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:





Wieland's Madness A Scandal In Bohemia facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback