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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 9
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The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 9 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3030

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The Water-witch; Or The Skimmer Of The Seas - Chapter 9

Chapter IX

"Why look you, how you stare!
I would be friends with you, and have your love."

Shylock.


The first impulse of Alida, at this second invasion of her pavilion, was certainly to flee. But timidity was not her weakness, and as natural firmness gave her time to examine the person of the individual who had so unceremoniously entered, curiosity aided in inducing her to remain. Perhaps a vague, but a very natural, expectation that she was again to dismiss the commander of the Coquette, had its influence on her first decision. In order that the reader may judge how far this boldness was excusable, we shall describe the person of the intruder.

The stranger was one in the very bud of young and active manhood. His years could not have exceeded two-and-twenty, nor would he probably have been thought so old, had not his features been shaded by a rich, brown hue, that in some degree, served as a foil to a natural complexion, which, though never fair, was still clear and blooming. A pair of dark, bushy, and jet-black, silken whiskers, that were in singular contrast to eye-lashes and brows of almost feminine beauty and softness, aided also in giving a decided expression to a face that might otherwise have been wanting in some of that character which is thought essential to comeliness in man. The forehead was smooth and low; the nose, though prominent and bold in outline, of exceeding delicacy in detail; the mouth and lips full, a little inclined to be arch, though the former appeared as if it might at times be pensive; the teeth were even and unsullied; and the chin was small, round, dimpled, and so carefully divested of the distinguishing mark of the sex, that one could fancy nature had contributed all its growth to adorn the neighboring cheeks and temples. If to these features be added a pair of full and brilliant coal-black eyes, that appeared to vary their expression at their master's will, the reader will at once see, that the privacy of Alida had been invaded by one whose personal attractions might, under other circumstances, have been dangerous to the imagination of a female, whose taste was in some degree influenced by a standard created by her own loveliness.

The dress of the stranger was as unique as his personal attractions were extraordinary. The fashion of the garments resembled that of those already described as worn by the man who has announced himself as Master Tiller; but the materials were altogether richer, and, judging only from the exterior, more worthy of the wearer.

The light frock was of a thick purple silk, of an Indian manufacture, cut with exceeding care to fit the fine outlines of a form that was rather round, than square; active, than athletic. The loose trowsers were of a fine white jean, the cap of scarlet velvet, ornamented with gold, and the body was belted with a large cord of scarlet silk, twisted in the form of a ship's cable. At the ends of the latter, little anchors, wrought in bullion, were attached as gay and fitting appendages.

In contrast to an attire so whimsical and uncommon, however, a pair of small and richly-mounted pistols were at the stranger's girdle; and the haft, of a curiously-carved Asiatic dagger was seen projecting, rather ostentatiously, from between the folds of the upper garment.

"What cheer! what cheer!" cried a voice, that was more in harmony with the appearance of the speaker, than with the rough, professional salutation he uttered, so soon as he had fairly landed in the centre of Alida's little saloon. "Come forth, my dealer in the covering of the beaver, for here is one who brings gold to thy coffers. Ha! now that this trio of lights hath done its office, it may be extinguished, lest it pilot others to the forbidden haven!"

"Your pardon, Sir," said the mistress of the pavilion, advancing from behind the curtain, with an air of coolness that her beating heart had nigh betrayed to be counterfeit; "having so unexpected a guest to entertain, the additional candles are necessary."

The start, recoil, and evident alarm of the intruder, lent Alida a little more assurance; for courage is a quality that appears to gain force, in a degree proportioned to the amount in which it is abstracted from the dreaded object. Still, when she saw a hand on a pistol, the maiden was again about to flee; nor was her resolution to remain confirmed, until she met the mild and alluring eye of the intruder, as, quitting his hold of the weapon, he advanced with an air so mild and graceful, as to cause curiosity to take the place of fear.

"Though Alderman Van Beverout be not punctual to his appointment," said the gay young stranger "he has more than atoned for his absence by the substitute he sends. I hope she comes authorized to arrange the whole of our treaty?"

"I claim no right to hear, or to dictate, in matters not my own. My utmost powers extend to expressing a desire, that this pavilion may be exempt from the discussion of affairs, as much beyond my knowledge as they are separated from my interests."

"Then why this signal?" demanded the stranger, pointing, with a serious air, to the lights that still burned near each other in face of an open window "It is awkward to mislead, in transactions that are so delicate!"

"Your allusion, Sir, is not understood. These lights are no more than what are usually seen in my apartment at this hour--with, indeed, the addition of a lamp, left by my uncle, Alderman Van Beverout."

"Your uncle!" exclaimed the other, advancing so near Alida, as to cause her to retire a step, his countenance expressing a deep and newly-awakened interest--"your uncle!--This, then, is one far-famed and justly extolled; la belle Barberie!" he added, gallantly lifting his cap, as if he had just discovered the condition and the unusual personal attractions of his companion.

It was not in nature for Alida to be displeased. All her fancied causes of terror were forgotten; for, in addition to their improbable and uncertain nature, the stranger had sufficiently given her to understand, that he was expected by her uncle. If we add, that the singular attraction and softness of his face and voice aided in quieting her fears, we shall probably do no violence either to the truth or to a very natural feeling. Profoundly ignorant of the details of commerce, and accustomed to hear its mysteries extolled as exercising the keenest and best faculties of man, she saw nothing extraordinary in those who were actively engaged in the pursuit having reasons for concealing their movements from the jealousy and rivalry of competitors. Like most of her sex, she had great dependence on the characters of those she loved; and, though nature, education, and habit, had created a striking difference between the guardian and his ward, their harmony had never been interrupted by any breach of affection.

"This then is la belle Barberie!" repeated the young sailor, for such his dress denoted him to be, studying her features with an expression of face, in which pleasure vied with evident and touching melancholy. "Fame hath done no injustice, for here is all that might justify the folly or madness of man!"

"This is familiar dialogue for an utter stranger," returned Alida, blushing, though the quick dark eye that seemed to fathom all her thoughts, saw it was not in anger. "I do not deny that the partiality of friends, coupled with my origin, have obtained the appellation, which is given, however, more in playfulness than in any serious opinion of its being merited--and now, as the hour is getting late, and this visit is at least unusual, you will permit me to seek my uncle."

"Stay!" interrupted the stranger--"it is long--very long, since so soothing, so gentle a pleasure has been mine! This is a life of mysteries, beautiful Alida, though its incidents seem so vulgar, and of every-day occurrence. There is mystery in its beginning and its end; in its impulses; its sympathies and all its discordant passions. No, do not quit me. I am from off the sea, where none but coarse and vulgar-minded men have long been my associates; and thy presence is a balm to a bruised and wounded spirit."

Interested, if possible, more by the touching and melancholy tones of the speaker, than by his extraordinary language, Alida hesitated. Her reason told her that propriety, and even prudence, required she should apprize her uncle of the stranger's presence; but propriety and prudence lose much of their influence, when female curiosity is sustained by a secret and powerful sympathy. Her own eloquent eye met the open and imploring look of organs, that seemed endowed with the fabled power to charm; and while her judgment told her there was so much to alarm her senses pleaded powerfully in behalf of the gentle mariner.

"An expected guest of my uncle will have, leisure to repose, after the privations and hardships of so weary a voyage," she said. "This is a house whose door is never closed against the rites of hospitality."

"If there is aught about my person or attire, to alarm you," returned the stranger, earnestly, "speak, that it may be cast away--These arms--these foolish arms, had better not have been here," he added, casting the pistols and dagger indignantly, through a window, into the shrubbery; "Ah! if you knew how unwillingly I would harm any--and, least of all, a woman--you would not fear me!"

"I fear you not," returned la Belle, firmly. "I dread the misconceptions of the world."

"What world is here to disturb us? Thou livest in thy pavilion, beautiful Alida, remote from towns and envy, like some favored damsel, over whose happy and charmed life presides a benignant genius. See, here are all the pretty materials, with which thy sex seeks innocent and happy amusement. Thou touchest this lute, when melancholy renders thought pleasing; here are colors to mock, or to eclipse, the beauties of the fields and the mountain, the flower, and the tree; and from these pages are culled thoughts, pure and rich in imagery, as thy spirit is spotless, and thy person lovely!"

Alida listened in amazement; for, while he spoke the young mariner touched the different articles he named, with a melancholy interest, which seemed to say how deeply he regretted that fortune had placed him in a profession, in which their use was nearly denied.

"It is not common for those who live on the sea, to feel this interest in the trifles which constitute a woman's pleasure," she said, lingering, spite of her better resolution to depart.

"The spirit of our rude and boisterous trade is then known to you?"

"It were not possible for the relation of a merchant, so extensively known as my uncle, to be ignorant altogether of mariners."

"Ay, here is proof of it," returned the stranger, speaking so quick as again to betray how sensitively his mind was constructed. "The History of the American Buccaneers is a rare book to be found in a lady's library! What pleasure can a mind like that of la belle Barberie find in these recitals of bloody violence?"

"What pleasure, truly!" returned Alida, half tempted, by the wild and excited eye of her companion, not withstanding all the contradictory evidence which surrounded him, to believe she was addressing one of the very rovers in question. "The book was lent me by a brave seaman, who holds himself in readiness to repress their depredations; and while reading of so much wickedness, I endeavor to recall the devotion of those who risk their lives, in order to protect the weak and innocent--My uncle will be angered, should I longer delay to apprize him of your presence."

"A single moment! It is long--very long, since I have entered a sanctuary like this! Here is music; and there the frame for the gaudy tambour--these windows look on a landscape, soft as thine own nature; and yonder ocean can be admired without dreading its terrific power, or feeling disgust at its coarser scenes. Thou shouldst be happy, here!"

The stranger turned, and perceived that he was alone. Disappointment was strongly painted on his handsome face; but, ere there was time for second thought, another voice was heard grumbling at the door of the saloon.

"Compacts and treaties! What, in the name of good faith, hath brought thee hither? Is this the way to keep a cloak on our movements? or dost suppose that the Queen will knight me, for being known as thy correspondent?"

"Lanterns and false-beacons!" returned the other, mimicking the voice of the disconcerted burgher, and pointing to the lights that still stood where last described. "Can the port be entered without respecting the land-marks and signals?"

"This comes of moonlight and sentiment! When the girl should have been asleep, she is up, gazing at the stars, and disconcerting a burgher's speculations--But fear thee not, Master Seadrift; my niece has discretion, and if we have no better pledge for her silence, there is that of necessity; since there is no one here for a confidant, but her old Norman valet, and the Patroon of Kinderhook, both of whom are dreaming of other matter than a little gainful traffic."

"Fear thee not, Alderman;" returned the other, still maintaining his air of mockery. "We have the pledge of character, if no other; since the uncle cannot part with reputation, without the niece sharing in the loss."

"What sin is there in pushing commerce a step beyond the limits of the law? These English are a nation of monopolists; and they make no scruple of tying us of the colonies, hand and foot, heart and soul, with their acts of Parliament, saying 'with us shalt thou trade, or not at all.' By the character of the best burgomaster of Amsterdam, and they came by the province, too, in no such honesty, that we should lie down and obey!"

"Wherein there is much comfort to a dealer in the contraband. Justly reasoned, my worthy Alderman. Thy logic will, at any time, make a smooth pillow, especially if the adventure be not without its profit. And now, having so commendabiy disposed of the moral of our bargain, let us approach its legitimate, if not its lawful, conclusion. There," he added, drawing a small bag from an inner pocket of his frock, and tossing it carelessly on a table; "there is thy gold. Eighty broad Johannes is no bad return for a few packages of furs; and even avarice itself will own, that six months is no long investment for the usury."

"That boat of thine, most lively Seadrift, is a marine humming-bird!" returned Myndert, with a joyful tremor of the voice, that betrayed his deep and entire satisfaction. "Didst say just eighty? But spare thyself the trouble of looking for the memorandum; I will tell the gold myself, to save thee the trouble. Truly, the adventure hath not been bad! A few kegs of Jamaica, with a little powder and lead, and a blanket or two, with now and then a penny bauble for a chief, are knowingly, ay! and speedily transmuted into the yellow metal, by thy good aid.--This affair was managed on the French coast?"

"More northward, where the frost helped the bargain. Thy beavers and martens, honest burgher, will be flaunting in the presence of the Emperor, at the next holidays. What is there in the face of the Braganza, that thou studiest it so hard?"

"The piece peems none of the heaviest--but, luckily, I have scales at hand,--"

"Hold!" said the stranger, laying his hand, which according to a fashion of that day, was clad in a delicate and scented glove, lightly on the arm of the other: "No scales between us, Sir! That was taken in return for thy adventure; heavy or light, it must go down. We deal in confidence, and this hesitation offends me. Another such doubt of my integrity, and our connexion is at an end."

"A calamity I should deplore, quite or nearly as much as thyself," returned Myndert, affecting to laugh; though he slipped the suspected doubloon into the bag again, in a manner that at once removed the object of contention from view. "A little particularity in the balance part of commerce serves to maintain friendships. But a trifle shall not cause us to waste the precious time.--Hast brought goods suited to the colonies?"

"In plenty."

"And ingeniously assorted? Colonies and monopoly!--But there is a two-fold satisfaction in this clandestine traffic! I never get the notice of thy arrival, Master Seadrift, but the heart within me leapeth of gladness! There is a double pleasure in circumventing the legislation of your London wiseacres!"

"The chiefest of which is--?"

"A goodly return for the investment, truly--I desire not to deny the agency of natural causes; but, trust me, there is a sort of professional glory in thus defeating the selfishness of our rulers. What! are we born of woman, to be used as the instruments of their prosperity! Give us equal legislation, a right to decide on the policy of enactments, and then, like a loyal and obedient subject,--"

"Thou wouldst still deal in the contraband!"

"Well, well, multiplying idle words is not multiplying gold. The list of the articles introduced can be forthcoming?"

"It is here, and ready to be examined. But there is a fancy come over me, Alderman Van Beverout, which, like others of my caprices, thou knowest must have its way. There should be a witness to our bargain."

"Judges and juries! Thou forgettest, man, that a clumsy galliot could sail through the tightest clause, of these extra-legal compacts. The courts receive the evidence of this sort of traffic, as the grave receives the dead; to swallow all, and be forgotten."

"I care not for the courts, and little desire do I feel to enter them. But the presence of la belle Barberie may serve to prevent any misconceptions, that might bring our connexion to a premature close. Let her be summoned."

"The girl is altogether ignorant of traffic, and it might unsettle her opinions of her uncle's stability. If a man does not maintain credit within his own doors, how can he expect it in the streets?"

"Many have credit on the highway, who receive none at home. But thou knowest my humor; no niece--no traffic."

"Alida is a dutiful and affectionate child, and I would not willingly disturb her slumbers. Here is the Patroon of Kinderhook, a man who loves English legislation as little as myself;--he will be less reluctant to see an honest shilling turned into gold. I will awake him: no man was ever yet offended at an offer to share in a profitable adventure."

"Let him sleep on. I deal not with your lords of manors and mortgages. Bring forth the lady, for there will be matter fit for her delicacy."

"Duty and the ten commandments! You never had the charge of a child, Master Seadrift, and cannot know the weight of responsibility--"

"No niece--no traffic!" interrupted the wilful dealer in contraband, returning his invoice to his pocket, and preparing to rise from the table, where he had already seated himself.--"The lady knows of my presence; and it were safer for us both, that she entered more deeply into our confidence."

"Thou art as despotic as the English navigation-law! I hear the foot of the child still pacing her chamber, and she shall come. But there need be no explanations, to recall old intercourse.--The affair can pass as a bit of accidental speculation--a by-play, in the traffic of life."

"As thou pleasest. I shall deal less in words than in business. Keep thine own secrets, burgher, and they are safe. Still, I would have the lady, for there is a presentiment that our connexion is in danger."

"I like not that word presentiment," grumbled the Alderman, taking a light, and snuffing it with deliberate care; "drop but a single letter, and one dreams of the pains and penalties of the Exchequer.--Remember thou art a trafficker, who conceals his appearance on account of the cleverness of his speculations."

"That is my calling, to the letter. Were all others as clever, the trade would certainly cease.--Go, bring the lady."

The Alderman, who probably saw the necessity of making some explanation to his niece, and who, it would seem, fully understood the positive character of his companion, no longer hesitated; but, first casting a suspicious glance out of the still open window he left the room.

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