Sleet and Snow
by Sarah J. Prichard
Tale of the American Revolution
Fourth of July, 1776.Troublous times, that day? Valentine Kull
thought so, as he stood in a barn-yard, with a portion of his mother's
clothes line tied as tightly as he dared to tie it around the neck of a
calf. He was waiting for the bars to be let down by his sister. Anna
Kull thought the times decidedly troublous, as she pulled and pushed
and lifted to get the bars down.
I can't do it, Valentine, she cried, her half-child face thrust
between the rails.
She tried. Result as before.
Come over, then, and hold Snow.
Anna went over, rending gown and apron on the roughnesses of rails
and haste. Never mind. She was over, and could, she thought, hold the
Barn-yard, cow (I forgot to mention that there was a cow); calf, and
children, one and all, were on Staten Island in the Bay and Province of
New York. Beside these, there was a house. It was so small, so queer,
so old-fashioned, so Amsterdam Dutchy, that, for all that I know to the
contrary, Achter Kull may have built it as a play-house for his
children when first he came to America and took up his abode by the
Kill van Kull. The Kill van Kull is that curious little slice of sea
pinched in by a finger of New Jersey thrust hard against Staten Island,
as though trying its best to push the island off to sea. However it may
have been, there was the house, and from the very roof of it arose a
head, neck, two shoulders and one arm; the same being the property of
the mother of Valentine and Anna. The said mother was keeping watch
from the scuttle.
Be quick, my children, she cried. The Continentals are now
driving off Abraham Rycker's cattle and the boat isn't full yet.
They'll be here next.
Anna seized the clothes line; Valentine made for the bars. Down they
came, the one after the other, and out over the lower one went calf,
Anna and cow. Valentine made a dive for Snow's leading string. He
missed it. Away went the calf, poor Anna clutching at the rope, into
green lane, through tall grass, tangle and thicket. She caught her foot
in her torn gown and was falling, when a sudden holding up of the rope
assisted by Valentine's clutch at her arm set her on her feet again.
During this slight respite from the chase, the cow (Sleet, by name,
because not quite so white as Snow) took a bite of grass and wondered
what all this unaccustomed fuss did mean.
Snow has pulled my arm out of joint, said Anna, holding fast to
Never mind your arm, now, returned Valentine. We must get
to the marsh. It's the only place. You get a switch, and if Sleet won't
follow Snow in, you drive her. I wish the critters wasn't white;
they show up so; but Washington sha'n't have this calf and cow,
From Newark Bay to Old Blazing Star Ferry stretched the marsh, deep,
dense, well-nigh impassable. Under the orders of General Washington,
supported by the approval of the Provincial Congress in session at
White Plains, the live stock was being driven from the island, and
ferried across Staten Island Sound to New Jersey. At the same moment
the grand fleet of armed ships from Halifax, England, and elsewhere,
was sailing in with General Howe on board and Red Coats enough to eat,
at a supper and a dinner, all the live stock on a five-by-seventeen
Now the Commander-in-chief of the Continental forces at New York did
not wish to afford the aid and comfort to the enemy of furnishing
horses to draw cannon, or fresh meat wherewith to satisfy the hunger of
British soldier and sailor. Oh no! On Manhattan Island were bravesfor
freedom toiling day and night; building earthwork, redoubt and battery
with never a luxury from morning to morning, except the luxury of
fighting for Liberty. Soldiers from camp, light-horse and militia from
New Jersey, had gathered on the island, and had been at work a day and
a night when the news came to the Kull cottage that in a few minutes
its cow and calf would be called for. Hence the sudden watch from the
roof, and the escapade from the barn-yard.
The Kull father, I regret to write, because it seems highly
unpatriotic, had gone forth to catch fish that day, hugging up the
thought close to his pocket of a heart, that the English fleet would
pay well for fresh fish.
Now Sleet and Snow were treasures untold to Valentine and Anna Kull.
Anna's pocket-money, stored up to be spent once-a-year in New York,
came to her hands by the sale of butter to oystermen; and the calf,
Snow, was the exclusive property of her brother Valentine. No wonder
they were striving to save their possessionsignorant, children as
they were, of every good which they could not see and feel.
Cow and calf, or rather calf and cow, never before were given such a
race. Highways were ignored. There were not many beaten tracks at that
time on Staten Island. Daisied and clovered fields the calf was dragged
through; young corn and potato lots suffered alike by the pressure of
hoof and foot. Anna nearly forgot her out-of-joint arm when the four
reached the marsh. Its friendly-looking shelter was hailed with
Said Valentine, tugging the tired calf, to Anna, switching forward
the anxious cow: I should like to see the riflemen from Pennsylvania
and the Yankeys from Doodle or Dandy either, chase Sleet and
Snow through this marsh.
It's been awful work though to get 'em here, said Anna,
wiping her face with a pink handkerchief suddenly detached for use from
In plunged the boy and up s-s-cissed a cloud of mosquitoes, humming
at the sound of the new-come feast; fresh flesh and blood from the
uplands was desirable.
The grass was green, very greenlovely, bright, light
green; the July sun shone down untiringly; the tide rushing up from
Raritan Bay met the tide rolling over from Newark Bay, and the cool,
sweet swash of water snaked along the stout sedge, making it sway and
bend as though the wind were sweeping its tops.
When within the queer infolding, boy, cow, and calf had disappeared,
Anna called: I'll run now and keep watch and tell you when the
soldiers are gone.
No, you won't! shrieked back her brother; you'll stay
here, and help me, or the skeeters will kill the critters. Bring me
the biggest bush you can find, and fetch one for yourself.
Anna always obeyed Valentine. It was a way she had. He liked it,
and, generally speaking, she didn't greatly dislike it, but her dress
was thinner than his coat, and the happy mosquitoes knew she was fairer
and sweeter than her Dutch brother, and didn't mind telling her so in
the most insinuating fashion possible. On this occasion, as she had in
so many other unlike instances, she acceded to his request; toiling
backward up the ascent and fetching thence an armful of the stoutest
boughs she could twist from branches.
She neared the marsh on her return. All that she could discern was a
straw hat bobbing hither and thither; the horns of a cow tossing to and
fro; the tail of a cow lashing the air.
A voice she heard, shouting forth in impatient bursts of sound,
Anna, Anna Kull!
Here! I'm coming, she responded.
Hurry up! I'm eaten alive. Snow's crazy and Sleet's a lunatic,
shouted her brother, jerking the words forth between the vain dives his
hand made into the cloud of wings in the air.
Sakes alive! said poor Anna, toiling from sedge bog to sedge bog
with her burden of bushes and striving to hide her face from the
mosquitoes as she went.
It was nearly noon-day then, and the Fourth of July too, but neither
Valentine nor Anna thought of the day of the month. Why should they?
The Nation wasn't born yet whose hundredth birthday we keep this year.
The solemn assembly of earnest mendebating the to be or not to be
of the United Stateswas over there at work in Congress Hall in the
old State House. They were heated with sun and brick and argument; a
hundred and ten British ships of war were anchoring and at anchor over
on the ocean side of Staten Island. Up the bay, seven or eight thousand
troops in ragged regimentals were working to make ready for battle;
but not one of them all suffered more from sun and toil and anxiety and
greed of blood than did the lad and the lass in the marsh.
They fought it out, with many a sting and smart, another hour, and
then declaring that cow or no cow they couldn't stay another minute,
they strove to work their way out of the beautiful green of the sedge.
On the meadow-land stood their mother. She had brought dinner for
her hungry children,moreover, she had brought news.
The Yankee troopsthe Jersey militiahad gone, but the British
soldiers had arrived and demanded beefbeef raw, beef roasted, beef in
The tears that the fiercest mosquito had failed to extort from Anna
came now. I wish I'd let her go, she cried, fondly stroking Sleet.
At least she wouldn't have been killed, and we'd had her again
sometime, maybe; but nowI say, Valentine, are you going to
give up Snow?
No, I ain't, stoutly persisted the lad, slapping with his
broad palm the panting side of the calf, where mosquitoes still clung.
But, my poor children, said Mother Kull, you will have to.
It can't be helped. If we refuse them, don't you know, they will
burn our house down.
If they do, I'll kill them! The words shot out from the
gunpowdery temper of Anna Kull. Poor innocent girl of thirteen! She
never in her life had seen an act of cruelty greater than the taking of
a fish or the death of a chicken; but the impotent impulse of revenge
arose within her at the bare idea of having her pet, her pretty Sleet,
taken from her and eaten by soldiers.
You'd better keep still, Anna Kull, said Valentine. Mother, don't
you think we might hide the animals somewhere?
Where? echoed the poor woman, looking up and looking down.
Truly there seemed to be no place. Already six thousand British
soldiers had landed and taken possession of the island. Hills and
forests were not high enough nor deep enough; and now the very marsh
had cast them out by its army of winged stingersmore dreadful than
I just wish, ejaculated the poor sunburned, mosquito-tortured,
hungry girl, who stood between marsh and meadow,I wish I had
'em every one tied hand and foot and dumped into the sedge where we've
been. Mother, I wouldn't use Sleet's milk to-night, not a drop of
it,it's crazy milk, I know: she's been tortured so. Poor cow! poor
creature! poor, dear, nice, honest Sleet! And Anna patted the cow with
loving stroke and laid her head on its neck.
Well, children, eat something, and then we'll all go home
together,if they haven't carried off our cot already, said the
They sat down under a tree and ate with the eager, wholesome
appetite of children. Mrs. Kull kept watch that the cow did not wander
far from the place.
As they were eating, Valentine said to Anna, nodding his head in the
direction of his mother: I've thought of something. We must manage to
send her home without us.
I've thought of something, responded Anna. Yes, we must
I should like to know what you could think of, sister.
Should you? Why, think of saving the cow and calf, of course;
though, if you're very particular, you can leave the calf here.
And what will you do with the cow?
Put her in the boat
Whew! interrupted Valentine.
And ferry her over the sound, continued Anna.
You and me.
Do you think we could?
We can try.
That's brave! How's your arm?
All right! I jerked it back, slapping mosquitoes.
Give us another hunkey piece of bread and butter. Honey's good
to-day. I wonder mother thought about it.
I s'pose, said Anna, she'd as leave we had it as soldiers.
Wouldn't it be jolly if we could make 'em steal the bees?
The wind blew east. Up came martial sounds mingled with the break
and the roar of the ocean.
Oh, dear! They're a coming, gasped Mrs. Kull, running to the spot.
They're coming, and your father is not here.
Hide, hide, my children! Never mind the cow now, she almost
shrieked; her mind was running wild with all the scenes of terror she
had ever heard of.
Pshaw! pshaw! Mother Kull, said her boy, assuringly. They won't
come down here. Somebody's guiding them around who knows just where
every house is. You and Anna get into that thicket yonder and keep,
whatever happens, as still as mice.
What'll you do, bub? questioned Anna, her sunburned face
brown-pale with affright.
Oh, I'll take care of myself. Boys always do.
As soon as Mrs. Kull and her daughter were well concealed in the
thicket, the sounds began to die away. They waited half an hour. All
was still. They crept out, gazing the country over. No soldier in
sight. Down in the marsh again were boy and cow.
I'll run home now, said Mrs. Kull. I dare say 'twas all a trick
of my ears.
But I heard it, too, Mother Kull.
Your ears serve you tricks, too, Anna. You wait and help Valentine
home with the animals.
Anna was glad to have her mother gone. She sped to the marsh. She
threaded it, until by sundry signs she found the trio and summoned them
The old Blazing Star Ferry was seldom used. A boat lay there. It was
staunch. The tide with them, they might get it across. Had they
been older, wiser, they would never have made the attempt.
A fresh water stream ran down to the sea. They passed it on their
way thither. In it Sleet drank deep, and soothed for a moment the bites
that tormented her; the children kneeled on the grassy bank, and drank
from their palms; the calf frolicked in it, till driven out. An hour
went by. They reached the ferry. It was deserted. Somebody had used the
boat that day. It was at the shore. Grass was yet in it.
Come along, Snow, said Valentine, urging with the rope. Go along,
Snow, said Anna, helping it on with a stout twig she had picked up.
The calf pranced and ran, and before it knew its whereabouts was in the
broad-bottomed boat. Sleet stood on the shore, and saw her baby tied
fast. One poor cry the calf uttered. It went home to the motherly heart
of the dumb creature. She went down the sand, over the side, and began,
in her own way, to comfort Snow.
Now we are all right! cried Valentine, delighted with the success
of his ruse; for he had slyly, lest Anna should see the deed, thrust a
pin in Snow to call forth the cry and win the cow over to his side.
Take an oar quick! commanded the young captain.
His mate obeyed. They pushed the boat out, unfastened it from the
pier. Before anybody concerned had time to realize the situation the
boat was adrift, and they were whirling in the tide.
Now, sis, said Valentine, a big lump in his throat, we're in for
it. It is sink or swim. It's not much use to row. You steer and I'll
Sleet looked wildly around. She tossed her head, sniffed the salt,
oystery air, and seemed about to plunge overboard.
Anna screamed. Valentine threw down his paddle and dashed himself on
the boat's outermost edge just in time to save it from overturning.
Mistress Sleet, disgusted with Fourth of July, had made up her mind to
lie down and take a nap. The boat righted and they were safe. Staten
Island Sound at this point was narrow, scarcely more than a quarter of
a mile in width, and the tide was fast bearing them out.
Such uncommon good sense in Sleet, exclaimed the boy. That
cow is worth saving.
At that moment a dozen Red Coats were at the ferry they had just
left. The imperious gentlemen were in a fine frenzy at finding the boat
They shouted to the children to return.
Steady, steady now, cried the young captain. His mate was steady
at the helm until a musket ball or two ran past them.
Let go! shouted the captain. Swing your bonnet. Let them know
you're a woman and they won't fire on you.
The little mate stood erect. She waved her pink flag of a
sun-bonnet. Distinctly the soldiers saw the pink frock of Anna Kull;
they saw her long hair as the sea breeze lifted it when she shook her
A second, two, three went by as the girl stood there, and then a
flash was seen on the bank, a musket-ball ran through the bonnet of the
little mate, and the waves of air rattled along the shore.
The bonnet was in the sea; Anna had dropped to her seat and caught
the helm in her left hand.
Cowards! cried Valentine, for want of a stronger word, and then he
fell to working the boat on its way. The tide helped them now; it swung
the boat over toward the Jersey shore.
The firing from Staten Island called out the inhabitants on the
Jersey coast. They watched the approaching boat with interest.
Everything depended now on the cow's lying still, on the boy's
strength, on the meeting of the tides. If he could reach there before
the tide came up all would be well; otherwise it would sweep him off
again toward the island.
Can't you row? asked Valentine, at length.
Bub, I can't, said Anna, her voice shaking out the words. It was
the first time she had spoken since she sat down.
Are you hurt? he questioned.
I tremble so, she answered, and turned her face away.
I reckon we'd better help that boy in, said a Jersey fisherman as
he watched, and he put off in a small boat.
Don't come near! Keep off! keep off! called Valentine, as he saw
him approach. I've a cow in here.
The fisherman threw him a rope, and that rope saved them. The dewy
smell of the grassy banks had aroused the cow. She was stirring.
The land was very near now; close at hand. Hurry! hurry! urged the
lad, as they were drawing him in. Before the cow had time to rise, the
boat touched land.
You'd better look after that girl, said the fisherman, who had
towed the boat. The poor child was holding, fast wrapped in the
remnants of her pink frock, her bleeding hand. The musket ball that
shot away her bonnet grazed her wrist.
Never mind me, she said, when they were pitying her. The cow is
The same evening, while, in Philadelphia, bonfires were blazing,
bells ringing, cannon booming, because, that day, a new nation was
born; over Staten Island Sound, by the light of the moon, strong-armed
men were ferrying home the girl and the boy, who that day had
fought a good fight and gained the victory.
At home, in the Kull cottage, the mother waited long for the coming
of the children. She said; Poor young things! Mine own children
they shall have a nice supper. She made it ready and they were
Farmer Rycker's wife and daughter came over to tell and hear the
news, and yet they were not come.
Sundown. No children. The Kull father came up from his fishing and
heard the story.
The Red Coats have taken them, he said, and down came the musket
from against the wall, and out the father marched and made straightway
for the headquarters of General Howe, over at the present Quarantine.
Then the mother, left alone in the soft summer gloaming, fell on her
knees and told her story in her own plain speech to her good Father in
It was a long story. She had much to say to Heaven that night. The
mothers and wives of 1776 in our land spake often unto God. This mother
listened and prayed, and prayed and listened.
The fishermen had left Valentine and Anna on the shore and gone
home. Tired, but happy, the brother and sister went up, over sand and
field and slope, and so came at length within sight of the trees that
towered near home.
Whistle now! whispered Anna, afraid yet to speak aloud. Mother
will hear and answer.
Up jumped the mother Kull. She ran to the door and tried to answer.
There was no whistle in her lips. Joy choked it.
Mother, are you there? cried the children.
No! I'm here, was the answer, and she had them safe in her