VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.mysterystories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
HOME  -  STORIES  -  CATEGORIES

American Mystery Stories

Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
An Heiress From Redhorse
By The Waters Of Paradise
Horror: A True Tale
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
My Wife's Tempter
The Corpus Delicti
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Man And The Snake
The Minister's Black Veil
The Oblong Box
The Shadows On The Wall
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
Bourgonef
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams



Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams








In the year of grace one thousand seven hundred and--blank--for I
do not remember the precise date; however, it was somewhere in the
early part of the last century,--there lived in the ancient city of
the Manhattoes a worthy burgher, Wolfert Webber by name. He was
descended from old Cobus Webber of the Brill[1] in Holland, one of
the original settlers, famous for introducing the cultivation of
cabbages, and who came over to the province during the
protectorship of Oloffe Van Kortlandt, otherwise called "the
Dreamer."


[1] The Brill is a fortified seaport of Holland, on the Meuse
River, near Rotterdam.


The field in which Cobus Webber first planted himself and his
cabbages had remained ever since in the family, who continued in
the same line of husbandry with that praiseworthy perseverance for
which our Dutch burghers are noted. The whole family genius,
during several generations, was devoted to the study and
development of this one noble vegetable, and to this concentration
of intellect may doubtless be ascribed the prodigious renown to
which the Webber cabbages attained.

The Webber dynasty continued in uninterrupted succession, and never
did a line give more unquestionable proofs of legitimacy. The
eldest son succeeded to the looks as well as the territory of his
sire, and had the portraits of this line of tranquil potentates
been taken, they would have presented a row of heads marvelously
resembling, in shape and magnitude, the vegetables over which they
reigned.

The seat of government continued unchanged in the family mansion,--
a Dutch-built house, with a front, or rather gable end, of yellow
brick, tapering to a point, with the customary iron weathercock at
the top. Everything about the building bore the air of long-
settled ease and security. Flights of martins peopled the little
coops nailed against its walls, and swallows built their nests
under the eaves, and everyone knows that these house-loving birds
bring good luck to the dwelling where they take up their abode. In
a bright summer morning in early summer, it was delectable to hear
their cheerful notes as they sported about in the pure, sweet air,
chirping forth, as it were, the greatness and prosperity of the
Webbers.

Thus quietly and comfortably did this excellent family vegetate
under the shade of a mighty buttonwood tree, which by little and
little grew so great as entirely to overshadow their palace. The
city gradually spread its suburbs round their domain. Houses
sprang up to interrupt their prospects. The rural lanes in the
vicinity began to grow into the bustle and populousness of streets;
in short, with all the habits of rustic life they began to find
themselves the inhabitants of a city. Still, however, they
maintained their hereditary character and hereditary possessions,
with all the tenacity of petty German princes in the midst of the
empire. Wolfert was the last of the line, and succeeded to the
patriarchal bench at the door, under the family tree, and swayed
the scepter of his fathers,--a kind of rural potentate in the midst
of the metropolis.

To share the cares and sweets of sovereignty he had taken unto
himself a helpmate, one of that excellent kind called "stirring
women"; that is to say, she was one of those notable little
housewives who are always busy where there is nothing to do. Her
activity, however, took one particular direction,--her whole life
seemed devoted to intense knitting; whether at home or abroad,
walking or sitting, her needles were continually in motion, and it
is even affirmed that by her unwearied industry she very nearly
supplied her household with stockings throughout the year. This
worthy couple were blessed with one daughter who was brought up
with great tenderness and care; uncommon pains had been taken with
her education, so that she could stitch in every variety of way,
make all kinds of pickles and preserves, and mark her own name on a
sampler. The influence of her taste was seen also in the family
garden, where the ornamental began to mingle with the useful; whole
rows of fiery marigolds and splendid hollyhocks bordered the
cabbage beds, and gigantic sunflowers lolled their broad, jolly
faces over the fences, seeming to ogle most affectionately the
passers-by.

Thus reigned and vegetated Wolfert Webber over his paternal acres,
peacefully and contentedly. Not but that, like all other
sovereigns, he had his occasional cares and vexations. The growth
of his native city sometimes caused him annoyance. His little
territory gradually became hemmed in by streets and houses, which
intercepted air and sunshine. He was now and then subjected to the
eruptions of the border population that infest the streets of a
metropolis, who would make midnight forays into his dominions, and
carry off captive whole platoons of his noblest subjects. Vagrant
swine would make a descent, too, now and then, when the gate was
left open, and lay all waste before them; and mischievous urchins
would decapitate the illustrious sunflowers, the glory of the
garden, as they lolled their heads so fondly over the walls. Still
all these were petty grievances, which might now and then ruffle
the surface of his mind, as a summer breeze will ruffle the surface
of a mill pond, but they could not disturb the deep-seated quiet of
his soul. He would but seize a trusty staff that stood behind the
door, issue suddenly out, and anoint the back of the aggressor,
whether pig or urchin, and then return within doors, marvelously
refreshed and tranquilized.

The chief cause of anxiety to honest Wolfert, however, was the
growing prosperity of the city. The expenses of living doubled and
trebled, but he could not double and treble the magnitude of his
cabbages, and the number of competitors prevented the increase of
price; thus, therefore, while everyone around him grew richer,
Wolfert grew poorer, and he could not, for the life of him,
perceive how the evil was to be remedied.

This growing care, which increased from day to day, had its gradual
effect upon our worthy burgher, insomuch that it at length
implanted two or three wrinkles in his brow, things unknown before
in the family of the Webbers, and it seemed to pinch up the corners
of his cocked hat into an expression of anxiety totally opposite to
the tranquil, broad-brimmed, low-crowned beavers of his illustrious
progenitors.

Perhaps even this would not have materially disturbed the serenity
of his mind had he had only himself and his wife to care for; but
there was his daughter gradually growing to maturity, and all the
world knows that when daughters begin to ripen, no fruit nor flower
requires so much looking after. I have no talent at describing
female charms, else fain would I depict the progress of this little
Dutch beauty: how her blue eyes grew deeper and deeper, and her
cherry lips redder and redder, and how she ripened and ripened, and
rounded and rounded, in the opening breath of sixteen summers,
until, in her seventeenth spring, she seemed ready to burst out of
her bodice, like a half-blown rosebud.

Ah, well-a-day! Could I but show her as she was then, tricked out
on a Sunday morning in the hereditary finery of the old Dutch
clothespress, of which her mother had confided to her the key! The
wedding dress of her grandmother, modernized for use, with sundry
ornaments, handed down as heirlooms in the family. Her pale brown
hair smoothed with buttermilk in flat, waving lines on each side of
her fair forehead. The chain of yellow, virgin gold that encircled
her neck; the little cross that just rested at the entrance of a
soft valley of happiness, as if it would sanctify the place. The--
but pooh! it is not for an old man like me to be prosing about
female beauty; suffice it to say, Amy had attained her seventeenth
year. Long since had her sampler exhibited hearts in couples
desperately transfixed with arrows, and true lovers' knots worked
in deep blue silk, and it was evident she began to languish for
some more interesting occupation than the rearing of sunflowers or
pickling of cucumbers.

At this critical period of female existence, when the heart within
a damsel's bosom, like its emblem, the miniature which hangs
without, is apt to be engrossed by a single image, a new visitor
began to make his appearance under the roof of Wolfert Webber.
This was Dirk Waldron, the only son of a poor widow, but who could
boast of more fathers than any lad in the province, for his mother
had had four husbands, and this only child, so that, though born in
her last wedlock, he might fairly claim to be the tardy fruit of a
long course of cultivation. This son of four fathers united the
merits and the vigor of all his sires. If he had not had a great
family before him he seemed likely to have a great one after him,
for you had only to look at the fresh, buxom youth to see that he
was formed to be the founder of a mighty race.

This youngster gradually became an intimate visitor of the family.
He talked little, but he sat long. He filled the father's pipe
when it was empty, gathered up the mother's knitting needle, or
ball of worsted, when it fell to the ground, stroked the sleek coat
of the tortoise-shell cat, and replenished the teapot for the
daughter from the bright copper kettle that sang before the fire.
All these quiet little offices may seem of trifling import, but
when true love is translated into Low Dutch it is in this way that
it eloquently expresses itself. They were not lost upon the Webber
family. The winning youngster found marvelous favor in the eyes of
the mother; the tortoise-shell cat, albeit the most staid and
demure of her kind, gave indubitable signs of approbation of his
visits; the teakettle seemed to sing out a cheering note of welcome
at his approach; and if the sly glances of the daughter might be
rightly read, as she sat bridling and dimpling, and sewing by her
mother's side, she was not a whit behind Dame Webber, or grimalkin,
or the teakettle, in good will.

Wolfert alone saw nothing of what was going on. Profoundly wrapt
up in meditation on the growth of the city and his cabbages, he sat
looking in the fire, and puffing his pipe in silence. One night,
however, as the gentle Amy, according to custom, lighted her lover
to the outer door, and he, according to custom, took his parting
salute, the smack resounded so vigorously through the long, silent
entry as to startle even the dull ear of Wolfert. He was slowly
roused to a new source of anxiety. It had never entered into his
head that this mere child, who, as it seemed, but the other day had
been climbing about his knees and playing with dolls and baby
houses, could all at once be thinking of lovers and matrimony. He
rubbed his eyes, examined into the fact, and really found that
while he had been dreaming of other matters, she had actually grown
to be a woman, and, what was worse, had fallen in love. Here arose
new cares for Wolfert. He was a kind father, but he was a prudent
man. The young man was a lively, stirring lad, but then he had
neither money nor land. Wolfert's ideas all ran in one channel,
and he saw no alternative in case of a marriage but to portion off
the young couple with a corner of his cabbage garden, the whole of
which was barely sufficient for the support of his family.

Like a prudent father, therefore, he determined to nip this passion
in the bud, and forbade the youngster the house, though sorely did
it go against his fatherly heart, and many a silent tear did it
cause in the bright eye of his daughter. She showed herself,
however, a pattern of filial piety and obedience. She never pouted
and sulked; she never flew in the face of parental authority; she
never flew into a passion, nor fell into hysterics, as many
romantic, novel-read young ladies would do. Not she, indeed. She
was none such heroical, rebellious trumpery, I'll warrant ye. On
the contrary, she acquiesced like an obedient daughter, shut the
street door in her lover's face, and if ever she did grant him an
interview, it was either out of the kitchen window or over the
garden fence.

Wolfert was deeply cogitating these matters in his mind, and his
brow wrinkled with unusual care, as he wended his way one Saturday
afternoon to a rural inn, about two miles from the city. It was a
favorite resort of the Dutch part of the community, from being
always held by a Dutch line of landlords, and retaining an air and
relish of the good old times. It was a Dutch-built house, that had
probably been a country seat of some opulent burgher in the early
time of the settlement. It stood near a point of land called
Corlear's Hook,[1] which stretches out into the Sound, and against
which the tide, at its flux and reflux, sets with extraordinary
rapidity. The venerable and somewhat crazy mansion was
distinguished from afar by a grove of elms and sycamores that
seemed to wave a hospitable invitation, while a few weeping
willows, with their dank, drooping foliage, resembling falling
waters, gave an idea of coolness that rendered it an attractive
spot during the heats of summer.


[1] A point of land at the bend of the East River below Grand
Street, New York City.


Here, therefore, as I said, resorted many of the old inhabitants of
the Manhattoes, where, while some played at shuffleboard[1] and
quoits,[2] and ninepins, others smoked a deliberate pipe, and
talked over public affairs.


[1] A game played by pushing or shaking pieces of money or metal so
as to make them reach certain marks on a board.

[2] A game played by pitching a flattened, ring-shaped piece of
iron, called a quoit, at a fixed object.


It was on a blustering autumnal afternoon that Wolfert made his
visit to the inn. The grove of elms and willows was stripped of
its leaves, which whirled in rustling eddies about the fields. The
ninepin alley was deserted, for the premature chilliness of the day
had driven the company within doors. As it was Saturday afternoon
the habitual club was in session, composed principally of regular
Dutch burghers, though mingled occasionally with persons of various
character and country, as is natural in a place of such motley
population.

Beside the fireplace, in a huge, leather-bottomed armchair, sat the
dictator of this little world, the venerable Rem, or, as it was
pronounced, "Ramm" Rapelye. He was a man of Walloon[1] race, and
illustrious for the antiquity of his line, his great-grandmother
having been the first white child born in the province. But he was
still more illustrious for his wealth and dignity. He had long
filled the noble office of alderman, and was a man to whom the
governor himself took off his hat. He had maintained possession of
the leather-bottomed chair from time immemorial, and had gradually
waxed in bulk as he sat in his seat of government, until in the
course of years he filled its whole magnitude. His word was
decisive with his subjects, for he was so rich a man that he was
never expected to support any opinion by argument. The landlord
waited on him with peculiar officiousness,--not that he paid better
than his neighbors, but then the coin of a rich man seems always to
be so much more acceptable. The landlord had ever a pleasant word
and a joke to insinuate in the ear of the august Ramm. It is true
Ramm never laughed, and, indeed, ever maintained a mastiff-like
gravity and even surliness of aspect; yet he now and then rewarded
mine host with a token of approbation, which, though nothing more
nor less than a kind of grunt, still delighted the landlord more
than a broad laugh from a poorer man.


[1] A people of French origin, inhabiting the frontiers between
France and Flanders. A colony of one hundred and ten Walloons came
to New York in 1624.


"This will be a rough night for the money diggers," said mine host,
as a gust of wind bowled round the house and rattled at the
windows.

"What! are they at their works again?" said an English half-pay
captain, with one eye, who was a very frequent attendant at the
inn.

"Aye are they," said the landlord, "and well may they be. They've
had luck of late. They say a great pot of money has been dug up in
the fields just behind Stuyvesant's orchard. Folks think it must
have been buried there in old times by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch
governor."

"Fudge!" said the one-eyed man of war, as he added a small portion
of water to a bottom of brandy.

"Well, you may believe it or not, as you please," said mine host,
somewhat nettled, "but everybody knows that the old governor buried
a great deal of his money at the time of the Dutch troubles, when
the English redcoats seized on the province. They say, too, the
old gentleman walks, aye, and in the very same dress that he wears
in the picture that hangs up in the family house."

"Fudge!" said the half-pay officer.

"Fudge, if you please! But didn't Corney Van Zandt see him at
midnight, stalking about in the meadow with his wooden leg, and a
drawn sword in his hand, that flashed like fire? And what can he
be walking for but because people have been troubling the place
where he buried his money in old times?"

Here the landlord was interrupted by several guttural sounds from
Ramm Rapelye, betokening that he was laboring with the unusual
production of an idea. As he was too great a man to be slighted by
a prudent publican, mine host respectfully paused until he should
deliver himself. The corpulent frame of this mighty burgher now
gave all the symptoms of a volcanic mountain on the point of an
eruption. First there was a certain heaving of the abdomen, not
unlike an earthquake; then was emitted a cloud of tobacco smoke
from that crater, his mouth; then there was a kind of rattle in the
throat, as if the idea were working its way up through a region of
phlegm; then there were several disjointed members of a sentence
thrown out, ending in a cough; at length his voice forced its way
into a slow, but absolute tone of a man who feels the weight of his
purse, if not of his ideas, every portion of his speech being
marked by a testy puff of tobacco smoke.

"Who talks of old Peter Stuyvesant's walking? (puff). Have people
no respect for persons? (puff--puff). Peter Stuyvesant knew better
what to do with his money than to bury it (puff). I know the
Stuyvesant family (puff), every one of them (puff); not a more
respectable family in the province (puff)--old standards (puff)--
warm householders (puff)--none of your upstarts (puff--puff--puff).
Don't talk to me of Peter Stuyvesant's walking (puff--puff--puff--
puff)."

Here the redoubtable Ramm contracted his brow, clasped up his mouth
till it wrinkled at each corner, and redoubled his smoking with
such vehemence that the cloudy volumes soon wreathed round his
head, as the smoke envelops the awful summit of Mount Aetna.

A general silence followed the sudden rebuke of this very rich man.
The subject, however, was too interesting to be readily abandoned.
The conversation soon broke forth again from the lips of Peechy
Prauw Van Hook, the chronicler of the club, one of those prosing,
narrative old men who seem to be troubled with an incontinence of
words as they grow old.

Peechy could, at any time, tell as many stories in an evening as
his hearers could digest in a month. He now resumed the
conversation by affirming that, to his knowledge, money had, at
different times, been digged up in various parts of the island.
The lucky persons who had discovered them had always dreamed of
them three times beforehand, and, what was worthy of remark, those
treasures had never been found but by some descendant of the good
old Dutch families, which clearly proved that they had been buried
by Dutchmen in the olden time.

"Fiddlestick with your Dutchmen!" cried the half-pay officer. "The
Dutch had nothing to do with them. They were all buried by Kidd
the pirate, and his crew."

Here a keynote was touched that roused the whole company. The name
of Captain Kidd was like a talisman in those times, and was
associated with a thousand marvelous stories.

The half-pay officer took the lead, and in his narrations fathered
upon Kidd all the plunderings and exploits of Morgan,[1]
Blackbeard,[2] and the whole list of bloody buccaneers.


[1] Sir Henry Morgan (1637-90), a noted Welsh buccaneer. He was
captured and sent to England for trial, but Charles II., instead of
punishing him, knighted him, and subsequently appointed him
governor of Jamaica.

[2] Edward Teach, one of the most cruel of the pirates, took
command of a pirate ship in 1717, and thereafter committed all
sorts of atrocities until he was slain by Lieutenant Maynard in
1718. His nickname of "Blackbeard" was given him because of his
black beard.


The officer was a man of great weight among the peaceable members
of the club, by reason of his warlike character and gunpowder
tales. All his golden stories of Kidd, however, and of the booty
he had buried, were obstinately rivaled by the tales of Peechy
Prauw, who, rather than suffer his Dutch progenitors to be eclipsed
by a foreign freebooter, enriched every field and shore in the
neighborhood with the hidden wealth of Peter Stuyvesant and his
contemporaries.

Not a word of this conversation was lost upon Wolfert Webber. He
returned pensively home, full of magnificent ideas. The soil of
his native island seemed to be turned into gold dust, and every
field to teem with treasure. His head almost reeled at the thought
how often he must have heedlessly rambled over places where
countless sums lay, scarcely covered by the turf beneath his feet.
His mind was in an uproar with this whirl of new ideas. As he came
in sight of the venerable mansion of his forefathers, and the
little realm where the Webbers had so long and so contentedly
flourished, his gorge rose at the narrowness of his destiny.

"Unlucky Wolfert!" exclaimed he; "others can go to bed and dream
themselves into whole mines of wealth; they have but to seize a
spade in the morning, and turn up doubloons[1] like potatoes; but
thou must dream of hardships, and rise to poverty, must dig thy
field from year's end to year's end, and yet raise nothing but
cabbages!"


[1] Spanish gold coins, equivalent to $15.60.


Wolfert Webber went to bed with a heavy heart, and it was long
before the golden visions that disturbed his brain permitted him to
sink into repose. The same visions, however, extended into his
sleeping thoughts, and assumed a more definite form. He dreamed
that he had discovered an immense treasure in the center of his
garden. At every stroke of the spade he laid bare a golden ingot;
diamond crosses sparkled out of the dust; bags of money turned up
their bellies, corpulent with pieces-of-eight[1] or venerable
doubloons; and chests wedged close with moidores,[2] ducats,[3] and
pistareens,[4] yawned before his ravished eyes, and vomited forth
their glittering contents.


[1] Spanish coins, worth about $1 each.
[2] Portuguese gold coins, valued at $6.50.
[3] Coins of gold and silver, valued at $2 and $1 respectively.
[4] Spanish silver coins, worth about $.20.


Wolfert awoke a poorer man than ever. He had no heart to go about
his daily concerns, which appeared so paltry and profitless, but
sat all day long in the chimney corner, picturing to himself ingots
and heaps of gold in the fire. The next night his dream was
repeated. He was again in his garden digging, and laying open
stores of hidden wealth. There was something very singular in this
repetition. He passed another day of reverie, and though it was
cleaning day, and the house, as usual in Dutch households,
completely topsy-turvy, yet he sat unmoved amidst the general
uproar.

The third night he went to bed with a palpitating heart. He put on
his red nightcap wrong side outward, for good luck. It was deep
midnight before his anxious mind could settle itself into sleep.
Again the golden dream was repeated, and again he saw his garden
teeming with ingots and money bags.

Wolfert rose the next morning in complete bewilderment. A dream,
three times repeated, was never known to lie, and if so, his
fortune was made.

In his agitation he put on his waistcoat with the hind part before,
and this was a corroboration of good luck.[1] He no longer doubted
that a huge store of money lay buried somewhere in his cabbage
field, coyly waiting to be sought for, and he repined at having so
long been scratching about the surface of the soil instead of
digging to the center.


[1] It is an old superstition that to put on one's clothes wrong
side out forebodes good luck.


He took his seat at the breakfast table, full of these
speculations, asked his daughter to put a lump of gold into his
tea, and on handing his wife a plate of slapjacks, begged her to
help herself to a doubloon.

His grand care now was how to secure this immense treasure without
its being known. Instead of his working regularly in his grounds
in the daytime, he now stole from his bed at night, and with spade
and pickax went to work to rip up and dig about his paternal acres,
from one end to the other. In a little time the whole garden,
which had presented such a goodly and regular appearance, with its
phalanx of cabbages, like a vegetable army in battle array, was
reduced to a scene of devastation, while the relentless Wolfert,
with nightcap on head and lantern and spade in hand, stalked
through the slaughtered ranks, the destroying angel of his own
vegetable world.

Every morning bore testimony to the ravages of the preceding night
in cabbages of all ages and conditions, from the tender sprout to
the full-grown head, piteously rooted from their quiet beds like
worthless weeds, and left to wither in the sunshine. In vain
Wolfert's wife remonstrated; in vain his darling daughter wept over
the destruction of some favorite marigold. "Thou shalt have gold
of another-guess[1] sort," he would cry, chucking her under the
chin; "thou shalt have a string of crooked ducats for thy wedding
necklace, my child." His family began really to fear that the poor
man's wits were diseased. He muttered in his sleep at night about
mines of wealth, about pearls and diamonds, and bars of gold. In
the daytime he was moody and abstracted, and walked about as if in
a trance. Dame Webber held frequent councils with all the old
women of the neighborhood; scarce an hour in the day but a knot of
them might be seen wagging their white caps together round her
door, while the poor woman made some piteous recital. The
daughter, too, was fain to seek for more frequent consolation from
the stolen interviews of her favored swain, Dirk Waldron. The
delectable little Dutch songs with which she used to dulcify the
house grew less and less frequent, and she would forget her sewing,
and look wistfully in her father's face as he sat pondering by the
fireside. Wolfert caught her eye one day fixed on him thus
anxiously, and for a moment was roused from his golden reveries.
"Cheer up, my girl," said he exultingly; "why dost thou droop?
Thou shalt hold up thy head one day with the Brinckerhoffs, and the
Schermerhorns, the Van Hornes, and the Van Dams.[2] By St.
Nicholas, but the patroon[3] himself shall be glad to get thee for
his son!"


[1] A corruption of the old expression "another-gates," or "of
another gate," meaning "of another way or manner"; hence, "of
another kind."

[2] Names of rich and influential Dutch families in the old Dutch
colony of New Amsterdam.

[3] The patroons were members of the Dutch West India Company, who
purchased land in New Netherlands of the Indians, and after
fulfilling certain conditions imposed with a view to colonizing
their territory, enjoyed feudal rights similar to those of the
barons of the Middle Ages.


Amy shook her head at his vainglorious boast, and was more than
ever in doubt of the soundness of the good man's intellect.

In the meantime Wolfert went on digging and digging; but the field
was extensive, and as his dream had indicated no precise spot, he
had to dig at random. The winter set in before one tenth of the
scene of promise had been explored.

The ground became frozen hard, and the nights too cold for the
labors of the spade.

No sooner, however, did the returning warmth of spring loosen the
soil, and the small frogs begin to pipe in the meadows, but Wolfert
resumed his labors with renovated zeal. Still, however, the hours
of industry were reversed.

Instead of working cheerily all day, planting and setting out his
vegetables, he remained thoughtfully idle, until the shades of
night summoned him to his secret labors. In this way he continued
to dig from night to night, and week to week, and month to month,
but not a stiver[1] did he find. On the contrary, the more he
digged the poorer he grew. The rich soil of his garden was digged
away, and the sand and gravel from beneath was thrown to the
surface, until the whole field presented an aspect of sandy
barrenness.


[1] A Dutch coin, worth about two cents; hence, anything of little
worth.


In the meantime, the seasons gradually rolled on. The little frogs
which had piped in the meadows in early spring croaked as bullfrogs
during the summer heats, and then sank into silence. The peach
tree budded, blossomed, and bore its fruit. The swallows and
martins came, twittered about the roof, built their nests, reared
their young, held their congress along the eaves, and then winged
their flight in search of another spring. The caterpillar spun its
winding sheet, dangled in it from the great buttonwood tree before
the house, turned into a moth, fluttered with the last sunshine of
summer, and disappeared; and finally the leaves of the buttonwood
tree turned yellow, then brown, then rustled one by one to the
ground, and whirling about in little eddies of wind and dust,
whispered that winter was at hand.

Wolfert gradually woke from his dream of wealth as the year
declined. He had reared no crop for the supply of his household
during the sterility of winter. The season was long and severe,
and for the first time the family was really straitened in its
comforts. By degrees a revulsion of thought took place in
Wolfert's mind, common to those whose golden dreams have been
disturbed by pinching realities. The idea gradually stole upon him
that he should come to want. He already considered himself one of
the most unfortunate men in the province, having lost such an
incalculable amount of undiscovered treasure, and now, when
thousands of pounds had eluded his search, to be perplexed for
shillings and pence was cruel in the extreme.

Haggard care gathered about his brow; he went about with a money-
seeking air, his eyes bent downward into the dust, and carrying his
hands in his pockets, as men are apt to do when they have nothing
else to put into them. He could not even pass the city almshouse
without giving it a rueful glance, as if destined to be his future
abode.

The strangeness of his conduct and of his looks occasioned much
speculation and remark. For a long time he was suspected of being
crazy, and then everybody pitied him; and at length it began to be
suspected that he was poor, and then everybody avoided him.

The rich old burghers of his acquaintance met him outside the door
when he called, entertained him hospitably on the threshold,
pressed him warmly by the hand at parting, shook their heads as he
walked away, with the kindhearted expression of "poor Wolfert," and
turned a corner nimbly if by chance they saw him approaching as
they walked the streets. Even the barber and the cobbler of the
neighborhood, and a tattered tailor in an alley hard by, three of
the poorest and merriest rogues in the world, eyed him with that
abundant sympathy which usually attends a lack of means, and there
is not a doubt but their pockets would have been at his command,
only that they happened to be empty.

Thus everybody deserted the Webber mansion, as if poverty were
contagious, like the plague--everybody but honest Dirk Waldron, who
still kept up his stolen visits to the daughter, and indeed seemed
to wax more affectionate as the fortunes of his mistress were on
the wane.

Many months had elapsed since Wolfert had frequented his old
resort, the rural inn. He was taking a long, lonely walk one
Saturday afternoon, musing over his wants and disappointments, when
his feet took instinctively their wonted direction, and on awaking
out of a reverie, he found himself before the door of the inn. For
some moments he hesitated whether to enter, but his heart yearned
for companionship, and where can a ruined man find better
companionship than at a tavern, where there is neither sober
example nor sober advice to put him out of countenance?

Wolfert found several of the old frequenters of the inn at their
usual posts and seated in their usual places; but one was missing,
the great Ramm Rapelye, who for many years had filled the leather-
bottomed chair of state. His place was supplied by a stranger, who
seemed, however, completely at home in the chair and the tavern.
He was rather under size, but deep-chested, square, and muscular.
His broad shoulders, double joints, and bow knees gave tokens of
prodigious strength. His face was dark and weather-beaten; a deep
scar, as if from the slash of a cutlass, had almost divided his
nose, and made a gash in his upper lip, through which his teeth
shone like a bulldog's. A mop of iron-gray hair gave a grisly
finish to this hard-favored visage. His dress was of an amphibious
character. He wore an old hat edged with tarnished lace, and
cocked in martial style on one side of his head; a rusty[1] blue
military coat with brass buttons; and a wide pair of short
petticoat trousers,--or rather breeches, for they were gathered up
at the knees. He ordered everybody about him with an authoritative
air, talking in a brattling[2] voice that sounded like the
crackling of thorns under a pot, d--d the landlord and servants
with perfect impunity, and was waited upon with greater
obsequiousness than had ever been shown to the mighty Ramm himself.


[1] Shabby.

[2] Noisy.


Wolfert's curiosity was awakened to know who and what was this
stranger who had thus usurped absolute sway in this ancient domain.
Peechy Prauw took him aside into a remote corner of the hall, and
there, in an under voice and with great caution, imparted to him
all that he knew on the subject. The inn had been aroused several
months before, on a dark, stormy night, by repeated long shouts
that seemed like the howlings of a wolf. They came from the water
side, and at length were distinguished to be hailing the house in
the seafaring manner, "House ahoy!" The landlord turned out with
his head waiter, tapster, hostler, and errand boy--that is to say,
with his old negro Cuff. On approaching the place whence the voice
proceeded, they found this amphibious-looking personage at the
water's edge, quite alone, and seated on a great oaken sea chest.
How he came there,--whether he had been set on shore from some
boat, or had floated to land on his chest,--nobody could tell, for
he did not seem disposed to answer questions, and there was
something in his looks and manners that put a stop to all
questioning. Suffice it to say, he took possession of a corner
room of the inn, to which his chest was removed with great
difficulty. Here he had remained ever since, keeping about the inn
and its vicinity. Sometimes, it is true, he disappeared for one,
two, or three days at a time, going and returning without giving
any notice or account of his movements. He always appeared to have
plenty of money, though often of very strange, outlandish coinage,
and he regularly paid his bill every evening before turning in.

He had fitted up his room to his own fancy, having slung a hammock
from the ceiling instead of a bed, and decorated the walls with
rusty pistols and cutlasses of foreign workmanship. A greater part
of his time was passed in this room, seated by the window, which
commanded a wide view of the Sound, a short, old-fashioned pipe in
his mouth, a glass of rum toddy[1] at his elbow, and a pocket
telescope in his hand, with which he reconnoitered every boat that
moved upon the water. Large square-rigged vessels seemed to excite
but little attention; but the moment he descried anything with a
shoulder-of-mutton[2] sail, or that a barge or yawl or jolly-boat
hove in sight, up went the telescope, and he examined it with the
most scrupulous attention.


[1] A mixture of rum and hot water sweetened.

[2] Triangular.


All this might have passed without much notice, for in those times
the province was so much the resort of adventurers of all
characters and climes that any oddity in dress or behavior
attracted but small attention. In a little while, however, this
strange sea monster, thus strangely cast upon dry land, began to
encroach upon the long established customs and customers of the
place, and to interfere in a dictatorial manner in the affairs of
the ninepin alley and the barroom, until in the end he usurped an
absolute command over the whole inn. It was all in vain to attempt
to withstand his authority. He was not exactly quarrelsome, but
boisterous and peremptory, like one accustomed to tyrannize on a
quarter-deck; and there was a dare-devil[1] air about everything he
said and did that inspired wariness in all bystanders. Even the
half-pay officer, so long the hero of the club, was soon silenced
by him, and the quiet burghers stared with wonder at seeing their
inflammable man of war so readily and quietly extinguished.


[1] Reckless.


And then the tales that he would tell were enough to make a
peaceable man's hair stand on end. There was not a sea fight, nor
marauding nor freebooting adventure that had happened within the
last twenty years, but he seemed perfectly versed in it. He
delighted to talk of the exploits of the buccaneers in the West
Indies and on the Spanish Main.[1] How his eyes would glisten as
he described the waylaying of treasure ships; the desperate fights,
yardarm and yardarm,[2] broadside and broadside;[3] the boarding
and capturing huge Spanish galleons! With what chuckling relish
would he describe the descent upon some rich Spanish colony, the
rifling of a church, the sacking of a convent! You would have
thought you heard some gormandizer dilating upon the roasting of a
savory goose at Michaelmas,[4] as he described the roasting of some
Spanish don to make him discover his treasure,--a detail given with
a minuteness that made every rich old burgher present turn
uncomfortably in his chair. All this would be told with infinite
glee, as if he considered it an excellent joke, and then he would
give such a tyrannical leer in the face of his next neighbor that
the poor man would be fain to laugh out of sheer faint-heartedness.
If anyone, however, pretended to contradict him in any of his
stories, he was on fire in an instant. His very cocked hat assumed
a momentary fierceness, and seemed to resent the contradiction.
"How the devil should you know as well as I? I tell you it was as
I say;" and he would at the same time let slip a broadside of
thundering oaths[5] and tremendous sea phrases, such as had never
been heard before within these peaceful walls.


[1] The coast of the northern part of South America along the
Caribbean Sea, the route formerly traversed by the Spanish treasure
ships between the Old and New Worlds.

[2] Ships are said to be yardarm and yardarm when so near as to
touch or interlock their yards, which are the long pieces of timber
designed to support and extend the square sails.

[3] "Broadside and broadside," i.e., with the side of one ship
touching that of another.

[4] The Feast of the Archangel Michael, a church festival
celebrated on September 29th.

[5] "Broadside of thundering oaths," i.e., a volley of abuse.


Indeed, the worthy burghers began to surmise that he knew more of
those stories than mere hearsay. Day after day their conjectures
concerning him grew more and more wild and fearful. The
strangeness of his arrival, the strangeness of his manners, the
mystery that surrounded him,--all made him something
incomprehensible in their eyes. He was a kind of monster of the
deep to them; he was a merman, he was a behemoth, he was a
leviathan,--in short, they knew not what he was.

The domineering spirit of this boisterous sea urchin at length grew
quite intolerable. He was no respecter of persons; he contradicted
the richest burghers without hesitation; he took possession of the
sacred elbow chair, which time out of mind had been the seat of
sovereignty of the illustrious Ramm Rapelye. Nay, he even went so
far, in one of his rough, jocular moods, as to slap that mighty
burgher on the back, drink his toddy, and wink in his face,--a
thing scarcely to be believed. From this time Ramm Rapelye
appeared no more at the inn. His example was followed by several
of the most eminent customers, who were too rich to tolerate being
bullied out of their opinions or being obliged to laugh at another
man's jokes. The landlord was almost in despair; but he knew not
how to get rid of this sea monster and his sea chest, who seemed
both to have grown like fixtures, or excrescences on his
establishment.

Such was the account whispered cautiously in Wolfert's ear by the
narrator, Peechy Prauw, as he held him by the button in a corner of
the hall, casting a wary glance now and then toward the door of the
barroom, lest he should be overheard by the terrible hero of his
tale.

Wolfert took his seat in a remote part of the room in silence,
impressed with profound awe of this unknown, so versed in
freebooting history. It was to him a wonderful instance of the
revolutions of mighty empires, to find the venerable Ramm Rapelye
thus ousted from the throne, and a rugged tarpaulin[1] dictating
from his elbow chair, hectoring the patriarchs, and filling this
tranquil little realm with brawl and bravado.


[1] A kind of canvas used about a ship; hence, a sailor.


The stranger was, on this evening, in a more than usually
communicative mood, and was narrating a number of astounding
stories of plunderings and burnings on the high seas. He dwelt
upon them with peculiar relish, heightening the frightful
particulars in proportion to their effect on his peaceful auditors.
He gave a swaggering detail of the capture of a Spanish
merchantman. She was lying becalmed during a long summer's day,
just off from the island which was one of the lurking places of the
pirates. They had reconnoitered her with their spyglasses from the
shore, and ascertained her character and force. At night a picked
crew of daring fellows set off for her in a whaleboat. They
approached with muffled oars, as she lay rocking idly with the
undulations of the sea, and her sails flapping against the masts.
They were close under the stern before the guard on deck was aware
of their approach. The alarm was given; the pirates threw hand
grenades[1] on deck, and sprang up the main chains,[2] sword in
hand.


[1] "Hand grenades," i.e., small shells of iron or glass filled
with gunpowder and thrown by hand.

[2] "Main chains," i.e., strong bars of iron bolted at the lower
end to the side of a vessel, and secured at the upper end to the
iron straps of the blocks by which the shrouds supporting the masts
are extended.


The crew flew to arms, but in great confusion; some were shot down,
others took refuge in the tops, others were driven overboard and
drowned, while others fought hand to hand from the main deck to the
quarter-deck, disputing gallantly every inch of ground. There were
three Spanish gentlemen on board, with their ladies, who made the
most desperate resistance. They defended the companion way,[1] cut
down several of their assailants, and fought like very devils, for
they were maddened by the shrieks of the ladies from the cabin.
One of the dons was old, and soon dispatched. The other two kept
their ground vigorously, even though the captain of the pirates was
among their assailants. Just then there was a shout of victory
from the main deck. "The ship is ours!" cried the pirates.


[1] The companion way is a staircase leading to the cabin of a
ship.


One of the dons immediately dropped his sword and surrendered; the
other, who was a hot-headed youngster, and just married, gave the
captain a slash in the face that laid all open. The captain just
made out to articulate the words, "No quarter."

"And what did they do with their prisoners?" said Peechy Prauw
eagerly.

"Threw them all overboard," was the answer. A dead pause followed
the reply. Peechy Prauw sank quietly back, like a man who had
unwarily stolen upon the lair of a sleeping lion. The honest
burghers cast fearful glances at the deep scar slashed across the
visage of the stranger, and moved their chairs a little farther
off. The seaman, however, smoked on without moving a muscle, as
though he either did not perceive, or did not regard, the
unfavorable effect he had produced upon his hearers.

The half-pay officer was the first to break the silence, for he was
continually tempted to make ineffectual head against this tyrant of
the seas, and to regain his lost consequence in the eyes of his
ancient companions. He now tried to match the gunpowder tales of
the stranger by others equally tremendous. Kidd, as usual, was his
hero, concerning whom he seemed to have picked up many of the
floating traditions of the province. The seaman had always evinced
a settled pique against the one-eyed warrior. On this occasion he
listened with peculiar impatience. He sat with one arm akimbo, the
other elbow on the table, the hand holding on to the small pipe he
was pettishly puffing, his legs crossed, drumming with one foot on
the ground, and casting every now and then the side glance of a
basilisk at the prosing captain. At length the latter spoke of
Kidd's having ascended the Hudson with some of his crew, to land
his plunder in secrecy.

Kidd up the Hudson!" burst forth the seaman, with a tremendous
oath; "Kidd never was up the Hudson!"

"I tell you he was," said the other. "Aye, and they say he buried
a quantity of treasure on the little flat that runs out into the
river, called the Devil's Dans Kammer."[1]


[1] A huge, flat rock, projecting into the Hudson River above the
Highlands.


"The Devil's Dans Kammer in your teeth!"[1] cried the seaman. "I
tell you Kidd never was up the Hudson. What a plague do you know
of Kidd and his haunts?"


[1] "In your teeth," a phrase to denote direct opposition or
defiance.


"What do I know?" echoed the half-pay officer. "Why, I was in
London at the time of his trial; aye, and I had the pleasure of
seeing him hanged at Execution Dock."

"Then, sir, let me tell you that you saw as pretty a fellow hanged
as ever trod shoe leather. Aye!" putting his face nearer to that
of the officer, "and there was many a landlubber[1] looked on that
might much better have swung in his stead."


[1] A term of contempt used by seamen for those who pass their
lives on land.


The half-pay officer was silenced; but the indignation thus pent up
in his bosom glowed with intense vehemence in his single eye, which
kindled like a coal.

Peechy Prauw, who never could remain silent, observed that the
gentleman certainly was in the right. Kidd never did bury money up
the Hudson, nor indeed in any of those parts, though many affirmed
such to be the fact. It was Bradish[1] and others of the
buccaneers who had buried money, some said in Turtle Bay,[2] others
on Long Island, others in the neighborhood of Hell Gate. "Indeed,"
added he, "I recollect an adventure of Sam, the negro fisherman,
many years ago, which some think had something to do with the
buccaneers. As we are all friends here, and as it will go no
further, I'll tell it to you.


[1] Bradish was a pirate whose actions were blended in the popular
mind with those of Kidd. He was boatswain of a ship which sailed
from England in 1697, and which, like Kidd's, bore the name of the
Adventure. In the absence of the captain on shore, he seized the
ship and set out on a piratical cruise. After amassing a fortune,
he sailed for America and deposited a large amount of his wealth
with a confederate on Long Island. He was apprehended in Rhode
Island, sent to England, and executed.

[2] A small cove in the East River two miles north of Corlear's
Hook.


"Upon a dark night many years ago, as Black Sam was returning from
fishing in Hell Gate--"

Here the story was nipped in the bud by a sudden movement from the
unknown, who, laying his iron fist on the table, knuckles downward,
with a quiet force that indented the very boards, and looking
grimly over his shoulder, with the grin of an angry bear,--
"Hearkee, neighbor," said he, with significant nodding of the head,
"you'd better let the buccaneers and their money alone; they're not
for old men and old women to meddle with. They fought hard for
their money--they gave body and soul for it; and wherever it lies
buried, depend upon it he must have a tug with the devil who gets
it!

This sudden explosion was succeeded by a blank silence throughout
the room. Peechy Prauw shrunk within himself, and even the one-
eyed officer turned pale. Wolfert, who from a dark corner of the
room had listened with intense eagerness to all this talk about
buried treasure, looked with mingled awe and reverence at this bold
buccaneer, for such he really suspected him to be. There was a
chinking of gold and a sparkling of jewels in all his stories about
the Spanish Main that gave a value to every period, and Wolfert
would have given anything for the rummaging of the ponderous sea
chest, which his imagination crammed full of golden chalices,
crucifixes, and jolly round bags of doubloons.

The dead stillness that had fallen upon the company was at length
interrupted by the stranger, who pulled out a prodigious watch of
curious and ancient workmanship, and which in Wolfert's eyes had a
decidedly Spanish look. On touching a spring, it struck ten
o'clock, upon which the sailor called for his reckoning, and having
paid it out of a handful of outlandish coin, he drank off the
remainder of his beverage, and without taking leave of anyone,
rolled out of the room, muttering to himself as he stamped upstairs
to his chamber.

It was some time before the company could recover from the silence
into which they had been thrown. The very footsteps of the
stranger, which were heard now and then as he traversed his
chamber, inspired awe.

Still the conversation in which they had been engaged was too
interesting not to be resumed. A heavy thunder gust had gathered
up unnoticed while they were lost in talk, and the torrents of rain
that fell forbade all thoughts of setting off for home until the
storm should subside. They drew nearer together, therefore, and
entreated the worthy Peechy Prauw to continue the tale which had
been so discourteously interrupted. He readily complied,
whispering, however, in a tone scarcely above his breath, and
drowned occasionally by the rolling of the thunder; and he would
pause every now and then and listen, with evident awe, as he heard
the heavy footsteps of the stranger pacing overhead. The following
is the purport of his story:





Next: Adventure Of The Black Fisherman

Previous: The Gold-bug



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 2161