extremity of Nassau, raises the vast basin of the Sound, fills the streams of Connecticut, and meets the western tide at a place called Throgmorton, and within twenty miles of the city.

As the size of the estuaries is so great, it is scarcely necessary to explain that the pressure of so wide sheets of water causes the currents, at all the narrow passes, to be exceedingly rapid; since that equal diffusion of the element, which depends on a natural law, must, wherever there is a deficiency of space, be obtained by its velocity. There is, consequently, a quick tide throughout the whole distance between the harbor and Throgmorton; while it is permitted to poetic license to say, that at the narrowest part of the channel, the water darts by the land like an arrow parting from its bow. Owing to a sudden bend in the course of the stream, which makes two right-angles within a short distance, the dangerous position of many rocks that are visible and more that are not, and the confusion produced by currents, counter-currents, and eddies, this critical pass has received the name of "Hell-Gate." It is memorable for causing many a gentle bosom to palpitate with a terror that is a little exaggerated by the boding name, though it is constantly the cause of pecuniary losses, and has in many instances been the source of much personal danger. It was here, that a British frigate was lost, during the war of the Revolution, in consequence of having struck a rock called 'the Pot,' the blow causing the ship to fill and to founder so suddenly, that even some of her people are said to have been drowned. A similar but a greatly lessened effect is produced in the passage among the islands, by which vessels gain the ocean at the eastern extremity of the sound; though the magnitude of the latter sheet of water is so much greater than that of Raritan-bay and the harbor of New-York, that the force of its pressure is diminished by a corresponding width in the outlets. With these explanations, we shall return to the thread of the narrative.

When the person, who has so long been known in our pages by the nom de guerre of Tiller, gained the open street, he had a better opportunity of understanding the nature of the danger which so imminently pressed upon the brigantine. With a single glance at the symmetrical spars and broad yards of the ship that was sweeping past the town, he knew her to be the Coquette. The little flag at her fore-top-gallant mast sufficiently explained the meaning of the gun; for the two, in conjunction with the direction the ship was steering, told him, in language that any seaman could comprehend, that she demanded a Hell-Gate pilot. By the time the Skimmer reached the end of a lone wharf, where a light and swift-rowing boat awaited his return, the second report bespoke the impatience of his pursuers to be furnished with the necessary guide.

Though the navigation in this Republic, coastwise, now employs a tonnage equalling that used in all the commerce of any other nation of Christendom, England alone excepted, it was of no great amount at the commencement of the eighteenth century. A single ship, lying at the wharves, and two or three brigs and schooners at anchor in the rivers, composed the whole show of sea vessels then in port. To these were to be added some twenty smaller coasters and river-craft, most of whom were the shapeless and slow-moving masses which then plied, in voyages of a month's duration, between the two principal towns of the colony. The appeal of the Coquette, therefore, at that hour and in that age, was not likely to be quickly answered.

The ship had got fairly into the arm of the sea which separates the island of Manhattan from that of Nassau, and though it was not then, as now, narrowed by artificial means, its tide was so strong as, aided by the breeze, to float her swiftly onward. A third gun shook the windows of the city, causing many a worthy burgher to thrust his head through his casement; and yet no boat, was seen pulling from the land, nor was there any other visible sign that the signal would be speedily obeyed. Still the royal cruiser stood steadily on, with sail packed above sail, and every sheet of canvas spread, that the direction of a wind, which blew a little forward of the beam, would allow.

"We must pull for our own safety, and that of the brigantine, my men;" said the Skimmer, springing into his boat and seizing the tiller--"A quick stroke, and a strong!--here is no time for holiday feathering, or your man-of-war jerk! Give way, boys; give way, with a will, and together!"

These were sounds that had often saluted the ears of men engaged in the hazardous pursuit of his crew. The oars fell into the water at the same moment, and, quick as thought, the light bark was in the strength of the current.

The short range of wharves was soon passed, and, ere many minutes, the boat was gliding up with the tide, between the bluffs of Long Island and the projection which forms the angle on that part of Manhattan. Here the Skimmer was induced to sheer more into the centre of the passage, in order to avoid the eddies formed by the point, and to preserve the whole benefit of the current. As the boat approached Coerlaer's, his eye was seen anxiously examining the wider reach of the water, that began to open above, in quest of his brigantine. Another gun was heard. A moment after the report, there followed the whistling of a shot; and then succeeded the rebound on the water, and the glittering particles of the spray. The ball glanced a few hundred feet further, and, skipping from place to place, it soon sunk into the element.

"This Mr. Ludlow is disposed to kill two birds with the same stone," coolly observed the Skimmer, not even bending his head aside, to note the position of the ship. "He wakes the burghers of the town with his noise, while he menaces our boat with his bullets. We are seen, my friends, and have no dependence but our own manhood, with some assistance from the lady of the sea-green mantle. A quicker stroke, and a strong! You have the Queen's cruiser before you, Master Coil; does she show boats on her quarters, or are the davits empty?"

The seaman addressed pulled the stroke-oar of the boat, and consequently he faced the Coquette. Without in the least relaxing his exertions, he rolled his eyes over the ship, and answered with a steadiness that showed him to be a man accustomed to situations of hazard.

"His boat-falls are as loose as a mermaid's locks, your Honor, and he shows few men in his tops; there are enough of the rogues left, however, to give us another shot."

"Her Majesty's servants are early awake, this morning. Another stroke or two, hearts of oak, and we throw them behind the land!"

A second shot fell into the water, just without the blades of the oars; and then the boat, obedient to its helm, whirled round the point, and the ship was no longer visible. As the cruiser was shut in by the formation of the land, the brigantine came into view on the opposite side of Coerlaer's. Notwithstanding the calmness that reigned in the features of the Skimmer, one who studied his countenance closely might have seen an expression of concern shadowing his manly face, as the Water-Witch first met his eye. Still he spoke not, concealing his uneasiness, if in truth he felt any, from those whose exertions were at that moment of the last importance. As the crew of the expecting vessel saw their boat, they altered their course, and the two were soon together.

"Why is that signal still flying?" demanded the Skimmer, the instant his foot touched the deck of his brigantine, and pointing, as he spoke, at the little flag that fluttered at the head of the forward mast.

"We keep it aloft, to hasten off the pilot," was the answer.

"Has not the treacherous knave kept faith?" exclaimed the Skimmer, half recoiling in surprise. "He has my gold, and in return I hold fifty of his worthless promises--ha!--the laggard is in yon skiff; ware the brig round, and meet him, for moments are as precious now as water in a desert."

The helm was a-weather, and the lively brigantine had already turned more than half aside, when another gun drew every eye towards the point. The smoke was seen rising above the bend of the land, and presently the head-sails, followed by all the hull and spars of the Coquette, came into view. At that instant, a voice from forward announced that the pilot had turned, and was rowing with all his powers towards the shore. The imprecations that were heaped on the head of the delinquent were many and deep, but it was no time for indecision. The two vessels were not half a mile apart, and now was the moment to show the qualities of the Water-Witch. Her helm was shifted; and, as if conscious herself of the danger that threatened her liberty, the beautiful fabric came sweeping up to her course, and, inclining to the breeze, with one heavy flap of the canvas, she glided ahead with all her wonted ease. But, the royal cruiser was a ship of ten thousand! For twenty minutes, the nicest eye might have been at a loss to say which lost or which gained, so equally did the pursuer and the pursued hold on their way. As the brigantine was the first, however, to reach the narrow passage formed by Blackwell's, her motion was favored by the increasing power of the stream. It would seem that this change slight as it was, did not escape the vigilance of those in the Coquette; for the gun, which had been silent so long, again sent forth its flame and smoke. Four discharges, in less than so many minutes, threatened a serious disadvantage to the free-traders. Shot after shot passed among their spars, and opened wide rents in the canvas. A few more such assaults would deprive them of their means of motion. Aware of the crisis, the accomplished and prompt seaman who governed her movements needed but an instant to form his decision.

The brigantine was now nearly up with the head of Blackwell's. It was half-flood, on a spring tide. The reef that projects from the western end of the island far into the reach below, was nearly covered; but still enough was visible to show the nature of the barrier it presented to a passage from one shore to the other. There was one rock, near the island itself, which lifted its black head high above the water. Between this dark mass of stone and the land, there was an opening of some twenty fathoms in width. The Skimmer saw, by the even and unbroken waves that rolled through the passage, that the bottom lay less near to the surface of the water, in that opening, than at any other point along the line of reef. He commanded the helm a-weather, once more, and calmly trusted to the issue.

Not a man on board that brigantine was aware that the shot of the royal cruiser was whistling between their masts, and damaging their gear, as the little vessel glided into the narrow opening. A single blow on the rock would have been destruction, and the lesser danger was entirely absorbed in the greater. But when the passage was cleared, and the true stream in the other channel gained, a common shout proclaimed both the weight of their apprehension and their relief. In another minute, the head of Blackwell's protected them from the shot of their pursuers.

The length of the reef prevented the Coquette from changing her direction, and her draught of water closed the passage between the rock and the island. But the deviation from the straight course, and the passage of the eddies, had enabled the ship, which came steadily on, to range up nearly abeam of her chase. Both vessels, though separated by the long narrow island, were now fairly in the force of those currents which glide so swiftly through the confined passages. A sudden thought glanced on the mind of the Skimmer, and he lost no time in attempting to execute its suggestion. Again the helm was put up, and the image of the sea-green lady was seen struggling to stem the rapid waters. Had this effort been crowned with success, the triumph of her followers would have been complete; since the brigantine might have reached some of the eddies of the reach below, and leaving her heavier pursuer to contend with the strength of the tide, she would have gained the open sea, by the route over which she had so lately passed. But a single minute of trial convinced the bold mariner that his decision came too late. The wind was insufficient to pass the gorge, and, environed by the land, with a tide that grew stronger at each moment, he saw that delay would be destruction. Once more the light vessel yielded to the helm, and, with every thing set to the best advantage, she darted along the passage.

In the mean time, the Coquette had not been idle Borne on by the breeze, and floating with the current, she had even gained upon her chase; and as her lofty and light sails drew strongest over the land, there was every prospect of her first reaching the eastern end of Blackwell's. Ludlow saw his advantage, and made his preparations accordingly.

There needs little explanation to render the circumstances which brought the royal cruiser up to town, intelligible to the reader. As the morning approached, she had entered more deeply into the bay: and when the light permitted, those on board her had been able to see that no vessel lay beneath the hills, nor in any of the more retired places of the estuary. A fisherman, however, removed the last of their doubts, by reporting that he had seen a vessel, whose description answered that of the Water-Witch, passing the Narrows in the middle watch. He added that a swiftly-rowing boat was, shortly after, seen pulling in the same direction. This clue had been sufficient. Ludlow made a signal for his own boats to close the passages of the Kilns and the Narrows, and then, as has been seen, he steered directly into the harbor.

When Ludlow found himself in the position just described, he turned all his attention to the double object of preserving his own vessel, and arresting that of the free-trader. Though there was still a possibility of damaging the spars of the brigantine by firing across the land, the feebleness of his own crew, reduced as it was by more than half its numbers, the danger of doing injury to the farm-houses that were here and there placed along the low cliffs, and the necessity of preparation to meet the critical pass ahead, united to prevent the attempt. The ship was no sooner fairly entered into the pass, be tween Blackwell's and Nassau, than he issued an order to secure the guns that had been used, and to clear away the anchors.

"Cock-bill the bowers, Sir," he hastily added, in his orders to Trysail. "We are in no condition to sport with stock-and-fluke; have every thing ready to let go at a word; and see the grapnels ready,--we will throw them aboard the smuggler as we close, and take him alive. Once fast to the chain, we are yet strong enough to haul him in under our scuppers, and to capture him with the pumps! Is the signal still abroad, for a pilot?"

"We keep it flying, Sir, but 'twill be a swift boat that overhauls us in this tide's-way. The Gate begins at yonder bend in the land, Captain Ludlow!"

"Keep it abroad; the lazy rogues are sometimes loitering in the cove this side the rocks, and chance may throw one of them aboard us, as we pass. See to the anchors, Sir; the ship is driving through this channel, like a race-horse under the whip!"

The men were hurriedly piped to this duty while their young commander took his station on the poop, now anxiously examining the courses of the tides and the positions of the eddies, and now turning his eyes towards the brigantine, whose upper spars and white sails were to be seen, at the distance of two hundred fathoms, glancing past the trees of the island. But miles and minutes seemed like rods and moments, in that swift current. Trysail had just reported the anchors ready, when the ship swept up abreast of the cove, where vessels often seek an anchorage, to await favorable moments for entering the Gate. Ludlow saw, at a glance, that the place was entirely empty. For an instant he yielded to the heavy responsibility--a responsibility before which a seaman sooner shrinks than before any other--that of charging himself with the duty of the pilot; and he thought of running into the anchorage for shelter. But another glimpse at the spars of the brigantine caused him to waver.

"We are near the Gate, Sir!" cried Trysail, in a voice that was full of warning.

"Yon daring mariner stands on!"

"The rogue sails his vessel without the Queen's permission, Captain Ludlow. They tell me, this is a passage that has been well named!"

"I have been through it, and will vouch for its character--he shows no signs of anchoring!"

"If the woman who points his course can carry him through safely, she deserves her title. We are passing, the Cove, Captain Ludlow!"

"We are past it!" returned Ludlow, breathing heavily. "Let there be no whisper in the ship--pilot or no pilot, we now sink or swim!"

Trysail had ventured to remonstrate, while there was a possibility of avoiding the danger; but, like his commander, he now saw that all depended on their own coolness and care. He passed busily among the crew; saw that each brace and bowline was manned; cautioned the few young officers who continued on board to vigilance, and then awaited the orders of his superior, with the composure that is so necessary to a seaman in the moment of trial. Ludlow himself, while he felt the load of responsibility he had assumed, succeeded equally well in maintaining an outward calm. The ship was irretrievably in the Gate, and no human power could retrace the step. At such moments of intense anxiety, the human mind is wont to seek support in the opinions of others. Notwithstanding the increasing velocity and the critical condition of his own vessel, Ludlow cast a glance, in order to ascertain the determination of the 'Skimmer of the Seas.' Blackwell's was already behind them, and as the two currents were again united, the brigantine had luffed up into the entrance of the dangerous passage, and now followed within two hundred feet of the Coquette, directly in her wake. The bold and manly-looking mariner, who controlled her, stood between the night-heads, just above the image of his pretended mistress, where he examined the foaming reefs, the whirling eddies, and the varying currents, with folded arms and a riveted eye. A glance was exchanged between the two officers, and the free-trader raised his sea-cap. Ludlow was too courteous not to return the salutation, and then all his senses were engrossed by the care of his ship. A rock lay before them, over which the water broke in a loud and unceasing roar. For an instant it seemed that the vessel could not avoid the danger, and then it was already past.

"Brace up!" said Ludlow, in the calm tones that denote a forced tranquillity.

"Luff!" called out the Skimmer, so quickly as to show that he took the movements of the cruiser for his guide. The ship came closer to the wind, but the sudden bend in the stream no longer permitted her to steer in a direct line with its course. Though drifting to windward with vast rapidity, her way through the water, which was greatly increased by the contrary actions of the wind and tide, caused the cruiser to shoot across the current; while a reef, over which the water madly tumbled, lay immediately in her course. The danger seemed too imminent for the observances of nautical etiquette, and Trysail railed aloud that the ship must be thrown aback, or she was lost.

"Hard-a-lee!" shouted Ludlow, in the strong voice of authority.--"Up with every thing--tacks and sheets!--main-top-sail haul!"

The ship seemed as conscious of her danger as any on her decks. The bows whirled away from the foaming reef, and as the sails caught the breeze on their opposite surfaces, they aided in bringing her head in the contrary direction. A minute had scarcely passed ere she was aback, and in the next she was about and full again. The intensity of the brief exertion kept Trysail fully employed; but no sooner had he leisure to look ahead, than he again called aloud--

"Here is another roarer under her bows;--luff Sir, luff, or we are upon it!"

"Hard down your helm!" once again came in deep tones from Ludlow--"Let fly your sheets--throw all aback, forward and aft--away with the yards, with a will, men!"

There was need for all of these precautions. Though the ship had so happily escaped the dangers of the first reef, a turbulent and roaring caldron in the water, which, as representing the element in ebullition, is called 'the Pot,' lay so directly before her, as to render the danger apparently inevitable. But the power of the canvas was not lost on this trying occasion. The forward motion of the ship diminished, and as the current still swept her swiftly to windward, her bows did not enter the rolling waters until the hidden rocks which caused the commotion had been passed. The yielding vessel rose and fell in the agitated water, as if in homage to the whirlpool; but the deep keel was unharmed.

"If the ship shoot ahead twice her length more, her bows will touch the eddy!" exclaimed the vigilant master.

Ludlow looked around him, for a single moment in indecision. The waters were whirling and roaring on every side, and the sails began to lose their power, as the ship drew near the bluff which forms the second angle in this critical pass. He saw, by objects on the land, that he still approached the shore, and he had recourse to the seaman's last expedient.

"Let go both anchors!" was the final order.

The fall of the massive iron into the water, was succeeded by the rumbling of the cable. The first effort to check the progress of the vessel, appeared to threaten dissolution to the whole fabric, which trembled under the shock from its mast-heads to the keel. But the enormous rope again yielded, and smoke was seen rising round the wood which held it. The ship whirled with the sudden check, and sheered wildly in towards the shore. Met by the helm, and again checked by the efforts of the crew, she threatened to defy restraint. There was an instant when all on board expected to hear the cable snap; but the upper sails filled, and as the wind was now brought over the taffrail, the force of the current was in a great degree met by that of the breeze.

The ship answered her helm and became stationary, while the water foamed against her cut-water, as if she were driven ahead with the power of a brisk breeze.

The time, from the moment when the Coquette entered the Gate, to that when she anchored below 'the Pot,' though the distance was near a mile, seemed but a minute. Certain however that his ship was now checked, the thoughts of Ludlow returned to their other duties with the quickness of lightning.

"Clear away the grapnels!" he eagerly cried--"Stand by to heave, and haul in!--heave!"

But, that the reader may better comprehend the motive of this sudden order, he must consent to return to the entrance of the dangerous passage, and accompany the Water-Witch, also, in her hazardous experiment to get through without a pilot.

The abortive attempt of the brigantine to stem the tide at the western end of Blackwell's, will be remembered. It had no other effect than to place her pursuer more in advance, and to convince her own commander that he had now no other resource than to continue his course; for, had he anchored, boats would have insured his capture. When the two vessels appeared off the eastern end of the island the Coquette was ahead,--a fact that the experienced free-trader did not at all regret. He profited by the circumstance to follow her movements, and to make a favorable entrance into the uncertain currents. To him, Hell-Gate was known only by its fearful reputation among mariners; and unless he might avail himself of the presence of the cruiser, he had no other guide than his own general knowledge of the power of the element.

When the Coquette had tacked, the calm and observant Skimmer was satisfied with throwing his head-sails flat to the mast. From that instant, the brigantine lay floating in the current, neither advancing nor receding a foot, and always keeping her position at a safe distance from the ship, that was so adroitly made to answer the purposes of a beacon. The sails were watched with the closest care; and so nicely was the delicate machine tended, that it would have been, at any moment, in her people's power to have lessened her way, by turning to the stream. The Coquette was followed till she anchored, and the call on board the cruiser to heave the grapnels had been given, because the brigantine was apparently floating directly down on her broadside.

When the grapnels were hove from the royal cruiser, the free-trader stood on the low poop of his little vessel, within fifty feet of him who had issued the order. There was a smile of indifference on his firm mouth, while he silently waved a hand to his own crew. The signal was obeyed by bracing round their yards, and suffering all the canvas to fill. The brigantine shot quickly ahead, and the useless irons fell heavily into the water.

"Many thanks for your pilotage, Captain Ludlow!" cried the daring and successful mariner of the shawl, as his vessel, borne on by wind and current, receded rapidly from the cruiser--"You will find the off Montauk; for affairs still keep us on the coast. Our lady has, however, put on the blue mantle; and 'ere many settings of the sun, we shall look for deep water. Take good care of Her Majesty's ship, I pray thee, for she has neither a more beautiful nor a faster!"

One thought succeeded another with the tumult of a torrent, in the mind of Ludlow. As the brigantine lay directly under his broadside, the first impulse was to use his guns; but at the next moment he was conscious, that before they could be cleared, distance would render them useless. His lips had neatly parted with intent to order the cables cut, but he remembered the speed of the brigantine, and hesitated. A sudden freshening of the breeze decided his course. Finding that the ship was enabled to keep her station, he ordered the crew to thrust the whole of the enormous ropes through the hawseholes; and, freed from the restraint, he abandoned the anchors, until an opportunity to reclaim them should offer.

The operation of slipping the cables consumed several minutes; and when the Coquette, with every thing set, was again steering in pursuit, the Water-Witch was already beyond the reach of her guns. Both vessels, however, held on their way, keeping as near as possible to the centre of the stream, and trusting more to fortune, than to any knowledge of the channel, for safety.

When passing the two small islands that lie at no great distance from the Gate, a boat was seen moving towards the royal cruiser. A man in it pointed to the signal, which was still flying, and offered his services.

"Tell me," demanded Ludlow eagerly, "has yonder brigantine taken a pilot?"

"By her movements, I judge not. She brushed the sunken rock, off the mouth of Flushing-bay; and as she passed, I heard the song of the lead. I should have gone on board myself, but the fellow rather flies than sails; and as for signals, he seems to mind none but his own!"

"Bring us up with him, and fifty guineas is thy reward!"

The slow-moving pilot, who in truth had just awoke from a refreshing sleep, opened his eyes, and seemed to gather a new impulse from the promise. When his questions were asked and answered, he began deliberately to count on his fingers all the chances that still existed of a vessel, whose crew was ignorant of the navigation, falling into their hands.

"Admitting that, by keeping mid-channel, she goes clear of White Stone and Frogs," he said, giving to Throgmorton's its vulgar name, "he must be a wizard, to know that the Stepping-Stones lie directly across his course, and that a vessel must steer away northerly, or bring up on rocks that will as surely hold him as if he were built there. Then he runs his chance for the Executioners, which are as prettily placed as needs be, to make our trade flourish, besides the Middle Ground further east, though I count but little on that, having often tried to find it myself, without success. Courage, noble captain! if the fellow be the man you say, we shall get a nearer look at him before the sun sets; for certainly he who has run the Gate without a pilot in safety, has had as much good luck as can fall to his share in one day."

The opinion of the East River Branch proved erroneous. Notwithstanding the hidden perils by which she was environed, the Water-Witch continued her course, with a speed that increased as the wind rose with the sun, and with an impunity from harm that amazed all who were in the secret of her situation. Off Throgmorton's there was, in truth, a danger that might even have baffled the sagacity of the followers of the mysterious lady, had they not been aided by accident. This is the point where the straitened arm of the sea expands into the basin of the Sound. A broad and inviting passage lies directly before the navigator, while, like the flattering prospects of life, numberless hidden obstacles are in wait to arrest the unheeding and ignorant.

The 'Skimmer of the Seas' was deeply practised in all the intricacies and dangers of the shoals and rocks. Most of his life had been passed in threading the one, or in avoiding the other. So keen and quick had his eye become, in detecting the presence of any of those signs which forewarn the mariner of danger, that a ripple on the surface, or a deeper shade in the color of the water, rarely escaped his vigilance. Seated on the top-sail-yard of his brigantine, he had overlooked the passage from the moment they were through the Gate, and issued his mandates to those below with a precision and promptitude that were not surpassed by the trained conductor of the Coquette himself. But when his sight embraced the wide reach of water that lay in front, as his little vessel swept round the head-land of Throgmorton, he believed there no longer existed a reason for so much care. Still there was a motive for hesitation. A heavily-moulded and dull-sailing coaster was going eastward not a league ahead of the brigantine, while one of the light sloops of those waters was coming westward still further in the distance. Notwithstanding the wind was favorable to each alike, both vessels had deviated from the direct line, and were steering towards a common centre, near an island that was placed more than a mile to the northward of the straight course. A mariner, like him of the India-shawl, could not overlook so obvious an intimation of a change in the channel. The Water-Witch was kept away, and her lighter sails were lowered, in order to allow the royal cruiser, whose lofty canvas was plainly visible above the land, to draw near. When the Coquette was seen also to diverge, there no longer remained a doubt of the direction necessary to be taken; and every thing was quickly set upon the brigantine, even to her studding-sails. Long ere she reached the island, the two coasters had met, and each again changed its course, reversing that on which the other had just been sailing. There was, in these movements, as plain an explanation as a seaman could desire, that the pursued were right On reaching the island, therefore, they again luffed into the wake of the schooner; and having nearly crossed the sheet of water, they passed the coaster, receiving an assurance, in words, that all was now plain sailing, before them.

Such was the famous passage of the 'Skimmer of the Seas' through the multiplied and hidden dangers of the eastern channel. To those who have thus accompanied him, step by step, though its intricacies and alarms, there may seem nothing extraordinary in the event; but, coupled as it was with the character previously earned by that bold mariner, and occurring, as it did, in an age when men were more disposed than at present to put faith in the marvellous, the reader will not be surprised to learn that it greatly increased his reputation for daring, and had no small influence on an opinion, which was by no means uncommon, that the dealers in contraband were singularly favored by a power which greatly exceeded that of Queen Anne and all her servants.

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The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 29 The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 29

The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 29
Chapter XXIX"--Thou shalt see me at Philippi." Shakspeare. The commander of Her Britannic Majesty's ship Coquette slept that night in the hammock-cloths. Before the sun had set, the light and swift brigantine, by following the gradual bend of the land, had disappeared in the eastern board; and it was no longer a question of overtaking her by speed. Still, sail was crowded on the royal cruiser; and, long ere the period when Ludlow threw himself in his clothes between the ridge-ropes of the quarter-deck, the vessel had gained the broadest part of the Sound, and was already approaching the islands that
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The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 27 The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 27

The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 27
Chapter XXVII"--Did I tell this, Who would believe me?" Measure for Measure.The time of the interview related in the close of the preceding chapter, was in the early watches of the night. It now becomes our duty to transport the reader to another, that had place several hours later, and after day had dawned on the industrious burghers of Manhattan. There stood, near one of the wooden wharves which lined the arm of the sea on which the city is so happily placed, a dwelling around which there was every sign that its owner was
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