The Book of
by James Kirke Paulding
Translated from the Original Dutch of Dominie Nicholas Aegidius Oudenarde
PERUSAL OF THE
THE LEGEND OF
THE LITTLE DUTCH
SENTINEL OF THE
A STRANGE BIRD
THE REVENGE OF
A TALE FOR THE
THE ORIGIN OF
THE NYMPH OF THE
THE RIDE OF
THE SOCIETIES OF SAINT NICHOLAS
Most Dear and Worthy Associates,
In obedience to the command of the good saint who is equally an
object of affectionate reverence to us all, as well as in due deference
to the feelings of brotherhood which attach us irrevocably to those who
honour his name, his virtues, and his country, I dedicate this work to
you all without discrimination or exception. As descendants, in whole
or in part, from that illustrious people who, after conquering nature
by their industry and perseverance, achieved liberty by their
determined valour, and learning and science by their intellectual
vigour, I rejoice to see you instituting bonds of union, for the
purpose of preserving the remembrance of such an honourable lineage,
and the ties of a common origin. While we recollect with honest pride
the industry, the integrity, the enterprise, the love of liberty, and
the heroism of old "faderland," let us not forget that the
truest way to honour worthy ancestors is to emulate their example
That you may long live to cherish the memory of so excellent a
saint, and such venerable fore-fathers is the earnest wish of
Your associate and friend,
Nicholas Ægidius Oudenarde.
THE AUTHOR'S ADVERTISEMENT, WHICH IS
EARNESTLY RECOMMENDED TO THE ATTENTIVE PERUSAL OF THE JUDICIOUS READER.
You will please to understand, gentle reader, that being a true
descendant of the adventurous Hollanders who first discovered the
renowned island of Manhattan—which is every day becoming more and
more worth its weight in paper money—I have all my life been a
sincere and fervent follower of the right reverend and jolly St.
Nicholas, the only tutelary of this mighty state. I have never, on any
proper occasion, omitted doing honour to his memory by keeping his
birthday with all due observances, and paying him my respectful devoirs
on Christmas and Newyear's eve.
From my youth upward I have been always careful to hang up my
stocking in the chimney corner, on both these memorable anniversaries;
and this I hope I may say without any unbecoming ebullition of vanity,
that on no occasion did I ever fail to receive glorious remembrances of
his favour and countenance, always saving two exceptions. Once when
the good saint signified his displeasure at my tearing up a Dutch
almanac, and again on occasion of my going to a Presbyterian meeting
house with a certain little Dutch damsel, by filling my stockings with
snow balls, instead savoury oily cookies.
Saving these manifestations of his displeasure, I can safely boast
of having been always a special favourite of the good St. Nicholas, who
hath ever shown a singular kindness and suavity towards me in all
seasons of my life, wherein he hath at divers times and seasons of sore
perplexity, more than once vouchsafed to appear to me in dreams and
visions, always giving me sage advice and goodly admonition. The which
never failed of being of great service to me in my progress through
life, seeing I was not only his namesake, but always reverently
honoured his name to the best of my poor abilities.
From my youth upward I have, moreover, been accustomed to call upon
him in time of need; and this I will say for him, that he always came
promptly whenever he was within hearing. I will not detain the
expectant reader with the relation of these special instances, touching
the years of my juvenility, but straightway proceed to that which is
material to my present purpose.
The reader will please to comprehend that after I had, with the
labour and research of many years, completed the tales which I now,
with an humble deference, offer to his acceptance, I was all at once
struck dumb, with the unparalleled difficulty of finding a name for my
work, seeing that every title appertinent to such divertisements hath
been applied over and over again, long and merry agone. Now, as before
intimated to the judicious reader, whenever I am in sore perplexity of
mind, as not unfrequently happens to such as (as it were) cudgel their
brains for the benefit of their fellow-creatures— I say, when thus
beleagured, I always shut my eyes, lean back in my chair, which is
furnished with a goodly stuffed back and arms, and grope for that which
I require in the profound depths of abstraction.
It was thus I comported myself on this trying occasion, when, lo!
and behold! I incontinently fell asleep, as it were, in the midst of my
cogitations, and while I was fervently praying to the goodhearted St.
Nicholas to inspire me with a proper and significant name for this my
mental offspring. I cannot with certainty say how long I had remained
in the bonds of abstraction, before I was favoured with the appearance
of a vision, which, at first sight, I knew to be that of the excellent
St. Nicholas, who scorns to follow the pestilent fashions of modern
times, but ever appears in the ancient dress of the old patriarchs of
Holland. And here I will describe the good saint, that peradventure all
those to whom he may, in time to come, vouchsafe his presence, may know
him at first sight, even as they know the father that begot them.
He is a right fat, jolly, roistering little fellow— if I may make
bold to call him so familiarly—and had I not known him of old for a
veritable saint, I might, of a truth, have taken him, on this occasion,
for little better than a sinner. He was dressed in a snuff-coloured
coat of goodly conceited dimensions, having broad skirts, cuffs mighty
to behold, and buttons about the size of a moderate Newyear cooky. His
waistcoat and breeches, of which he had a proper number, were of the
same cloth and colour; his hose of gray worsted; his shoes
highquartered, even up to the instep, ornamented with a pair of silver
buckles, exceedingly bright; his hat was of a low crown and right broad
brim, cocked up on one side; and in the buttonholes of his coat was
ensconced a long delft pipe, almost as black as ebony. His visage was
the picture of good-humoured benevolence; and by these marks I knew him
as well as I know the nose on my own face.
The good saint, being always in a hurry on errands of good
fellowship, and especially about the time of the holydays of Paas and
Pinxster; and being withal a person of little ceremony, addressed me
without delay, and with much frankness, which was all exceedingly
proper, as we were such old friends. He spoke to me in Dutch, which is
now a learned language, understood only by erudite scholars.
"What aileth thee, my Godson Nicholas?" quoth he.
I was about to say I was in sore perplexity concerning the matter
aforesaid, when he courteously interrupted me, saying,
"Be quiet, I know it, and therefore there is no special occasion for
thee to tell me. Thou shalt call thy work `The Book of St. Nicholas,'
in honour of thy patroon; and here are the materials of my
biography, which I charge thee, on pain of empty pockets from this time
forward, to dilate and adorn in such a manner, as that, foreseeing, as
I do, thy work will go down to the latest posterity, it may do honour
to my name, and rescue it from that obscurity in which it hath been
enveloped through the crying ignorance of past generations, who have
been seduced into a veneration for St. George, St. Dennis, St. David,
and other doughty dragon-slaying saints, who were little better than
roistering bullies. Moreover, I charge thee, as thou valuest my
blessing and protection, to dedicate thy work unto the worthy and
respectable societies of St. Nicholas in this my stronghold in the New
World. Thou mightst, perhaps, as well have left out that prank of mine
at the carousing of old Baltus, but verily it matters not. Let the
truth be told."
Saying this, he handed me a roll of ancient vellum, containing, as I
afterwards found, the particulars which, in conformity with his solemn
command, I have dilated into the only veritable biography of my patron
saint which hath ever been given to the world. The one hitherto
received as orthodox is, according to the declaration of the saint
himself, little better than a collection of legends, written under the
express inspection of the old lady of Babylon.
I reverently received the precious deposite, and faithfully promised
obedience to his commands; whereupon the good St. Nicholas, puffing in
my face a whiff of tobacco smoke more fragrant than all the spices of
the East, blessed me, and departed in haste, to be present at a wedding
in Communipaw. Hereupon I awoke, and should have thought all that had
passed but a dream, arising out of the distempered state of my mind,
had I not held in my hand the identical roll of vellum, presented in
the manner just related. On examination, it proved to contain the
matter which is incorporated in the first story of this collection,
under the title of "The Legend of St. Nicholas," not only in due
obedience to his command, but in order that henceforward no one may
pretend ignorance concerning this illustrious and benevolent saint,
seeing they have now a biography under his own hand.
Thus much have I deemed it proper to preface to the reader, as some
excuse for the freedom of having honoured my poor fictions with the
title of The Book of St. Nicholas, which might otherwise have been
deemed a piece of unchristian presumption.
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL DUTCH
DOMINE NICHOLAS æGIDIUS OUDENARDE.
THE LEGEND OF ST. NICHOLAS.
Everybody has heard of St. Nicholas, that honest Dutch saint, whom I
look upon as having been one of the most liberal, good-natured little
fat fellows in the world. But, strange as it may seem, though everybody
has heard, nobody seems to know anything about him. The place of his
birth, the history of his life, and the manner in which he came to be
the dispenser of Newyear cakes, and the patron of good boys, are
matters that have hitherto not been investigated, as they ought to have
been long and long ago. I am about to supply this deficiency, and pay a
debt of honour which is due to this illustrious and obscure tutelary
genius of the jolly Newyear.
It hath often been justly remarked that the birth, parentage, and
education of the most illustrious personages of antiquity, are usually
enveloped in the depths of obscurity. And this obscurity, so far from
being injurious to their dignity and fame, has proved highly
beneficial; for as no one could tell who were their fathers and mothers
on earth, they could the more easily claim kindred with the skies, and
trace their descent from the immortals. Such was the case with Saturn,
Hercules, Bacchus, and others among the heathens; and of St. George,
St. Dennis, St. Andrew, St. Patrick, and the rest of the tutelaries, of
whom—I speak it with great respect and reverence—it may justly be
said, that nobody would ever have heard of their progenitors but for
the renown of their descendants. It is, therefore, no reflection on the
respectable St. Nicholas, that his history has hitherto remained a
secret, and his origin unknown.
In prosecuting this biography, and thus striving to repay my
obligations for divers, and I must say unmerited favours received from
this good saint, after whom I was christened, I shall refrain from all
invention or hyperbole, seeking the truth industriously, and telling it
simply and without reserve or embellishment. I scorn to impose on my
readers with cock and bull stories of his killing dragons, slaughtering
giants, or defeating whole armies of pagans with his single arm. St.
Nicholas was a peaceful, quiet, orderly saint, who, so far as I have
been able to learn, never shed a drop of blood in his whole life,
except, peradventure, it may be possible he sometimes cut his finger,
of which I profess to know nothing, and, therefore, contrary to the
custom of biographers, shall say nothing.
St. Nicholas was born—and that is all I can tell of the
matter—on the first of January; but in what year or at what place,
are facts which I have not been able to ascertain, although I have
investigated them with the most scrupulous accuracy. His obscurity
would enable me to give him a king and queen for his parents, whereby
he might be able to hold up his head with the best of them all; but, as
I before observed, I scorn to impose such doubtful, to say no worse,
legends upon my readers.
Nothing is known of his early youth, except that it hath come down
to us that his mother dreamed, the night before his birth, that the sun
was changed into a vast Newyear cake and the stars into oily cooks
—which she concluded was the reason they burned so bright. It hath
been shrewdly intimated by certain would-be antiquaries, who doubtless
wanted to appear wiser than they really were, that because our worthy
saint was called Nicholas, that must of course have been the name of
his father. But I set such conjectures at naught, seeing that if all
the sons were called after their fathers, the distinction of senior and
junior would no longer be sufficient, and they would be obliged to
number them as they do in the famous island of Nantucket, where I hear
there are thirty-six Isaac Coffins and sixteen Pelegs.
Now, of the first years of the life of good St. Nicholas, in like
manner, we have been able to learn nothing until he was apprenticed to
a baker in the famous city of Amsterdam, after which this metropolis
was once called, but which my readers doubtless know was christened
over again when the English usurped possession, in the teeth of the
great right of discovery derived from the illustrious navigator,
Henricus Hudson, who was no more an Englishman than I am.
Whether the youth Nicholas was thus apprenticed to a baker on
account of his mother's dream, or from his great devotion to Newyear
cakes, which may be inferred from the bias of his after life, it is
impossible to tell at this distant period. It is certain, however, that
he was so apprenticed, and that is sufficient to satisfy all reasonable
readers. As for those pestilent, curious, prying people, who want to
know the why and wherefore of everything, we refer them to the lives of
certain famous persons, which are so intermingled and confounded with
the lives of their contemporaries, and the events, great and small,
which happened in all parts of the world during their sojourn on the
earth, that it is utterly impossible to say whose life it is we are
reading. Many people of little experience take the title page for a
guide, not knowing, peradventure, they might almost as safely rely upon
history for a knowledge of the events of past ages.
Little Nicholas, our hero, was a merry, sweettempered caitiff, which
was, doubtless, somewhat owing to his living almost altogether upon
sweet things. He was marvellously devoted to cakes, and ate up
numberless gingerbread alphabets before he knew a single letter.
Passing over the intermediate years, of which, indeed, I know no
more than the man in the moon, I come to the period when, being
twenty-four, and the term of his apprenticeship almost out, he fell
desperately in love with the daughter of his worthy master, who was a
burgomaster of forty years standing. In those unprecocious times, the
boys did not grow to be men and the girls women, so soon as they do
now. It would have been considered highly indecent for the former to
think of falling in love before they were out of their time, or the
latter to set up for young women before they knew how to be anything
else. But as soon as the worthy Nicholas arrived at the age of
twenty-four, being, as I said, within a year of the expiration of his
time, he thought to himself that Katrinchee, or Catharine, as the
English call it, was a clever, notable little soul, and eminently
calculated to make him a good wife. This was the main point in the
times of which I am speaking, when people actually married without
first running mad either for love or money.
Katrinchee was the toast of all the young bakers of Amsterdam, and
honest Nicholas had as many rivals as there were loaves of bread in
that renowned city. But he was as gallant a little Dutchman as ever
smoked his way through the world pipe foremost, and did not despair of
getting the better of his rivals, especially as he was a great
favourite with the burgomaster, as, indeed, his conduct merited.
Instead of going the vulgar way to work, and sighing and whining out
romance in her ear, he cunningly, being doubtless inspired by Cupid
himself, proceeded to insinuate his passion, and make it known by
degrees, to the pretty little Katrinchee, who was as plump as a
partridge, and had eyes of the colour of a clear sky.
First did he bake a cake in the shape of a heart pierced half
through by a toasting fork, the which he presented her smoking hot,
which she received with a blush and did eat, to the great encouragement
of the worthy Nicholas. A month after, for he did not wish to alarm the
delicacy of the pretty Katrinchee, he did bake another cake in the
shape of two hearts, entwined prettily with a true lover's knot. This,
too, she received with a blush, and did eat with marvellous content.
After the expiration of a like period, he did contrive another cake in
the shape of a letter, on which he had ingeniously engraven the
following couplet:— "Wer diesen glauben wöhlt hat die vernanft
verschworen, Dem denken abgesaght sein eigentham verlohren." The
meaning of which, if the reader doth not comprehend, I do hereby
earnestly advise him to set about studying the Dutch language
forthwith, that he may properly appreciate its hidden beauties.
Little Katrinchee read this poesy with a sigh, and rewarded the good
Nicholas with a look which, as he afterward affirmed, would have heated
Thus did the sly youth gradually advance himself in the good graces
of the little damsel, until at length he ventured a downright
declaration, in the shape of a cake made in the exact likeness of a
little Dutch Cupid. The acceptance of this was conclusive, and was
followed by permission to address the matter to the decision of the
worthy burgomaster, whose name I regret hath not come down to the
The good man consulted his pipe, and after six months' hard smoking,
came to the conclusion that the thing was feasible. Nicholas was a
wellbehaved, industrious lad, and the burgomaster justly concluded that
the possession of virtuous and industrious habits without houses and
lands, was better than houses and lands without them. So he gave his
consent like an honest and ever to be respected magistrate.
The news of the intended marriage spoiled all the bread baked in
Amsterdam that day. The young bakers were so put out that they forgot
to put yeast in their bread, and it was all heavy. But the hearts of
the good Nicholas and his bride were as light as a feather
notwithstanding, and when they were married it was truly said there was
not a handsomer couple in all Amsterdam.
They lived together happily many years, and nothing was wanting to
their felicity but a family of little chubby boys and girls. But it was
ordained that he never should be blessed with any offspring, seeing
that he was predestined to be the patron and benefactor of the children
of others, not of his own. In good time, and in the fullness of years,
the burgomaster died, leaving his fortune and his business to Nicholas,
who had ever been a kind husband to his daughter, and a dutiful son to
himself. Rich and liberal, it was one of the chief pleasures of the
good Nicholas to distribute his cakes, of which he baked the best in
all Amsterdam, to the children of the neighbourhood, who came every
morning, and sometimes in the evening; and Nicholas felt his heart warm
within his bosom when he saw how they ate and laughed, and were as
happy, ay, and happier, too, than so many little kings. The children
all loved him, and so did their fathers and mothers, so that in process
of time he was made a burgomaster, like his father-in-law before him.
Not only did he entertain the jolly little folk of the city in the
manner heretofore described, but his home was open to all travellers
and sojourners who had no other home, as well as those who came
recommended from afar off. In particular the good pilgrims of the
church, who went about preaching and propagating the true faith, by the
which I mean the doctrines of the illustrious reformers in all time
The good Nicholas had, in the latter part of his life, embraced
these doctrines with great peril to himself, for sore were the
persecutions they underwent in those days who departed from the crying
abominations of the ancient church; and had it not been for the good
name he had established in the city of Amsterdam, among all classes,
high and low, rich and poor, he might, peradventure, have suffered at
the stake. But he escaped, as it were, by a miracle, and lived to see
the truth triumph at last even throughout all the land.
But before this came to pass his faithful and affectionate helpmate
had been taken from him by death, sorely to his grief; and he would
have stood alone in the world had it not been for the little children,
now grown up to be men and women, who remembered his former kindness,
and did all they could to console him—for such is ever the reward of
kindness to our fellow-creatures.
One night as he was sitting disconsolate at home, thinking of poor
Katrinchee, and wishing that either she was with him or he with her, he
heard a distant uproar in the street, which seemed approaching nearer
and nearer. He was about to rise and go to the door to see what was the
occasion, when suddenly it was pushed open with some violence, and a
man rushed past him with very little ceremony. He seemed in a great
hurry, for he panted for breath, and it was some time before he could
"I beseech thee to shut the door and hide me, for my life is in
Nicholas, who never refused to do a good-natured act, did as he was
desired, so far as shutting and barring the door. He then asked,
"What hath endangered thy life, and who art thou, friend, that thou
art thus afraid?"
"Ask me not now, I beseech thee, Nicholas—"
"Thou knowest my name then?" said the other, interrupting him.
"I do—everybody knows thee, and thy kindness of heart. But ask me
nothing now—only hide me for the present, and when the danger is past
I will tell thee all."
"Thou art no murderer or fugitive from justice?"
"No, on my faith. I am sinned against, but I never injured but one
man, and I was sorry for that. But hark, I hear them coming—wilt thou
or wilt thou not protect me?"
"I will," said the good Nicholas, who saw in the dignified air and
open countenance of the stranger something that inspired both
confidence and awe. Accordingly he hastily led him into a remote
apartment, where he secreted him in a closet, the door of which could
not be distinguished, and in which he kept his money and valuables, for
he said to himself, I will trust this man, he does not look as if he
would abuse my confidence.
"Take this key and lock thyself in, that thou mayst be able to get
out in case they take me away."
Presently there was heard a great hallooing and banging at the
outward door, with a cry of "Open! open!" and Nicholas went to the door
and opened it. A flood of people rushed in helter-skelter, demanding
the body of an arch heretic, who, they said, had been seen to take
refuge in the house. But with all their rage and eagerness, they
begged his excuse for this unceremonious proceeding, for Nicholas was
beloved and respected by all, though he was a heretic himself.
"He's here—we saw him enter!" they cried.
"If he is here, find him," quoth Nicholas, quietly.
"I will not say he is not here, neither would I betray him if he
The interlopers then proceeded to search all parts of the house,
except the secret closet, which escaped their attention. When they had
done this, one of them said.
"We have heard of thy having a secret place in thy house where thy
money and papers are secured. Open it to us—we swear not to molest or
take away aught that is thine."
The good Nicholas was confounded at this demand, and stood for a
moment not knowing what to say or what to do. The stranger in the
closet heard it too; but he was a stout-hearted man, and trusted in the
"Where is thy strong closet?" cried one of the fiercest and most
forward of the intruders. "We must and will find it."
"Well, then, find it," quoth Nicholas, quietly.
They inspected the room narrowly, and knocked against the walls in
hopes the hollow sound would betray the secret of the place. But they
were disappointed, for the door was so thick that it returned no hollow
They now began to be impatient, and savage withal, and the ferocious
"Let us take this fellow then. One heretic is as good as
another—as bad I mean."
"Seize him!" cried one.
"Away with him!" cried another.
"To the stake!" cried a third.
They forgot the ancient kindness of the good man; for bigotry and
over-heated zeal remember not benefits, and pay no respect to the
obligations of gratitude. The good Nicholas was violently seized, his
hands tied behind him, and he was about to be carried away a sacrifice
to the demon of religious discord, when the door of the closet flew
open, and the stranger came forth with a step so firm, a look so lofty
and inspired, that the rabble quailed, and were silent before him.
"Unbind this man," said he, in a voice of authority, "and bind me in
Not a man stirred. They seemed spell bound, and stood looking at
each other in silent embarrassment.
"Unbind this man, I say!"
Still they remained, as it were, petrified with awe and astonishment.
"Well, then, I shall do it myself," and he proceeded to release the
good Nicholas from his bonds, while the interlopers remained silent and
"Mistaken men!" then said he, looking at them with pity, mingled
with indignation, "you believe yourselves fulfilling the duties of
your faith when you chase those who differ from you about the world, as
if they were wild beasts, and drag them to the stake, like malefactors
who have committed the worst crimes against society. You think that the
blood of human victims is the most acceptable offering to your Maker,
and worse than the ignorant pagans, who made martyrs of the blessed
saints, sacrifice them on the altar of a religion which is all charity,
meekness, and forgiveness. But I see you are ashamed of yourselves. Go,
and do so no more."
The spirit of intolerance quailed before the majesty of truth and
genius. The poor deluded men, whose passions had been stimulated by
mistaken notions of religious duty, bowed their heads and departed,
rebuked and ashamed.
"Who art thou?" asked Nicholas, when they were gone.
"Thou shalt soon know," replied the stranger. "In the mean time
listen to me. I must be gone before the fiend, which I have, perhaps,
only laid for a few moments, again awakens in the bosoms of these
deluded men, or some others like them get on the scent of their prey,
and track their victim hither. Listen to me, Nicholas, kind and good
Nicholas. Thou wouldst have endangered thy own life for the safety of a
stranger—one who had no claim on thee save that of hospitality—nay,
not even that, for I was not thy guest by invitation, but intrusion.
Blessed be thee and thine, thy house, thy memory when thou art dead,
and thy lot hereafter. Thou art worthy to know who I am."
He then disclosed to him a name with which the world hath since
rung, from clime to clime, from country to country. A name incorporated
inseparably with the interests of truth and the progress of learning.
"Tell it not in Gath—proclaim it not in the streets of Askalon,"
continued he, "for it is a name which carries with it the sentence of
death in this yet benighted city. Interests of the deepest nature—
interests vitally connected with the progress of truth—the temporal
and eternal happiness of millions living, of millions yet unborn,
brought me hither. The business I came upon is in part performed; but
it is now known to some that I am, or have been in the city, who will
never rest till they run me down and tear me in pieces. Farewell, and
look for thy reward, if not here, hereafter—for, sure as thou livest
and breathest, a good action, done with a pure and honest motive, is
twice blessed—once to the doer and once to him to whom it is done."
The good Nicholas would have knelt to the mighty genius that stood
before him, but he prevented him.
"I am no graven image, nor art thou an idolater that thou shouldst
kneel to me. Farewell! Let me have thy prayers, for the prayers of a
good man are indeed blessings."
Saying this, the illustrious stranger departed in haste, and
Nicholas never saw him more for a long time. But he said to himself,
"Blessed is my house, for it hath sheltered the bright light of the
From that time forward, he devoted himself to the good cause of the
reformation with heart and soul. His house was ever the refuge of the
persecuted; his purse the never-failing resource of the distressed; and
many were the victims of bigotry and intolerance whom his influence and
entreaties saved from the stake and the torture. He lived a blessing to
all within the sphere of his influence, and was blessed in living to
see the faith which he loved and cherished at length triumph over the
efforts of power, the arts of intrigue, and the fire of bigotry.
Neither did he forget or neglect the customary offices of kindness
and good will to the little children of the city, who continued still
to come and share his goodly cakes, which he gave with the smile and
the open hand of kind and unaffected benignity. It must have been
delightful to see the aged patriarch sitting at his door, while the
little boys and girls gathered together from all parts to share his
smiles, to be patted on the head, and kissed, and laden with his
Every Newyear's day especially, being his birthday, as it came
round, was a festival, not only to all the children, but to all that
chose to come and see him. It seemed that he grew younger instead of
older on each return of the season; for he received every one with
smiles, and even his enemies were welcome to his good cheer. He had not
the heart to hate anybody on the day which he had consecrated to
innocent gayety, liberal hospitality, and universal benevolence. In
process of time, his example spread among the whole city, and from
thence through the country, until every village and town, nay, every
house, adopted the good custom of setting apart the first day of the
year to be gay and happy, to exchange visits, and shake hands with
friends and to forgive enemies.
Thus the good Nicholas lived, blessing all and blessed by all, until
he arrived at a happy old age. When he had reached fourscore years, he
was sitting by himself late in the evening of the first of January, old
style, which is the only true and genuine era after all—the new style
being a pestilent popish innovation—he was sitting, I say, alone, the
visiters having all departed, laden with gifts and good wishes. A knock
was heard at the door, which always opened of itself, like the heart of
its owner, not only on Newyear's day, but every day in the year.
A stately figure entered and sat down by him, after shaking his hand
right heartily. The good Nicholas was now old, and his eyesight had
somewhat failed him, particularly at night.
"Thou art welcome," quoth the old man.
"I know it," replied the other, "every one is welcome to the house
of the good Nicholas, not only on this, but every other day. I have
heard of thee in my travels."
"Thou knowest my name—may I not know thine?"
The stranger whispered a name in his ear, which made the heart of
the good Nicholas leap in his bosom.
"Dost thou remember the adventure of the closet?" said the stranger.
"Yea—blessed be the day and the hour," said the old man.
And now they had a long conversation, which pertained to high
matters, not according with the nature of my story, and therefore I
pass them by, more especially as I do not exactly know what they were.
"I almost fear to ask thee," at length said Nicholas; "but thou wilt
partake of my cheer, on this the day of my birth. I shall not live to
Old people are often prophetic on the duration of their lives.
"Assuredly," replied the other, "for it is neither beneath my
character nor calling to share the good man's feast, and to be happy
when I can."
So they sat down together and talked of old times, and how much
better the new times were than the old, inasmuch as the truth had
triumphed, and they could now enjoy their consciences in peace.
The illustrious visiter staid all night; and the next morning, as
he was about to depart, the aged Nicholas said to him,
"Farewell—I shall never see thee again. Thou art going a long
journey, thou sayst, but I am about venturing on one yet longer."
"Well, be it so," said the other. "But those who remain behind will
bless thy name and thy memory. The little children will love thee, and
so long as thy countrymen cherish their ancient customs, thou wilt not
They parted, and the prediction of the good Nicholas was fulfilled.
He fell asleep in the arms of death, who called him so softly, and
received him so gently in his embrace, that though his family knew he
slept, they little thought it was for ever.
When this news went abroad into the city, you might see the worthy
burgomasters and citizens knocking the ashes out of their pipes, and
putting them quietly by in their buttonholes; and the good housewives,
ever and anon lifting their clean white aprons to their eyes, that they
might see to thread their needles or find the stitches, as they sat
knitting their stockings. The shops and schools were all shut the day
he was buried; and it was remarked that the men neglected their usual
amusements, and the little children had no heart to play.
When the whole city had gathered together at the side of his grave,
there suddenly appeared among them a remarkable and goodly-looking man,
of most reverent demeanour. Every one bowed their bodies, in
respectful devotion, for they knew the man, and what they owed him. All
was silent as the grave, just about to receive the body of Nicholas,
when he I have just spoken of lifted his head, and said as follows:—
"The good man just about to enter the narrow house never defrauded
his neighbour, never shut his door on the stranger, never did an unkind
action, nor ever refused a kind one either to friend or foe. His heart
was all goodness, his faith all purity, his morals all blameless, yea,
all praiseworthy. Such a man deserves the highest title that can be
bestowed on man. Join me then, my friends, old and young—men, women,
and children, in blessing his memory as the good Saint Nicholas;
for I know no better title to such a distinction than pure faith,
inflexible integrity, and active benevolence." Thus spake the great
reformer, John Calvin.
The whole assembled multitude, with one voice and one heart, cried
out, "Long live the blessed memory of the good St. Nicholas!" as they
piously consigned him to the bosom of his mother earth.
Thus did he come to be called St. Nicholas; and the people, not
content with this, as it were by a mutual sympathy, and without coming
to any understanding on the subject, have ever since set apart the
birthday of the good man, for the exercise of hospitality to men, and
gifts to little children. From the Old World they carried the custom
to the New, where their posterity still hold it in reverence, and where
I hope it will long continue to flourish, in spite of the cold
heartless forms, unmeaning ceremonies, and upstart pretensions of
certain vulgar people, who don't know any better, and therefore ought
to be pitied for their ignorance, rather than contemned for their
THE LITTLE DUTCH SENTINEL OF THE
"How times change in this world, and especially in this New World!"
exclaimed old Aurie Doremus, as he sat at the door of his domicil—the
last of the little Dutch houses, built of little Dutch bricks, with
gable end turned to the street—on a sultry summer evening, in the
year so many honest people found out that paper money was not silver or
gold. Half a dozen of his grown-up grandchildren were gathered about
him, on the seats of the little porch, the top of which was shaped
something like an old revolutionary cocked hat, as the good patriarch
made this sage observation. He was in fine talking humour, and after a
little while, went on amid frequent pauses, as if taxing his memory to
make up his chronicle.
"It was the twenty-fourth—no, the twenty-fifth of March, 1609,
that Hendrick Hudson sailed from Amsterdam. On the fourth of September,
after coasting along Newfoundland to Cape Cod, from Cape Cod to
Chesapeake Bay, and thence back again along the Jersey coast, he came
in sight of the Highlands of Neversink, and anchored in the evening
inside of Sandy Hook. This was in 1609— how long ago is that,
Egbert?" said the good man, turning to me.
"Two hundred and sixteen years," replied I, after sore tribulation,
for I never was good at ciphering.
"Two hundred and sixteen years—well, at that time there was not a
single white man, or white man's habitation, in sight of where we are
now sitting, in the midst of thousands, ten of thousands— I might
almost say hundreds of thousands. Ah! boys, 'tis a rapid growth, and
Heaven grant it may not afford another proof, that the quick of growth
are quick of decay." After musing a little he proceeded, as if speaking
to himself rather than to us.
"If it were possible that an Indian, who had lived on this spot at
the time of Hudson's first visit, could rise from the dead, with all
his recollections of the past about him, what would he think at
beholding the changes that have taken place. Nothing that he had ever
seen, nothing that he had ever known, would he recognise; for even the
face of the earth has passed away, and the course of the mighty rivers
intruded upon by the labours of the white strangers. No vestiges, not
even the roots of the woods where he hunted his game—no landmarks
familiar to his early recollections—no ruins of his ancient
habitations—no traces to guide him to the spot where once reposed the
remains of his fathers—nothing to tell him that his eyes had opened
on the very spot where they closed two hundred years ago." Again he
paused a few moments, and then resumed his cogitations.
"And this is not all, its name and destinies, as well as its nature,
are changed. From the Manhadoes of the ancient proprietors, it passed
into the New-Amsterdam of the Dutch, and the New-York of the English;
and now," continued he, his eyes sparkling with exultation—"now it is
the possession of a free and sovereign people. The sandy barren which
formed the projecting point of our isle, and where a few Indian canoes
were hauled up, is now the resort of thousands of stately ships, coming
from the farthest parts of the earth, and bearing the rich products of
the New World into every corner of the Old. Their masts bristle around
the city, like the leafless trees of a wintry forest. The rugged
island, to which nature had granted nothing but its noble situation,
and which seemed condemned to perpetual sterility, is now become a
region of rich gardens and white groups of houses— the very rocks are
turned to beds of flowers, and the tangled swamps of ivy clinging about
the stinted shrubbery, into smooth lawns, embellishing and embellished
by the sprightly forms of playful lads and lasses, escaped from the
city to enjoy a summer afternoon of rural happiness. All, all is
changed—and man the most of all. Simplicity has given place to the
ostenatious, vulgar pride of purse-proud ignorance—the wild Indian to
the idle and effeminate beau—politeness to ceremony— comfort to
splendour—honest mechanics to knavish brokers—morals to
manners—wampum to paper money—and the fear of ghosts to the horror
of poverty." Here again the old man paused, and seemed to retire within
himself for a minute or two; after which I observed him begin to
chuckle and rub his hands, while his mischievous old eye assumed a new
"I wonder what figure our Dutch belles or beaux of 1700, or
thereabout, would make at a rout, or the Italian opera? I'faith I
believe they would be more out of their element than the Indian I spoke
of just now. They would certainly make rare sport in a cotillon, and I
doubt would never arrive at that acme of modern refinement, which
enables people to prefer sounds without sense, to sense without
sound—and to expire with ecstasy at sentiments expressed in a
language of which they don't comprehend a word."
"But did they believe in ghosts, grandfather?" asked the youngest
little granddaughter, who was just beginning to dip in the modern
wonders of romance, and had been caught by the word ghost in the old
"Ay, that they did, and in everything else. Now people believe in
nothing except what they see in the newspapers—and the only exercise
of their faith appears, not indeed in believing a crust of bread is a
shoulder of mutton, but that a greasy rag of paper is a guinea. I have
heard my grandfather tell fifty stories of ghosts and witches; but
they have all passed from my memory, except one about a little Dutch
sentinel, which he used to repeat so often, that I have never forgotten
it to this day."
"Oh, tell us the story," cried the little romance reader, who was
the old gentleman's prime favourite, and to whom he never thought of
denying anything, either in or out of reason. "I'll give you two kisses
if you will."
"A bargain," cried the good Aurie; "come hither, baggage." The
little girl presented first one rosy cheek and then the other, which he
kissed affectionately, and began as follows, while we all gathered
about him, and listened like so many Schahriars.
"Once upon a time, then, to use the words of a pleasant and
instructive historian, the governors of New-Amsterdam were little
kings, and the burgomasters such great men, that whoever spoke ill of
one of them, had a bridle put into his mouth, rods under his arms, and
a label on his breast recording his crime. In this trim he was led by
the sheriff and tied to a post, where he remained a spectacle to the
public, and an example to all evil doers—or rather evil sayers. I
wonder how such a custom would go down nowadays, with the great
champions of the liberty of the press? Then, too, instead of street
inspectors, whose duty it is to take care of one side of a street and
let the other take care of itself, there were roy meesters to look to
the fences, and keep the cows from trespassing on their neighbour's
pastures—then the houses were covered with reeds and straw, and the
chimneys were made of wood—then all matrimonial disputes were settled
by `a commissary of marriage affairs,' and no man could eat a loaf of
bread, except the flour had been inspected by the `comptroller general
of the company's windmill,' who could be no other than the sage Don
Quixote himself—then, the distinction of ranks, instead of being
designated by great and little barons, was signified by great and
little burghers, who danced hipsey-saw and reels—plucked the
goose—rambled on the commons, now the park, for nuts and
strawberries— made parties of pleasure to enjoy the retired shades of
the Ladies' Valley, since metamorphosed into Maiden Lane—shot bears
in the impenetrable forests of Harlem Heights—hunted the deer along
the Bloomingdale road—and erected Maypoles on the first of May, in
the great meadow where the college now stands."
"In what year of our Lord was that?" asked the little pet lady.
"Why, in the year 1670, or thereabout, you baggage."
"I declare I thought it must have been somewhere about the year
one," said she, laughing. The old man patted her cheek, and went on.
"About this time the good citizens of New-Amsterdam were most
especially afraid of three things— Indians, ghosts, and witches. For
the first, they had good reason, for the Indians inhabited the country
around them in all directions, and though the honest Amsterdamers could
beat them at a bargain, there was another game at which they had rather
the advantage. In regard to ghosts and witches, I cannot say as much in
justification of their fears. But that is neither here nor there. Some
people that will run like a deer from real danger, defy ghosts and
witches, and all their works; while the fearless soldier who faces
death without shrinking in a hundred battles, trembles and flees from a
white cow in a churchyard, or a white sheet on a clothes line, of a
moonlight night. It was thus with honest Jan Sol, the little Dutch
sentinel of the Manhadoes.
"Jan was a short, square-built, bandy-legged, broad-faced,
snub-nosed little fellow, who valued himself upon being an old soldier;
a species of men that, with the exception of travellers, are the most
given to telling what are called tough stories, of any people in the
world. According to his own account, he had been in more pitched
battles than Henry the Lion, or Julius Cæsar; and made more lucky
escapes than any knight-errant on record. The most miraculous one of
all, was at some battle— I forget the name—where he would certainly
have been killed, if he had not very opportunely arrived just after it
was over. But though one of the most communicative persons in the
world, he never gave any tolerable reason for visiting New-Amsterdam.
He hinted, indeed, that he had been invited over to discipline the raw
provinclias; but there was a counter story abroad, that he was drummed
out of the regiment for walking in his sleep, and emptying the canteens
of the whole mess. Indeed, he did not positively deny that he was apt
to be a rogue in his sleep; but then he made it up by being as honest
as the day when he was awake.
"However this may be, at the time I speak of, Jan Sol figured as
corporal in the trusty city guard, whose business it was to watch
during the night, to guard against the inroads of the savages, and to
enforce, in the daytime, the military code established for the good
order and well being of the metropolis. This code consisted of nineteen
articles, every one of which was a perfect blue law. Bread and water,
boring tongues with a red-hot iron, hanging, and such like trifles,
were the least a man had to expect in those days. The mildest
infliction of the whole code, was that of riding a wooden horse, for
not appearing on parade at the ringing of a bell. This town was always
famous for bellringing. Jan had many a ride in this way for nothing.
Among the most rigid of these regulations, was one which denounced
death for going in and out of the fort, except through the gate; and
another, ordaining a similar punishment for entering or leaving the
city by any other way but the land poort, after the mayor had gone his
rounds in the evening, and received the keys from the guard.
"The state of society, and the neighbourhood of the Indians, I
suppose, made these severe restrictions necessary; and we are not,
while sitting quietly at our firesides, out of their reach, to set
ourselves in judgment upon our ancestors, who planted the seeds of this
empire in the midst of dangers. In the little sketch of New-Amsterdam
to which I have before referred, and which is well worth your reading,
it is stated that the gate was shut in the evening before dark, and
opened at daylight. At nine o'clock the tattoo was beat, as the signal
for the honest folks to go to sleep as quick as possible, and it is
recorded they all obeyed the summons in the most exemplary manner. The
sentinels were placed at different points considered the most
accessible, and changed every half hour, that being the limit of a
quiet, orderly Dutchman's capacity for keeping awake after nine o'clock.
"One bright moonlight night, in the month of August, it fell to the
lot of Jan Sol to mount guard, not a hundred yards from the great gate,
or land poort, which was situated in Broadway, near where Trinity
Church now stands. Beyond this, between Liberty and Courtlandt streets,
stood the company's windmill, where nearly all the flour was made for
the consumption of the little metropolis. The place where he took his
rounds was a sand bank, elevated above the surrounding objects, and
whence he could see the river, the opposite shore of NewJersey, then
called Pavonia, the capacious bay, and the distant hills of Staten
Island. The night was calm, and the cloudless sky showed thousands of
wandering glories overhead, whose bright twinklings danced on the slow
undulating surface of the glassy mirror. All round there was perfect
silence and repose, nothing moved upon the land or the waters, neither
lights were burning nor dogs barking; these sagacious animals having
been taught, by a most infallible way of appealing to their instincts,
that it was unlawful to disturb the somniferous indulgences of their
masters. It was a scene for poetic inspiration, but Jan Sol was no
poet, although he often availed himself of the poetic license in his
stories. He was thinking of something else, besides the beauty of the
night and the scene. The truth is, his nerves were very much out of
order at that moment.
"It was about the time that witches made their first appearance in
the New World, whither they came, I suppose, to escape the pleasant
alternative of being either drowned or hanged, proffered to them in
those days by the good people of England. But they got out of the
frying pan into the fire, as history records, particularly to the
eastward of the Manhadoes, where some of them underwent the ordeal of
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Others fled to New-Amsterdam, greatly
to the discomfort of the good citizens, who took such umbrage at
broomsticks, that the industrious and cleanly housewife's vocation of
sweeping the parlour twelve times a day was considered as naught. It is
affirmed, that instead of a broom, they used the broad-brimmed Sunday
hats of their husbands in blowing away the dust, for fear of being
taken for witches. There was a universal panic, and a universal dust
throughout all the city.
"But this was not the worst of it either. Just about this time
Dominie Egidius Luyck prophesied the world was coming speedily to an
end, as plainly appeared from the great quantity of toad stools, which
made their appearance in the Ladies' Valley and Windmill Meadow after a
heavy rain. This prophecy was followed up by the appearance of the
northern lights, falling stars, and mysterious rattlings of invisible
carriages through the streets at midnight. To crown all, an inspired
fanatic had passed through the Broadway, crying out `Wo, wo to the
crown of pride, and the drunkards of Ephraim. Two woes past, and the
third coming, except ye repent—repent—repent.' All these horrors
now encompassed the imagination of Jan Sol, as he paced the little sand
hillock with slow steps, and from time to time started at his shadow.
The half hour seemed an age, and never did anybody long so much for the
appearance of a corporal's guard to relieve him.
"He had not been on his watch more than ten minutes, or so, when,
happening to look towards the opposite shore of Pavonia, he saw
something moving on the waters like a canoe shooting across the river.
Five hundred Indians with tomahawks and scalping knives all at once
stood before the little sentinel, whose imagination was ready cocked
and primed for the reception of all sorts of horrors. He had a great
mind to fire his gun, and alarm the garrison, but a little of the fear
of his companions' jokes restrained him for that time. However, he drew
a pistol, and refreshed his courage with a little of the genuine
Schiedam, after which he ventured to look that way again. But the canoe
had disappeared in a most miraculous manner, and Jan was satisfied in
his own mind, that it was neither more nor less than the ghost of a
canoe. There was not much consolation in this; but it was better than
the five hundred Indians, with their tomahawks and scalping knives.
"The night breeze now sprung up with its chilling dews, and cooled
Jan's courage till it nearly fell down to the freezing point. The wind,
or some other cause, produced a sort of creaking and moaning in the old
crazy windmill, which drew the eyes of the little sentinel in that
direction. At that moment, Jan saw a head slowly rising and peeping
over the wall, directly in a line with the windmill. His eyes became
riveted to the spot, with the irresistible fascination of overwhelming
terror. Gradually the head was followed by shoulders, body and legs,
which Jan swore belonged to a giant at least sixteen ells high. After
sitting a moment upon the wall, the figure, according to Jan's relation
before the governor next morning, put forth a pair of enormous wings,
and whirling itself round and round in a circle—while its eyes
flashed fire, and its teeth appeared like live coals—actually flew
down from the wall towards the governor's garden, where it disappeared,
or rather sank into the ground, close by the garden gate. Jan fired
his gun, and one might have supposed he killed himself, for he fell
flat on his face, apparently as dead as a door nail.
"Here he was found by the relief guard, about five minutes
afterwards, with his face buried in the sand hill. The moment they
touched him, he began to roar out with awful vociferation, `Wo, wo to
the crown of pride, and the drunkards of Ephraim.' They could make
nothing of Jan or his story, and forthwith carried him to the `big
house,' as it was called, where the governor resided, and who, together
with the whole corporation and city, had been waked by the discharge of
the gun. Such a thing had not happened within the memory of man. Jan
told his story, and swore to it afterwards; but all he got by it, was a
ride on the wooden horse the next morning. The story, however, took
wind, and there was more liquor sold that day at the Stadt Herberg, or
city tavern, than for a whole week before. Coming upon the back of the
dominie's toad stools, the northern lights, the rumbling of the
invisible wheels, and the mysterious denunciation of the drunkards of
Ephraim, it made a great impression; and many, not to say all, believed
there must be something in it. Several people went to church the next
day, who had not been there since they were christened.
"Measures were taken the following night, and for several nights
afterwards, to detect this gigantic spectre, but in vain. Nothing
appeared to disturb the quiet repose of the guard and the city, till
the next Saturday night, when it came to Jan Sol's turn to take his
watch upon the sand hill, about the same hour as before. They say Jan
fortified himself with a double allowance of Schiedam, and put a little
Dutch Bible in the pocket of one of his breeches. But all would not do,
for many people were ready to swear afterwards, that his hair stood on
end so sturdily that he could hardly keep his tin cap upon it. Ghosts,
hobgoblins, and all that sort of thing, have not only a propensity to
visit some one particular person, but are likewise extremely regular in
their habits, as well as in their hours of appearing. Exactly at the
same hour the little canoe shot from Pavonia—the night breeze sprang
up as before—the old windmill began to creak and moan—the gigantic
spectre peered over the wall at the same spot as before, and cautiously
glaring round with his fiery eyes, unfurled his mighty wings, and after
turning a few somersets, flew towards the gate of the governor's
garden, where he disappeared as before. This time Jan was too far gone
to fire his matchlock, but a few minutes after he was found almost
insensible with fright, by the relief guard, who carried him before the
governor next morning, where he swore to the same story, and was
complimented with another ride on the wooden horse.
"But the repetition of a miracle is sure to make it less miraculous;
and a wonder twice told is almost half proved. People began to believe,
and from believing, to be sure there was something out of the way, at
least, in this affair. Miracles, like misfortunes, never come single;
and almost every one had a wonder of his own to reinforce that of the
little Dutch sentinel. At least fifty of them happened within less than
a week, each more alarming than the other. Doors opened at midnight, by
invisible hands—strange black cats with green eyes, and sparks of
fire flying out of their backs, appeared at different times—the old
mahogany chests of drawers made divers strange noises, and sometimes
went off with a report almost as loud as a pistol—and an old woman
coming into market with cabbages before daylight in the morning, met a
black figure, she could almost swear had a tail and a cloven foot. A
horseman was heard in the middle of the night galloping furiously
towards the land poort, crying `Whoa! whoa!' with a hollow voice; and
what was very singular, though several persons got up to look out of
the windows, not one could see the least sign of horse or horseman. In
short, the whole city of New-Amsterdam was in a panic, and he was a
bold man that did not run away from his own shadow. Even the `big
house,' where the governor dwelt, was infected, insomuch that his
excellency doubled his guards, and slept with loaded pistols at his
bedside. One of these made a voluntary discharge one night, and the
bullet passed right through the picture of Admiral Van Tromp, which
hung up in the chamber. If it had been the admiral himself he would
have been killed as sure as a gun. This accident was considered as very
remarkable, as there were no hair triggers in those days, to go off of
"There was at that time a public-spirited little magistrate in
office, by the name of Dirck Smet, a pipemaker by trade, who was the
father of more laws than all the lawyers before or after him, from
Moses down to the present time. He had the itch of legislation to a
most alarming degree, and like Titus, considered he had lost a day when
he had not begotten at least one law. A single circumstance or event,
no matter how insignificant, was enough for him. If a little boy
happened to frighten a sober Dutch horse, which, by-the-way, was no
such easy matter, by flying his kite, the worshipful Dirck Smet would
forthwith call a meeting of the common council, and, after declaiming a
full hour upon the dangers of kiteflying, get a law passed, denouncing
a penalty upon all wicked parents who allowed their children to indulge
in that pestilent amusement. If there happened a rumour of a man, a
horse, a cow, or any other animal being bitten by a mad dog, in some
remote part of New-England, or elsewhere, Dirck Smet would spout a
speech enough to make one's hair stand on end, about the horrors of
hydrophobia, and get a law passed against all the honest mastiffs of
New-Amsterdam, who had no more idea of running mad than I have at this
moment. Owing to the number of little creeks intersecting the city, and
the quantity of grass growing in the streets at that time, there was
never a finer city for raising flocks of geese than New-Amsterdam—in
fact, there were as many geese as inhabitants. Dirck declared war
against these in a speech of three hours, which so overpowered the
council, that they all fell asleep, and passed a law banishing the
geese from the city; although one of the members, who had the finest
goose pond in the place, talked very learnedly about the famous goose
that saved the capitol. It is said that Dirck's antipathy to these
honest birds arose from having been attacked and sorely buffeted by a
valiant old gander, whose premises he had chanced to invade on some
occasion. He was, indeed, the most arrant meddler and busybody of his
day, always poking his nose into holes and corners, ferreting out
nuisances, and seeking pretexts for new laws; so that if the people had
paid any attention to them they would have been under a worse tyranny
than that of the Turk or the Spaniard. But they were saved from this by
a lucky circumstance— the council thinking they did enough by making
the laws, let them take care of themselves afterwards; and honest Dirck
Smet was too busy begetting new laws, to mind what became of the old
ones. Nevertheless, he got the reputation of a most vigilant
magistrate, which means a pestilent intermeddler with people's domestic
sports and occupations, and a most industrious busybody in attempting
"As soon as Dirck Smet heard the story of the inroads of the winged
monster, he fell into a fever of anxiety to do something for the good
of the community. He was on the point of proposing a severe law against
winged monsters, but from this he was dissuaded by a judicious friend,
who represented the difficulty of catching this sort of delinquents,
and that this was absolutely necessary, before he could punish them.
Baffled in this point, he fumed about from one place to another,
insisting that something must be done for the quiet and security of the
city, and that a law of some kind or other was absolutely necessary on
the occasion, if it were only to show their zeal for the public good.
It was his opinion that a bad law was better than no law at all, and
that it would be an inexcusable piece of negligence to let these
interloping monsters fly over the wall with impunity.
"All this while his excellency the governor of New-Amsterdam said
nothing, but thought a great deal. He was a little jealous of the
popularity of Dirck Smet, who had got the title of Father of the City,
on account of having saved it from the horrors of flying kites, mad
dogs, and hissing ganders. In fact, they were two such great men, that
the city was not half large enough for them both, and the consequence
was, that instead of assisting, they only stood in each other's way,
like two carts in a narrow lane. We can have too much of a good thing,
even as regards laws and rulers. The governor was determined to do
nothing, for no other reason that could ever be discovered than because
his rival was so busy. The fears of the good citizens, however, and
their increasing clamours against the negligence of their rulers, at
length roused the activity of the governor, who forthwith convened his
council, to deliberate upon the best means of saving the city of
"Dirck Smet, who was ex-officio a member, was in his glory on this
occasion, and talked so much that there was no time for acting. At
length, however, the inward man gave out, and he had not breath to say
anything more. It was then, tradition says, that a silent old member,
who never made a set speech in his life, proposed, in as few words as
possible, and in a quiet colloquial manner, that measures should be
first taken to ascertain the truth of the story, after which means
might be found to detect the miracle or the impostor, whatever it might
be. It is affirmed the whole council was astonished that a man should
be able to say so much in so few words, and that henceforth the silent
member was considered the wisest of them all. Even Dirck Smet held his
tongue for the rest of the sitting, thus furnishing another striking
proof, my children, that good sense is an overmatch for the most
confirmed garrulity. The same old gentleman suggested, that as Saturday
night seemed to be the period chosen for his two visits by the winged
monster, it would be advisable to place some of the most trusty of the
city guard in ambush in the vicinity of the spot where, according to
the testimony of Jan Sol, he had flown over the wall, to intercept him
there, or at least overtake him in his progress to the governor's
garden. Everybody wondered at the wisdom of this proposal, which was
adopted with only one dissenting voice. Dirck Smet moved, as an
amendment, that the word `progress' should be changed to `flight,' but
it was negatived, greatly to his mortification, and therefore he voted
against the whole proposition, declaring it went against his conscience.
"Accordingly, the next Saturday night a party was got in readiness,
of six picked men of the city guard, under the command of Captain
Balthaser Knyff, of immortal memory, who had faced more ghosts in his
generation than any man living. The whole band was equipped with an
extraordinary number of nether garments for defence, and fortified with
double allowance of Schiedam, to keep up their courage in this arduous
service. The captain was considered a person of the greatest weight in
all the city; and in addition to this, he added to his specific
gravity, by stuffing into his pocket all the leaden weights he could
borrow of a neighbouring grocer, for he did not know but the monster
might fly away with him. His comrades remonstrated that this additional
weight would impede his pursuit of the foe; but the captain nobly
replied, `it was beneath a soldier to run, either from or after an
enemy.' The most perfect secrecy was preserved in all these
"Thus equipped, they took their station, about eleven o'clock on the
Saturday night following the last appearance of the winged monster,
under cover of one of the neighbouring houses, and there waited the
coming of the mysterious visiter. Twelve o'clock, the favourite hour of
spectres of all sorts, came and passed, yet no spectre appeared peeping
over the wall. By this time they began to be wearied with long
watching, and it was proposed that they should take turns, one at a
time, while the others slept off the fatigue of such unheard-of
service. The lot fell upon Jan Sol, who being, as it were, a sort of
old acquaintance of the spectre, was supposed to be particularly
qualified for this honour. Jan forthwith posted himself at the corner
of the house, upon one leg, to make sure of keeping awake, as he had
whilome seen the New-Amsterdam geese do, ere they were banished from
the city, by the inflexible patriotism of Dirck Smet, the great
"The little Dutch sentinel stood for about half an hour, sometimes
on one leg, sometimes on the other, with his head full of hobgoblins
and his heart full of fears. All was silent as the grave, save the
sonorous music of the captain's vocal nose, or, as it might be
poetically expressed, `living lyre,' which ever and anon snorted a low
requiem to the waning night. The moon was on the swift decrease, and
now exhibited an arch not unlike a bright Indian bow, suspended in the
west, a little above the distant horizon. Gradually it sank behind the
hills, leaving the world to the guardianship of the watchmen of the
night, the twinkling stars. Scarcely a minute after, the heart of
honest Jan was sent bumping against his trusty ribs, by the appearance
of something slowly rising above the indistinct line of the city wall,
which I ought to observe was made of wood. The spectre gradually
mounted higher and higher, and rested on the very spot where he had
seen it twice before. The teeth of Jan Sol chattered, and his knees
knocked against each other—but he stood his ground manfully, and
either would not or could not run away. This time the spectre, though
he appeared with two enormous wings projecting from his shoulders, did
not whirl them round, or expand them in the manner he had done before.
After sitting perched for a few moments on the wall, he flew down to
the ground, and crept cautiously along, under cover of the wall, in a
direction towards the big house. At this moment, the trusty Jan with
some difficulty roused his companions, and silently pointed to the
spectre gliding along as before related. Whether it was that it saw or
heard something to alarm it, I cannot say; but scarcely had the
redoubtable Captain Knyff risen, and shaken from his valiant spirit the
fumes of sleep and Schiedam, when the spirit took as it were to itself
wings, and sped rapidly towards the gate of the governor's garden. The
party pursued, with the exception of the captain, who carried too much
weight for a race, and arrived within sight of the gate just in time to
see the spectre vanish, either under, over, or inside of it, they could
not tell which. When they got to the gate, they found it fast locked,
a proof, if any had been wanting, that it must have been something
"In pursuance of their instructions, the guard roused the governor,
his household, and his troops, with the intention of searching the
garden, and, if necessary, every part of his house, for the purpose of
detecting this mysterious intruder. The garden was surrounded by a high
brick wall, the top of which bristled with iron spikes and pieces of
bottles set in mortar. It was worth a man's life to get over it. There
was no getting in or out except by the gate, on the outside of which
the governor stationed two trusty fellows, with orders to stand a
little apart, and perfectly quiet. Now all the governor's household was
wide awake, and in a bustle of anxiety and trepidation, except one
alone, who did not make her appearance. This was the governor's only
daughter, as pretty a little Dutch damsel as ever crossed Kissing
Bridge, or rambled over the green fields of the Manhadoes. Compared to
the queer little bodies that figure nowadays in the Broadway, seemingly
composed of nothing but hats, feathers, and flounces, she was a
composition of real flesh and blood, which is better than all the
gauze, silk, tulle, and gros de Naples in the world. A man marries a
milliner's shop instead of a woman nowadays," said the old gentleman,
glancing a little archly at the fashionable paraphernalia of his pretty
pet granddaughter. "Her face and form was all unsophisticated native
beauty, and her dress all simplicity and grace."
"Is that her picture hanging in the back parlour?" asked the little
girl, in a sly way.
"Yes; but the picture does not do justice either to the beauty or
the dress of the original."
"I hope not," said the other; "for if it does, I am sure I would not
be like her for the world."
"Pshaw, you baggage," replied the old gentleman, "you'll never be
fit to hold a candle to her.
"The search now commenced with great vigour in the garden, although
Jan Sol openly declared it as his opinion, that they might look
themselves blind before they found the spectre, who could fly over a
wall as easy as a grasshopper. He accordingly kept aloof from the
retired part of the garden, and stuck close to his noble commander,
Captain Knyff, who by this time had come up with the pursuers. All
search, however, proved vain; for after a close investigation of more
than an hour, it was unanimously agreed that the intruder, whether man,
monster, or ghost, could not possibly be hid in the garden. The
governor then determined to have the house searched, and accordingly
the whole party entered for that purpose, with the exception of the two
sentinels without the gate. Here, while rummaging in closets, peering
under beds, and looking up chimneys in vain, they were alarmed by a
sudden shout from the garden, which made their hearts quake with
exceeding apprehension. The shout was succeeded by loud talking and
apparent tugging and struggling, as if between persons engaged in hot
contention. At the same moment the governor's daughter rushed into her
chamber, and throwing herself on the bed with a loud shriek, remained
insensible for some time. Everybody was sure she had seen the spectre.
"It appears that while the search was going on in the big house, and
the attention of everybody employed in that direction, the sentinels
outside the gate heard the key cautiously turned inside, then, after a
little pause, slowly open. A face then peeped out as if to take an
observation, and the owner, apparently satisfied that the coast was
clear, darted forward. The first step, he unluckily tripped over a rope
which these trusty fellows had drawn across the gate, and fell full
length on the ground. Before he could recover his feet the two
sentinels were upon him, and in spite of his exertions kept him down,
until their shouts drew the rest of the guard to their assistance. The
spectre was then secured with ropes, and safely lodged in the cellar
under a strong escort, to await his examination the next morning. Jan
Sol was one of the band, though he insisted it was all nonsense to
mount guard over a spectre.
"The council met betimes at the sound of a bell, rung by a worthy
citizen, who, in addition to his vocation of bellringer, was crier of
the court, messenger to the governor, sexton, clerk, and gravedigger to
the whole city of New-Amsterdam. It was something to be a man in those
days, before the invention of steam engines, spinning jennies, and
chessplaying automatons caused such a superfluity of human beings, that
it is much if they can now earn salt to their porridge. At that time,
men were so scarce, that there were at least half a dozen offices to
one man; now there are half a dozen men to one office; all which is
owing to machinery. This accumulation of honours in the person of the
bellringer, made him a man of considerable consequence, insomuch, that
the little boys about Flattenbarrack Hill chalked his name upon their
sleighs, and it is even asserted that he had an Albany sloop called
after him. I could, therefore, do no less than make honourable mention
of a person of his dignity.
"After the council met, and everything was ready, the door of the
cellar was cautiously opened, and Jan Sol, at the head, that is to say,
in the rear of a file of soldiers, descended for the purpose of
bringing forth this daring interloper, who had thus, from time to time,
disturbed the sleep of the sober citizens of New-Amsterdam. Jan offered
to bet a canteen of Schiedam, that they would find nobody in the
cellar; but, contrary to all expectation, they presently came forth
with the body of a comely youth, apparently about the age of
five-and-twenty, which was considered very young in those days. Nothing
was more customary there, than for a sturdy mother to bastinado her
boys, as she called them, after they had grown to be six feet high.
They were all the better for it, and made excellent husbands.
"When the young man came into the presence of the puissant governor
of the New Netherlands, he appeared a comely person, tall, fair
complexioned, and pleasant of feature. He was asked whence he came, and
not having a lawyer at his elbow to teach him the noble art of
prevarication, replied without hesitation,
"`How did you get into the city?'
"`I climbed the wall, near the company's windmill. '
"`And how did you get into the governor's garden?'
"`The same way I got out.'
"`How was that?'
"`Through the gate.'
"`How did you get through the gate?'
"`By unlocking it.'
"`With a key.'
"`Whence came that key?'
"`Whence came that key?'
"`I shall not tell.'
"`What induced you to scale the wall and intrude into the garden?'
"`I shall not tell.'
"`Not if you are hanged for not telling?'
"`Not if I am hanged for not telling.'
"`What have you done with the wings with which, according to the
testimony of Jan Sol, you flew from the wall, and through the street to
the governor's garden?'
"`I never had any wings, and never flew in the whole course of my
"Here Jan Sol was called up, and testified positively to the wings
and the flying. There was now great perplexity in the council, when the
keeper of the windmill demanded to be heard. He stated he remembered
perfectly well, that on the two nights referred to, he had set his
windmill going about the hour in which Jan Sol saw the spectre whirl
round and fly from the wall. There had been a calm for several days
previous, and the citizens began to be in want of flour. He had
therefore taken advantage of the rising of the wind at the time, to set
his mill going. A little further inquiry led to the fact, that the
place where the spectre scaled the wall was exactly in a line with the
windmill and the spot where Jan held his watch. It was thus that the
spectre became identified with the wings of the mill. This exposition
marvellously quieted the fears of the good people; but there were a
number of stern believers who stuck by the little sentinel, and
continued to believe in the winged monster. As for poor Jan, he looked
ten times more foolish than when he used to be caught emptying the
canteens of his comrades in his sleep. This elucidation being over, the
"`Did you know of the law making it death for any one to enter or
depart from the city between sunset and sunrise, except through the
"`What induced you to violate it?'
"`I shall not tell.'
"`Was it plunder?'
"`I am no thief.'
"`Was it treason against the state?'
"`I am no traitor.'
"`Was it mischief?'
"`I am not a child.'
"`Was it to frighten people?'
"`I am no fool.'
"`What is your name?'
"`My name is of no consequence—a man can be hanged without a name.'
"And this was all they could get out of him. Various cross-questions
were put to entrap him. He replied to them all with perfect freedom and
promptitude, until they came to his name, and his motives for intruding
into the city in violation of a law so severe, that none as yet had
ever been known to transgress it. Then, as before, he declined
"In those early days, under the Dutch dynasty, trial by jury was not
in fashion. People were too busy to serve as jurymen, if they had been
wanted; and the decision of most cases was left either to the
burgomasters, or if of great consequence, to the governor and council.
Justice was severe and prompt, in proportion to the dangers which
surrounded the early colonists, and the spirit of the times in which
they flourished. They lived in perpetual apprehension; and fear is the
father of cruelty. The law denouncing death to any person who should
enter the city between sunset and sunrise, except by the gate, was
considered as too essential to the security of the citizens to be
relaxed in favour of any one, especially of a person who refused to
tell either his name or the motive for his intrusion. By his own
admission, he was guilty of the offence, and but one course remained
for the council. The young man was sentenced to be hanged that day
week, and sent to the fort for safe keeping till the period arrived.
"That day the daughter of the governor did not appear to grace the
table of his excellency, nor in the management of those little
household affairs, that are not beneath the dignity of the daughters of
kings. She was ill with a headache, and kept her bed. The governor had
no child but her, and though without any great portion of sensibility,
was capable of all the warmth of parental affection. Indeed, all his
affections were centred in this little blooming offspring, who was the
only being in all the New World that carried a drop of his blood
coursing in her blue veins. He was also proud of her—so proud, that
his pride often got the better of his affection. She had many
admirers—for she was fair, wealthy, and the daughter of the greatest
governor in the New World, not excepting him of Virginia. It followed,
as a matter of course, that she was admired, but it was at an awful
distance. The honest Dutch swains, who had not pursued the female
sprite through all the mazes of romance, and learned how ofttimes
highborn ladies stooped to lads of low degree, gaped at her at church,
as if she had been a sea serpent. They would as soon have thought of
aspiring to the governor's dignity, as to the governor's daughter.
Besides, he was one of those absurd old blockheads, who consider nobody
good enough for their daughters at home, and hawk them about Europe, in
search of some needy sprig of nobility, who will exchange his mighty
honours for bags of gold, and a fair, blooming, virtuous virgin into
the bargain. He had sworn a thousand times, that his Blandina should
never marry anything below a Dutch baron."
"Was her name Blandina—was she my namesake?" interrupted the
"Yes, girl, she was your great great grandmother, and you were
christened after her," said the old man, and proceeded.
"This fear on the part of the young fellows of New-Amsterdam, and
this well-known determination of the governor, kept all admirers at an
awful distance from the young lady, who grew up to the age of eighteen,
loving no one save her father, now that her mother was no more; and an
old black woman, who had taken care of her ever since she was a child.
The throne of her innocent bosom had remained till then quite vacant,
nor did she know for certain what it was that made her sometimes so
weary of the world, and so tired of the length of the livelong sultry
summer hours. She walked into the garden to pluck the flowers, until
she became tired of that. She strolled with her old nurse into the
rural retirement of Ladies' Valley, and the shady paths which coursed
the wood where the Park is now, until she became tired of these. In
short, she became tired of everything, and so spiritless, that her
father was not a little alarmed for her health.
"About this time the governor was called by important political
business to the eastern frontier, and the journey was expected to take
up several days. During his absence, a party was formed to cross the
river, and spend the day in rambling about the romantic solitudes of
Weehawk, then a sort of frontier between the white man and the Indian.
Blandina was pressed to accompany them, and at last consented, although
against the will, not only of the governor's deputy, but of the
governor himself, who would certainly have forbidden it, had he been
present; but he was a hundred miles off, and in the absence of the
governor there was nobody equal to the governor's daughter. The morning
was fine, and the party set out as happy as youthful spirits and
youthful anticipations could make them. Here they rambled at will and
at random, in groups, in pairs, and alone, just as it suited them;
gathering together to take their refreshments, and again separating, as
chance or will directed them.
"Blandina had separated from the others, and wandered, almost
unconsciously, half a mile from the landing place by herself. Perhaps
when she set out, she expected some of the beaux to follow, but they
stood in such awe of her, that not one had the temerity to offer his
attendance. Each being occupied with his own pursuits and reflections,
no one missed the young madam for some time, until their attention was
roused by a shriek at a distance in the wood. After a momentary pause,
the shrieks were repeated in quick succession, and almost immediately
succeeded by the report of a gun. The little group of young people was
struck with dismay, and the first impulse was to run to the boats, and
escape into the stream. But to do them justice, this was but an
involuntary selfishness, for the moment they missed Blandina, the young
men prepared to pursue in the direction of the shrieks and the gun. At
this crisis, a figure darted swiftly from the wood, bearing the young
lady insensible in his arms, and approaching the group, placed her with
her head in the lap of one of the girls, while he ran to the river, and
returned with some water in his hat.
"Blandina soon came to herself, and related that she had been seized
by an Indian, and rescued by the young man, who, all the young damsels
presently discovered, was very handsome. He wore the dress of a
gentleman of that day, which, sooth to say, would not cut much of a
figure just now. He was accoutred as a sportsman, and had in his bag
sufficient evidence of his skill. It was decided on all hands that the
stranger, having saved the life of Blandina, or at least rescued her
from captivity, was destined to be her future husband, and that her
time was now come. Such prophecies are very apt to be fulfilled. The
stranger announced himself as the son of the ancient and honourable
Lord of Pavonia, and was blushingly invited by Blandina to come and
receive the thanks of her father, when he should return from the
eastern frontier. But he only shook his head, and replied with a
dubious smile, `Are you sure I shall be welcome? '
"From this time Blandina became more languid and thoughtful than
ever. When the father returned, and heard the story of her straying
into the woods, and of her deliverance, he swore he would reward the
gallant young man, like a most liberal and puissant governor. But when
afterwards, on inquiring his name, he found that he was the son of the
Lord of Pavonia, he retracted his promise, and swore that the son was
no better than the father, who was an arrant splutterkin. They had
quarrelled about boundaries; his excellency claiming the whole of the
river on the west side, up to the high-water mark, while the Lord of
Pavonia, whose territories lay exactly opposite the city of
New-Amsterdam, had the temerity to set nets, and catch shad in the very
middle of the stream. The feud was bitter in proportion to the dignity
of the parties and the importance of the point at issue. The governor
commanded his daughter never to mention the name of the splutterkin, on
pain of his displeasure.
"Rumour, however, says that the young man found means to renew his
acquaintance with Blandina, and that though she might never mention his
name to her father, she thought of him all day, and dreamed about him
all night. After a while the rumour died away, and the people began to
think and talk of something else. Some of the young men, however, who
happened to see the culprit that had dared to leap over the wall
against the statute, thought he had a strong resemblance to the youth
who had rescued Blandina from the Indian. The young lady, as I said
before, continued ill all day, and for several days after the
condemnation of the spectre youth, who persevered in obstinately
refusing any disclosure of his name, or his motives for scaling the
walls of New-Amsterdam. In the mean time the period of his execution
approached; only two days of life now remained to him, when Blandina,
with an effort, determined to bring her fate to a crisis at once. She
rose from her bed, pale and drooping like a lily, and tottering to her
father's study, sank at his feet.
"`Father,' said she, `will you forgive him and me?'
"`Forgive thee, my daughter; I have nothing to forgive, so that is
settled. But who is the other?'
"`Thy husband!' exclaimed the puissant governor, starting up in
dismay; `and who is he?'
"`The youth who is sentenced to die the day after the morrow.'
"`And who is he—in the d—l's name, I had almost said,' exclaimed
his excellency, in wrathful amazement.
"`He is the son of the Lord of Pavonia,' replied she, hiding her
face with her hands.
"`And thou art married to that splutterkin?'
"`Then I shall take care to unmarry thee—the knot the parson tied
the hangman shall untie the day after the morrow, or I'm no governor.
But who dared to marry thee against my will?'
"`He did—then the dominie shall hang by the side of the
splutterkin. Go to thy chamber, to thy bed, to thy grave, thou art no
daughter of mine.'
"Poor Blandina crawled to her bed, and wept herself into a temporary
forgetfulness. The next day she was so much worse, that the old nurse
declared she would die before her husband. The governor kept up a good
countenance, but his heart was sorely beset by pity and forgiveness,
which both clung weeping about him. He went so far as to sound some of
the council about pardoning the young man; but one of them, who was
suspected of looking up to the fair Blandina, talked so eloquently
about the safety of the city and the public good, that he was fain to
hold his tongue, and shut himself up, for he could not bear to see his
"At length the day arrived, big with the fate of poor Blandina and
her unhappy husband. She sent to her father for permission to see him
before he died, but the governor, after a sore struggle, denied her
"`Then, indeed, he is no longer my father,' cried Blandina, and
sinking upon her bed, covered her head, as if to shut out the world.
Presently the bell tolled the hour of the sacrifice, and its hollow
vibrations penetrated the ears of the mourning wife. In spite of her
weakness, and the endeavours of the old nurse, she started up, and
rushing towards the door of her chamber, exclaimed, wildly, `I will see
him—I will go and see him die.' But her strength failed her, and she
sank on the floor. In the mean time a scene, peculiarly interesting to
the fortunes of Blandina, was passing below. The proud, obdurate, rich
old Lord of Pavonia, had heard of the capture, the condemnation of his
only son. For a while his pride and hatred of the Governor of
New-Amsterdam almost choked the thought of entreaty or concession to
his ancient enemy. But as the time approached, and he heard of the
situation of his son, and of his unfortunate wife, who had never
offended him, his heart gradually relented. When the morning arrived,
and he looked across the smooth river, from the long porch fronting
his stately mansion, towards the spot where his son was about suffering
an ignominious death, he could restrain his feelings no longer.
"Calling for his boatmen and his barge, and hastily putting on his
cocked hat and sword, he embarked, crossed swiftly over the river, and
landing, proceeded directly to the big house. He demanded an audience
of the governor.
"`The splutterkin is here too—but let him come in, that I may be
satisfied the old dog is as miserable as myself,' said the governor,
with tears in his eyes.
"The Lord of Pavonia entered with a stately bow, which was returned
in as stately a manner by the governor.
"`I come,' said Pavonia, `I come,' and his voice became choked, `to
ask the life of my son at your hands.'
"`Thy son has broken the laws, and the laws have condemned him to
"`I know it,' said the other; `but what if I pay the price of his
"`I am no money higgler.'
"But if I surrender the right of the river to high-water mark?'
"`What!' said his excellency, pricking up his ears, `wilt thou? And
the shad fishery, and the diabolical gill nets?'
"`Yea—all—all,' said the other, `to save the life of my only
"`Wilt thou sign, seal, and deliver?'
"`This instant—so I receive back my boy alive.'
"`Stay, then, a moment.'
"The governor then hastily directed his bellringer to call the
council together, and laid the proposition before them. The concession
was irresistible, and the council decided to pardon the son, on
condition that the father executed the deed of relinquishment. He did
so, and the young man was forthwith set at liberty. It is time for me
to retire," said our good grandfather, "so I must cut short my story.
The meeting of the husband and his faithful wife took place without
witnesses, and none was ever able to describe it. Blandina speedily
recovered, and lived to see her children's children play about the room
by dozens. The Lord of Pavonia and the Governor of New-Amsterdam
continued a sort of grumbling acquaintance, and dined together once a
year, when they always quarrelled about the fishery and high-water
mark. In process of time, their respective fortunes became united in
the person of the winged monster, and formed a noble patrimony, some of
which I inherited with your grandmother.
"Jan Sol underwent many a joke, good, bad, and indifferent, about
the winged monster. But he continued to his dying day to assert his
solemn belief, that the young Lord of Pavonia and the spectre were two
different persons. Many a time and oft did he frighten his wife and
children with the story, which he improved every time he told it, till
he was at length gathered to his fathers, as his fathers had been
gathered before him. He had enough people to keep him in countenance,
for there were hundreds of discreet citizens, who treated all doubts
concerning the appearance of the winged monster with as little
toleration as do the good folks of the town of Salem the wicked
unbelievers in the existence of the great sea serpent."
Little Cobus Yerks—his name was Jacob, but being a Dutchman, if
not a double Dutchman, it was rendered in English Cobus—little Cobus,
I say, lived on the banks of Sawmill River, where it winds close under
the brow of the Raven Rock, an enormous precipice jutting out of the
side of the famous Buttermilk Hill, of which the reader has doubtless
often heard. It was a rude, romantic spot, distant from the high road,
which, however, could be seen winding up the hill about three miles
off. His nearest neighbours were at the same distance, and he seldom
saw company except at night, when the fox and the weasel sometimes beat
up his quarters, and caused a horrible cackling among the poultry.
One Tuesday, in the month of November, 1793, Cobus had gone in his
wagon to the little market town on the river, from whence the boats
plied weekly to New-York, with the produce of the neighbouring farmers.
It was then a pestilent little place for running races, pitching
quoits, and wrestling for gin slings; but I must do it the credit to
say, that it is now a very orderly town, sober and quiet, save when
Parson Mathias, who calls himself a son of thunder, is praying in
secret, so as to be heard across the river. It so happened, that of all
the days in the year, this was the very day a rumour had got into town,
that I myself— the veritable writer of this true story—had been
poisoned by a dish of Souchong tea, which was bought a great bargain of
a pedler. There was not a stroke of work done in the village that day.
The shoemaker abandoned his awl; the tailor his goose; the hatter his
bowstring; and the forge of the blacksmith was cool from dawn till
nightfall. Silent was the sonorous harmony of the big spinning wheel;
silent the village song, and silent the fiddle of Master Timothy Canty,
who passed his livelong time in playing tuneful measures, and catching
bugs and butterflies. I must say something of Tim before I go on with
Master Timothy was first seen in the village, one foggy morning,
after a drizzling, warm, showery night, when he was detected in a
garret, at the extremity of the suburbs; and it was the general
supposition that he had rained down in company with a store of little
toads that were seen hopping about, as is usual after a shower. Around
his garret were disposed a number of unframed pictures, painted on
glass, as in the olden time, representing the Four Seasons, the old
King of Prussia, and Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, in their
sharppointed cocked hats; the fat, bald-pated Marquis of Granby, the
beautiful Constantia Phillips, and divers others, not forgetting the
renowned Kitty Fisher, who, I honestly confess, was my favourite among
them all. The whole village poured into the garret to gaze at these
chef d'oeuvres; and it is my confirmed opinion, which I shall carry to
the grave, that neither the gallery of Florence, Dresden, nor the
Louvre, was ever visited by so many real amateurs. Besides the
pictures, there were a great many other curiosities, at least
curiosities to the simple villagers, who were always sure of being
welcomed by Master Tim with a jest and a tune.
Master Tim, as they came to call him when they got to be a little
acquainted, was a rare fellow, such as seldom rains down anywhere, much
less on a country village. He was of "merry England," as they call
it—lucus a non lucendo—at least so he said and I believe, although
he belied his nativity, by being the merriest rogue in the world, even
when the fog was at the thickest. In truth, he was ever in a good
humour, unless it might be when a rare bug or gorgeous butterfly, that
he had followed through thick and thin, escaped his net at last. Then,
to be sure, he was apt to call the recreant all the "vagabonds" he
could think of. He was a middle-sized man, whose person decreased
regularly, from the crown of his head to the—I was going to say, sole
of his foot— but it was only to the commencement of the foot, to
speak by the card. The top of his head was broad and flat, and so was
his forehead, which took up at least two thirds of his face, that
tapered off suddenly to a chin, as sharp as the point of a triangle.
His forehead was indeed a large field, diversified like the country
into which he had rained down, with singular varieties of hill and
dale, meadow and plough land, hedge and ditch, ravine and watercourse.
It had as many points as a periwinkle. The brow projected exuberantly,
though not heavily, over a pair of rascally little cross-firing,
twinkling eyes, that, as the country people said, looked at least nine
ways from Sunday. His teeth were white enough, but no two of them were
fellows. But his head would have turned the brains of a phrenologist,
in exploring the mysteries of its development; it was shaped somewhat
like Stony Point—which everybody knows as the scene of a gallant
exploit of Pennsylvanian Wayne—and had quite as many abruptnesses and
quizzical protuberances to brag about. At the upper extremity of his
forehead, as he assured us, he carried his money, in the shape of a
piece of silver, three inches long and two wide, inserted there in
consequence of a fracture he got by falling down a precipice in hot
chase of a "vagabond of a beetle," as he was pleased to call him.
Descending towards terra firma, to wit, his feet, we find his body
gradually diminishing to his legs, which were so thin, everybody
wondered how they could carry the great head. But, like Captain Wattle,
each had a foot at the end of it, full as large as the Black Dwarf. It
is so long ago that I almost forget his costume. All I recollect is,
that he never wore boots or pantaloons, but exhibited his spindles in
all weathers in worsted stockings, and his feet in shoes, gorgeously
caparisoned in a pair of square silver buckles, the only pieces of
finery he ever displayed.
In the merry months of spring and summer, and early in autumn,
Master Timothy was most of his time chasing bugs and butterflies about
the fields, to the utter confusion of the people, who wondered what he
could want with such trumpery. Being a genius and an idler by
profession, I used to accompany him frequently in these excursions, for
he was fond of me, and called me vagabond oftener than he did anybody
else. He had a little net of green gauze, so constructed as to open and
shut as occasion required, to entrap the small fry, and a box with a
cork bottom, upon which he impaled his prisoners with true scientific
barbarity, by sticking a pin in them. Thus equipped, this Don Quixote
of butterfly catchers, with myself his faithful esquire, would sally
out of a morning into the clovered meadows and flower-dotted fields,
over brook, through tangled copse and briery dell, in chase of these
gentlemen commoners of nature. Ever and anon, as he came upon some
little retired nook, where nature, like a modest virgin, shrouded her
beauties from the common view—a rocky glen, romantic cottage, rustic
bridge, or brawling stream, he would take out his little portfolio, and
pointing me to some conspicuous station to animate his little
landscape, sketch it and me together, with a mingled taste and skill I
have never since seen surpassed. I figure in all his landscapes,
although he often called me a vagabond, because he could not drill me
into picturesque attitudes. But the finest sport for me, was to watch
him creeping slily after a humming bird, the object of his most intense
desires, half buried in the bliss of the dewy honeysuckle, and just as
he was on the point of covering it with his net, to see the little
vagrant flit away with a swiftness that made it invisible. It was an
invaluable sight to behold Master Timothy stand wiping his continent of
a forehead, and blessing the bird for a "little vagabond." These were
happy times, and at this moment I recall them, I hardly know why, with
a melancholy yet pleasing delight.
During the winter season, Master Timothy was usually employed in the
daytime painting pleasure sleighs, which, at that period, it was the
fashion among the farmers to have as fine as fiddles. Timothy was a
desperate hand at a true lover's knot, a cipher, or a wreath of
flowers; and as for a blazing sun! he painted one for the squire, that
was seriously suspected of melting all the snow in ten leagues round.
He would go ten or a dozen miles to paint a sleigh, and always carried
his materials on a board upon the top of his head—it was before the
invention of high-crowned hats. Destiny had decreed he should follow
this trade, and nature had provided him a head on purpose. It was as
flat as a pancake. In the long winter evenings it was his pleasure to
sit by the fireside, and tell enormous stories to groups of
horrorstruck listeners. I never knew a man that had been so often
robbed on Hounslow Heath, or had seen so many ghosts in his day, as
Master Tim Canty. Peace to his ashes! he is dead, and, if report is to
be credited, is sometimes seen on moonlight nights in the churchyard,
with his little green gauze net, chasing the ghosts of moths and
beetles, as he was wont in past times.
But it is high time to return to my story; for I candidly confess I
never think of honest Tim that I don't grow as garrulous as an old
lady, talking about the revolution and the Yagers. In all country
villages I ever saw or heard of, whenever anything strange, new,
horrible, or delightful happens, or is supposed to have happened, all
the male inhabitants, not to say female, make for the tavern as fast as
possible, to hear the news, or tell the news, and get at the bottom of
the affair. I don't deny that truth is sometimes to be found at the
bottom of a well; but in these cases she is generally found at the
bottom of the glass. Be this as it may—when Cobus Yerks looked into
the village inn, just to say How d'ye do to the landlady, he beheld a
party of some ten or a dozen people, discussing the affair of my being
poisoned with Souchong tea, which by this time had been extended to the
whole family, not one of whom had been left alive by the bloody-minded
Cobus could not resist the fascination of these horrors. He edged
himself in among them, and after a little while they were joined by
Master Timothy, who, on hearing of the catastrophe of his old
fellow-labourer in butterfly catching, had strode over a distance of
two miles to our house to ascertain the truth of the story. He of
course found it was a mistake, and had now returned with a nefarious
design of frightening them all out of their wits by a story of more
than modern horrors. By this times is was the dusk of the evening, and
Cobus had a long way to travel before he could reach home. He had been
so fascinated with the story, and the additions every moment furnished
by various new comers, that he forgot the time till it began to grow
quite dark; and then he was so horrorstruck at what he had heard, that
he grew fast to his chair in the chimney corner, where he had
intrenched himself. It was at this moment Master Timothy came in with
the design aforesaid.
The whole party gathered round him to know if the story of the
poisoning was true. Tim shook his head, and the shaking of such a head
was awful. "What! all the family?" cried they, with one voice. "Every
soul of them," cried Tim, in a hollow tone—"every soul of them, poor
creatures; and not only they, but all the cattle, horses, pigs, ducks,
chickens, cats, dogs, and guinea hens, are poisoned." "What! with
Souchong tea?" "No—with coloquintida." Coloquintida! the very name
was enough to poison a whole generation of Christian people. "But the
black bulldog!" cried Timothy, in a sepulchral voice, that curdled the
very marrow of their innermost bones. "What of the black bulldog?"
quoth little Cobus. "Why, they do say that he came to life again after
laying six hours stone dead, and ran away howling like a d—l
incarnate." "A d—l incarnate!" quoth Cobus, who knew no more about
the meaning of that fell word than if it had been Greek. He only knew
it was something very terrible. "Yes," replied Timothy; "and what's
more, I saw where he jumped over the barnyard gate, and there was the
print of a cloven foot, as plain as the daylight this blessed minute."
It was as dark as pitch, but the comparison was considered proof
positive. "A cloven foot!" quoth Cobus, who squeezed himself almost
into the oven, while the thought of going home all alone in the dark,
past the churchyard, the old grave at the cross roads, and, above all,
the spot where John Ryer was hanged for shooting the sheriff, smote
upon his heart, and beat it into a jelly—at least it shook like one.
What if he should meet the big black dog, with his cloven foot, who
howled like a d—l incarnate! The thought was enough to wither the
heart of a stone.
Cobus was a little, knock-kneed, broad-faced, and broad-shouldered
Dutchman, who believed all things, past, present, and to come,
concerning spooks, goblins, and fiends of all sorts and sizes, from a
fairy to a giant. Tim Canty knew him of old, for he had once painted a
sleigh for him, and frightened Cobus out of six nights' sleep, by the
story of a man that he once saw murdered by a highwayman on Hounslow
Heath. Tim followed up the story of the black dog with several others,
each more appalling than the first, till he fairly lifted Cobus's wits
off the hinges, aided as he was by certain huge draughts upon a pewter
mug, with which the little man reinforced his courage at short
intervals. He was a true disciple of the doctrine that spirit and
courage, that is to say, whiskey and valour were synonymous.
It now began to wax late in the evening, and the company departed,
not one by one, but in pairs, to their respective homes. The landlady,
a bitter root of a woman, and more than a match for half the men in the
village, began to grow sleepy, as it was now no longer worth her while
to keep awake. Gradually all became quiet within and without the house,
except now and then the howling of a wandering cur, and the still more
doleful moaning of the winds, accompanied by the hollow thumpings of
the waves, as they dashed on the rocky shores of the river that ran
hard by. Once, and once only, the cat mewed in the garret, and almost
caused Cobus to jump out of his skin. The landlady began to complain
that it grew late, and she was very sleepy; but Cobus would take no
hints, manfully keeping his post in the chimney corner, till at last
the good woman threatened to call up her two negroes, and have him
turned neck and heels out of doors. For a moment the fear of the big
black dog with the cloven foot was mastered by the fear of the two
stout black men, and the spirit moved Cobus towards the door, lovingly
hugging the stone jug, which he had taken care to have plentifully
replenished with the creature. He sallied forth in those graceful
curves, which are affirmed to constitute the true lines of beauty; and
report says that he made a copious libation of the contents of the
stone jug outside the door, ere the landlady, after assisting to untie
his patient team, had tumbled him into his wagon. This was the last
that was seen of Cobus Yerks.
That night his faithful, though not very obedient little wife, whom
he had wedded at Tappan, on the famous sea of that name, and who wore a
cap trimmed with pink ribands when she went to church on Sundays, fell
asleep in her chair, as she sat anxiously watching his return. About
midnight she waked, but she saw not her beloved Cobus, nor heard his
voice calling her to open the door. But she heard the raven, or
something very like it, screaming from the Raven Rock, the foxes
barking about the house, the wind whistling and moaning among the rocks
and trees of the mountain side, and a terrible commotion among the
poultry, Cobus having taken the great house dog with him that day.
Again she fell asleep, and waked not until the day was dawning. She
opened the window, and looked forth upon as beautiful an autumnal
morning as ever blessed this blessed country. The yellow sun threw a
golden lustre over the many-tinted woods, painted by the cunning hand
of Nature with a thousand varied dies; the smoke of the neighbouring
farmhouses rose straight upward to heaven in the pure atmosphere, and
the breath of the cattle mingled its warm vapour with the invisible
clearness of the morning air. But what were all these beauties of
delicious nature to the eye and the heart of the anxious wife, who saw
that Cobus was not there?
She went forth to the neighbours to know if they had seen him, and
they good-naturedly sallied out to seek him on the road that led from
the village to his home. But no traces of him could be found, and they
were returning with bad news for his anxious wife, when they bethought
themselves of turning into a byroad that led to a tavern, that used
whilome to attract the affections of honest Cobus, and where he was
sometimes wont to stop and wet his whistle.
They had not gone far, when they began to perceive traces of the
lost traveller. First his broad-brimmed hat, which he had inherited
through divers generations, and which he always wore when he went to
the village, lay grovelling in the dirt, crushed out of all goodly
shape by the wheel of his wagon, which had passed over it. Next, they
encountered the backboard of the wagon, ornamented with C. Y. in a true
lover's knot, painted by Tim Canty, in his best style—and anon a
little farther, a shoe, that was identified as having belonged to our
hero, by having upward of three hundred hobnails in the sole, for he
was a saving little fellow, though he would wet his whistle sometimes,
in spite of all his wife and the minister could say. Proceeding about a
hundred rods farther, to a sudden turn of the road, they encountered
the wagon, or rather the fragments of it, scattered about and along in
the highway, and the horses standing quietly against a fence, into
which they had run the pole of the wagon.
But what was become of the unfortunate driver, no one could
discover. At length, after searching some time, they found him lying in
a tuft of blackberry briars, amid the fragments of the stone jug,
lifeless and motionless. His face was turned upward, and streaked with
seams of blood; his clothes torn, bloody, and disfigured with dirt; and
his pipe, that he carried in the buttonholes of his waistcoat, shivered
all to naught. They made their way to the body, full of sad
forebodings, and shook it, to see if any life remained. But it was all
in vain—there seemed neither sense nor motion there. "Maybe, after
all," said one, "he is only in a swound— here is a little drop of the
spirits left in the bottom of the jug—let us hold it to his nose, it
may bring him to life."
The experiment was tried, and wonderful to tell, in a moment or two,
Cobus, opening his eyes, and smacking his lips, with peculiar
satisfaction, exclaimed, "Some o' that, boys!" A little shaking brought
him to himself, when being asked to give an account of the disaster of
his wagon and his stone jug, he at first shook his head mysteriously,
and demurred. Being, however taken to the neighbouring tavern, and
comforted a little with divers refreshments, he was again pressed for
his story, when, assuming a face of awful mystification, he began as
"You must know," said Cobus, "I started rather late from town, for I
had been kept there by— by business; and because, you see, I was
waiting for the moon to rise, that I might find my way home in the dark
night. But it grew darker and darker, until you could not see your hand
before your face, and at last I concluded to set out, considering I was
as sober as a deacon, and my horses could see their way blindfold. I
had not gone quite round the corner, where John Ryer was hung for
shooting Sheriff Smith, when I heard somebody coming, pat, pat, pat,
close behind my wagon. I looked back, but I could see nothing, it was
so dark. By-and-by, I heard it again, louder and louder, and then I
confess I began to be a little afeard. So I whipped up my horses a
quarter of a mile or so, and then let them walk on. I listened, and
pat, pat, pat, went the noise again. I began to be a good deal
frightened, but considering it could be nothing at all, I thought I
might as well take a small dram, as the night was rather chilly, and I
began to tremble a little with the cold. I took but a drop, as I am a
living sinner, and then went on quite gayly; but pat, pat, pat, went
the footsteps ten times louder and faster than ever. And then! then I
looked back, and saw a pair of saucer eyes just at the tail of my
wagon, as big and as bright as the mouths of a fiery furnace, dancing
up and down in the air like two stage lamps in a rough road.
"By gosh, boys, but you may depend I was scared now! I took another
little dram, and then made the whip fly about the ears of old Pepper
and Billy, who cantered away at a wonderful rate, considering.
Presently, bang! something heavy jumped into the wagon, as if heaven
and earth were coming together. I looked over my shoulder, and the
great burning eyes were within half a yard of my back. The creature was
so close that I felt its breath blowing upon me, and it smelled for all
one exactly like brimstone. I should have jumped out of the wagon, but,
somehow or other, I could not stir, for I was bewitched as sure as you
live. All I could do was to bang away upon Pepper and Billy, who
rattled along at a great rate up hill and down, over the rough roads,
so that if I had not been bewitched, I must have tumbled out to a
certainty. When I came to the bridge, at old Mangham's, the black dog,
for I could see something black and shaggy under the goggle eyes, all
at once jumped up, and seated himself close by me on the bench,
snatched the whip and reins out of my hands like lightning. Then
looking me in the face, and nodding, he whispered something in my ear,
and lashed away upon Pepper and Billy, till they seemed to fly through
the air. From that time I began to lose my wits by degrees, till at
last the smell of brimstone overpowered me, and I remember nothing
till you found me this morning in the briars."
Here little Cobus concluded his story, which he repeated with
several variations and additions to his wife, when he got home. That
good woman, who, on most occasions, took the liberty of lecturing her
good man, whenever he used to be belated in his excursions to the
village, was so struck with this adventure, that she omitted her usual
exhortation, and ever afterwards viewed him as one ennobled by
supernatural communication, submitting to him as her veritable lord and
master. Some people, who pretend to be so wise that they won't believe
the evidence of their senses when it contradicts their reason, affected
to be incredulous, and hinted that the goggle eyes, and the brimstone
breath, appertained to Cobus Yerks's great housedog, which had
certainly followed him that day to the village, and was found quietly
reposing by his master, in the tuft of briars. But Cobus was ever
exceedingly wroth at this suggestion, and being a sturdy little
brusier, had knocked down one or two of these unbelieving sinners, for
venturing to assert that the contents of the stone jug were at the
bottom of the whole business. After that, everybody believed it, and it
is now for ever incorporated with the marvellous legends of the
renowned Buttermilk Hill.
A STRANGE BIRD IN NIEUW-AMSTERDAM.
In the year of the building of the city (which in Latin is called
Anno Urba Conditur) fifty-five, to wit, the year of our Lord 1678,
there appeared a phenomenon in the street of Nieuw-Amsterdam called
Garden-street. This was a youthful stranger, dressed in the outlandish
garb of the English beyond the Varsche river, towards the east, where
those interlopers have grievously trespassed on the territories of
their high mightinesses, the states general. Now, be it known that this
was the first stranger from foreign parts that ever showed himself in
the streets of Nieuw-Amsterdam, which had never been before invaded in
like manner. Whereat the good people were strangely perplexed and
confounded, seeing they could by no means divine his business. The good
yffrouws did gaze at him as he passed along by their stoops, and the
idle boys followed him wheresoever he went, shouting and hallooing, to
the great disturbance of the peaceable and orderly citizens, of whom it
was once said that the barking of a cur disturbed the whole city.
But the stranger took not the least heed of the boys or their
hallooings, but passed straight onward, looking neither to the right
nor to the left, which circumstance seemed exceedingly perplexing to
the good yffrouws, seeing it savoured of having no curiosity to see or
be seen, which to them appeared altogether out of nature. The stranger
proceeded in a sort of rigmarole way, seeming little to care whither he
went, all along by the Stadt Huys, the East and West Docks, the Bendeel
or Battery, the Rondeels, and I can't tell where else. All the while he
seemed to take no notice of anything, which everybody thought strange,
since he appeared as if he had no other business than to see the city.
In the course of his marvellous peregrinations, he at length came to
the great building, which, being the only house of public resort, was
called, by way of eminence, the City Tavern. Here he stopped all of a
sudden, so abruptly, that little Brom, son of Alderman Botherwick, who
was close at his heels, did run right upon his hinder parts, and almost
knocked him down, before he could stop himself. Whereupon the stranger
turned round and gave him a look, whether of menace or good will, was
long after disputed by divers people that saw him. Be this as it may,
the stranger, on seeing the tavern, nodded his head, and went straight
up the steps into the bar-room, where he courteously saluted the
landlord, good Mynheer Swighauser, by pulling off his hat, saying, at
the same time, nothing; which mynheer thought rather mighty
particular. He asked the interloping stranger what he would please to
have; for he was a polite man enough, except to losel beggars, and that
sort of vermin. The stranger hereupon said nothing, but addressed
Mynheer Swighauser in a figurative style, which all landlords
comprehend. He pulled out a purse, and showed him the money, at the
sight of which mynheer made him a reverend bow, and ushered him into
the Half Moon, so called from being ornamented with a gallant picture
of the vessel of that name, in which good Master Hendrick Hudson did
first adventure to the discovery of the Manhadoes. It was the best room
in the house, and always reserved by Mynheer Swighauser for guests that
carried full purses.
Having so done, mynheer courteously asked the stranger what he would
please to have for dinner, it being now past eleven o'clock, and the
dinner hour nigh. Whereat the stranger looked hard at him, and said not
a word. Mynheer thereupon raised his voice so loud, that he frightened
divers tame pigeons, sitting on their coop in the yard, who rose into
the air out of sight, and, it is affirmed, never returned again. The
stranger answered not a word, as before.
"Wat donder is dat?" exclaimed mynheer; "a man with such a
full purse might venture to call for his dinner, I think."
However, when Mynheer Swighauser and his family sat down to their
dinner at twelve o'clock, the stranger, without any ceremony, sat down
with them, taking the chair from time immemorial appropriated to
mynheer's youngest child, who was thereat so mortally offended, that
she set up a great cry, and refused to eat any dinner. Yffrouw
Swighauser looked hard and angry at the stranger, who continued to eat
as if it were his last, saying nothing all the while, and paying no
more heed to the little child than he did to the hallooing of the boys
or mynheer's courteous interrogatories.
When he had finished, he took up his hat, and went forth on a
peregrination, from which he did not return until it was nigh dusk.
Mynheer was in tribulation lest he should lose the price of his dinner,
but the yffrouw said she did not care if she never saw such a dumb
noddy again. The stranger ate a huge supper in silence, smoked his
pipe, and went to bed at eight o'clock, at which hour mynheer always
shut up the front of his house, leaving the back door open to the
roistering younkers, who came there to carouse every night, and play at
all-fours. Soon after the stranger retired, there was heard a great
noise in his room, which so excited the curiosity of Yffrouw
Swighauser, that she took a landlady's liberty, and went and listened
at the door. It proved only the stranger playing a concert with
Morpheus, on the nasal trumpet, whereupon the yffrouw went away,
"The splutterkin! he makes noise enough in his sleep, if he can't
when he is awake."
That night the good city of Nieuw-Amsterdam was impestered with
divers strange noises, grievous mishaps, and unaccountable appearances.
The noises were such as those who heard them could not describe, and,
for that reason, I hope the courteous reader will excuse me, if I say
nothing more about them; the mishaps were of certain mysterious broken
heads, black eyes, and sore bruises received, as was affirmed, from
unknown assailants; and the mysterious appearances consisted in lights
moving about, at midnight, in the Ladies' Valley, since called Maiden
Lane, which might have passed for lightning bugs, only people that saw
them said they were as big as jack-a-lanterns. Besides these, there
were seen divers stars shooting about in the sky, and an old yffrouw,
being called out after midnight on a special occasion, did certify that
she saw two stars fighting with each other, and making the sparks fly
at every blow. Other strange things happened on that memorable night,
which alarmed the good citizens, and excited the vigilance of the
The next night, matters were still worse. The lights in the Ladies'
Valley were larger and more numerous; the noises waxed more alarming
and unaccountable; and the stranger, while he continued to act and say
nothing all day, snored louder than ever. At length, Yffrouw
Swighauser, being thereunto, as I suspect, instigated by a stomachful
feeling, on account of the stranger's having got possession of her
favourite's seat, and set her a crying, did prevail, by divers means,
of which, thank Heaven, I have little experience, being a bachelor, to
have her husband go and make a complaint against the stranger, as
having some diabolical agency in these matters.
"Wat donner meen je, wife?" quoth mynheer; "what have I to
say against the man? He is a very civil, good sort of a body, and never
makes any disturbance except in his sleep."
"Ay, there it is," replied the yffrouw. "I never heard such a snore
in all my life. Why, it's no more like yours than the grunt of a pig is
to the roar of a lion. It's unnatural."
Mynheer did not like this comparison, and answered and said, "By St.
Johannes de Dooper, whoever says I snore like a pig is no better than a
The yffrouw had a point to gain, or Mynheer Swighauser would have
repented this rejoinder.
"My duck-a-deary," said she, "whoever says you don't snore like a
fiddle has no more ear for music than a mole—I mean a squeaking
fiddle," quoth she, aside.
Without further prosecuting this dialogue, let it suffice to say
that the yffrouw at length wrought upon mynheer to present the stranger
unto Alderman Schlepevalcker as a mysterious person, who came
from—nobody knew where, for—nobody knew what; and for aught he knew
to the contrary, was at the bottom of all the disturbances that had
beset the good people of Nieuw-Amsterdam for the last two nights.
Accordingly, the honest man went on his way to the Stadt Huys, where
the excellent magistrate was taking his turn in presiding over the
peace of the city of Nieuw-Amsterdam, and told all he knew, together
with much more besides.
During this communication, the worthy alderman exclaimed, from time
to time, "Indeedaad!" "Onbegrypelyk!" "Goeden Hemel!" "Is het mogelyk!"
"Vuur envlammen!" and finally dismissed Mynheer Swighauser, desiring
him to watch the stranger, and come next day with the result of his
observations. After which he went home to consult his pillow, which he
considered worth all the law books in the world.
The honest publican returned to the City Tavern, where he found
supper all ready; and the stranger, sitting down as usual in the old
place, ate a hearty meal without uttering one word. The yffrouw was out
of all patience with him, seeing she never before had a guest in the
house four-and-twenty hours, without knowing all about him. The upshot
of the interview with the worthy magistrate being disclosed to the
yffrouw, it was agreed in secret to set old Quashee, the black hostler,
to watch the stranger; though the yffrouw told her husband he might as
well set a wooden image to do it, for Quashee was the most notorious
sleepyhead in all Nieuw-Amsterdam, not excepting himself.
"Well, well," quoth mynheer, "men weet niet hoe een koe een haas
vangan kan;" which means, "There is no saying that a cow won't
catch a hare," and so the matter was settled.
When the stranger retired to his room after supper, the old negro
was accordingly stationed outside the door, with strict injunctions to
keep himself awake, on pain of losing his Newyear present, and being
shut up in the stable all Newyear's day. But it is recorded of Quashee,
that the flesh was too strong for the spirit, though he had a noggin of
genuine Holland to comfort him, and that he fell into a profound nap,
which lasted till after sunrise next day, when he was found sitting
bolt upright on a three-legged stool, with his little black stump of a
pipe declining from the dexter corner of his mouth. Mynheer was
exceeding wroth, and did accommodate old Quashee with such a hearty
cuff on the side of his head, that he fell from the stool, and did
incontinently roll down the stairs and so into the kitchen, where he
was arrested by the great Dutch andirons. "Een vervlockte jonge
," exclaimed Mynheer Swighauser, "men weet niet, hoe een dubbeltje
rollen kan"—in English, "There is no saying which way a sixpence
At breakfast, the stranger was for the first time missing from his
meals, and this excited no small wonder in the family, which was
marvellously aggravated, when, after knocking some time and receiving
no answer, the door was opened, and the stranger found wanting.
"Is het mogelyk!" exclaimed the yffrouw, and "Wat blixen!
" cried mynheer. But their exclamations were speedily arrested by the
arrival of the reverend schout, Master Roelif, as he was commonly
called, who summoned them both forthwith to the Stadt Huys, at the
command of his worship Alderman Schlepevalker.
"Ben je bedonnered?" cried mynheer; "what can his worship
want of my wife now?"
"Never mind," replied the good yffrouw, "het is goed visschen in
troebel water," and so they followed Master Roelif to the Stadt
House, according to the behest of Alderman Schlepevalker, as aforesaid.
When they arrived there, whom should they see, in the middle of a great
crowd in the hall of justice, but that "vervlocte hond," the
stranger, as the yffrouw was wont to call him, when he would not answer
The stranger was standing with his hands tied behind, and apparently
unconscious, or indifferent to what was going forward around him. It
appears he had been detected very early in the morning in a remote part
of the King's Farm, as it was afterwards called, but which was then a
great forest full of rabbits and other game, standing over the dead
body of a man, whose name and person were equally unknown, no one
recollecting ever to have seen him before. On being interrogated on the
subject, he had not only declined answering, but affected to take not
the least heed of what they said to him. Under these suspicious
circumstances he was brought before the magistrate, charged with the
murder of the unknown person, whose body was also produced in proof of
the fact. No marks of violence were found on the body, but all agreed
that the man was dead, and that there must have been some cause for his
death. The vulgar are ever prone to suspicions, and albeit, are so fond
of seeing a man hanged, that they care little to inquire whether he is
guilty or not.
The worthy alderman, after ordering Master Roelif to call the people
to order, proceeded to interrogate the prisoner as followeth:—
"What is thy name?"
The stranger took not the least notice of him.
"What is thy name,
ben je bedonnered?" repeated the worthy
magistrate, in a loud voice, and somewhat of a violent gesture of
The stranger looked him in the face and nodded his head.
"Wat donner is dat?" cried the magistrate.
The stranger nodded as before.
"Wat donner meen je?"
Another nod. The worthy magistrate began, as it were, to wax wroth,
and demanded of the prisoner whence he came; but he had relapsed into
his usual indifference, and paid not the least attention, as before.
Whereupon the angry alderman committed him for trial, on the day but
one following, as the witnesses were all on the spot, and the prisoner
contumacious. In the interim, the body of the dead man had been
examined by the only two doctors of Nieuw-Amsterdam, Mynheer Van Dosum
and Mynheer Vander Cureum, who being rival practitioners, of course
differed entirely on the matter. Mynheer Van Dosum decided that the
unknown died by the hand of man, and Mynheer Vander Cureum, by the hand
of his Maker.
When the cause came to be tried, the stranger, as before, replied to
all questions, either by taking not the least notice, or nodding his
head. The worthy magistrate hereupon was sorely puzzled, whether this
ought to be construed into pleading guilty or not pleading at all. In
the former case his course was quite clear; in the latter, he did not
exactly know which way to steer his doubts. But fortunately having no
lawyers to confound him, he finally decided, after consulting the
ceiling of the courtroom, that as it was so easy for a man to say not
guilty, the omission or refusal to say it was tantamount to a
confession of guilt. Accordingly he condemned the prisoner to be
hanged, in spite of the declaration of Doctor Vander Cureum, that the
murdered man died of apoplexy.
The prisoner received the sentence, and was conducted to prison
without saying a word in his defence, and without discovering the least
emotion on the occasion. He merely looked wistfully, first on the
worthy magistrate, then on his bonds, and then at Master Roelif, who,
according to the custom of such losel varlets in office, rudely pushed
him out of the court and dragged him to prison.
On the fourteenth day after his condemnation, it being considered
that sufficient time had been allowed him to repent of his sins, the
poor stranger was brought forth to execution. He was accompanied by the
good dominie, who had prepared his last dying speech and confession,
and certified that he died a repentant sinner. His face was pale and
sad, and his whole appearance bespoke weakness and suffering. He still
persisted in his obstinate silence, and seemed unconscious of what was
going forward; whether from indifference or despair, it was impossible
to decide. When placed on a coffin in the cart, and driven under the
gallows, he seemed for a moment to be aware of his situation, and the
bitter tears coursed one by one down his pallid cheeks. But he remained
silent as before; and when the rope was tied round his neck, only
looked wistfully with a sort of innocent wonder in the face of the
All being now ready, and the gaping crowd on the tiptoe of
expectation, the dominie sang a devout hymn, and shaking hands for the
last time with the poor stranger, descended from the cart. The bell
tolled the signal for launching him into the illimitable ocean of
eternity, when, all at once, its dismal moanings were, as it were,
hushed into silence by the piercing shrieks of a female which seemed
approaching from a distance. Anon a voice was heard crying out, "Stop,
stop, for the love of Heaven stop; he is innocent!"
The crowd opened, and a woman of good appearance, seemingly about
forty-five years old, rushed forward, and throwing herself at the feet
of the worthy alderman, whose duty it was to preside at the execution
and maintain due order among the crowd, cried out aloud,
"Spare him, he is my son—he is innocent!"
"Ben je bedonnered?" cried the magistrate, "he is een
verdoemde schurk, and has confessed his crime by not denying it."
"He cannot confess or deny it—he was born deaf and dumb!"
"Goeden Hemel!" exclaimed Alderman Schlepevalcker; "that
accounts for his not pleading guilty or not guilty. But art thou sure
of it, good woman?"
"Sure of it! Did not I give him birth, and did I not watch like one
hanging over the deathbed of an only child, year after year, to catch
some token that he could hear what I said? Did I not try and try, day
after day, month after month, year after year, to teach him only to
name the name of mother? and when at last I lost all hope that I should
ever hear the sound of his voice, did I not still bless Heaven that I
was not childless, though my son could not call me mother?"
"Het is jammer!" exclaimed the worthy magistrate, wiping his
eyes. "But still a dumb man may kill another, for all this. What have
you to say against that?"
At this moment the poor speechless youth recognised his mother, and
uttering a strange inarticulate scream, burst away from the
executioner, leaped from the cart, and throwing himself on her bosom,
sobbed as if his heart was breaking. The mother pressed him to her
heart in silent agony, and the absence of words only added to the deep
pathos of the meeting.
Alderman Schlepevalcker was sorely puzzled as well as affected on
this occasion, and after wiping his eyes, addressed the weeping mother.
"How came thy son hither?"
"He is accustomed to ramble about the country, sometimes all day,
alone; and one day having strayed farther than usual, lost his way, and
being unable to ask any information, wandered we knew not whither,
until a neighbour told us a rumour of a poor youth, who was about to be
executed at Nieuw-Amsterdam for refusing to answer questions. I thought
it might be my son, and came in time, I hope, to save him."
"Why did not thy husband come with thee?"
"He is dead."
"And thy father?"
"He died when I was a child."
"And thy other relatives?"
"I have none but him," pointing to the dumb youth.
"Het is jammer! but how will he get rid of the charge of this
"I will question him," said the mother, who now made various signs,
which were replied to by the youth in the same way.
"What does he say?" asked the worthy magistrate.
"He says that he went forth early in the morning of the day; he was
found standing over the dead body, as soon as the gate was opened to
admit the country people, where he saw the dead man lying under a tree,
and was seized while thus occupied. He knows nothing more."
"Onbegrypelik! how can you understand all this?"
"Oh, sir, I have been used to study every look and action of his
life since he was a child, and can comprehend his inmost thoughts."
"Goeden Hemel! is all this true? but he must go back to
prison, while I wait on the governor to solicit his pardon. Wilt thou
"Oh yes!—but no. I will go with thee to the governor. He will not
deny the petition of a mother for the life of her only child."
Accordingly, the worthy magistrate calling on Doctor Vander Cureum
on his way, proceeded to the governor's house, accompanied by the
mother of the youth, who repeated what he had told her by signs. The
doctor also again certified, in the most positive manner, that the
supposed murdered man had died of apoplexy, brought on, as he supposed,
by excessive drinking; and the good governor, moved by the benevolence
of his heart, did thereupon grant the poor youth an unconditional
pardon. He was rewarded by the tears, the thanks, and the blessings of
the now happy mother.
"Where dost thou abide?" asked the governor "If it is at a
distance, I will send some one to protect thee."
"My home is beyond the fresh water river."
"Wat blikslager! thou belongest to the Splutterkins,
who—but no matter, thou shalt have protection in thy journey home."
The governor, being somewhat of a conscientious man, instead of
swearing by the lightning, did piously asseverate by the tinman.
The young man was forthwith released, to the unutterable joy of the
mother, and the infinite content of the Yffrouw Swighauser, who, now
that she knew the cause of his silence, forgave him with all her heart.
The next day the mother and son departed towards home, accompanied by
an escort provided by the good governor, the commander of which carried
a stout defiance to the Yankees; and the last words of that upright and
excellent magistrate, Alderman Schlepevalcker, as he looked kindly at
the youth, were,
"Het is jammer—it is a pity."
Thrice blessed St. Nicholas! may thy memory and thine honours endure
for ever and a day! It is true that certain arch calumniators, such as
Romish priests, and the like, have claimed thee as a Catholic saint,
affirming, with unparalleled insolence, that ever since the pestilent
heresy of the illustrious John Calvin, there hath not been so much as a
single saint in the Reformed Dutch Church. But beshrew these keepers of
fasts, and other abominations, the truth is not, never was, nor ever
will be in their mouths, or their hearts! Doth not everybody know that
the blessed St. Nicholas was of the Reformed Dutch Church, and that the
cunning Romanists did incontinently filch him from us to keep their own
calendar in countenance? The splutterkins! But I will restrain the
outpourings of my wrath, and contenting myself with having proved that
the good saint was of the true faith, proceed with my story, which is
of undoubted authority, since I had it from a descendant of Claas
Schlaschenschlinger himself, who lives in great honour and glory at the
Waalboght on Long Island, and is moreover a justice of the peace and
deacon of the church.
Nicholas, or, according to the true orthography, Claas
Schlaschenschlinger, was of a respectable parentage, being born at
Saardam, in our good faderland, where his ancestors had been
proprietors of the greatest windmill in all the coiuntry round, ever
since the period when that bloody tyrant, Philip of Spain, was driven
from the Low Countries by the invincible valour of the Dutch, under the
good Prince of Orange. It is said in a certain credible tradition, that
one of the family had done a good turn to the worshipful St. Nicholas,
in secreting him from the persecutions of the Romanists, who now,
forsooth, claim him to themselves! and that ever afterwards the saint
took special interest and cognizance in their affairs.
While at Saardam, little Claas, who was the youngest of a goodly
family of seventeen children, was observed to be a great favourite of
St. Nicholas, whose namesake he was, who always brought him a cake or
two extra at his Christmas visits, and otherwise distinguished him
above his brothers and sisters; whereat they were not a little jealous,
and did sometimes slyly abstract some of the little rogue's
benefactions, converting them to their own comfort and recreation.
In the process of time, Claas grew to be a stout lad, and withal a
little wild, as he did sometimes neglect the great windmill, the which
he had charge of in turn with the rest of his brothers, whereby it
more than once came to serious damage. Upon these occasions, the worthy
father, who had a reverend care of the morals of his children, was
accustomed to give him the bastinado; but as Claas wore a competent
outfit of breeches, he did not much mind it, not he; only it made him a
little angry, for he was a boy of great spirit. About the time, I say,
that Claas had arrived at the years of two or three and twenty, and was
considered a stout boy for his age, there was great talk of settling a
colony at the Manhadoes, which the famous Heinrick Hudson had
discovered long years before. Many people of good name and substance
were preparing to emigrate there, seeing it was described as a land
flowing with milk and honey—that is to say, abounding in shad and
herrings—and affording mighty bargains of beaver and other skins.
Now Claas began to cherish an earnest longing to visit these parts,
for he was tired of tending the windmill, and besides he had a natural
love for marshes and creeks, and being a shrewd lad, concluded that
there must be plenty of these where beavers and such like abounded. But
his father and the Vrouw Schlaschenschlinger did eschew and
anathematize this notion of Claas's, and placed him apprentice to an
eminent shoemaker, to learn that useful art and mystery. Claas
considered it derogatory to the son of the proprietor of the greatest
windmill in all Saardam to carry the lapstone, and wanted to be a
doctor, a lawyer, or some such thing. But his father told him in so
many words, that there were more lawyers than clients in the town
already, and that a good cobbler saved more people from being sick,
than all the doctors cured. So Claas became apprentice to the
shoemaking business, and served out his time, after which he got to be
his own master, and determined to put in practice his design of
visiting the Manhadoes, of which he had never lost sight.
After much ado, Mynheer Schlaschenschlinger, and the good vrouw,
consented unwillingly to let him follow the bent of his inclinations,
and accordingly all things were got ready for his departure for the New
World, in company with a party which was going out under that renowned
Lord Michael Paauw, who was proceeding to settle his domain of Pavonia,
which lieth directly opposite to New-Amsterdam. Mynheer
Schlaschenschlinger fitted out his son nobly, and becoming the owner of
the largest windmill in all Saardam, equipping him with awls, and
knives, and wax, and thread, together with a bench, and a goodly
lapstone, considering in his own mind that the great scarcity of stones
in Holland might, peradventure, extend to the Manhadoes. Now all being
prepared, it was settled that Claas should depart on the next day but
one, the next being St. Nicholas his day, and a great festival among
the people of Holland.
According to custom, ever since the days of the blessed saint, they
had a plentiful supper of waffles and chocolate—that pestilent
beverage tea not having yet come into fashion—and sat up talking of
Claas, his adventures, and what he would see and hear in the Manhadoes,
till it was almost nine o'clock. Upon this, mynheer ordered them all to
bed, being scandalized at such unseasonable hours. In the morning when
Claas got up, and went to put on his stocking, he felt something hard
at the toe, and turning it inside out, there fell on the floor the bowl
of a pipe of the genuine Meershaum, which seemed to have been
used beyond memory, since its polish was a thousand times more soft and
delightsome than ivory or tortoise shell, and its lustre past all
price. Would that the blessed saint would bestow such a one on me!
Claas was delighted; he kissed it as if he had been an idolatrous
Romanist—which, by the blessing of St. Nicholas, he was not—and
bestowing it in the bottom of his strong oaken chest, resolved, like
unto a prudent Dutchman, never to use it, for fear of accidents. In a
few hours afterwards, he parted from his parents, his family, and his
home; his father gave him a history of the bloody wars and persecutions
of Philip of Spain; a small purse of guilders, and abundance of advice
for the government of his future life; but his mother gave him what was
more precious than all these—her tears, her blessing, and a little
Dutch Bible with silver clasps. Bibles were not so plenty then as they
are now, and were considered as the greatest treasures of the
household. His brothers and sisters took an affectionate farewell of
him, and asked his pardon for stealing his Newyear cookies. So Claas
kissed his mother, promising, if it pleased Heaven, to send her stores
of herrings and beaver skins, whereat she was marvellously comforted;
and he went on his way, as it were sorrowfully rejoicing.
I shall pass over the journey, and the voyage to the Manhadoes,
saving the relation of a curious matter that occurred after the ship
had been about ninety days at sea, and they were supposed to be well on
their way to the port of New-Amsterdam. It came into the heads of the
passengers to while away the time as they were lying to one day with
the sails all furled, except one or two, which I name not, for a
special reason, contrary to the practice of most writers—namely,
because I am ignorant thereof—having the sails thus furled, I say, on
account of certain suspicious-looking clouds, the which the captain,
who kept a bright lookout day and night, had seen hovering overhead,
with no good intentions, it came into the noddles of divers of the
passengers to pass the time by opening their chests, and comparing
their respective outfits, for they were an honest set of people, and
not afraid of being robbed.
When Claas showed his lapstone, most of the company, on being told
the reasons for bringing it such a long distance, held up their hands,
and admired the foresight of his father, considering him an exceeding
prudent and wise man to think of such matters. Some of them wanted to
buy it on speculation, but Claas was too well acquainted with its
value to set a price on it. While they were thus chaffering, an old
sailor, who had accompanied the renowned Heinrick Hudson as cabin boy,
in his first voyage to the Manhadoes, happening to come by and hear
them, swore a great Dutch oath, and called Claas a splutterkin for
bringing stones all the way from Holland, saying that there were enough
at the Manhadoes to furnish lapstones for the whole universe. Whereupon
Claas thought to himself, "What a fine country it must be, where stones
are so plenty."
In process of time, as all things, and especially voyagings by sea,
have an end, the vessel came in sight of the highlands of
Neversink—vulgarly called by would-be learned writers, Navesink—and
Claas and the rest, who had never seen such vast mountains before, did
think that it was a wall, built up from the earth to the sky, and that
there was no world beyond.
Favoured by a fine south wind, whose balmy freshness had awakened
the young spring into early life and beauty, they shot like an arrow
from a bow through the Narrows, and sailing along the heights of
Staaten Island, came in sight of the illustrious city of New-Amsterdam,
which, though at that period containing but a few hundred people, I
shall venture to predict, in some future time, may actually number its
tens of thousands.
Truly it was a beautiful city, and a beautiful sight as might be
seen of a spring morning. As they came through Buttermilk Channel, they
beheld with delighted astonishment the fort, the church, the
governor's house, the great dock jutting out into the salt river, the
Stadt Huys, the rondeel, and a goodly assemblage of houses, with the
gable ends to the street, as before the villanous introduction of new
fashions, and at the extremity of the city, the gate and wall, from
whence Wall-street deriveth its name. But what above all gloriously
delighted Claas, was a great windmill, towering in the air, and
spreading its vast wings on the rising ground along the Broadway,
between Liberty and Courtlandt streets, the which reminded him of home
and his parents. The prospect rejoiced them all mightily, for they
thought to themselves, "We have come to a little Holland far over the
So far as I know, it was somewhere about the year of our Lord one
thousand six hundred and sixty, or threabout, and in the month of May,
that Claas landed in the New World; but of the precise day of the month
I cannot be certain, seeing what confusion of dates hath been caused by
that idolatrous device of Pope Gregory, called the New Style, whereby
events that really happened in one year are falsely put down to
another, by which means history becomes naught. The first thing he
thought of, was to provide himself a home, for be it known it was not
then the fashion to live in taverns and boarding houses, and the man
who thus demeaned himself was considered no better than he should be;
nobody would trust or employ him, and he might consider it a special
bounty of the good St. Nicholas, if he escaped a ride on the wooden
horse provided for the punishment of delinquents. So Claas looked out
for a pleasant place whereon to pitch his tent. As he walked forth for
this end, his bowels yearned exceedingly for a lot on the Broad-street,
through which ran a delightful creek, crooked like unto a ram's horn,
the sides of which were low, and, as it were, juicy with the salt water
which did sometimes overflow them at spring tides, and the full of the
moon. More especially the ferry house, with its never to be forgotten
weathercock, did incite him sorely to come and set himself down
thereabout. But he was deterred by the high price of lots in that
favoured region, seeing they asked him as much as five guilders for the
one at the corner of the Broad and Wall streets, a most unheard-of
price, and not to be thought of by a prudent man like Claas
So he sought about elsewhere, though he often looked wistfully at
the fair meads of the Broadstreet, and nothing deterred him from
ruining himself by gratifying his longings, but the truly excellent
expedient of counting his money, which I recommend to all honest
people, before they make a bargain. But though he could not settle in
Broadstreet, he resolved in his mind to get as nigh as possible, and
finding a lot with a little puddle of brackish water in it large enough
for a goose pond, nigh unto the wall and gate of the city, and just at
the head of what hath lately been called Newstreet—then the region
of unsettled lands—he procured a grant thereof from the schout,
scheepens, and burgomasters, who then ruled the city, for five stivers,
being the amount of fees for writing and recording the deed by the
Having built himself a comfortable house, with a little stoop to it,
he purchased a pair of geese, or, to be correct and particular, as
becometh a conscientious historian, a goose and gander, that he might
recreate himself with their gambols in the salt puddle, and quietly sat
himself down to the making and mending of shoes. In this he prospered
at first indifferently well, and thereafter mightily, when the people
found that he made shoes, some of which were reported never to wear
out; but this was, as it were, but a sort of figure of speech to
express their excellent qualities.
Every Sunday, after church, in pleasant weather, Claas, instead of
putting off his Sunday suit, as was the wont of the times, used to go
and take a walk in the Ladies' Valley, since called Maiden Lane, for
everything has changed under those arch intruders, the English, who, I
believe, in their hearts, are half Papists. This valley was an
exceeding cool, retired, and pleasant place, being bordered by a wood,
in the which was plenty of pinkster blossoms in the season. Being a
likely young fellow, and dressed in a goodly array of breeches and what
not, he was much noticed, and many a little damsel cast a sheep's eye
upon him as he sat smoking his pipe of a summer afternoon under the
shade of the trees which grew plentifully in that quarter. I don't
know how it was, but so it happened, that in process of time he made
acquaintance with one of these, a buxom creature of rare and
unmatchable lineaments and dimensions, insomuch that she was considered
the beauty of New-Amsterdam, and had refused even the burgomaster,
Barendt Roeloffsen, who was taxed three guilders, being the richest man
of the city. But Aintjie was not to be bought with gold; she loved
Claas because he was a solid young fellow, who plucked for her the most
beautiful pinkster blossoms, and was the most pleasant companion in the
world, for a ramble in the Ladies' Valley.
Report says, but I believe there was no great truth in the story,
that they sometimes QUEESTED together, but of that I profess myself
doubtful. Certain it is, however, that in good time they were married,
to the great content of both, and the great discontent of the
burgomaster, Barendt Roeloffsen.
In those days young people did not marry to set up a coach, live in
fine houses filled with rich furniture, for which they had no use, and
become bankrupt in a few years. They began in a small way, and
increased their comforts with their means. It was thus with Claas and
his wife, who were always employed in some useful business, and never
ran into extravagance, except it may be on holydays. In particular
Claas always feasted lustily on St. Nicholas his day, because, he was
his patron saint, and he remembered his kindness in faderland.
Thus they went on prospering as folks always do that are industrious
and prudent, every year laying up money, and every year increasing
their family; for be it known, those who are of the true Dutch blood,
always apportion the number of children to the means of providing for
them. They never are caught having children for other people to take
care of. But be this as it may, about this time began the mischievous
and oppressive practice of improving the city, draining the marshes,
cutting down hills, and straightening streets, which hath since grown
to great enormity in this city, insomuch that a man may be said to be
actually impoverished by his property.
Barendt Roeloffsen, who was at the head of the reformers, having a
great estate in vacant lands, which he wanted to make productive at the
expense of his neighbours—Barendt Roeloffsen, I say, bestirred
himself lustily to bring about what he called, in outlandish English,
the era of improvement, and forthwith looked around to see where he
should begin. I have always believed, and so did the people at that
time, that Barendt singled out Claas his goose pond for the first
experiment, being thereunto impelled by an old grudge against Claas, on
account of his having cut him out with the damsel he wished to marry,
as before related.
But, however, Barendt Roeloffsen, who bore a great sway among the
burgomasters, on account of his riches, got a law passed, by hook or by
crook, for draining Claas his pond, at his own expense, making him pay
at the same time for the rise in the value of his property, of which
they did not permit him to be the judge, but took upon themselves to
say what it was. The ancestors of Claas had fought valiantly against
Philip of Spain, in defence of their religion and liberty, and he had
kept up his detestation of oppression by frequently reading the account
of the cruelties committed in the Low Countries by the Spaniard, in the
book which his father had given him on his departure from home.
Besides, he had a great admiration, I might almost say affection, for
his goose pond, as is becoming in every true Dutchman. In it he was
accustomed to see, with singular delight, his geese, now increased to a
goodly flock, sailing about majestically, flapping their wings, dipping
their necks into the water, and making a noise exceedingly tuneful and
melodious. Here, too, his little children were wont to paddle in the
summer days, up to their knees in the water, to their great contentment
as well as recreation, thereby strengthening themselves exceedingly.
Such being the case, Claas resisted the behest of the burgomasters,
declaring that he would appeal to the laws for redress if they
persisted in trespassing on his premises. But what can a man get by the
law at any time, much less when the defendant, as in this case, was
judge as well as a party in the business? After losing a vast deal of
time, which was as money to him, and spending a good portion of what he
had saved for his children, Claas was at length cast in his suit, and
the downfall of his goose pond irrevocably decreed.
It was a long time before he recovered this blow, and when he did,
Fortune, as if determined to persevere in her ill offices, sent a
blacksmith from Holland, who brought over with him the new and
diabolical invention of hobnails, the which he so strenuously
recommended to the foolish people, who are prone to run after
novelties, that they, one and all, had their shoes stuck full of nails,
whereby they did clatter about the streets like unto a horse newly
shod. As might be expected, the business of shoemaking decreased
mightily upon this, insomuch that the shoes might be said to last for
ever; and I myself have seen a pair that have descended through three
generations, the nails of which shone like unto silver sixpences. Some
people supposed this was a plot of Barendt Roeloffsen, to complete the
ruin of poor Claas; but whether it was or not, it is certain that such
was the falling off in his trade, on account of the pestilent
introduction of hobnails, that, at the end of the year, Claas found
that he had gone down hill at a great rate. The next year it was still
worse, and thus, in the course of a few more, from bad to worse, he at
last found himself without the means of support for himself, his wife,
and his little children. But what shows the goodness of Providence, it
is worthy of record, that from this time his family, miraculously as
it were, ceased to increase.
Neither begging nor running in debt without the prospect of paying
was in fashion in those days, nor were there any societies to invite
people to idleness and improvidence by the certainty of being relieved
from their consequences without the trouble of asking. Claas tried what
labouring day and night would do, but there was no use in making shoes
when there was nobody to buy them. His good wife tried the magic of
saving; but where there is nothing left to save, economy is to little
purpose. He tried to get into some other business, but the wrath of
Barendt Roeloffsen was upon him, and the whole influence of the
burgomasters stood in his way on account of the opposition he had made
to the march of improvement. He then offered his house and lot for
sale; but here again his old enemy Barendt put a spoke in his wheel,
going about among the people and insinuating that as Claas had paid
nothing for his lot, the title was good for nothing. So one by one he
tried all ways to keep want from his door; but it came at last, and one
Newyear's eve, in the year of our Lord— I don't know what, the family
was hovering round a miserable fire, not only without the customary
means of enjoying the festivity of the season, but destitute of the
very necessaries of life.
The evening was cold and raw, and the heavy moanings of a keen
northeast wind announced the approach of a snow storm. The little
children cowered over the almost expiring embers, shivering with cold
and hunger; the old cat lay half buried in the ashes to keep herself
warm; and the poor father and mother now looked at the little flock of
ragged—no, not ragged—the mother took care of that; and industry
can always ward off rags and dirt. But though not ragged or dirty, they
were miserably clad and worse fed; and as the parents looked first at
them and then at each other, the tears gathered in their eyes until
they ran over.
"We must sell the silver clasps of the Bible my mother gave me,
wife," said Claas, at last.
"The Goodness forbid," said she; "we should never prosper after it."
"We can't prosper worse than we do now, Aintjie."
"You had better sell the little book about the murders of the
Spaniards, that you sometimes read to me."
"It has no silver clasps, and will bring nothing," replied Claas,
despondingly, covering his face with his hand, and seeming to think for
a few moments. All at once he withdrew his hand, and cried,
"The pipe! the meershaum pipe! it is worth a hundred guilders!" and
he ran to the place where he had kept it so carefully that he never
used it once in the whole time he had it in his possession.
He looked at it wistfully, and it brought to his mind the time he
found it in his stocking. He thought of his parents, his brothers, his
sisters, and old faderland, and wished he had never parted from them
to visit the New World. His wife saw what was passing in his heart, and
"Never mind, dear Claas, with these hundred guilders we shall get on
again by the blessing of the good St. Nicholas, whose namesake you are."
Claas shook his head, and looked at the meershaum, which he could
not bear to part with, because, somehow or other, he could not help
thinking it was the gift of St. Nicholas. The wind now freshened, and
moaned more loudly than ever, and the snow began to come in through the
crevices of the door and windows. The cold increased apace, and the
last spark of fire was expiring in the chimney. There was darkness
without and within, for the candle, the last they had, was just going
Claas, without knowing what he was doing, rubbed the pipe against
his sleeve, as it were mechanically.
He had scarcely commenced rubbing, when the door suddenly opened,
and without more ado, a little man, with a right ruddy good-humoured
face, as round as an apple, and a cocked beaver, white with snow,
walked in, without so much as saying, "By your leave," and sitting
himself by the side of the yffrouw, began to blow at the fire, and make
as if he was warming his fingers, though there was no fire there, for
Now Claas was a good-natured fellow, and though he had nothing to
give, except a welcome, which is always in the power of everybody, yet
he wished to himself he had more fire to warm people's fingers. After
a few moments, the little man rubbed his hands together, and looking
around him, with a good-humoured smile, said,
"Mynheer Schlaschenschlinger, methinks it might not be amiss to
replenish this fire a little; 'tis a bitter cold night, and my fingers
are almost frostbitten."
"Alack, mynheer," quoth Claas, "I would, with all my heart, but I
have nothing wherewith to warm myself and my children, unless I set
fire to my own house. I am sorry I cannot entertain thee better."
Upon this the little man broke the cane with which he walked into
two pieces, which he threw in the chimney, and thereupon the fire began
to blaze so cheerfully that they could see their shadows on the wall,
and the old cat jumped out of the ashes, with her coat well singed,
which made the little jolly fellow laugh heartily.
The sticks burnt and burnt, without going out, and they were soon
all as warm and comfortable as could be. Then the little man said,
"Friend Claas, methinks it would not be much amiss if the good vrouw
here would bestir herself to get something to eat. I have had no dinner
today, and come hither on purpose to make merry with thee. Knowest thou
not that this is Newyear's eve?"
"Alack!" replied Claas, "I know it full well; but we have not
wherewithal to keep away hunger, much less to make merry with. Thou
art welcome to all we have, and that is nothing."
"Come, come, Friend Claas, thou art a prudent man, I know, but I
never thought thou wert stingy before. Bestir thyself, good Aintjie,
and see what thou canst find in that cupboard. I warrant there is
plenty of good fare in it."
The worthy yffrouw looked rather foolish at this proposal, for she
knew she would find nothing there if she went; but the little man
threatened her, in a good-humoured way, to break the long pipe he
carried stuck in his cocked hat, over her nightcap, if she didn't do as
he bid her. So she went to the cupboard, resolved to bring him out the
empty pewter dishes, to show they had nothing to give him. But when she
opened the cupboard, she started back, and cried out aloud, so that
Claas ran to see what was the matter; and what was his astonishment to
find the cupboard full of all sorts of good things for a notable
"Aha!" cried the merry little man, "you're caught at last. I knew
thou hadst plenty to entertain a stranger withal; but I suppose thou
wantedst to keep it all to thyself. Come, come! bestir thyself,
Aintjie, for I am as hungry as a schoolboy."
Aintjie did as she was bid, wondering all the time who this familiar
little man could be; for the city was not so big, but that she knew by
sight everybody that lived in it, and she was sure she had never seen
In a short time there was a glorious array of good things set out
before them, and they proceeded to enjoy themselves right lustily in
keeping of the merry Newyear's eve. The little man cracked his jokes,
patted little Nicholas—Claas, his youngest son, who was called after
his father—on the head; chucked Aintjie under the chin; said he was
glad she did not wed the splutterkin Barendt Roeloffsen, and set them
so good an example, that they all got as merry as crickets.
By-and-by the little man inquired of Claas concerning his affairs,
and he gave him an account of his early prosperity, and how he had
declined, in spite of all he could do, into poverty and want; so that
he had nothing left but his wife, his children, his Dutch Bible, his
history of the Low Country wars, and his meershaum pipe.
"Aha!" quoth the little man, "you've kept that, hey! Let me see it."
Claas gave it to him, while the tears came into his eyes, although
he was so merry, to think that he must part with it on the morrow. It
was the pride of his heart, and he set too great a value on it to make
any use of it whatever.
The little man took the pipe, and looking at it, said, as if to
"Yes; here it is! the very identical meershaum out of which the
great Calvin used to smoke. Thou hast done well, Friend Claas, to
preserve it; and thou must keep it as the apple of thine eye all thy
life, and give it as an inheritance to thy children."
"Alack!" cried Aintjie, "he must sell it to-morrow, or we shall want
wherewithal for a dinner."
"Yea," said Claas, "of a truth it must go tomorrow!"
"Be quiet, splutterkin!" cried the little man, merrily; "give me
some more of that spiced beverage, for I am as thirsty as a dry sponge.
Come, let us drink to the Newyear, for it will be here in a few
So they drank a cup to the jolly Newyear, and at that moment the
little boys and negroes, who didn't mind the snow any more than a
miller does flour, began to fire their cannon at a great rate;
whereupon the little man jumped up, and cried out,
"My time is come! I must be off, for I have a great many visits to
pay before sunrise."
Then he kissed the yffrouw with a hearty smack, just as doth the
illustrious Rip Van Dam, on the like occasions; patted little Nicholas
on the head, and gave him his blessing; after which he did
incontinently leap up the chimney and disappear. Then they knew it was
the good St. Nicholas, and rejoiced mightily in the visit he had paid
them, looking upon it as an earnest that their troubles were over.
The next morning the prudent housewife, according to custom, got up
before the dawn of day to put her house in order, and when she came to
sweep the floor, was surprised to hear something jingle just like
money. Then opening the embers, the sticks which the good saint had
thrown upon the fire again blazed out, and she descried a large purse,
which, on examination, was found filled with golden ducats. Whereupon
she called out to Claas, and they examined the purse, and found
fastened to it a paper bearing this legend:—
"THE GIFT OF SAINT NICHOLAS."
While they stood in joyful wonder, they heard a great knocking and
confusion of tongues outside the door, and the people calling aloud
upon Claas Schlaschenschlinger to come forth; whereupon he went forth,
and, to his great astonishment, found that his little wooden house had
disappeared in the night, and in its place was standing a gorgeous and
magnificent mansion of Dutch bricks, two stories high, with three
windows in front, all of a different size; and a door cut right out of
the corner, just as it is seen at this blessed day.
The neighbours wondered much, and it was whispered among them, that
the fiend had helped Claas to this great domicil, which was one of the
biggest in the city, and almost equal to that of Barendt Roeloffsen.
But when Claas told them of the visit of St. Nicholas, and showed them
the purse of golden ducats, with the legend upon it, they thought
better of it, and contented themselves with envying him heartily his
I shall not relate how Claas prospered ever afterwards, in spite of
his enemies the burgomasters, who, at last, were obliged to admit him
as one of their number; or how little Aintjie held up her head among
the highest; or how Claas ever after eschewed the lapstone, and, like a
worshipful magistrate, took to bettering the condition of mankind, till
at length he died, and was gathered to his forefathers, full of years
All I shall say is, that the great house in Newstreet continued in
the family for several generations, until a degenerate descendant of
Claas, being thereunto incited by the d—l, did sell it to another
degenerate splutterkin, who essayed to pull it down. But mark what
followed. No sooner had the workmen laid hands on it, than the
brickbats began to fly about at such a rate, that they all came away
faster than they went; some with broken heads, and others with broken
bones, and not one could ever be persuaded to meddle with it
And let this be a warning to any one who shall attempt to lay their
sacrilegious hands on the LAST OF THE DUTCH HOUSES, the gift of St.
Nicholas, for whoever does so, may calculate, to a certainty, on
getting well peppered with brickbats, I can tell them.
THE REVENGE OF SAINT NICHOLAS. A
TALE FOR THE HOLYDAYS.
Everybody knows that in the famous city of New-York, whose proper
name is New-Amsterdam, the excellent St. Nicholas—who is worth a
dozen St. Georges and dragons to boot, and who, if every tub stood on
its right bottom, would be at the head of the Seven Champions of
christendom— I say, everybody knows the excellent St. Nicholas, in
holyday times, goes about among the people in the middle of the night,
distributing all sorts of toothsome and becoming gifts to the good boys
and girls in this his favourite city. Some say that he comes down the
chimneys in a little Jersey wagon; others, that he wears a pair of
Holland skates, with which he travels like the wind; and others, who
pretend to have seen him, maintain that he has lately adopted a
locomotive, and was once actually detected on the Albany
railroad. But this last assertion is looked upon to be entirely
fabulous, because St. Nicholas has too much discretion to trust himself
in such a newfangled jarvie; and so I leave this matter to be settled
by whomsoever will take the trouble. My own opinion is, that his
favourite mode of travelling is on a canal, the motion and speed of
which aptly,, comport with the philosophic dignity of his character.
But this is not material, and I will no longer detain my readers with
extraneous and irrelevant matters, as is too much the fashion with our
statesmen, orators, biographers, and story tellers.
It was in the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty, or
sixty-one, for the most orthodox chronicles differ in this respect; but
it was a very remarkable year, and it was called annus mirabilis
on that account. It was said that several people were detected in
speaking the truth about that time; that nine staid, sober, and
discreet widows, who had sworn on an anti-masonic almanac never to
enter a second time into the holy state, were snapped up by young
husbands before they knew what they were about; that six venerable
bachelors wedded as many buxom young belles, and, it is reported, were
afterwards sorry for what they had done; that many people actually went
to church, from motives of piety; and that a great scholar, who had
written a book in support of certain opinions, was not only convinced
of his error, but acknowledged it publicly afterwards. No wonder the
year one thousand seven hundred and sixty, if that was the year, was
called annus mirabilis!
What contributed to render this year still more remarkable, was the
building of six new three-story brick houses in the city, and three
persons setting up equipages, who, I cannot find, ever failed in
business afterwards, or compounded with their creditors at a pistareen
in the pound. It is, moreover, recorded in the annals of the
horticultural society of that day, which were written on a cabbage
leaf, as is said, that a member produced a forked radish, of such vast
dimensions, that being dressed up in fashionable male attire at the
exhibition, it was actually mistaken for a travelled beau by several
inexperienced young ladies, who pined away for love of its beautiful
complexion, and were changed into daffadowndillies. Some maintained it
was a mandrake, but it was finally detected by an inquest of
experienced matrons. No wonder the year seventeen hundred and sixty was
called annus mirabilis!
But the most extraordinary thing of all, was the confident assertion
that there was but one gray mare within the bills of mortality;
and, incredible as it may appear, she was the wife of a responsible
citizen, who, it was affirmed, had grown rich by weaving velvet purses
out of sows' ears. But this we look upon as being somewhat of the
character of the predictions of almanac makers. Certain it is, however,
that Amos Shuttle possessed the treasure of a wife who was shrewdly
suspected of having established within doors a system of government not
laid down in Aristotle or the Abbe Sièyes, who made a constitution for
every day in the year, and two for the first of April.
Amos Shuttle, though a mighty pompous little man out of doors, was
the meekest of human creatures within. He belonged to that class of
people who pass for great among the little, and little among the great;
and he would certainly have been master in his own house had it not
been for a woman! We have read somewhere that no wise woman ever thinks
her husband a demigod. If so, it is a blessing that there are so few
wise women in the world.
Amos had grown rich, Heaven knows how—he did not know himself;
but, what was somewhat extraordinary, he considered his wealth a signal
proof of his talents and sagacity, and valued himself according to the
infallible standard of pounds, shillings, and pence. But though he
lorded it without, he was, as we have just said, the most gentle of men
within doors. The moment he stepped inside of his own house, his spirit
cowered down, like that of a pious man entering a church; he felt as if
he was in the presence of a superior being—to wit, Mrs. Abigail
Shuttle. He was, indeed, the meekest of beings at home, except Moses;
and Sir Andrew Aguecheek's song, which Sir Toby Belch declared "would
draw nine souls out of one weaver," would have failed in drawing half a
one out of Amos. The truth is, his wife, who ought to have known,
affirmed he had no more soul than a monkey; but he was the only man in
the city thus circumstanced at the time we speak of. No wonder,
therefore, the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty was called
Such as he was, Mr. Amos Shuttle waxed richer and richer every day,
insomuch that those who envied his prosperity were wont to say, "that
he had certainly been born with a dozen silver spoons in his mouth, or
such a great blockhead would never have got together such a heap of
money." When he had become worth ten thousand pounds, he launched his
shuttle magnanimously out of the window, ordered his weaver's beam to
be split up for oven wood, and Mrs. Amos turned his weaver's shop into
a boudoir. Fortune followed him faster than he ran away from
her. In a few years the ten thousand doubled, and in a few more
trebled, quadrupled—in short, Amos could hardly count his money.
"What shall we do now, my dear?" asked Mrs. Shuttle, who never
sought his opinion, that I can learn, except for the pleasure of
"Let us go and live in the country, and enjoy ourselves," quoth Amos.
"Go into the country! go to—" I could never satisfy myself what
Mrs. Shuttle meant; but she stopped short, and concluded the sentence
with a withering look of scorn, that would have cowed the spirits of
Amos named all sorts of places, enumerated all sorts of modes of
life he could think of, and every pleasure that might enter into the
imagination of a man without a soul. His wife despised them all; she
would not hear of them.
"Well, my dear, suppose you suggest something; do now, Abby," at
length said Amos, in a coaxing whisper; "will you, my onydoney?"
"Ony fiddlestick! I wonder you repeat such vulgarisms. But if I must
say what I should like, I should like to travel."
"Well, let us go and make a tour as far as Jamaica, or Hackensack,
or Spiking-devil. There is excellent fishing for striped bass there."
"Spiking-devil!" screamed Mrs. Shuttle; "an't you ashamed to swear
so, you wicked mortal! I won't go to Jamaica, nor Hackensack among the
Dutch Hottentots, nor to Spiking-devil to catch striped bass. I'll go
If Amos had possessed a soul it would have jumped out of its skin at
the idea of going beyond seas. He had once been on the sea-bass banks,
and got a seasoning there; the very thought of which made him sick.
But, as he had no soul, there was no great harm done.
When Mrs. Shuttle said a thing, it was settled. They went to Europe,
taking their only son with them; the lady ransacked all the milliners'
shops in Paris, and the gentleman visited all the restaurateurs. He
became such a desperate connoisseur and gourmand, that he could almost
tell an omelette au jambon from a gammon of bacon. After
consummating the polish, they came home, the lady with the newest old
fashions, and the weaver with a confirmed preference of potage à la
Turque over pepper-pot. It is said the city trembled, as with an
earthquake, when they landed; but the notion was probably superstitious.
They arrived near the close of the year, the memorable year, the
annus mirabilis, one thousand seven hundred and sixty. Everybody
that had ever known the Shuttles flocked to see them, or rather to see
what they had brought with them; and such was the magic of a voyage to
Europe, that Mr. and Mrs. Amos Shuttle, who had been nobodies when they
departed, became somebodies when they returned, and mounted at once to
the summit of ton.
"You have come in good time to enjoy the festivities of the
holydays," said Mrs. Hubblebubble, an old friend of Amos the weaver and
"We shall have a merry Christmas and a happy Newyear," exclaimed
Mrs. Doubletrouble, another old acquaintance of old times.
"The holydays," drawled Mrs. Shuttle; "the holydays? Christmas and
Newyear? Pray what are they?"
It is astonishing to see how people lose their memories abroad
sometimes. They often forget their old friends, old customs, and
"Why, la! now, who'd have thought it?" cried Mrs. Doubletrouble;
"why, sure you haven't forgot the oily cooks and the mince pies, the
merry meetings of friends, the sleigh-rides, the Kissing Bridge, and
the family parties?"
"Family parties!" shrieked Mrs. Shuttle, and held her salts to her
nose; "family parties! I never heard of anything so Gothic in Paris or
Rome; and oily cooks—oh shocking! and mince pies—detestable! and
throwing open one's doors to all one's old friends, whom one wishes to
forget as soon as possible. Oh! the idea is insupportable!" and again
she held the salts to her nose.
Mrs. Hubblebubble and Mrs. Doubletrouble found they had exposed
themselves sadly, and were quite ashamed. A real, genteel, well-bred,
enlightened lady of fashion ought to have no rule of conduct— no
conscience, but Paris—whatever is fashionable there is
genteel—whatever is not fashionable is vulgar. There is no other
standard of right, and no other eternal fitness of things. At least so
thought Mrs. Hubblebubble and Mrs. Doubletrouble.
"But is it possible that all these things are out of fashion
abroad?" asked the latter, bessechingly.
"They never were in," said Mrs. Amos Shuttle.
"For my part, I mean to close my doors and windows on Newyear's
"And so am I," said Mrs. Hubblebubble.
"And so am I," said Mrs. Doubletrouble.
And it was settled that they should make a combination among
themselves and their friends, to put down the ancient and good customs
of the city, and abolish the sports and enjoyments of the jolly
Newyear. The conspirators then separated, each to pursue her diabolical
designs against oily cooks, mince pies, sleigh ridings, sociable
visitings, and family parties.
Now the excellent St. Nicholas, who knows well what is going on in
every house in the city, though, like a good and honourable saint, he
never betrays any family secrets, overheard these wicked women plotting
against his favourite anniversary, and he said to himself,
"Vuur en Vlammen! but I'll be even with you,
." So he determined he would play these conceited and misled women a
trick or two before he had done with them.
It was now the first day of the new year, and Mrs. Amos Shuttle, and
Mrs. Doubletrouble, and Mrs. Hubblebubble, and all their wicked
abetters, had shut up their doors and windows, so that when their old
friends called they could not get into their houses. Moreover, they had
prepared neither mince pies, nor oily cooks, nor crullers, nor any of
the good things consecrated to St. Nicholas by his pious and
well-intentioned votaries, and they were mightily pleased at having
been as dull and stupid as owls, while all the rest of the city were as
merry as crickets, chirping and frisking in the warm chimney corner.
Little did they think what horrible judgments were impending over them,
prepared by the wrath of the excellent St. Nicholas, who was resolved
to make an example of them for attempting to introduce their newfangled
corruptions in place of the ancient customs of his favourite city.
These wicked women never had another comfortable sleep in their lives!
The night was still, clear, and frosty—the earth was everywhere
one carpet of snow, and looked just like the ghost of a dead world,
wrapped in a white winding sheet; the moon was full, round, and of a
silvery brightness, and by her discreet silence afforded an example to
the rising generation of young damsels, while the myriads of stars that
multiplied as you gazed at them, seemed as though they were frozen into
icicles, they looked so cold, and sparkled with such a glorious lustre.
The streets and roads leading from the city were all alive with
sleighs, filled with jovial souls, whose echoing laughter and cheerful
songs, mingled with a thousand merry bells, that jingled in harmonious
dissonance, giving spirit to the horses and animation to the scene. In
the license of the season, hallowed by long custom, each of the sleighs
saluted the others in passing with a "Happy Newyear," a merry jest, or
mischievous gibe, exchanged from one gay party to another. All was
life, motion, and merriment; and as old frostbitten Winter, aroused
from his trance by the rout and revelry around, raised his
weatherbeaten head to see what was passing, he felt his icy blood
warming and coursing through his veins, and wished he could only
overtake the laughing buxom Spring, that he might dance a jig with her,
and be as frisky as the best of them. But as the old rogue could not
bring this desirable matter about, he contented himself with calling
for a jolly bumper of cocktail, and drinking a swinging draught to the
health of the blessed St. Nicholas, and those who honour the memory of
the president of good fellows.
All this time the wicked women and their abetters lay under the
malediction of the good saint, who caused them to be bewitched by an
old lady from Salem. Mrs. Amos Shuttle could not sleep, because
something had whispered in her apprehensive ear, that her son, her only
son, whom she had engaged to the daughter of Count Grenouille, in
Paris, then about three years old, was actually at that moment crossing
Kissing Bridge, in company with little Susan Varian, and some others
besides. Now Susan was the fairest little lady of all the land; she had
a face and an eye just like the Widow Wadman, in Leslie's charming
picture; a face and an eye which no reasonable man under Heaven could
resist, except my Uncle Toby—beshrew him and his fortifications, I
say! She was, moreover, a good little girl, and an accomplished little
girl—but, alas! she had not mounted to the step in Jacob's ladder of
fashion, which qualifies a person for the heaven of high ton, and Mrs.
Shuttle had not been to Europe for nothing. She would rather have seen
her son wedded to dissipation and profligacy than to Susan Varian; and
the thought of his being out sleighriding with her, was worse than the
toothache. It kept her awake all the livelong night; and the only
consolation she had was scolding poor Amos, because the sleigh bells
made such a noise.
As for Mrs. Hubblebubble and Mrs. Doubletrouble, they neither of
them got a wink of sleep during a whole week, for thinking of the
beautiful French chairs and damask curtains Mrs. Shuttle had brought
from Europe. They forthwith besieged their good men, leaving them no
rest until they sent out orders to Paris for just such rich chairs and
curtains as those of the thrice happy Mrs. Shuttle, from whom they kept
the affair a profound secret, each meaning to treat her to an agreeable
surprise. In the mean while they could not rest for fear the vessel
which was to bring these treasures might be lost on her passage. Such
was the dreadful judgment inflicted on them by the good St. Nicholas.
The perplexities of Mrs. Shuttle increased daily. In the first
place, do all she could, she could not make Amos a fine gentleman. This
was a metamorphosis which Ovid would never have dreamed of. He would be
telling the price of everything in his house, his furniture, his wines,
and his dinners, insomuch that those who envied his prosperity, or,
perhaps, only despised his pretensions, were wont to say, after eating
his venison and drinking his old Madeira, "that he ought to have been a
tavern keeper, he knew so well how to make out a bill." Mrs. Shuttle
once overheard a speech of this kind, and the good St. Nicholas
himself, who had brought it about, almost felt sorry for the
mortification she endured on the occasion.
Scarcely had she got over this, when she was invited to a ball, by
Mrs. Hubblebubble, and the first thing she saw on entering the drawing
room, was a suit of damask curtains and chairs, as much like her own as
two peas, only the curtains had far handsomer fringe. Mrs. Shuttle came
very near fainting away, but escaped for that time, determining to
mortify this impudent creature, by taking not the least notice of her
finery. But St. Nicholas ordered it otherwise, so that she was at last
obliged to acknowledge they were very elegant indeed. Nay, this was not
the worst, for she overheard one lady whisper to another, that Mrs.
Hubblebubble's curtains were much richer than Mrs. Shuttle's.
"Oh, I dare say," replied the other—"I dare say Mrs. Shuttle
bought them second hand, for her husband is as mean as pursley."
This was too much. The unfortunate woman was taken suddenly
ill—called her carriage, and went home, where it is supposed she
would have died that evening had she not wrought upon Amos to promise
her an entire new suit of French furniture for her drawing room and
parlour to boot, besides a new carriage. But for all this she could not
close her eyes that night for thinking of the "second-hand curtains."
Nor was the wicked Mrs. Doubletrouble a whit better off, when her
friend Mrs. Hubblebubble treated her to the agreeable surprise of the
French window curtains and chairs. "It is too bad—too bad, I
declare," said she to herself; "but I'll pay her off soon." Accordingly
she issued invitations for a grand ball and supper, at which both Mrs.
Shuttle and Mrs. Hubblebubble were struck dumb at beholding a suit of
curtains and a set of chairs exactly of the same pattern with theirs.
The shock was terrible, and it is impossible to say what might have
been the consequences, had not the two ladies all at once thought of
uniting in abusing Mrs. Doubletrouble for her extravagance.
"I pity poor Mr. Doubletrouble," said Mrs. Shuttle, shrugging her
shoulders significantly, and glancing at the room.
"And so do I," said Mrs. Hubblebubble, doing the same.
Mrs. Doubletrouble had her eye upon them, and enjoyed their
mortification until her pride was brought to the ground by a dead shot
from Mrs. Shuttle, who was heard to exclaim, in reply to a lady who
observed the chairs and curtains were very handsome,
"Why, yes; but they have been out of fashion in Paris a long time;
and, besides, really they are getting so common, that I intend to have
mine removed to the nursery."
Heavens! what a blow! Poor Mrs. Doubletrouble hardly survived it.
Such a night of misery as the wicked woman endured almost made the good
St. Nicholas regret the judgment he had passed upon these mischievous
and conceited females. But he thought to himself he would persevere
until he had made them a sad example to all innovators upon the ancient
customs of our forefathers.
Thus were these wicked and miserable women spurred on by witchcraft
from one piece of extravagance to another, and a deadly rivalship grew
up between them, which destroyed their own happiness and that of their
husbands. Mrs. Shuttle's new carriage and drawing-room furniture in due
time were followed by similar extravagances on the part of the two
other wicked women, who had conspired against the hallowed institutions
of St. Nicholas; and soon their rivalship came to such a height that
neither of them had a moment's rest or comfort from that time forward.
But they still shut their doors on the jolly anniversary of St.
Nicholas, though the old respectable burghers and their wives, who had
held up their heads time out of mind, continued the good custom, and
laughed at the presumption of these upstart interlopers, who were
followed only by a few people of silly pretensions, who had no more
soul than Amos Shuttle himself. The three wicked women grew to be
almost perfect skeletons, on account of the vehemence with which they
strove to outdo each other, and the terrible exertions necessary to
keep up the appearance of being the best friends in the world. In
short, they became the laughingstock of the town; and sensible,
well-bred folks cut their acquaintance, except when they sometimes
accepted an invitation to a party, just to make merry with their folly
The excellent St. Nicholas, finding they still persisted in their
opposition to his rites and ceremonies, determined to inflict on them
the last and worst punishment that can befall the sex. He decreed that
they should be deprived of all the delights springing from the domestic
affections, and all taste for the innocent and virtuous enjoyments of a
happy fireside. Accordingly, they lost all relish for home; were
continually gadding about from one place to another in search of
pleasure, and worried themselves to death to find happiness where it is
never to be found. Their whole lives became one long series of
disappointed hopes, galled pride, and gnawing envy. They lost their
health, they lost their time, and their days became days of harassing
impatience, their nights nights of sleepless, feverish excitement,
ending in weariness and disappointment. The good saint sometimes felt
sorry for them, but their continued obstinacy determined him to
persevere in his plan to punish the upstart pride of these rebellious
Young Shuttle, who had a soul, which I suppose he inherited from his
mother, all this while continued his attentions to little Susan Varian,
which added to the miseries inflicted on his wicked mother. Mrs.
Shuttle insisted that Amos should threaten to disinherit his son,
unless he gave up this attachment.
"Lord bless your soul, Abby," said Amos, "what's the use of my
threatening, the boy knows as well as I do that I've no will of my own.
Why, bless my soul, Abby—"
"Bless your soul!" interrupted Mrs. Shuttle; "I wonder who'd take
the trouble to bless it but yourself? However, if you don't I will."
Accordingly, she threatened the young man with being disinherited
unless he turned his back on little Susan Varian, which no man ever did
without getting a heartache.
"If my father goes on as he has done lately," sighed the youth, "he
won't have anything left to disinherit me of but his affection, I fear.
But if he had millions I would not abandon Susan."
"Are you not ashamed of such a lowlived attachment? You, that have
been to Europe! But, once for all, remember this, renounce this lowborn
upstart, or quit your father's home for ever."
"Upstart!" thought young Shuttle; "one of the oldest families in the
city." He made his mother a respectful bow, bade Heaven bless her, and
left the house. He was, however, met by his father at the door, who
said to him,
"Johnny, I give my consent; but mind, don't tell your mother a word
of the matter. I'll let her know I've a soul as well as other people;"
and he tossed his head like a war horse.
The night after this Johnny was married to little Susan, and the
blessing of affection and beauty lighted upon his pillow. Her old
father, who was in a respectable business, took his son-in-law into
partnership, and they prospered so well that in a few years Johnny was
independent of all the world, with the prettiest wife and children in
the land. But Mrs. Shuttle was inexorable, while the knowledge of his
prosperity and happiness only worked her up to a higher pitch of anger,
and added to the pangs of jealousy perpetually inflicted on her by the
rivalry of Mrs. Hubblebubble and Mrs. Doubletrouble, who suffered under
the like infliction from the wrathful St. Nicholas, who was resolved to
make them an example to all posterity.
No fortune, be it ever so great, can stand the eternal sapping of
wasteful extravagance, engendered and stimulated by the baleful passion
of envy. In less than ten years from the hatching of the diabolical
conspiracy of these three wicked women against the supremacy of the
excellent St. Nicholas, their spendthrift rivalship had ruined the
fortunes of their husbands, and entailed upon themselves misery and
remorse. Rich Amos Shuttle became at last as poor as a church mouse,
and would have been obliged to take to the loom again in his old age,
had not Johnny, now rich, and a worshipful magistrate of the city,
afforded him and his better half a generous shelter under his own happy
roof. Mrs. Hubblebubble and Mrs. Doubletrouble had scarcely time to
condole with Mrs. Shuttle, and congratulate each other, when their
husbands went the way of all flesh, that is to say, failed for a few
tens of thousands, and called their creditors together to hear the good
news. The two wicked women lived long enough after this to repent of
their offence against St. Nicholas; but they never imported any more
French curtains, and at last perished miserably in an attempt to set
the fashions in Pennypot alley.
Mrs. Abigail Shuttle might have lived happily the rest of her life
with her children and grandchildren, who all treated her with reverent
courtesy and affection, now that the wrath of the mighty St. Nicholas
was appeased by her exemplary punishment. But she could not get over
her bad habits and feelings, or forgive her lovely little
daughter-in-law for treating her so kindly when she so little deserved
it. She gradually pined away; and though she revived at hearing of the
catastrophe of Mrs. Hubblebubble and Mrs. Doubletrouble, it was only
for a moment. The remainder of the life of this wicked woman was a
series of disappointments and heartburnings, and when she died, Amos
tried to shed a few tears, but he found it impossible, I suppose,
because, as his wife always said, "he had no soul."
Such was the terrible revenge of St. Nicholas, which ought to be a
warning to all who attempt to set themselves up against the venerable
customs of their ancestors, and backslide from the hallowed
institutions of the blessed saint, to whose good offices, without
doubt, it is owing that this his favourite city has transcended all
others of the universe in beautiful damsels, valorous young men, mince
pies, and Newyear cookies. The catastrophe of these three wicked women
had a wonderful influence in the city, insomuch that from this time
forward, no gray mares were ever known, no French furniture was
ever used, and no woman was hardy enough to set herself up in
opposition to the good customs of St. Nicholas. And so, wishing many
happy Newyears to all my dear countrywomen and countrymen, saving those
who shut their doors to old friends, high or low, rich or poor, on that
blessed anniversary, which makes more glad hearts than all others put
together—I say, wishing a thousand happy Newyears to all, with this
single exception, I lay down my pen, with a caution to all wicked women
to beware of the revenge of St. Nicholas.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BAKERS' DOZEN.
Little Brom Boomptie, or Boss Boomptie, as he was commonly called by
his apprentices and neighbours, was the first man that ever baked
Newyear cakes in the good city of New-Amsterdam. It is generally
supposed that he was the inventor of those excellent and respectable
articles. However this may be, he lived and prospered in the little
Dutch house in William-street, called, time out of mind, Knickerbocker
Hall, just at the outskirts of the good town of New-Amsterdam.
Boomptie was a fat comfortable creature, with a capital pair of
oldfashioned legs; a full, round, good-natured face; a corporation like
unto one of his plump loaves; and as much honesty as a Turkish baker,
who lives in the fear of having his ears nailed to his own door for
retailing bad bread. He wore a low-crowned, broad-brimmed beaver; a
gray bearskin cloth coat, waistcoat, and breeches, and gray woollen
stockings, summer and winter, all the year round. The only language he
spoke, understood, or had the least respect for, was Dutch— and the
only books he ever read or owned, were a Dutch Bible, with silver
clasps and hinges, and a Dutch history of the Duke of Alva's bloody
wars in the Low Countries. Boss Boomptie was a pious man, of simple
habits and simple character; a believer in "demonology and witchcraft;"
and as much afraid of spooks as the mother that bore him. It ran
in the family to be bewitched, and for three generations the Boompties
had been very much pestered with supernatural visitations. But for all
this they continued to prosper in the world, insomuch that Boss
Boomptie daily added a piece of wampum or two to his strong box. He was
blessed with a good wife, who saved the very parings of her nails, and
three plump boys, after whom he modelled his gingerbread babies, and
who were every Sunday zealously instructed never to pass a pin without
picking it up and bringing it home to their mother.
It was on Newyear's eve, in the year 1655, and the good city of
New-Amsterdam, then under the special patronage of the blessed St.
Nicholas, was as jovial and wanton as hot spiced rum and long
abstinence from fun and frolic could make it. It is worth while to live
soberly and mind our business all the rest of the year, if it be only
to enjoy the holydays at the end with a true zest. St. Nicholas, thrice
blessed soul! was riding up one chimney and down another like a
locomotive engine in his little one-horse wagon, distributing cakes to
the good boys, and whips to the bad ones; and the laugh of the good
city, which had been pent up all the year, now burst forth with an
explosion that echoed even unto Breuckelen and Communipaw.
Boss Boomptie, who never forgot the main chance, and knew from
experience that Newyear's eve was a shrewd time for selling cakes,
joined profit and pleasure on this occasion. He was one minute in his
shop, dealing out cakes to his customers, and the next laughing, and
tippling, and jigging, and frisking it with his wife and children in
the little back room, the door of which had a pane of glass that
commanded a full view of the shop. Nobody, that is, no genuine disciple
of jolly St. Nicholas, ever went to bed till twelve o'clock on
Newyear's eve. The Dutch are eminently a sober, discreet folk; but
somehow or other, no people frolic so like the very dickens, when they
are once let loose, as your very sober and discreet bodies.
By twelve o'clock the spicy beverage, sacred to holydays at that
time, began to mount up into Boss Boomptie's head, and he was
vociferating a Dutch ditty in praise of St. Nicholas with marvellous
discordance, when just as the old clock in one corner of the room
struck the hour that ushers in the new year, a loud knock was heard on
the counter, which roused the dormant spirit of trade within his bosom.
He went into the shop, where he found a little ugly old thing of a
woman, with a sharp chin, resting on a crooked black stick, which had
been burned in the fire and then polished; two high sharp cheek bones;
two sharp black eyes; skinny lips, and a most diabolical pair of
leather spectacles on a nose ten times sharper than her chin.
"I want a dozen Newyear cookies," screamed she, in a voice sharper
than her nose.
"Vel, den, you needn't sbeak so loud," replied Boss Boomptie, whose
ear being just then attuned to the melody of his own song, was somewhat
outraged by this shrill salutation.
"I want a dozen Newyear cookies," screamed she again, ten times
louder and shriller than ever.
"Duyvel—I an't teaf den," grumbled the worthy man, as he proceeded
to count out the cakes, which the other very deliberately counted after
"I want a dozen," screamed the little woman; "here is only twelve."
"Vel, den, and what de duyvel is dwalf but a dozen?" said Boomptie.
"I tell you I want one more," screamed she, in a voice that roused
Mrs. Boomptie in the back room, who came and peeped through the pane of
glass, as she often did when she heard the boss talking to the ladies.
Boss Boomptie waxed wroth, for he had a reasonable quantity of hot
spiced rum in his noddle, which predisposes a man to valour.
"Vel, den," said he, "you may co to de duyvel and get anoder, for
you won't get it here."
Boomptie was not a stingy man; on the contrary, he was very generous
to the pretty young damsels who came to buy cakes, and often gave them
two or three extra for a smack, which made Mrs. Boomptie peevish
sometimes, and caused her to watch at the little pane of glass when she
ought to have been minding her business like an honest woman.
But this old hag was as ugly as sin, and the little baker never in
his whole life could find in his heart to be generous to an ugly woman,
old or young.
"In my country they always give thirteen to the dozen," screamed the
ugly woman in the leather spectacles.
"And where de duyvel is your gountry?" asked Boomptie.
"It is nobody's business," screeched the old woman. "But will you
give me another cake, once for all?"
"Not if it would save me and all my chineration from peing pewitched
and pedemonologized dime out of mind," cried he, in a great passion.
What put it into his head to talk in this way I don't know, but he
might better have held his tongue. The old woman gave him three stivers
for his cakes, and went away, grumbling something about "living to
repent it," which Boss Boomptie didn't understand or care a fig about.
He was chock full of Dutch courage, and defied all the ugly old women
in Christendom. He put his three stivers in the till and shut up his
shop, determined to enjoy the rest of the night without further
While he was sitting smoking his pipe, and now and then sipping his
beverage, all at once he heard a terrible jingling of money in his
shop, whereupon he thought some losel caitiff was busy with his little
till. Accordingly, priming himself with another reinforcement of Dutch
courage, he took a pine knot, for he was too economical to burn candles
at that late hour, and proceeded to investigate. His money was all
safe, and the till appeared not to have been disturbed.
"Duyvel," quoth the little baker man, "I pelieve mine
and I have bote cot a zinging in our heads."
He had hardly turned his back when the same jingling began again, so
much to the surprise of Boss Boomptie, that had it not been for his
invincible Dutch courage, he would, as it were, have been a little
frightened. But he was not in the least; and again went and unlocked
the till, when what was his astonishment to see the three diabolical
stivers, received from the old woman, dancing, and kicking up a dust
among the coppers and wampum with wonderful agility.
"Wat donder is dat!" exclaimed he, sorely perplexed; "de old
duyvel has cot indo dat old sinner's stivers, I dink." He had a great
mind to throw them away, but he thought it a pity to waste so much
money; so he kept them locked up all night, enjoining them to good
behaviour, with a design to spend them the next day in another
jollification. But the next day they were gone, and so was the
broomstick with which it was the custom to sweep out the shop every
morning. Some of the neighbours coming home late the night before, on
being informed of the "abduction" of the broomstick, deposed and said,
they had seen an old woman riding through the air upon just such
another, right over the top of the little bakehouse; whereat Boss
Boomptie, putting these odds and ends together, did tremble in his
heart, and he wished to himself that he had given the ugly old woman
thirteen to the dozen.
Nothing particular came to pass the next day, except that now and
then the little Boompties complained of having pins stuck in their
backs, and that their cookies were snatched away by some one unknown.
On examination it was found that no marks of the pins were to be seen;
and as to the cookies, the old black woman of the kitchen declared she
saw an invisible hand just as one of the children lost his commodity.
"Den I am pewitched, zure enough!" cried Boomptie, in despair, for
he had had too much of "demonology and witchcraft" in the family not to
know when he saw them, just as well as he did his own face in the
On the second day of the year, the 'prentice boys all returned to
their business, and Boomptie once more solaced himself with the baking
of the staff of life. The reader must know that it is the custom of
bakers to knead a great batch at a time, in a mighty bread tray, into
which they throw two or three little apprentice boys to paddle about,
like ducks in a mill pond, whereby it is speedily amalgamated, and set
to rising in due time. When the little caitiffs began their gambols in
this matter they one and all stuck fast in the dough, as though it had
been so much pitch, and, to the utter dismay of honest Boomptie, behold
the whole batch rose up in a mighty mass, with the boys sticking fast
on the top of it!
"Wat blikslager!" exclaimed little Boomptie, as he witnessed
this catastrophe; "de duyvel ish cot into de yeast dis dime, I dink."
The bread continued to rise till it lifted the roof off the
bakehouse, with the little 'prentice boys on the top, and the bread
tray following after. Boss Boomptie and his wife watched this wonderful
rising of the bread in dismay, and in proof of the poor woman's being
bewitched, it was afterwards recollected that she uttered not a single
word on this extraordinary occasion. The bread rose and rose, until it
finally disappeared, boys and all, behind the Jersey hills. If such
things had been known of at that time, it would have been taken for a
balloon; as it was, the people of Bergen and Communipaw thought that it
was a water spout.
Little Boss Boomptie was disconsolate at the loss of his bread and
his 'prentice boys, whom he never expected to see again. However, he
was a stirring body, and set himself to work to prepare another batch,
seeing his customers must be supplied in spite of "witchcraft or
demonology." To guard against such another rebellious rising, he
determined to go through the process down in the cellar, and turn his
bread tray upside down. The bread, instead of rising, began to sink
into the earth so fast, that Boss Boomptie had just time to jump off
before it entirely disappeared in the ground, which opened and shut
just like a snuffbox.
"Wat blikslager is dat!" exclaimed he, out of breath; "my pread
rises downward dis dime, I dink. My customers must go widout to-day."
By-and-by his customers came for hot rolls and muffins, but some of
them had gone up and some down, as little Boss Boomptie related after
the manner just described. What is very remarkable, nobody believed
him; and doubtless, if there had been any rival baker in New-Amsterdam,
the boss would have lost all his customers. Among those that called on
this occasion, was the ugly old woman with the sharp eyes, nose, chin,
voice, and leather spectacles.
"I want a dozen Newyear cookies!" screamed she, as before.
"Vuur en vlammen!" muttered he, as he counted out the twelve cakes.
"I want one more!" screamed she.
"Den you may co to de duyvel and kit it, I say, for not anoder shall
you haf here, I dell you."
So the old woman took her twelve cakes, and went out grumbling, as
before. All the time she staid, Boomptie's old dog, who followed him
wherever he went, growled and whined, as it were, to himself, and
seemed mightily relieved when she went away. That very night, as the
little baker was going to see one of his old neighbours at the Maiden's Valley, then a little way out of town, walking, as he
always did, with his hands behind him, every now and then he felt
something as cold as death against them, which he could never account
for, seeing there was not a soul with him but his old dog. Moreover,
Mrs. Boomptie, having bought half a pound of tea at a grocery store,
and put it into her pocket, did feel a twitching and jerking of the
paper of tea in her pocket, every step she went. The faster she ran the
quicker and stronger was the twitching and jerking, so that when the
good woman got home she was nigh fainting away. On her recovery she
took courage, and pulled the tea out of her pocket, and laid it on the
table, when behold it began to move by fits and starts, jumped off the
table, hopped out of doors, all alone by itself, and jigged away to the
place from whence it came. The grocer brought it back again, but Madam
Boomptie looked upon the whole as a judgment for her extravagance, in
laying out so much money for tea, and refused to receive it again. The
grocer assured her that the strange capers of the bundle were owing to
his having forgot to cut the twine with which he had tied it; but the
good woman looked upon this as an ingenious subterfuge, and would take
nothing but her money. When the husband and wife came to compare notes,
they both agreed they were certainly bewitched. Had there been any
doubt of the matter, subsequent events would soon have put it to rest.
That very night Mrs. Boomptie was taken after a strange way.
Sometimes she would laugh about nothing, and then she would cry about
nothing; then she would set to work and talk about nothing for a whole
hour without stopping, in a language nobody could understand; and then,
all at once, her tongue would cleave to the roof of her mouth, so that
it was impossible to force it away. When this fit was over she would
get up and dance double trouble, till she tired herself out, when she
fell asleep, and waked up quite rational. It was particularly noticed
that when she talked loudest and fastest, her lips remained perfectly
closed, without motion, and her mouth wide open, so that the words
seemed to come from down her throat. Her principal talk was railing
against Dominie Laidlie, the good pastor of Garden-street Church,
whence everybody concluded that she was possessed by a devil. Sometimes
she got hold of a pen, and though she had never learned to write, would
scratch and scrawl certain mysterious and diabolical figures, that
nobody could understand, and everybody said must mean something.
As for little Boss Boomptie, he was worse off than his wife. He was
haunted by an invisible hand, which played him all sorts of scurvy
tricks. Standing one morning at his counter, talking to one of the
neighbours, he received a great box on the ear, whereat being exceeding
wroth, he returned it with such interest on the cheek of his neighbour,
that he laid him flat on the floor. His friend hereupon took the law of
him, and proved, to the satisfaction of the court, that he had both
hands in his breeches pockets at the time Boss Boomptie said he gave
him the box on the ear. The magistrate not being able to come at the
truth of the matter, fined them each twenty-five guilders for the use
of the dominie.
A dried codfish was one day thrown at his head, and the next minute
his walking stick fell to beating him, though nobody seemed to have
hold of it A chair danced about the room, and at last alighted on the
dinner table, and began to eat with such a good appetite, that had not
the children snatched some of the dinner away, there would have been
none left. The old cow one night jumped over the moon, and a peweter
dish ran fairly off with a horn spoon, which seized a cat by the tail,
and away they all went together, as merry as crickets. Sometimes, when
Boss Boomptie had money, or cakes, or perhaps a loaf of bread in his
hand, instead of putting them in their proper places, he would throw
them into the fire, in spite of his teeth, and then the invisible hand
would beat him with a bag of flour, till he was as white as a miller.
As for keeping his accounts, that was out of the question; whenever he
sat himself down to write his ink horn was snatched away by the
invisible hand, and by-and-by it would come tumbling down the chimney.
Sometimes an old dishcloth would be pinned to the skirt of his coat,
and then a great diabolical laugh heard under the floor. At night he
had a pretty time of it. His nightcap was torn off his head, his hair
pulled out by handfuls, his face scratched, and his ears pinched as if
with a red-hot pincers. If he went out in the yard at night, he was
pelted with brickbats, sticks, stones, and all sorts of filthy
missives; and if he staid at home, the ashes were blown upon his
supper; and old shoes, instead of plates, seen on the table. One of the
frying pans rang every night of itself for a whole hour, and a
three-pronged fork stuck itself voluntarily into Boss Boomptie's back,
without hurting him in the least. But what astonished the neighbours
more than all, the little man, all at once, took to speaking in a
barbarous and unknown jargon, which was afterwards found out to be
These matters frightened some of the neighbours and scandalized
others, until at length poor Boomptie's shop was almost deserted.
People were jealous of eating his bread, for fear of being bewitched.
Nay, more than one little urchin complained grievously of horrible, out
of the way pains in the stomach, after eating two or three dozen of his
Things went on in this way until Newyear's eve came round again,
when Boss Boomptie was sitting behind his counter, which was wont to be
thronged with customers on this occasion, but was now quite deserted.
While thinking on his present miserable state and future prospects, all
of a sudden the little ugly old woman, with a sharp nose, sharp chin,
sharp eyes, sharp voice, and leather spectacles, again stood before
him, leaning on her crooked black cane.
"Ben je bedondered?" exclaimed Boss Boomptie, "what to you want now?"
"I want a dozen Newyear cookies!" screamed the old creature.
The little man counted out twelve, as before.
"I want one more!" screamed she, louder than ever.
"Men weet hoe een koe een haas vangen kan!" cried the boss, in a
rage; "den want will pe your masder."
She offered him six stivers, which he indignantly rejected, saying,
"I want none of your duyvel's stuyvers—begone, duyvel's huysvrouw!"
The old woman went her way, mumbling and grumbling as usual.
"By Saint Johannes de Dooper," quoth Boss Boomptie, "put she's a
That night, and all the week after, the brickbats flew about
Knickerbocker Hall like hail, insomuch that Boss Boomptie marvelled
where they could all come from, until one morning, after a terrible
shower of bricks, he found, to his great grief and dismay, that his
oven had disappeared; next went the top of his chimney; and when that
was gone, these diabolical sinners began at the extreme point of the
gable end, and so went on picking at the two edges downward, until they
looked just like the teeth of a saw, as may be still seen in some of
our old Dutch houses.
"Onbegrypelik!" cried Boss Boomptie, "put it's too pad to have my
prains peat out wid my own prickpats."
About the same time a sober respectable cat, that for years had done
nothing but sit purring in the chimney corner, all at once got the
duyvel in her, and after scratching the poor man half to death, jumped
out of the chimney and disappeared. A Whitehall boatman afterwards saw
her in Buttermilk Channel, with nothing but the tail left, swimming
against the tide as easy as kiss your hand. Poor Mrs. Boomptie had no
peace of her life, what with pinchings, stickings of needles, and
talking without opening her mouth. But the climax of the malice of the
demon which beset her was in at last tying up her tongue, so that she
could not speak at all, but did nothing but sit crying and wringing her
hands in the chimney corner.
These carryings on brought round Newyear's even again, when Boss
Boomptie thought he would have a frolic, "in spite of de duyvel," as he
said, which saying was, somehow or other, afterwards applied to the
creek at Kingsbridge. So he commanded his wife to prepare him a
swinging mug of hot spiced rum, to keep up his courage against the
assaults of the brickbats. But what was the dismay of the little man
when he found that every time he put the beverage to his lips he
received a great box on the ear, the mug was snatched away by an
invisible hand, and every single drop drank out of it before it came
to Boss Boomptie's turn. Then as if it was an excellent joke, he heard
a most diabolical laugh down in the cellar.
"Goeden Hemel! Is het mogelyk!" exclaimed the little man in despair.
This was attacking him in the very intrenchments of his heart. It was
worse than the brickbats.
"Saint Nicholas! Saint Nicholas! what will become of me—what sal
ich doon, mynheer?"
Scarcely had he uttered this pathetic appeal, when there was a sound
of horses' hoofs in the chimney, and presently a light wagon, drawn by
a little, fat, gray 'Sopus pony, came trundling into the room, loaded
with all sorts of knickknacks. It was driven by a jolly, fat, little
rogue of a fellow, with a round sparkling eye, and a mouth which would
certainly have been laughing had it not been for a glorious Meershaum
pipe, which would have chanced to fall out in that case. The little
rascal had on a three-cornered cocked hat, decked with old gold lace; a
blue Dutch sort of a short pea jacket, red waistcoat, breeks of the
same colour, yellow stockings, and honest thick-soled shoes, ornamented
with a pair of skates. Altogether he was a queer figure—but there was
something so irresistibly jolly and good-natured in his face, that Boss
Boomptie felt his heart incline towards the stranger as soon as he saw
"Orange Boven!" cried the good saint, pulling off his cocked hat,
and making a low bow to Mrs. Boomptie, who sat tonguetied in the
"Wat donderdag is dat?" said Boss Boomptie, speaking for his wife,
which made the good woman very angry, that he should take the words out
of her mouth.
"You called on Saint Nicholas. Here am I," quoth the jolly little
saint. "In one word—for I am a saint of few words, and have my hands
full of business to-night—in one word, tell me what you want."
"I am pewitched," quoth Boss Boomptie. "The duyvel is in me, my
house, my wife, my Newyear cookies, and my children. What shall I do?"
"When you count a dozen you must count thirteen," answered the wagon
driver, at the same time cracking his whip, and clattering up the
chimney, more like a little duyvel than a little saint.
"Wat blixum!" muttered Boss Boomptie, "when you count a dozen you
must count dirdeen! je mag even wel met un stokje in de goot roeron! I
never heard of such counting. By Saint Johannes de Dooper, put Saint
Nicholas is a great plockhead!"
Just as he uttered this blasphemy against the excellent Saint
Nicholas, he saw through the pane of glass, in the door leading from
the spare room to the shop, the little ugly old woman, with the sharp
eyes, sharp nose, sharp chin, sharp voice, and leather spectacles,
alighting from a broomstick, at the street door.
"Dere is de duyvel's kint come again," quoth he, in one of his
cross humours, which was aggravated by his getting just then a great
box on the ear from the invisible hand. However, he went grumbling into
the shop, for it was part of his religion never to neglect a customer,
let the occasion be what it might.
"I want a dozen Newyear cookies," screamed the old beauty, as usual,
and as usual Boss Boomptie counted out twelve.
"I want another one," screamed she still louder.
"Aha!" thought Boss Boomptie, doubtless inspired by the jolly little
caitiff, Saint Nicholas— "Aha! Het is goed visschen in troebel
water— when you count dwalf, you must count dirdeen. Ha—ha!
ho—ho—ho!" And he counted out the thirteenth cooky like a brave
The old woman made him a low courtesy, and laughed till she might
have shown her teeth, if she had had any.
"Friend Boomptie," said she, in a voice exhibiting the perfection of
a nicely modulated scream— "Friend Boomptie, I love such generous
little fellows as you, in my heart. I salute you," and she advanced to
kiss him. Boss Boomptie did not at all like the proposition; but,
doubtless inspired by Saint Nicholas, he submitted with indescribable
At that moment, an explosion was heard inside the little glass pane,
and the voice of Mrs. Boomptie crying out,
"You false-hearted villain, have I found out your tricks at last!"
"De Philistyner Onweetende!" cried Boss Boomptie. "She's come to her
"The spell is broken!" screamed the old woman with the sharp eyes,
nose, chin, and voice. "The spell is broken, and henceforward a dozen
is thirteen, and thirteen is a dozen! There shall be thirteen Newyear
cookies to the dozen, as a type of the thirteen mighty states that are
to arise out of the ruins of the government of faderland!"
Thereupon she took a Newyear cake bearing the effigy of the blessed
St. Nicholas, and caused Boss Boomptie to swear upon it, that for ever
afterwards twelve should be thirteen, and thirteen should be twelve.
After which, she mounted her broomstick and disappeared, just as the
little old Dutch clock struck twelve. From that time forward, the spell
that hung over the fortunes of little Boss Boomptie was broken; and
ever after he became illustrious for baking the most glorious Newyear
cookies in our country. Everything became as before: the little
'prentice boys returned, mounted on the batch of bread, and their
adventures may, peradventure, be told some other time. Finally, from
that day forward no baker of New-Amsterdam was ever bewitched, at least
by an ugly old woman, and a baker's dozen has been always counted as
Some time in the year 1800 or 1801, I am not certain which, a man of
the name of William Morgan— I don't mean the person whose "abduction"
has made so much noise in the world—enlisted on board the United
States frigate — for a three years' cruise in the Mediterranean. He
was an awful-looking person, six feet four inches high; a long pale
visage deeply furrowed with wrinkles; sunken eyes far up towards his
forehead; black exuberant hair standing on end as if he was always
frightened at something; a sharp chin of a length proportioned to his
height; teeth white, but very irregular; and the colour of his eyes
what the writers on supernatural affairs call very singular and
mysterious. Besides this, his voice was hollow and sepulchral; on his
right arm were engraved certain mysterious devices, surmounted with the
letters E. M.; and his tobacco box was of iron. His everyday dress was
a canvass hat with a black riband band, a blue jacket, white trousers,
and leather shoes. On Sundays he wore a white beaver, which, among
sailors, bespoke something extraordinary, and on rainy days a pea
jacket too short by half a yard. It is worthy of remark that Morgan
entered on Friday; that the frigate was launched on Friday; that the
master carpenter who built her was born on Friday; and that the
squadron went to sea on Friday. All these singular coincidences,
combined with his mysterious appearance, caused the sailors to look
upon Morgan with some little degree of wonder.
During the voyage to Gibraltar, Morgan's conduct served to increase
the impression his appearance had made on the crew. He sometimes went
without eating for several days together, at least no one ever saw him
eat; and, if he ever slept at all, it was without shutting his eyes or
lying down, for his messmates, one and all, swore that, wake at what
time of the night they would, Morgan was seen sitting upright in his
hammock, with his eyes glaring wide open. When his turn came to take
his watch upon deck, his conduct was equally strange. He would stand
stock still in one place, gazing at the stars, or the ocean, apparently
unconscious of his situation; and when roused by his companions, tumble
on the deck in a swoon. When he revived, he would fall to preaching the
most strange and incomprehensible rhapsodies that ever were heard. In
their idle hours upon the forecastle, Morgan told such stories about
himself, and his strange escapes by sea and land, as caused the
sailors' hair to stand on end, and made the jolly fellows look upon him
as a person gifted with the privilege of living for ever. He often
indeed hinted that he had as many lives as a cat, and several times
offered to let himself be hanged for the gratification of his
messmates. On more than one occasion, he was found lying on his back in
his hammock, apparently without life, his eyes fixed and glassy, his
limbs stiff and rigid, his lower jaw sunk down, and his pulse
motionless, at least so his messmates swore when they went to call the
doctor; though when the latter came he always found Morgan as well as
ever he was in his life, and apparently unconscious of all that had
As they proceeded on the voyage, which proved for the most part a
succession of calms, the sailors, having little else to do, either
imagined or invented new wonders about Morgan. At one time a little
Welsh foretopman swore that as he was going to sit down to dinner, his
canteen was snatched from under him by an invisible hand, and he fell
plump on the deck. A second had his allowance of grog "abducted" in a
mysterious manner, although he was ready to make oath he never had his
eyes off it for a moment. A third had his tobacco box rifled, though it
had never been out of his pocket. A fourth had a crooked sixpence, with
a hole by which it was suspended from his neck by a riband, taken away
without his ever being the wiser for it.
These things at length reached the ears of Captain R—, who, the
next time Morgan got into one of his trances, had him confined for
four-and-twenty hours; and otherwise punished him in various ways on
the recurrence of any one of these wonderful reports. All this
produced no effect whatever either on Morgan or the crew, which at
length had its wonder stretched to the utmost bounds by a singular
adventure of our hero.
One day, the squadron being about halfway across the Atlantic, and
the frigate several leagues ahead with a fine breeze, there was an
alarm of the magazine being on fire. Morgan was just coming on deck
with a spoon in his hand, for some purpose or other, when hearing the
cry of "magazine on fire," he made one spring overboard. The fire was
extinguished by the daring gallantry of an officer, now living, and
standing in the first rank of our naval heroes. In the confusion and
alarm, it was impossible to make any efforts to save Morgan; and it was
considered a matter of course that he had perished in the ocean. Two
days after, one of the other vessels of the squadron came alongside the
frigate, and sent a boat on board with Billy Morgan. Twelve hours from
the time of his leaping overboard, he had been found swimming away
gallantly, with the spoon in his hand. When asked why he did not let it
go, he replied that he kept it to help himself to salt water when he
was dry. This adventure fixed in the minds of the sailors an obstinate
opinion, that Morgan was either a dead man come to life again, or one
that was not very easy to be killed.
After this, Morgan continued his mysterious pranks. The sailors
talked and wondered, and Captain R— punished him, until the squadron
was within two or three days' sail of Gibraltar, admitting the wind
continued fair as it then was. Morgan had been punished pretty severely
that morning for stargazing and falling into a swoon on his watch the
night before, and had solemnly assured his messmates, that he intended
to jump overboard and drown himself the first opportunity. He made his
will, dressed himself in his best, and settled all his affairs. He also
replenished his tobacco box, put his allowance of biscuit in his
pocket, and filled a small canteen with water, which he strung about
his neck; saying that perhaps he might take it into his head to live a
day or two in the water, before he finally went to the bottom.
Between twelve and one, the vessel being becalmed, the night a clear
starlight, and the sentinels pacing their rounds, Morgan was distinctly
seen to come up through the hatchway, walk forward, climb the bulwark,
and let himself drop into the sea. A midshipman and two seamen
testified to the facts; and Morgan being missing the next morning,
there was no doubt of his having committed suicide by drowning himself.
This affair occasioned much talk, and various were the opinions of the
ship's crew on the subject. Some swore it was one Davy Jones who had
been playing his pranks; others that it was no man, but a ghost or a
devil that had got among them; and others were in daily expectation of
seeing him come on board again, as much alive as ever he was.
In the mean time, the squadron proceeded but slowly, being detained
several days by calms and head winds, most of which were in some way or
other laid to Billy Morgan by the gallant tars, who fear nothing but
Fridays and men without heads. His fate, however, gradually ceased to
be a subject of discussion, and the wonder was quickly passing away,
when one night, about a week after his jumping overboard, the figure of
Morgan, all pale and ghastly, his clothes hanging wet about him—with
eyes more sunken, hair more upright, and face more thin and cadaverous
than ever, was seen by one of his messmates, who happened to be lying
awake, to emerge slowly from the forepart of the ship, approach one of
the tables where there was a can of water, from which it took a hearty
draught, and disappear in the direction whence it came. The sailor told
the story next morning, but as yet very few believed him.
The next night the same figure appeared, and was seen by a different
person from him by whom it was first observed. It came from the same
quarter again, helped itself to a drink, and disappeared in the same
direction it had done before. The story of Morgan's ghost, in the
course of a day or two, came to the ears of Captain R—, who caused a
search to be made in that part of the vessel whence the ghost had come;
under the impression that the jumping overboard of Morgan had been a
deception, and that he was now secreted on board the ship. The search
ended, however, without any discovery. The calms and head winds still
continued, and not a sailor on board but ascribed them to Billy
Morgan's mysterious influence. The ghost made its appearance again the
following night after the search, when it was seen, by another of
Morgan's messmates, to empty his tobacco box, and seize some of the
fragments of supper, which had been accidentally left on a table, with
which it again vanished in the manner before described. The sailor
swore that when the ghost made free with his tobacco box, he attempted
to lay hold of him, but felt nothing in his hand, except something
exactly like cold water.
Captain R— was excessively provoked at these stories, and caused
another and still more thorough search to be made, but without any
discovery. He then directed a young midshipman to keep watch between
decks. That night the ghost again made its appearance, and the
courageous young officer sallied out upon it; but the figure darted
away with inconceivable velocity, and disappeared. The midshipman, as
directed, immediately informed Captain R—, who instituted an
immediate search, but with as little success as before. By this time
there was not a sailor on board that was not afraid of his shadow, and
even the officers began to be infected with a superstitious dread. At
length the squadron arrived at Gibraltar, and came to in the bay of
Algesiras, where the ships remained some days waiting the arrival of
those they had come to relieve. About the usual hour that night, the
ghost of Billy Morgan again appeared to one of his messmates, offered
him its hand, and saying "Good-by, Tom," disappeared as usual.
It was a fortnight or more before the relief squadron sailed up the
Mediterranean, during which time the crews of the ships were permitted
to take their turn to go on shore. On one of these occasions, a
messmate of Billy Morgan, named Tom Brown, was passing through a
tolerably dark lane in the suburbs of Algesiras, when he heard a
well-known voice call out, "Tom, Tom, d—n your eyes, don't you know
your old messmate?" Tom knew the voice, and looking round, recognised
his old messmate Morgan's ghost. But he had no inclination to renew the
acquaintance; he took to his heels, and without looking behind him to
see if the ghost followed, ran to the boat where his companions were
waiting, and told the story as soon as he could find breath for the
purpose. This reached the ear of Captain R—, who, being almost sure
of the existence of Morgan, applied to the governor of the town, who
caused search to be made everywhere without effect. No one had ever
seen such a person. That very night the ghost made its appearance on
board the frigate, and passed its cold wet hand over the face of Tom
Brown, to whom Morgan had left his watch and chest of clothes. The poor
fellow bawled out lustily; but before any pursuit could be made, the
ghost had disappeared in the forward part of the ship as usual. After
this Billy again appeared two or three times alternately to some one
of his old messmates; sometimes in the town, at others on board the
frigate, but always in the dead of night. He seemed desirous to say
something particular, but could never succeed in getting any of the
sailors to listen quietly to the communication. The last time he made
his appearance at Algesiras, on board the frigate, he was heard by one
of the sailors to utter, in a low hollow whisper, "You shall see me at
Malta;" after which he vanished as before.
Captain R— was excessively perplexed at these strange and
unaccountable visitations, and instituted every possible inquiry into
the circumstances in the hope of finding some clew to explain the
mystery. He again caused the ship to be examined with a view to the
discovery either of the place where Morgan secreted himself, or the
means by which he escaped from the vessel. He questioned every man on
board, and threatened the severest punishment, should he ever discover
that they deceived him in their story, or were accomplices in the
escape of Morgan. He even removed everything in the forward part of the
ship, and rendered it impossible for any human being to be there
without being detected. The whole resulted in leaving the affair
involved in complete mystery, and the squadron proceeded up the
Mediterranean, to cruise along the African coast, and rendezvous at
It was some weeks before the frigate came to the latter place, and
in the mean time, as nothing had been seen of the ghost, it was
concluded that the shade of Billy Morgan was appeased, or rather the
whole affair had been gradually forgotten. Two nights after her
arrival, a party of sailors, being ashore at La Vallette, accidentally
entered a small tavern in a remote part of the suburbs, where they
commenced a frolic, after the manner of those amphibious bipeds. Among
them was the heir of Billy Morgan, who about three or four in the
morning went to bed, not quite as clear headed as he might have been.
He could not tell how long he had been asleep, when he was awakened by
a voice whispering in his ear, "Tom, Tom, wake up!" On opening his
eyes, he beheld, by the pale light of the morning, the ghastly figure
of Billy Morgan leaning over his bed and glaring at him with eyes like
saucers. Tom cried, "Murder! ghost! Billy Morgan!" as loud as he could
bawl, until he roused the landlord, who came to know what was the
matter. Tom related the whole affair, and inquired if he had seen
anything of the figure he described. Mine host utterly denied having
seen or ever heard of such a figure as Billy Morgan, and so did all his
family. The report was again alive on board the frigate, that Billy
Morgan's ghost had taken the field once more. "Heaven and earth!" cried
Captain R—, "is Billy Morgan's ghost come again? Shall I never get
rid of this infernal spectre, or whatever else it may be?"
Captain R— immediately ordered his barge, waited on the governor,
explained the situation of his crew, and begged his assistance in
apprehending the ghost of Billy Morgan, or Billy himself, as the case
might be. That night the governor caused the strictest search to be
made in every hole and corner of the little town of La Vallette; but in
vain. No one had seen that remarkable being, corporeal or spiritual;
and the landlord of the house where the spectre appeared, together with
all his family, utterly denied any knowledge of such a person or thing.
It is little to be wondered at, that the search proved ineffectual, for
that very night Billy took a fancy to appear on board the frigate,
where he again accosted his old friend Tom, to whom he had bequeathed
all his goods and chattels. But Tom had no mind for a confidential
communication with the ghost, and roared out so lustily, as usual, that
it glided away and disappeared as before, without being intercepted in
the confusion which followed.
Captain R— was in despair; never was man so persecuted by a ghost
in this world before. The ship's crew were in a state of terror and
dismay, insomuch that had an Algerine come across them they might
peradventure have surrendered at discretion. They signed a round robin,
drawn up by one of Billy Morgan's old messmates, representing to
Captain R— the propriety of running the ship ashore, and abandoning
her entirely to the ghost, which now appeared almost every night,
sometimes between decks, at others on the end of the bowsprit, and at
others cutting capers on the yards and topgallant mast. The story
spread into the town of La Vallette, and nothing was talked of but the
ghost of Billy Morgan, which now began to appear occasionally to the
sentinels of the fort, one of whom had the courage to fire at it, by
which he alarmed the whole island and made matters ten times worse than
From Malta the squadron, after making a cruise of a few weeks,
proceeded to Syracuse, with the intention of remaining some time. They
were obliged to perform a long quarantine; the ships were strictly
examined by the health officers, and fumigated with brimstone, to the
great satisfaction of the crew of the frigate, who were in great hopes
this would drive away Billy Morgan's ghost. These hopes were
strengthened by their seeing no more of that troublesome visiter during
the whole time the quarantine continued. The very next night after the
expiration of the quarantine, Billy again visited his old messmate and
heir Tom Brown, lank, lean, and dripping wet, as usual, and after
giving him a rousing shake, whispered, "Hush, Tom; I want to speak to
you about my watch and chest of clothes." But Tom had no inclination to
converse with his old friend, and cried out "Murder" with all his
might; when the ghost vanished as before, muttering, as Tom swore, "You
bloody infernal lubber."
The reappearance of the ghost occasioned greater consternation than
ever among the crew of the good ship, and it required all the
influence of severe punishments to keep them from deserting on every
occasion. Poor Tom Brown, to whom the devoirs of the spectre seemed
most especially directed, left off swearing and chewing tobacco, and
dwindled to a perfect shadow. He became very serious, and spent almost
all his leisure time in reading chapters in the Bible or singing
psalms. Captain R— now ordered a constant watch all night between
decks, in hopes of detecting the intruder; but all in vain, although
there was hardly a night passed without Tom's waking and crying out
that the ghost had just paid him a visit. It was, however, thought very
singular, and to afford additional proof of its being a ghost, that on
all these occasions, except two, it was invisible to everybody but Tom
In addition to the vexation arising from this persevering and
diabolical persecution of Billy's ghost, various other strange and
unaccountable things happened almost every day on board the frigate.
Tobacco boxes were emptied in the most mysterious manner, and in the
dead of the night; sailors would sometimes be missing a whole day, and
return again without being able to give any account of themselves; and
not a few of them were overtaken with liquor, without their being ever
the wiser for it, for they all swore they had not drunk a drop beyond
their allowance. Sometimes, on going ashore on leave for a limited
time, the sailors would be decoyed, as they solemnly assured the
captain, by some unaccountable influence into strange, out of the way
places, where they could not find their road back, and where they were
found by their officers in a state of mysterious stupefaction, though
not one had tasted a drop of liquor. On these occasions, they always
saw the ghost of Billy Morgan, either flying through the air, or
dancing on the tops of the steeples, with a fiery tail like a comet.
Wonder grew upon wonder every day, until the wonder transcended the
bounds of human credulity.
At length, Tom Brown, the night after receiving a visit from Billy
Morgan's ghost, disappeared, and was never heard of afterwards. As the
chest of clothes inherited from his deceased messmate was found
entirely empty, it might have been surmised that Tom had deserted, had
not a sailor, who was on the watch, solemnly declared that he saw the
ghost of Billy Morgan jump overboard with him in a flame of fire, and
that he hissed like a red-hot ploughshare in the water. After this bold
feat, the spectre appeared no more. The squadron remained some time at
Syracuse, and various adventures befell the officers and crews, which
those remaining alive tell of to this day. How Macdonough, then a
madcap midshipman, "licked" the high constable of the town; how
Burroughs quizzed the governor; what rows they kicked up at
masquerades; what a dust they raised among the antiquities; and what
wonders they whispered in the ear of Dionysius. From thence, they again
sailed on a cruise, and after teaching the Bey of Tripoli a new way of
paying tribute, and laying the foundation of that structure of
imperishable glory which shall one day reach the highest heaven,
returned home, after an absence of between two and three years. The
crew of the frigate were paid off and discharged, and it is on record,
as a wonder, that their three years' pay lasted some of them nearly
three days. But though we believe in the ghost of Billy Morgan, we can
scarcely credit this incredible wonder. Certain it is, that not a man
of them ever doubted for a moment the reality of the spectre, or would
have hesitated to make oath of having seen it more than once. Even
Captain R— spoke of it on his return, as one of those strange,
inscrutable things, which baffle the efforts of human ingenuity, and
seem to justify the most extraordinary relations of past and present
times. His understanding revolted at the absurdity of a great part of
the wonders ascribed to Billy Morgan's ghost; but some of the facts
were so well attested, that a painful doubt would often pass over his
mind, and dispose it to the reception of superstitious impressions.
He remained in this state of mixed skepticism and credulity, when,
some years after his return from the Mediterranean, being on a journey
to the westward, he had occasion to halt at a log house, on the borders
of the Tennessee, for refreshment. A man came forth to receive him,
whom he at once recognised as his old acquaintance, Billy Morgan.
"Heavens!" thought Captain R—, "here's Monsieur Tonson come again!"
Billy, who had also found out who his guest was, when too late to
retreat, looked rather sheepish, and invited him in with little of the
frank hospitality characteristic of a genuine backwoodsman. Captain
R— followed him into the house, where he found a comely goodnatured
dame, and two or three yellow-haired boys and girls, all in a fluster
at the stranger. The house had an air of comfort, and the mistress, by
her stirring activity, accompanied with smiling looks withal, seemed
pleased at the rare incident of a stranger's entering their door.
Bill Morgan was at first rather shy and awkward. But finding Captain
R— treated him with good-humoured frankness, he, in the course of the
evening, when the children were gone to bed, and the wife busy in
milking the cows, took occasion to accost his old commander.
"Captain, I hope you don't mean to shoot me for a deserter?"
"By no means," said the captain, smiling; "there would be little use
in shooting a ghost, or a man with as many lives as a cat."
Billy Morgan smiled rather a melancholy smile. "Ah! captain, you
have not forgot the ghost, I see. But it is a long time to remember an
old score, and I hope you'll forgive me."
"On one condition I will," replied Captain R—; "that you tell me
honestly how you managed to make all my sailors believe they saw you,
night after night, on board the ship as well as on shore."
"They did see me," replied Billy, in his usual sepulchral voice.
The captain began to be in some doubt whether he was talking to
Billy Morgan or his ghost.
"You don't pretend to say you were really on board my vessel all the
"No, not all the time, only at such times as the sailors saw
me—except previous to our arrival at Gibraltar."
"Then their seeing you jump overboard was all a deception."
"By no means, sir; I did jump overboard—but then I climbed back
again, directly after."
"The deuse you did—explain."
"I will, sir, as well as I am able. I was many years among the
Sandwich Islanders, where the vessel in which I was a cabin boy was
wrecked, a long time ago, and I can pass whole hours, I believe days,
in the water, without being fatigued, except for want of sleep. I have
also got some of their other habits, such as a great dislike to hard
work, and a liking for going where I will, and doing just what I
please. The discipline of a man-of-war did not suit me at all, and I
grew tired after a few days. To pass the time, and to make fun for
myself with the sailors, I told them stories of my adventures, and
pretended that I could live in the water, and had as many lives as a
cat. Besides this, as you know, I played them many other pranks, partly
for amusement, and partly from a kind of pride I felt in making them
believe I was half a wizard. The punishment you gave me, though I own
I deserved it, put me out of all patience, and I made up my mind to
desert the very first opportunity. I had an old shipmate with me, whom
I could trust, and we planned the whole thing together. I knew if I
deserted at Gibraltar, or any of the ports of the Mediterranean, I
should almost certainly be caught, and shot as an example; and for this
reason we settled that I should jump overboard, return again, and hide
myself in a coil of cable which was stowed away between decks, close to
the bows, where it was dark even in the daytime. My messmate procured a
piece of old canvass, with which I might cover myself if necessary. To
make my jumping overboard have a greater effect on the crew, and to
provide against accidents until the ship arrived at Gibraltar, I took
care to fill my tobacco box with tobacco, my pockets with biscuits, and
to sling a canteen of water round my neck, as I told them perhaps I
might take it into my head not to go to the bottom for two or three
days. I got Tom Brown to write my will, intending to leave my watch and
chest to my messmate, who was to return them to me at Gibraltar, the
first chance he could get. But Tom played us a trick, and put his own
name in place of my friend's. Neither he nor I were any great scholars,
and the trick was not found out till afterwards, when my friend was
afraid of discovery, if he made any rout about the matter."
"Who was your friend?" asked Captain R—.
"He is still alive, and in service. I had rather not mention his
"Very well," replied Captain R—, "go on."
"That night I jumped overboard."
"How did you get back into the ship?" asked the captain, hastily.
"Why, sir, the forward porthole, on the starboard side, was left
open, with a bit of rope fastened to the gun, and hanging down so that
I could catch it."
The captain struck his forehead with the palm of his hand, and said
"What a set of blockheads we were!"
"Not so great as might have been expected," said honest Billy
Morgan, intending to compliment the captain; but it sounded directly
"As soon as I had jumped overboard I swam to the rope, which I held
fast, waiting the signal from my friend to climb up and hide myself in
the coil of cable. In the bustle which followed it was easy enough to
do this, and nobody saw me but my friend. Here I remained in my wet
clothes, rather uncomfortably, as you may suppose, until my provision
and water were expended, and my tobacco box empty. I calculated they
would last till we arrived at Gibraltar, when nothing would have been
easier for me than to jump out of the porthole and swim ashore. But the
plaguy head winds and calms, which I dare say you remember, delayed the
squadron several days longer than I expected, and left me without
supply. I could have gone without biscuit and water, but it was
impossible to live without tobacco. My friend had promised to come near
enough to hear signals of distress sometimes, but, as he told me
afterwards, he was confined several days for picking a quarrel with Tom
Brown, whom he longed to flog for forging the will.
"I remained in this state until I was nearly starved, when, not
being able to stand it any longer, I one night, when everybody between
decks seemed fast asleep, crept out from my hiding place, where I was
coiled up in the shape of a cable, and finding a pitcher of water, took
a hearty, drink out of it. This was as far as I dared go at that time,
so I went back again as quietly as possible. But I was too hungry to
remain quiet, though among the Sandwich Islanders I had been used to go
without eating for days at a time. The next night I crept out again,
and was lucky enough to get a pretty good supply of provisions, which
happened to be left by some accident in the way. Two or three times I
heard search making for me, and was very much frightened lest I should
be found out in my hole."
"How was it possible for the blockheads to miss you?" asked Captain
"Why, sir, they did come to the cable tier where I was, but I
believe they were too much frightened to look into it, or could not see
me in the dark hole. They did not lift the canvass that covered me
either of the times they came. The night I found the officer on the
watch, I gave myself up for gone; but as luck would have it, my friend
was now out of limbo, and always took care to examine the coil of cable
so carefully, that nobody thought of looking into it after him. When we
arrived at the bay of Algesiras, I took an opportunity to frighten Tom
Brown a little, by visiting him in the night and bidding him good-by,
after which I slipped quietly out of the porthole, and swam ashore,
while my friend pulled up the rope and shut the port after me as usual."
"But how did you manage to escape from the search made by the police
"Oh, sir! I was on board the frigate all the time in my old hiding
"And when the ship was searched directly after?"
"I was ashore at that time."
"And how did you manage at Malta?"
"The landlord was my sworn brother, and wouldn't have blabbed for a
"And the capers on the yardarm and topgallant, the visits paid to
Tom Brown at Syracuse, and the wonderful stories told by the sailors of
being robbed of their tobacco, getting tipsy upon nothing, and being
led astray by nobody? What do you say to all this, Mr. Ghost?" said the
"I never paid but two visits to the ship, so far as I remember, sir,
after she left Malta. One was the night I wanted to talk with Tom
Brown, the other when he disappeared the night afterwards. The rest of
the stories were all owing to the jokes of some of the sailors, and the
fears of the others."
"But you are sure you did not jump into the sea with Tom Brown, in a
flame of fire?"
"Yes, sir, as I am an honest man. Tom got away without any help of
mine, and without my ever knowing how, until a long time afterwards,
when I accidentally met him at Liverpool."
"He was not to be convinced I was living, but ran away as hard as he
could, and to this day believes in ghosts as much as he does in his
being alive himself."
"So far all is clear enough," said Captain R—; "but what could
possibly induce you to put yourself in the way of being caught after
escaping, by visiting the ship and letting yourself be seen?"
"I wanted to see Tom Brown, sir."
"I wanted to get back my watch and clothes from him."
"Oh! I see it now. But had you no other object?"
"Why, I'll tell you, sir; besides that, I had a sort of foolish
pride, all my life, in frightening people, and making them wonder at
me, by telling tough stories, or doing strange things. I haven't got
over it to this day, and have been well beaten two or three times,
besides being put in jail, for playing the ghost hereabout, with the
country people, at court time. I confess too, sir, that I have once or
twice frightened my wife almost into fits, by way of a frolic; and for
all the trouble it has brought upon me, I believe in my soul I shall
play the ghost till I give up the ghost at last. Besides this, the
truth is, sir, I had a little spite at you for having put me in the
bilboes for some of these pranks, as I deserved, and had no objection
to pay you off, by breeding trouble in the ship."
"Truly, you succeeded wonderfully; but what became of you
"Why, sir, after Tom Brown deserted, and, to quiet his conscience,
left my watch and clothes to my friend, I had no motive for playing the
ghost any more. I shipped in an American merchantman for Smyrna—from
thence I went to Gibraltar— and after voyaging a year or two, and
saving a few hundred dollars, came to Boston at last. I did not dare to
stay along shore, for fear of being known by some of the officers of
the squadron, so I took my money and my bundle and went into the back
country. I am a little of everything, a jack of all trades, and turned
farmer, as sea captains often do when they are tired of ploughing the
ocean. I get on pretty well now, and hope you won't have me shot by a
"No," replied Captain R—, "I am out of the navy now. I have turned
farmer too, and you are quite safe."
"I hope you prosper well, sir?"
"Not quite as well as you, Billy—I have come into the backwoods to
see if I can do better."
"Only serve under me," said Billy, "and I will repay all your good
"What, the floggings,
"By God's help, sir, I may," said Billy. "Try me, sir."
"No—I am going on a little farther."
"You may go farther, and fare worse, sir."
"Perhaps so—but I believe it is bedtime, and so good-night, Mr.
Captain R— retired very quietly to his room, went to bed, and
slept like a top, till the broad sun shone over the summits of the
trees into his face, as he lay under the window. He breakfasted
sumptuously, and set out gallantly for the prairies of St. Louis.
"Good-by, captain," said Billy, leering, and lengthening his face to
a supernatural degree. "I hope you won't meet any ghosts on your way."
"Good-by, Billy," replied Captain R—, a little nettled at this
joke. "I hope you will not get into the state prison for playing the
"I'll take care of that, sir; I've been in the state prison already,
and you won't catch me there again, I warrant you."
"What do you mean, Billy?"
"I mean, that there is little or no odds between a state ship and a
state prison," said Billy, with a face longer than ever, and a most
Captain R— proceeded on his way, reflecting on the singular story
of Billy Morgan, whose pranks on board the frigate had convinced some
hundreds of men of the existence of ghosts, and thrown the gloom of
superstitious horror over the remainder of their existence. "Not a
sailor," thought he, "out of more than five hundred, with the exception
of a single one, but will go to his grave in the full belief of the
appearance of Billy Morgan's ghost. What an unlucky rencounter this of
mine; it has spoiled one of the best-authenticated ghost stories of the
THE NYMPH OF THE MOUNTAIN.
In a certain corner of the Bay State there once stood, and we hope
will continue to flourish long and happily, a snug town, now promoted
to be a city, the name of which is not material to our purpose. Here in
a great shingle palace, which would have been a very comfortable
edifice had it only been finished, lived a reputable widow, well to do
in the world, and the happy mother of a promising lad, a wonderful
clever boy, as might be expected. In fact, Shearjashub (that was his
name) was no bad specimen of the country lad. He was hardy, abstemious,
independent, and cute withal; and before he was a man grown,
made a great bargain once out of a travelling merchant, a Scotchman,
who chanced that way. Besides this, he was a mechanical genius; and,
though far from being lazy, delighted in the invention of labour-saving
machines, some of which were odd enough. He peeled all his mother's
pumpkins by water, and spun her flax with a windmill. Nay, it was
reported of him, that he once invented a machine for digging graves
upon speculation, by which he calculated he should certainly have made
his fortune, had not the people of the village all with one accord
taken it into their heads to live for ever. The name of the family was
Yankee, they having been the first that had intercourse with the
Indians, who called them Yankee, because they could not say English.
The Widow Yankee was a right pious, meetinggoing woman, who held it
to be a great want of faith not to believe in everything; especially
everything out of the way and impossible. She was a great amateur of
demonology and witchcraft. Moreover, she was gifted with a reasonable
share of curiosity, though it is recorded that once she came very near
missing to get at the bottom of a secret. The story ran as follows:—
One day, as she was sitting at her window, which had a happy aspect
for overlooking the affairs of the village, she saw a
mysterious-looking man, with a stick in his hand and a pipe in his
mouth, walking exactly three feet behind a white cow. The same thing
happened precisely at the same hour in the same manner the next day,
and so continued for some time. The first week the widow began to think
it rather odd; the second she began to think it quite strange; the
third it became altogether mysterious; and the fourth the poor woman
took to her bed, of the disease of the man and the cow.
Doctor Calomel undertook the cure in a new and original manner, to
wit, without the use of medicine. He wrought upon the mysterious
cowdriver to come to the widow's house, and tell her the whole secret
of the business. When he came into the room the sick woman raised
herself up, and in a faint voice addressed him as follows:—
"Mysterious man! I conjure thee to tell me what under the sun makes
thee always follow that cow about every day at the same hour, and at
the same distance from her tail?"
"Because the cow always goes before me!" replied the mysterious man.
Upon which the widow jumped out of her sick bed, seized an old shoe,
fired it at the mysterious man's head, and was miraculously cured from
that moment. Doctor Calomel got into great practice thereupon.
Shearjashub inherited a considerable share of his mother's inquiring
disposition, and was very inquisitive about the affairs of other
people; but, to do him justice, he took pretty good care to keep his
own to himself, like a discreet lad as he was. Having invented so many
labour-saving machines, Jashub, as he was usually called by the
neighbours, thought it was great nonsense to work himself; so he set
his machines going, and took to the amusement of killing time, which,
in a country village, is no such easy matter. It required a
considerable share of ingenuity. His favourite mode of doing this was
taking his gun on his shoulder, and sallying forth into the fields and
woods, followed by a cur, whose genealogy was perfectly mysterious.
Nobody could tell to what family he belonged; certain it was, that he
was neither "mongrel, puppy, whelp, nor hound," but a cur of low
degree, whose delight was to bask in the sun when he was not out with
his young master.
In this way Jashub would pass day after day, in what he called
sporting; that is to say, toiling through tangled woods and rough bog
meadows and swamps, that quivered like a jelly at every step, and
returning home at night hungry as well as tired. Report said that he
never was known to shoot anything; and thus far his time was spent
innocently, if not improvingly.
One fast-day, early in the spring of 1776, Jashub went forth as
usual, with his gun on his shoulder, and little Snap (such was the name
of the dog) at his heels. The early May had put on all her charms; a
thousand little patches of wild violets were peeping forth with deep
blue eyes; a thousand, yea, tens of thousands of little buds were
expanding into leaves apace; and crowds of chirping birds were singing
a hymn to the jolly laughing spring. Jashub could not find it in his
heart to fire at them; but if he had, there would have been no danger,
except of frightening the little warblers, and arresting their song.
Beguiled by the beauties of Nature and her charm ing music, Jashub
almost unconsciously wandered on until he came to the opening of a deep
glen in the mountain, which rose at some miles distance, west of the
village. It was formed by the passage of a pure crystal stream, which,
in the course of ages, or perhaps by a single effort, had divided the
mountain about the space of twenty yards, ten of which were occupied by
the brook, which silently wound its way along the edge of steep and
rocky precipices several hundred feet high, that formed the barriers of
the glen on either side. These towering perpendicular masses of gray
eternity were here and there green with the adventurous laurel, which,
fastening its roots in the crevices, nodded over the mighty steep in
fearful dizziness. Here and there a little spring gushed forth high up
among the graybeard rocks, and trickled down their sides in silvery
brightness. In other places patches of isinglass appeared, sparkling
against the sober masses, and communicating a singularly lustrous
character to the scene, which had otherwise been all gloomy solitude.
Jashub gazed a while in apprehensive wonder, as he stood at the
entrance of these everlasting gates. Curiosity prompted him to enter,
and explore the recesses within, while a certain vague unwillingness
deterred him. At length curiosity, or perhaps fate, which had decreed
that he should become the instrument of her great designs, prevailed
against all opposition, and he entered the gates of this majestic
palace of nature. He slowly advanced, sometimes arrested by a certain
feeling of mysterious awe; at others driven on by the power which had
assumed the direction of his conduct, until he arrived at the centre of
the hallowed solitude. Not a living thing breathed around him, except
his little dog, and his gun trembled in his hand. All was gloom,
silence, solitude, deep and profound. The brook poured forth no
murmurs, the birds and insects seemed to have shunned the unsunned
region, where everlasting twilight reigned; and the scream of the
hawks, pursuing their way across the deep chasm, was hushed as they
Jashub was arrested by the melancholy grandeur of the scene, and his
dog looked wistfully in his face, as if he wanted to go home. As he
stood thus lingering, leaning on his gun, a merry strain broke forth
upon the terrible silence, and echoed through the glen. The sound made
him suddenly start, in doing which his foot somehow or other caught in
the lock of his gun, which he had forgot to uncock, as was usual with
him, and caused it to go off. The explosion rang through the recesses
of the glen in a hundred repetitions, which were answered by the
howlings of the little dog. As the echoes gradually subsided, and the
smoke cleared away, the music again commenced. It was a careless,
lively air, such as suited the taste of the young man, and he forgot
his fears in his love of music.
As he stood thus entranced he heard a voice, sweet, yet animating as
the clear sound of the trumpet, exclaim,
Jashub's heart bounded into his throat, and prevented his answering.
He loaded his gun, and stood on the defensive.
In a moment after the same trumpet voice repeated the same words,
"What d'ye want, you tarnal kritter?" at length the young man
answered, with a degree of courage that afterwards astonished him.
He listened and looked, but saw nothing, until a little flourish of
the same sprightly tune directed his attention to the spot whence it
High on the summit of the highest perpendicular cliff, which shone
gorgeously with sparkling isinglass, seated under the shade of a tuft
of laurels, he beheld a female figure, holding a little flageolet, and
playing the sprightly air which he had just heard. Her height,
notwithstanding the distance, appeared majestic; the flash of her
bright beaming eye illumined the depths of the gloom, and her air
seemed that of a goddess. She was dressed in simple robes of virgin
white, and on her head she wore a cap, such as has since been
consecrated to Liberty by my gallant countrymen.
Shearjashub looked, trembled, and was silent. In a few minutes,
however, his recollection returned.
"Shearjashub!" exclaimed the lady of the rock, "listen!"
But Shearjashub had given leg bail. Both he and his faithful squire,
little Snap, had left the haunted glen as fast as their feet would
He told the story when he got home, with some little exaggeration.
Nobody believed him except the widow, his honoured mother, who had
faith to swallow a camel. All the rest laughed at him, and the wicked
damsels of the village were always joking about his mountain sweetheart.
At last he got out of patience, and one day demanded of those who
were bantering him what proof they would have of the truth of his story.
"Why," said old Deacon Mayhew, "I guess I should be considerably
particular satisfied if you would bring us hum that same fife you heard
the gal play on so finely."
"And I," said another, "will believe the young squire if he'll play
the same tune on it he heard yonder in the mountain."
Shearjashub was so pestered and provoked at last, that he determined
to put his courage to the proof, and see whether it would bear him out
in another visit to the chasm in the mountain. He thought he might as
well be dead as have no comfort of his life.
"I'll be darned if I don't go," said he, and away he went, with no
other company than his little dog. It was on the fourth day of July,
1776, that Shearjashub wrought himself up to a second visit.
"I'm just come of age this very day," said he, "and I'll show the
kritters I'm not made a man for nothing."
He certainly felt, as he afterwards confessed, a little skittish on
this occasion, and his dog seemed not much to relish the excursion.
Shearjashub had his gun, but had not the heart to fire at any of the
birds that flitted about, and seemed as if they were not afraid of
coming nigh him. His mind ran upon other matters entirely. He was a
long while getging to the chasm in the mountain. Sometimes he would
stop to rest, as he said to himself, though he was not in the least
tired; sometimes he found himself standing still, admiring nothing; and
once or twice actually detected his feet moving on their way home,
instead of towards the mountain.
On arriving at the vast gates that, as it were, guarded the entrance
to the glen, he halted to consider the matter. All was silence, repose,
gloom, and sublimity. His spirit at first sunk under the majesty of
nature, but at length became gradually inspired by the scene before him
with something of a kindred dignity. He marched forward with a vigorous
step and firm heart, rendered the more firm by hearing and seeing
nothing of the white nymph of the rock or her sprightly music. He
hardly knew whether he wished to see her or not, thinking if she
appeared he might be inspired to run away again; and if she did not,
the deacon and the girls would laugh at him worse than ever.
With these conflicting thoughts he arrived at the very centre of the
gloomy solitude, where he stood a few moments, expecting to hear the
music. All was loneliness; Repose lay sleeping on his bed of rocks, and
Silence reigned alone in her chosen retreat.
"Is it possible that I was dreaming the other day, when I was here,
as these tarnal kritters twit me I was?" asked the young man of himself.
He was answered by the voice of the white girl of the mountain,
exclaiming, in the same sweet yet clear, animating, trumpet tones,
"Shearjashub! Shearjashub! listen."
Jashub's legs felt some little inclination to run away; but this
time he kept his ground like a brave fellow.
Again the same sprightly air echoed through the silence of the deep
profound, in strains of animating yet simple, careless vivacity.
Shearjashub began to feel himself inspired. He bobbed his head from
side to side to suit the air, and was once or twice on the point of
cutting a caper.
He felt his bosom thrill with unwonted energies, and a new vigour
animate his frame as he contemplated the glorious figure of the
mountain nymph, and listened to her sprightly flageolet.
"Shearjashub!" cried the nymph, after finishing her strain of music,
"Speak—I hear," said the young man.
"My name is Liberty; dost thou know me?"
"I have heard my father and grandfather speak of thee, and say they
came to the New World to seek thee."
"Well, I am found at last. Listen to me."
"Your country has just devoted herself for ever to me and my glory.
Your countrymen have this day pronounced themselves freemen, and they
shall be what they have willed, in spite of fate or fortune. But my
blessings are never thrown away on cowards; they are to be gained by
toil, suffering, hunger, wounds, and death; by courage and
perseverance; by virtue and patriotism. The wrath and the mighty
energies of the oppressor are now directed against your people; hunger
assails them; force overmatches them, and their spirits begin to fail.
Take this pipe," and she flung him the little flageolet, which he
caught in his hand. "Canst thou play on it? Try."
He put it to his lips, and to his surprise, produced the same
animating strain he had heard from the nymph of the mountain.
"Now go forth among the people and their armies, and inspire them
for battle. Wherever thou goest with thy pipe, and whenever thou
playest that air, I will be with thee and thy countrymen. Go, fear not;
those who deserve me shall always win me. Farewell—we shall meet
again." So saying, she vanished behind the tuft of laurels.
Shearjashub marched straight home with his pipe, and somehow or
other felt he did not quite know how; he felt as if he could eat
gunpowder, and snap his fingers at the deacon.
"What the dickens has got in the kritter?" said the deacon, when he
saw him strutting along like a captain of militia.
"I declare, Jashub looks like a continental," exclaimed the girls.
Just then Shearjashub put his pipe to his mouth, and played the
tune he had learned, as if by magic, from the mountain nymph; whereat
Deacon Mayhew made for the little white meeting house, whither all the
villagers followed him, and preached a sermon, calling on the people to
rise and fight for liberty, in such stirring strains that forthwith all
the men, young and old, took their muskets and went out in defence of
their country, under the command of Shearjashub. Wherever he came he
played the magic tune on his pipe, and the men, like those of his
native village, took to their arms, and went forth to meet the
oppressor, like little David against Goliath, armed with a sling and a
They joined the army of Liberty, which they found dispirited with
defeat, and weak with suffering and want. They scarcely dared hope for
success to their cause, and a general gloom depressed the hearts of all
the true friends of freedom. In this state the enemy attacked them, and
threw them into confusion, when Shearjashub came on at the head of his
troops, playing his inspiring music with might and main. Wherever he
went the sounds seemed to awaken the spirit of heroism in every breast.
Those who were retreating rallied; and those who stood their ground
maintained it more stoutly than ever. The victory remained with the
sons of Liberty, and Shearjashub celebrated it with a tune on his pipe,
which echoed through the whole land, and wakened it to new triumphs.
After a hard and bloody struggle, in which the pipe of Shearjashub
animated the very clods of the valley wherever he went, the promise of
the nymph of the mountain was fulfilled. The countrymen of Shearjashub
were free and independent. They were about to repose under the laurels
they had reaped, and to wear what they had so dearly won.
Shearjashub also departed for his native village with his pipe,
which had so materially assisted in the attainment of the blessings of
freedom. His way lay through the chasm in the mountain, where he first
encountered the nymph with the cap and snow-white robe. He was
anticipating the happiness of seeing his aged mother, who had lived
through the long war, principally on the excitement of news, and the
still more near and dear happiness of taking to his bosom the girl of
his heart, Miss Prudence Worthy, as fair a maid as ever raised a sigh
in the bosom of lusty youth.
He had got to the centre of the glen when he was roused from his
sweet anticipations by the wellremembered voice of the nymph of the
mountain, who sat on the same inaccessible rock, under the same tuft of
laurel, where he had first seen her, with an eagle at her side.
"Shearjashub!" cried she, in a voice which made the echoes of the
rocks mad with ecstasy—"Shearjashub! thou hast done well, and
deserved nobly of thy country. The thought of that is, in itself, a
glorious reward for toil, danger, and suffering. But thou shalt have
one as dear, if not dearer than even this. Look where it comes."
Shearjashub looked, and beheld afar off a figure all in white
coming towards him, at the entrance of the glen. It approached nearer,
and it was a woman; nearer yet, and it was a young woman; still nearer,
and Shearjashub rushed towards it, and kissed its blushing cheek. It
was the girl of his heart, Miss Prudence Worthy.
"This is thy other blessing," exclaimed the mountain nymph, the
sight of whom made Miss Prudence a little jealous; "a richer reward for
noble exertions than a virtuous woman I know not of. Live free, live
virtuous, and then thou wilt be happy. I shall be with thee an
invisible witness, an invisible protector; but, in the mean while,
should the spirit of the people ever flag, and their hearts fail them
in time of peril, go forth among them as thou didst before, and rouse
them with thy pipe and thy music. Farewell, and be happy!"
The nymph disappeared, and the little jealous pang felt by Miss
Prudence melted away in measureless confidence and love. The tune of
the mountain nymph was played over and over again at Shearjashub's
wedding, and ever afterwards became known by the name of Yankee Doodle.
THE RIDE OF SAINT NICHOLAS ON
Of all the cities in this New World, that which once bore the name
of Fort Orange, but now bears it no more, is the favourite of the good
St. Nicholas. It is there that he hears the sound of his native
language, and sees the honest Dutch pipe in the mouths of a few portly
burghers, who, disdaining the pestilent innovations of modern times,
still cling with honest obstinacy to the dress, the manners, and
customs of old faderland. It is there, too, that they have instituted a
society in honour of the excellent saint, whose birthday they celebrate
in a manner worthy of all commendation.
True it is, that the city of his affections has from time to time
committed divers great offences, which sorely wounded the feelings of
St. Nicholas, and almost caused him to withdraw his patronage from its
backsliding citizens. First, by adopting the newfangled style of
beginning the year at the bidding of the old lady of Babylon, whereby
the jolly Newyear was so jostled out of place that the good saint
scarcely knew where to look for it. Next, they essayed themselves to
learn outlandish tongues, whereby they gradually sophisticated their
own, insomuch that he could hardly understand them. Thirdly, they did,
from time to time, admit into their churches preachings and singings in
the upstart English language, until by degrees the ancient worship
became adulterated in such a manner that the indignant St. Nicholas,
when he first witnessed it, did, for the only time in his life, come
near to uttering a great oath, by exclaiming, "Wat donderdag is dat?"
Now be it known that had he said, "Wat donder is dat," it would have
been downright swearing; so you see what a narrow escape he had.
Not content with these backslidings, the burghers of Fort Orange—a
pestilence on all new names!— suffered themselves by degrees to be
corrupted by various modern innovations, under the mischievous disguise
of improvements. Forgetting the reverence due to their ancestors, who
eschewed all internal improvement, except that of the mind and heart,
they departed from the venerable customs of the faderland, and pulling
down the old houses that, scorning all appearance of ostentation,
modestly presented the little end to the street, began to erect in
their places certain indescribable buildings, with the broadsides as it
were turned frontwise, by which strange contortion the comeliness of
Fort Orange was utterly destroyed. It is on record that a heavy
judgment fell upon the head of the first man who adventured on this
daring innovation. His money gave out before this monstrous novelty was
completed, and he invented the pernicious system of borrowing and
mortgaging, before happily unknown among these worthy citizens, who
were utterly confounded, not long afterwards, at seeing the house
change its owner—a thing that had never happened before in that
goodly community, save when the son entered on the inheritance of his
Becoming gradually more incorrigible in their backslidings, they
were seduced into opening, widening, and regulating the streets; making
the crooked straight and the narrow wide, thereby causing sad inroads
into the strong boxes of divers of the honest burghers, who became all
at once very rich, saving that they had no money to go to market. To
cap the climax of their enormities, they at last committed the
egregious sacrilege of pulling down the ancient and honourable Dutch
church, which stood right in the middle of State-street, or
Staats-street, being so called after the family of that name, from
which I am lineally descended.
At this the good St. Nicholas was exceedingly grieved; and when, by
degrees, his favourite burghers left off eating sturgeon, being thereto
instigated by divers scurvy jests of certain silly strangers, that knew
not the excellence of that savoury fish, he cried out in the bitterness
of his soul, "Onbegrypelyk!"— "Incredible!" meaning thereby that he
could scarcely believe his eyes. In the bitterness of his soul he had
resolved to return to faderland, and leave his beloved city to be
swallowed up in the vortex of improvement. He was making his progress
through the streets, to take his last farewell, in melancholy mood,
when he came to the outlet of the Grand Canal, just then completed. "Is
het mogelyk?"— which means, is it possible—exclaimed St. Nicholas;
and thereupon he was so delighted with this proof that his beloved
people had not altogether degenerated from their ancestors, that he
determined not to leave them to strange saints, outlandish tongues, and
modern innovations. He took a sail on the canal, and returned in such
measureless content, that he blessed the good city of Fort Orange, as
he evermore called it, and resolved to distribute a more than usual
store of his Newyear cookies, at the Christmas holydays. That jovial
season was now fast approaching. The autumn frosts had already invested
the forests with a mantle of glory; the farmers were in their fields
and orchards, gathering in the corn and apples, or making cider, the
wholesome beverage of virtuous simplicity; the robins, blackbirds, and
all the annual emigrants to southern climes, had passed away in flocks,
like the adventurers to the far West; the bluebird alone lingered last
of all to sing his parting song; and sometimes of a morning, the river
showed a little fretted border of ice, looking like a fringe of lace on
the garment of some decayed dowager. At length the liquid glass of the
river cooled into a wide, immoveable mirror, glistening in the sun;
the trees, all save the evergreens, stood bare to the keen cold winds;
the fields were covered with snow, affording no lures to tempt to rural
wanderings; the enjoyments of life gradually centred themselves at the
cheerful fireside—it was winter, and Newyear's eve was come again!
The night was clear, calm, and cold, and the bright stars glittered
in the heavens in such multitudes, that every man might have had a star
to himself. The worthy patriarchs of Fort Orange, having gathered
around them their children, and children's children, even unto the
third and fourth generation, were enjoying themselves in innocent
revelry at the cheerful fireside. All the enjoyments of life had
contracted themselves into the domestic circle; the streets were as
quiet as a churchyard, and not even the stroke of the watchman was
heard on the curbstone. Gradually it waxed late, and the city clocks
rang, in the silence of night, the hour which not one of the orderly
citizens had heard, except at midday, since the last anniversary of the
happy Newyear, save peradventure troubled with a toothache, or some
such unseemly irritation.
The doleful warning, which broke upon the frosty air like the
tolling of a funeral bell, roused the sober devotees of St. Nicholas to
a sense of their trespasses on the waning night, and after one good,
smoking draught of spiced Jamaica to the patron saint, they, one and
all, young and old, hied them to bed, that he might have a fair
opportunity to bestow his favours without being seen by mortal eye.
For be it known, that St. Nicholas, like all really heart-whole
generous fellows, loves to do good in secret, and eschews those pompous
benefactions which are duly recorded in the newspapers, being of
opinion they only prove that the vanity of man is sometimes an
overmatch for his avarice.
Having allowed them fifteen minutes, which is as much as a sober
burgher of good morals and habits requires, to get as fast asleep as a
church, St. Nicholas, having harnessed his pony, and loaded his little
wagon with a store of good things for wellbehaved, diligent children,
together with whips and other mementoes for undutiful varlets, did set
forth gayly on his errand of benevolence.
Vuur en vlammen! how the good saint did hurry through the
streets, up one chimney and down another; for be it known, they are not
such miserable narrow things as those of other cities, where the claims
of ostentation are so voracious that people can't afford to keep up
good fires, and the chimneys are so narrow that the little sweeps of
seven years old often get themselves stuck fast, to the imminent peril
of their lives. You may think he had a good deal of business on hand,
being obliged to visit every house in Fort Orange, between twelve
o'clock and daylight, with the exception of some few would-be
fashionable upstarts, who had mortally offended him, by turning up
their noses at the simple jollifications and friendly greetings of the
merry Newyear. Accordingly, he rides like the wind, scarcely touching
the ground; and this is the reason that he is never seen, except by a
rare chance, which is the cause why certain unbelieving sinners, who
scoff at old customs and notions, either really do, or pretend to
doubt, whether the good things found on Christmas and Newyear mornings
in the stockings of the little varlets of Fort Orange and
New-Amsterdam, are put there by the jolly St. Nicholas or not. Beshrew
them, say I— and may they never taste the blessing of his bounty!
Goeden Hemel! as if I myself, being a kinsman of the saint, don't know
him as well as a debtor does his creditor! But people are grown so wise
nowadays, that they believe in nothing but the increased value of
Be this as it may, St. Nicholas went forth blithely on his goodly
errand, without minding the intense cold, for he was kept right warm by
the benevolence of his heart, and when that failed, he ever and anon
addressed himself to a snug little pottle, the contents of which did
smoke lustily when he pulled out the stopper, a piece of snow-white
It is impossible for me to specify one by one the visits paid that
night by the good saint, or the various adventures which he
encountered. I therefore content myself, and I trust my worthy and
excellent readers, with dwelling briefly on those which appear to me
most worthy of descending to posterity, and withal convey excellent
moral lessons, without which history is naught, whether it be true or
After visiting various honest little Dutch houses, with notched
roofs, and the gable ends to the street, leaving his benedictions, St.
Nicholas at length came to a goodly mansion bearing strong marks of
being sophisticated by modern fantastic innovations. He would have
passed it by in scorn, had he not remembered that it belonged to a
descendant of one of his favoured votaries, who had passed away to his
long home without being once backslided from the customs of his
ancestors. Respect for the memory of this worthy man wrought upon his
feelings, and he forthwith dashed down the chimney, where he stuck fast
in the middle, and came nigh being suffocated with the fumes of
anthracite coal, which this degenerate descendant of a pious ancestor,
who spent thousands in useless and unseemly ostentation, burned by way
If the excellent saint had not been enveloped, as it were, in the
odour of sanctity, which in some measure protected him from the poison
of this pestilent vapour, it might have gone hard with him; as it was,
he was sadly bewildered, when his little pony, which liked the
predicament no better than his master, made a violent plunge, drew the
wagon through the narrow passage, and down they came plump into a
magnificent bedchamber, filled with all sorts of finery, such as
wardrobes, bedizened with tawdry ornaments; satin chairs too good to be
looked at or sat upon, and therefore covered with brown linen; a
bedstead of varnished mahogany, with a canopy over it somewhat like a
cocked hat, with a plume of ostrich feathers instead of orthodox
valances and the like; and a looking-glass large enough to reflect a
St. Nicholas contemplated the pair who slept in this newfangled
abomination with a mingled feeling of pity and indignation, though I
must say the wife looked very pretty in her lace nightcap, with one arm
as white as snow partly uncovered. But he soon turned away, being a
devout and selfdenying saint, to seek for the stockings of the little
children, who were innocent of these unseemly innovations. But what was
his horror at finding that, instead of being hung up in the chimney
corner, they were thrown carelessly on the floor, and that the little
souls, who lay asleep in each other's arms in another room, lest they
should disturb their parents, were thus deprived of all the pleasant
anticipations accompanying the approaching jolly Newyear.
"Een vervlocte jonge," said he to himself, for he never uttered his
maledictions aloud, "to rob their little ones of such wholesome and
innocent delights! But they shall not be disappointed." So he sought
the cold and distant chamber of the children, who were virtuous and
dutiful, who, when they waked in the morning, found the bed covered
with good things, and were as happy as the day is long. When St.
Nicholas returned to the splendid chamber, which, be it known, was
furnished with the spoils of industrious unfortunate people, to whom
the owner lent money, charging them so much the more in proportion to
their necessities. It is true that he gave some of the wealth he thus
got over the duyvel's back, as it were, to public charities, and
sometimes churches, when he knew it would get into the newspapers, by
which he obtained the credit of being very pious and charitable. But
St. Nicholas was too sensible and judicious not to know that the only
charitable and pious donations agreeable to the Giver of good, are
those which are honestly come by. The alms which are got by ill means
can never come to good, and it is better to give back to those from
whom we have taken it dishonestly even one fourth, yea, one tenth, than
to bestow ten times as much on those who have no such claim. The true
atonement for injuries is that made to the injured alone. All other is
a cheat in the eye of Heaven. You cannot settle the account by giving
to Peter what you have filched from Paul.
So thought the good St. Nicholas, as he revolved in his mind a plan
for punishing this degenerate caitiff, who despised his ordinances and
customs, and was moreover one who, in dealing with borrowers, not only
shaved but skinned them. Remembering not the perils of the chimney, he
was about departing the same way he came, but the little pony
obstinately refused; and the good saint, having first taken off the
lace nightcap, and put a foolscap in its place, and given the money
lender a tweak of the nose that made him roar, whipped instantly
through the keyhole to pursue his benevolent tour through the ancient
city of Fort Orange.
Gliding through the streets unheard and unseen, he at length came to
a little winding lane, from which his quick ear caught the sound of
obstreperous revelry. Stopping his pony, and listening more
attentively, he distinguished the words, "Ich ben Liederich," roared
out in a chorus of mingled voices seemingly issuing from a little low
house of the true orthodox construction, standing on the right-hand
side, at a distance of a hundred yards, or thereabout.
"Wat donderdag!" exclaimed St. Nicholas, "is mine old friend, Baltus
Van Loon, keeping it up at this time of the morning? The old rogue! but
I'll punish him for this breach of the good customs of Fort Orange." So
he halted on the top of Baltus's chimney, to consider the best way of
bringing it about, and was, all at once, saluted in the nostrils by
such a delectable perfume, arising from a certain spiced beverage, with
which the substantial burghers were wont to recreate themselves at this
season of the year, that he was sorely tempted to join a little in the
revelry below, and punish the merry caitiffs afterwards. Presently he
heard honest Baltus propose—"The jolly St. Nicholas," as a toast,
which was drunk in a full bumper, with great rejoicing and acclamation.
St. Nicholas could stand it no longer, but descended forthwith into
the little parlour of old Baltus, thinking, by-the-way, that, just to
preserve appearances, he would lecture the roistering rogues a little
for keeping such late hours, and, provided Baltus could give a good
reason, or indeed any reason at all, for such an unseemly
transgression, he would then sit down with them, and take some of the
savoury beverage that had regaled his nostrils while waiting at the top
of the chimney.
The roistering rogues were so busy roaring out, "Ich ben Liederich,"
that they did not take note of the presence of the saint, until he
cried out with a loud and angry voice, "Wat blikslager is dat?"— he
did not say blixem, because that would have been little better than
swearing. "Ben je be dondered, to be carousing here at this time of
night, ye ancient, and not venerable sinners?"
Old Baltus was not a little startled at the intrusion of the
strangers—for, if the truth must out, he was a little in for it, and
saw double, as is usual at such times. This caused such a confusion in
his head that he forgot to rise from his seat, and pay due honour to
his visiter, as did the rest of the company.
"Are you not ashamed of yourselves," continued the saint, "to set
such a bad example to the neighbourhood, by carousing at this time of
the morning, contrary to good old customs, known and accepted by all,
except such noisy splutterkins as yourselves?"
"This time of the morning," replied old Baltus, who had his full
portion of Dutch courage—"this time of the morning, did you say? Look
yonder, and see with your own eyes whether it is morning or not."
The cunning rogue, in order to have a good excuse for transgressing
the canons of St. Nicholas, had so managed it, that the old clock in
the corner had run down, and now pointed to the hour of eleven, where
it remained stationary, like a rusty weathercock. St. Nicholas knew
this as well as old Baltus himself, and could not help being mightily
tickled at this device.. He told Baltus that this being the case, with
permission of his host he would sit down by the fire and warm himself,
till it was time to set forth again, seeing he had mistaken the hour.
Baltus, who by this time began to perceive that there was but one
visiter instead of two, now rose from the table with much ado, and
approaching the stranger, besought him to take a seat among the jolly
revellers, seeing they were there assembled in honour of St. Nicholas,
and not out of any regard to the lusts of the flesh. In this he was
joined by the rest of the company, so that St. Nicholas, being a
good-natured fellow, at length suffered himself to be persuaded,
whereto he was mightily incited by the savoury fumes issuing from a
huge pitcher standing smoking in the chimney corner. So he sat down
with old Baltus, and being called on for a toast, gave them "Old
Faderland" in a bumper.
Then they had a high time of it you may be sure. Old Baltus sang a
famous song celebrating the valour of our Dutch ancestors, and their
triumph over the mighty power of Spain after a struggle of more than a
generation, in which the meads of Holland smoked, and her canals were
red with blood. Goeden Hemel! but I should like to have been there, for
I hope it would have been nothing unseemly for one of my cloth to have
joined in chorus with the excellent St. Nicholas. Then they talked
about the good old times when the son who departed from the customs of
his ancestors was considered little better than misbegotten; lamented
over the interloping of such multitudes of idle flaunting men and women
in their way to and from the springs; the increase of taverns, the high
price of everything, and the manifold backslidings of the rising
generation. Ever and anon, old Baltus would observe that sorrow was as
dry as a corn cob, and pour out a full bumper of the smoking beverage,
until at last it came to pass that honest Baltus and his worthy
companions, being not used to such late hours, fell fast a sleep in
their goodly armchairs, and snored lustily in concert. Whereupon St.
Nicholas, feeling a little waggish, after putting their wigs the hinder
part before, and placing a great China bowl upside down on the head of
old Baltus, who sat nodding like a mandarin, departed laughing ready to
split his sides. In the morning, when Baltus and his companions awoke,
and saw what a figure they cut, they laid all the trick to the door of
the stranger, and never knew to the last day of their lives who it was
that caroused with them so lustily on Newyear's morning.
Pursuing his way in high good humour, being somewhat exhilarated by
the stout carousal with old Baltus and his roistering companions, St.
Nicholas in good time came into the ancient Colonie, which
being, as it were, at the outskirts of Fort Orange, was inhabited by
many people not well to do in the world. He descended the chimney of an
old weatherworn house that bore evident marks of poverty, for he is not
one of those saints that hanker after palaces and turn their backs on
their friends. It is his pleasure to seek out and administer to the
innocent gratifications of those who are obliged to labour all the year
round, and can only spare time to be merry at Christmas and Newyear. He
is indeed the poor man's saint.
On entering the room, he was struck with the appearance of poverty
and desolation that reigned all around. A number of little children of
different ages, but none more than ten years old, lay huddled close
together on a straw bed, which was on the floor, their limbs
intertwined to keep themselves warm, for their covering was scant and
miserable. Yet they slept in peace, for they had quiet countenances,
and hunger seeks refuge in the oblivion of repose. In a corner of the
room stood a miserable bed, on which lay a female, whose face, as the
moonbeams fell upon it through a window without shutters, many panes of
which were stuffed with old rags to keep out the nipping air of the
winter night, bore evidence of long and painful suffering. It looked
like death rather than sleep. A little pine table, a few broken
chairs, and a dresser, whose shelves were ill supplied, constituted the
remainder of the furniture of this mansion of poverty.
As he stood contemplating the scene, his honest old heart swelled
with sorrowful compassion, saying to himself, "God bewaar ous, but this
is pitiful." At that moment, a little child on the straw bed cried out
in a weak voice that went to the heart of the saint, "Mother, mother,
give me to eat—I am hungry." St. Nicholas went to the child, but she
was fast asleep, and hunger had infected her very dreams. The mother
did not hear, for long-continued sorrow and suffering sleep sounder
than happiness, as the waters lie stillest when the tempest is past.
Again the little child cried out, "Mother, mother, I am
freezing—give me some more covering." "Be quiet, Blandina," answered
a voice deep and hoarse, yet not unkind; and St. Nicholas, looking
around to see whence it came, beheld a man sitting close in the chimney
corner, though there was no fire burning, his arms folded close around
him, and his head drooping on his bosom. He was clad like one of the
children of poverty, and his teeth chattered with cold. St. Nicholas
wiped his eyes, for he was a good-hearted saint, and coming close up to
the miserable man, said to him kindly, "How do ye, my good friend?"
"Friend," said the other, "I have no friend but God, and he seems to
have deserted me." As he said this, he raised his saddened eyes to the
good saint, and after looking at him a little while, as if he was not
conscious of his presence, dropped them again, even without asking who
he was, or whence he came, or what he wanted. Despair had deadened his
faculties, and nothing remained in his mind but the consciousness of
"Het is jammer, het is jammer—it is a pity, it is a pity!"
quoth the kind-hearted saint, as he passed his sleeve across his eyes.
"But something must be done, and that quickly too." So he shook the
poor man somewhat roughly by the shoulder, and cried out, "Ho! ho! what
aileth thee, son of my good old friend, honest Johannes Garrebrantze?"
This salutation seemed to rouse the poor man, who arose upon his
seat, and essaying to stand upright, fell into the arms of St.
Nicholas, who almost believed it was a lump of ice, so cold and stiff
did it seem. Now, be it known that Providence, as a reward for his
benevolent disposition, has bestowed on St. Nicholas the privilege of
doing good without measure to all who are deserving of his bounty, and
that by such means as he thinks proper to the purpose. It is a power he
seldom exerts to the uttermost, except on pressing occasions, and this
he believed one of them.
Perceiving that the poor man was wellnigh frozen to death, he called
into action the supernatural faculties which had been committed to him,
and lo! in an instant a rousing fire blazed on the hearth, towards
which the poor man, instinctively as it were, edged his chair, and
stretched out one of his bony hands, that was as stiff as an icicle.
The light flashed so brightly in the face of the little ones and their
mother, that they awoke, and seeing the cheerful blaze, arose in their
miserable clothing, which they had worn to aid in keeping them warm,
and hied as fast as they could to bask in its blessed warmth. So eager
were they, that for a while they were unconscious of the presence of a
stranger, although St. Nicholas had now assumed his proper person, that
he might not be taken for some one of those diabolical wizards who,
being always in mischief, are ashamed to show their faces among honest
At length the poor man, who was called after his father Johannes
Garrebrantze, being somewhat revived by the genial warmth of the fire,
looked around, and became aware of the presence of the stranger, which
inspired him with a secret awe, for which he could not account,
insomuch that his voice trembled, though now he was not cold, when,
after some hesitation, he said,
"Stranger, thou art welcome to this poor house. I would I were
better able to offer thee the hospitalities of the season, but I will
wish thee a happy Newyear, and that is all I can bestow." The good
yffrouw, his wife, repeated the wish, and straightway began to
apologize for the untidy state of her apartment.
"Make no apologies," replied the excellent saint; "I come to give,
not to receive. To-night I treat, to-morrow you may return the kindness
"I?" said Johannes Garrebrantze; "I have nothing to bestow but good
wishes, and nothing to receive but the scorn and neglect of the world.
If I had anything to give thee to eat or drink, thou shouldst have it
with all my heart. But the new year, which brings jollity to the hearts
of others, brings nothing but hunger and despair to me and mine."
"Thou hast seen better days, I warrant thee," answered the saint;
"for thou speakest like a scholar of Leyden. Tell me thy story,
Johannes, my son, and we shall see whether in good time thou wilt not
hold up thy head as high as a church steeple."
"Alas! to what purpose, since man assuredly has, and Heaven seems to
have forsaken me."
"Hush!" cried St. Nicholas, "Heaven never forsakes the broken
spirit, or turns a deaf ear to the cries of innocent children. It is
for the wicked never to hope, the virtuous never to despair. I predict
thou shalt live to see better days."
"I must see them soon then, for neither I, my wife, nor my children
have tasted food since twenty-four hours past."
"What! God be with us! is there such lack of charity in the burghers
of the Colonie, that they will suffer a neighbour to starve under their
very noses? Onbegrypelik—I'll not believe it."
"They know not my necessities."
"No? What! hast thou no tongue to speak them?"
"I am too proud to beg."
"And too lazy to work," cried St. Nicholas, in a severe tone.
"Look you," answered the other, holding up his right arm with his
left, and showing that the sinews were stiffened by rheumatism.
"Is it so, my friend? Well, but thou mightst still have bent thy
spirit to ask charity for thy starving wife and children, though, in
truth, begging is the last thing an honest man ought to stoop to. But
Goeden Hemel! here am I talking while thou and thine are perishing with
Saying which, St. Nicholas straightway bade the good yffrouw to
bring forth the little pine table, which she did, making divers
apologies for the want of a tablecloth; and when she had done so, he
incontinently spread out upon it such store of good things from his
little cart, as made the hungry childrens' mouths to water, and smote
the hearts of their parents with joyful thanksgivings. "Eat, drink, and
be merry," said St. Nicholas, "for tomorrow thou shalt not die, but
The heart of the good saint expanded, like as the morning-glory does
to the first rays of the sun, while he sat rubbing his hands at seeing
them eat with such a zest, as made him almost think it was worth while
to be hungry in order to enjoy such triumphant satisfaction. When they
had done, and returned their pious thanks to Heaven and the good
stranger, St. Nicholas willed the honest man to expound the causes
which had brought him to his present deplorable condition. "My own
folly," said he; and the other sagely replied, "I thought as much.
Beshrew me, friend, if in all my experience, and I have lived long, and
seen much, I ever encountered distress and poverty that could not be
traced to its source in folly or vice. Heaven is too bountiful to
entail misery on its creatures, save through their own transgressions.
But I pray thee, go on with thy story."
The good man then went on to relate that his father, old Johannes
"Ah!" quoth St. Nicholas, "I knew him well. He was an honest man,
and that, in these times of all sorts of improvements, except in mind
and morals, is little less than miraculous. But I interrupt thee,
friend—proceed with thy story, once more."
The son of Johannes again resumed his story, and related how his
father had left him a competent estate in the Colonie, on which
he lived in good credit, and in the enjoyment of a reasonable
competency, with his wife and children, until within a few years past,
when seeing a vast number of three-story houses, with folding doors and
marble mantelpieces rising up all around him, he began to be ashamed of
his little one-story house with the gable end to the street, and—
"Ah! Johannes," interrupted the pale wife, "do not spare me. It was
I that in the vanity of my heart put such notions in thy head. It was
I that tempted thee."
"It was the duyvel," muttered St. Nicholas, "in the shape of a
Johannes gave his helpmate a look of affectionate forgiveness, and
went on to tell St. Nicholas how, finally egged on by the evil example
of his neighbours, he had at last committed sacrilege against his
household gods, and pulled down the home of his fathers, commencing a
new one on its ruins.
"Donderdag!" quoth the saint to himself; "and the bricks came from
When Johannes had about half finished his new house, he discovered
one day, to his great astonishment and dismay, that all his money,
which he had been saving for his children, was gone. His strong box was
empty, and his house but half finished, although, after estimating the
cost, he had allowed one third more in order to be sure in the business.
Johannes was now at a dead stand. The idea of borrowing money and
running in debt never entered his head before, and probably would not
now, had it not been suggested to him by a neighbour, a great
speculator, who had lately built a whole street of houses, not a single
brick of which belonged to him in reality. He had borrowed the money,
mortgaged the property, and expected to grow rich by a sudden rise.
Poor Johannes may be excused for listening to the seductions of this
losel varlet, seeing he had a house half finished on his hands; but
whether so or not, he did listen and was betrayed into borrowing money
of a bank just then established in the Colonie on a capital paid
in according to law—that is, not paid at all—the directors of which
were very anxious to exchange their rags for lands and houses.
Johannes finished his house in glorious style, and having opened
this new mine of wealth, furnished it still more gloriously; and as it
would have been sheer nonsense not to live gloriously in such a
glorious establishment, spent thrice his income in order to keep up his
respectability. He was going on swimmingly, when what is called a
reaction took place; which means, as far as I can understand, that the
bank directors, having been pleased to make money plenty to increase
their dividends, are pleased thereafter to make it scarce for the same
purpose. Instead of lending it in the name of the bank, it is credibly
reported they do it through certain brokers, who charge lawful interest
and unlawful commission, and thus cheat the law with a clear
conscience. But I thank Heaven devoutly that I know nothing of their
wicked mysteries, and therefore will say no more about them.
Be this as it may, Johannes was called upon all of a sudden to pay
his notes to the bank, for the reaction had commenced, and there was no
more renewals. The directors wanted all the money to lend out at three
per cent. a month. It became necessary to raise the wind, as they say
in Wall-street, and Johannes, by the advice of his good friend the
speculative genius, went with him to a certain money lender of his
acquaintance, who was reckoned a good Christian, because he always
charged most usury where there was the greatest necessity for a loan.
To a rich man he would lend at something like a reasonable interest,
but to a man in great distress for money he showed about as much mercy
as a weazel does to a chicken. He sucked their blood till there was not
a drop left in their bodies. This he did six days in the week, and on
the seventh went three times to church, to enable him to begin the next
week with a clear conscience. Beshrew such varlets, I say; they bring
religion itself into disrepute, and add the sin of hypocrisy to men to
that of insult to Heaven.
Suffice it to say, that poor Johannes Garrebrantze the younger went
down hill faster than he ever went up in his life; and inasmuch as I
scorn these details of petty roguery as unworthy of my cloth and
calling, I shall content myself with merely premising, that by a
process very common nowadays, the poor man was speedily bereft of all
the patrimony left him by his worthy father in paying commission to the
money lender. He finally became bankrupt; and inasmuch as he was
unacquainted with the mystery of getting rich by such a manoeuvre, was
left without a shilling in the world. He retired from his fine house,
which was forthwith occupied by his good friend the money lender, whose
nose had been tweaked by St. Nicholas, as heretofore recorded, and took
refuge in the wretched building where he was found by that benevolent
worthy. Destitute of resources, and entirely unacquainted with the art
of living by his wits or his labours, though he tried hard both ways,
poor Johannes became gradually steeped in poverty to the very lips, and
being totally disabled by rheumatism, might, peradventure, with all his
family, have perished that very night, had not Providence mercifully
sent the good St. Nicholas to their relief.
"Wat donderdag!" exclaimed the saint, when he had done—"
wat donderdag!—was that your house down yonder, with the fine
bedroom, the wardrobes, the looking-glass as big as the moon, and the
bedstead with a cocked hat and feathers?"
"Even so," replied the other, hanging down his head.
"Is het mogelyk!" And after considering a little while, the
good saint slapped his hand on the table, broke forth again—"By
donderdag, but I'll soon settle this business."
He then began to hum an old Dutch hymn, which by its soothing and
wholesome monotony so operated upon Johannes and his family, that one
and all fell fast asleep in their chairs.
The good St. Nicholas then lighted his pipe, and seating himself by
the fire, revolved in his mind the best mode of proceeding on this
occasion. At first he determined to divest the rich money lender of all
his ill-gotten gains, and bestow them on poor Johannes and his family.
But when he considered that the losel caitiff was already sufficiently
punished in being condemned to the sordid toils of money making, and
in the privation of all those social and benevolent feelings which,
while they contribute to our own happiness, administer to that of
others; that he was for ever beset with the consuming cares of avarice,
the hope of gain, and the fear of losses; and that, rich as he was, he
suffered all the gnawing pangs of an insatiable desire for more—when
he considered all this, St. Nicholas decided to leave him to the
certain punishment of ill-gotten wealth, and the chances of losing it
by an over craving appetite for its increase, which sooner or later
produces all the consequences of reckless imprudence.
"Let the splutterkin alone," thought St. Nicholas, "and he will
become the instrument of his own punishment."
Then he went on to think what he should do for poor Johannes and his
little children. Though he had been severely punished for his folly,
yet did the good saint, who in his nightly holyday peregrinations had
seen more of human life and human passions than the sun ever shone
upon, very well know that sudden wealth, or sudden poverty, is a sore
trial of the heart of man, in like manner as the sudden transition from
light to darkness, or darkness to light, produces a temporary
blindness. It was true that Johannes had received a severe lesson, but
the great mass of mankind are prone to forget the chastening rod of
experience, as they do the pangs of sickness when they are past. He
therefore settled in his mind, that the return of Johannes to
competence and prosperity should be by the salutary process of his own
exertions, and that he should learn their value by the pains it cost to
attain them. "Het is goed visschen in troebel water," quoth he,
"for then a man knows the value of what he catches."
It was broad daylight before he had finished his pipe and his
cogitations, and placing his old polished delft pipe carefully in his
buttonhole, the good saint sallied forth, leaving Johannes and his
family still fast asleep in their chairs. Directly opposite the
miserable abode of Johannes there dwelt a little fat Dutchman, of a
reasonable competency, who had all his life manfully stemmed the
torrent of modern innovation. He eschewed all sorts of paper money as
an invention of people without property to get hold of those that had
it; abhorred the practice of widening streets; and despised in his
heart all public improvements except canals, a sneaking notion for
which he inherited from old faderland. He was honest as the light of
the blessed sun; and though he opened his best parlour but twice a year
to have it cleaned and put to rights, yet this I will say of him, that
the poor man who wanted a dinner was never turned away from his table.
The worthy burgher was standing at the street door, which opened in the
middle, and leaning over the lower half, so that the smoke of his pipe
ascended in the clear frosty morning in a little white column far into
the sky before it was dissipated.
St. Nicholas stopped his wagon right before his door, and cried out
in a clear hearty voice,
"Good-morning, good-morning, mynheer; and a happy Newyear to you."
"Good-morning," cried the hale old burgher, "and many happy Newyears
to you. Hast got any good fat hen turkies to sell?" for he took
him for a countryman coming in to market. St. Nicholas answered and
said that he had been on a different errand that morning; and the other
cordially invited him to alight, come in, and take a glass of hot
spiced rum, with the which it was his custom to regale all comers at
the jolly Newyear. The invitation was frankly accepted, for the worthy
St. Nicholas, though no toper, was never a member of the temperance
society. He chose to be keeper of his own conscience, and was of
opinion that a man who is obliged to sign an obligation not to drink,
will be very likely to break it the first convenient opportunity.
As they sat cozily together, by a rousing fire of wholesome and
enlivening hickory, the little plump Dutchman occasionally inveighing
stoutly against paper money, railroads, improving streets, and the
like, the compassionate saint took occasion to utter a wish that the
poor man over the way and his starving family had some of the good
things that were so rife on Newyear's day, for he had occasion to know
that they were suffering all the evils of the most abject poverty.
"The splutterkin," exclaimed the little fat burgher— "he is as
proud as Lucifer himself. I had a suspicion of this, and sought divers
occasions to get acquainted with him, that I might have some excuse for
prying into his necessities, and take the privilege of an old neighbour
to relieve them. But vuur en vlammen! would you believe it—he
avoided me just as if he owed me money, and couldn't pay."
St. Nicholas observed that if it was ever excusable for a man to be
proud, it was when he fell into a state where every one, high and low,
worthless and honourable, looked down upon him with contempt. Then he
related to him the story of poor Johannes, and taking from his pocket a
heavy purse, he offered it to the worthy old burgher, who swore he
would be dondered if he wanted any of his money.
"But hearken to me," said the saint; "you foolish lad is the son of
an old friend of mine, who did me many a kindness in his day, for which
I am willing to requite his posterity. Thou shalt take this purse and
bestow a small portion of it, as from thyself, as a loan from time to
time, as thou seest he deserves it by his exertions. It may happen, as
I hope it will, that in good time he will acquire again the competency
he hath lost by his own folly and inexperience; and as he began the
world a worthy, respectable citizen, I beseech thee to do this—to be
his friend, and to watch over him and his little ones, in the name of
The portly Burgher promised that he would, and they parted with
marvellous civility, St. Nicholas having promised to visit him again
should his life be spared. He then mounted his little wagon, and the
little Dutchman having turned his head for an instant, when he looked
again could see nothing of the saint or his equipage. "Is het
mogelyk!" exclaimed he, and his mind misgave him that there was
something unaccountable in the matter.
My story is already too long, peradventure, else would I describe
the astonishment of Johannes and his wife when they awoke and found the
benevolent stranger had departed without bidding them farewell. They
would have thought all that had passed was but a dream, had not the
fragments of the good things on which they regaled during the night
bore testimony to its reality. Neither will I detail how, step by step,
aided by the advice and countenance of the worthy little Dutchman, and
the judicious manner of his dispensing the bounty of St. Nicholas,
Johannes Garrebrantze, by a course of industry, economy, and integrity,
at length attained once again the station he had lost by his follies
and extravagance. Suffice it to say, that though he practised a
rational self-denial in all his outlayings, he neither became a miser,
nor did he value money except as the means of obtaining the comforts of
life, and administering to the happiness of others.
In the mean time, the money lender, not being content with the
wealth he had obtained by taking undue advantage of the distresses of
others, and becoming every day more greedy, launched out into mighty
speculations. He founded a score of towns without any houses in them;
dealt by hundreds of thousands in fancy stocks; and finally became the
victim of one of his own speculations, by in time coming to believe in
the very deceptions he had practised upon others. It is an old saying,
that the greatest rogue in the world, sooner or latter, meets with his
match, and so it happened with the money lender. He was seduced into
the purchase of a town without any houses in it, at an expense of
millions; was met by one of those reactions that play the mischief with
honest labourers, and thus finally perished in a bottomless pit of his
own digging. Finding himself sinking, he resorted to forgeries, and had
by this means raised money to such an amount, that his villany almost
approached to sublimity. His property, as the phrase is, came under the
hammer, and Johannes purchased his own house at half the price it cost
him in building.
The good St. Nicholas trembled at the new ordeal to which Johannes
had subjected himself; but finding, when he visited him, as he did
regularly every Newyear's eve, that he was cured of his foolish
vanities, and that his wife was one of the best housekeepers in all
Fort Orange, he discarded his apprehensions, and rejoiced in the
prosperity that was borne so meekly and wisely. The little fat Dutchman
lived a long time in expectation that the stranger in the one-horse
wagon would come for the payment of his purse of money; but finding
that year after year rolled away without his appearing, often said to
himself, as he sat on his stoop with a pipe in his mouth,
"I'll be dondered if I don't believe it was the good St. Nicholas."