Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Everybody knows Black Sam, the old negro fisherman, or, as he is
commonly called, "Mud Sam," who has fished about the Sound for the
last half century. It is now many years since Sam, who was then as
active a young negro as any in the province, and worked on the farm
of Killian Suydam on Long Island, having finished his day's work at
an early hour, was fishing, one still summer evening, just about
the neighborhood of H
He was in a light skiff, and being well acquainted with the
currents and eddies, had shifted his station, according to the
shifting of the tide, from the Hen and Chickens to the Hog's Back,
from the Hog's Back to the Pot, and from the Pot to the Frying Pan;
but in the eagerness of his sport he did not see that the tide was
rapidly ebbing, until the roaring of the whirlpools and eddies
warned him of his danger, and he had some difficulty in shooting
his skiff from among the rocks and breakers, and getting to the
point of Blackwell's Island. Here he cast anchor for some time,
waiting the turn of the tide to enable him to return homeward. As
the night set in, it grew blustering and gusty. Dark clouds came
bundling up in the west, and now and then a growl of thunder or a
flash of lightning told that a summer storm was at hand. Sam
pulled over, therefore, under the lee of Manhattan Island, and,
coasting along, came to a snug nook, just under a steep, beetling
rock, where he fastened his skiff to the root of a tree that shot
out from a cleft, and spread its broad branches like a canopy over
the water. The gust came scouring along, the wind threw up the
river in white surges, the rain rattled among the leaves, the
thunder bellowed worse than that which is now bellowing, the
lightning seemed to lick up the surges of the stream; but Sam,
snugly sheltered under rock and tree, lay crouching in his skiff,
rocking upon the billows until he fell asleep.
 A long, narrow island in the East River, between New York and
Long Island City.
When he woke all was quiet. The gust had passed away, and only now
and then a faint gleam of lightning in the east showed which way it
had gone. The night was dark and moonless, and from the state of
the tide Sam concluded it was near midnight. He was on the point
of making loose his skiff to return homeward when he saw a light
gleaming along the water from a distance, which seemed rapidly
approaching. As it drew near he perceived it came from a lantern
in the bow of a boat gliding along under shadow of the land. It
pulled up in a small cove close to where he was. A man jumped on
shore, and searching about with the lantern, exclaimed, "This is
the place--here's the iron ring." The boat was then made fast, and
the man, returning on board, assisted his comrades in conveying
something heavy on shore. As the light gleamed among them, Sam saw
that they were five stout, desperate-looking fellows, in red woolen
caps, with a leader in a three-cornered hat, and that some of them
were armed with dirks, or long knives, and pistols. They talked
low to one another, and occasionally in some outlandish tongue
which he could not understand.
On landing they made their way among the bushes, taking turns to
relieve each other in lugging their burden up the rocky bank.
Sam's curiosity was now fully aroused, so leaving his skiff he
clambered silently up a ridge that overlooked their path. They had
stopped to rest for a moment, and the leader was looking about
among the bushes with his lantern. "Have you brought the spades?"
said one. "They are here," replied another, who had them on his
shoulder. "We must dig deep, where there will be no risk of
discovery," said a third.
A cold chill ran through Sam's veins. He fancied he saw before him
a gang of murderers, about to bury their victim. His knees smote
together. In his agitation he shook the branch of a tree with
which he was supporting himself as he looked over the edge of the
"What's that?" cried one of the gang. "Some one stirs among the
The lantern was held up in the direction of the noise. One of the
red-caps cocked a pistol, and pointed it toward the very place
where Sam was standing. He stood motionless, breathless, expecting
the next moment to be his last. Fortunately his dingy complexion
was in his favor, and made no glare among the leaves.
"'Tis no one," said the man with the lantern. "What a plague! you
would not fire off your pistol and alarm the country!"
The pistol was uncocked, the burden was resumed, and the party
slowly toiled along the bank. Sam watched them as they went, the
light sending back fitful gleams through the dripping bushes, and
it was not till they were fairly out of sight that he ventured to
draw breath freely. He now thought of getting back to his boat,
and making his escape out of the reach of such dangerous neighbors;
but curiosity was all-powerful. He hesitated, and lingered, and
listened. By and by he heard the strokes of spades. "They are
digging the grave!" said he to himself, and the cold sweat started
upon his forehead. Every stroke of a spade, as it sounded through
the silent groves, went to his heart. It was evident there was as
little noise made as possible; everything had an air of terrible
mystery and secrecy. Sam had a great relish for the horrible; a
tale of murder was a treat for him, and he was a constant attendant
at executions. He could not resist an impulse, in spite of every
danger, to steal nearer to the scene of mystery, and overlook the
midnight fellows at their work. He crawled along cautiously,
therefore, inch by inch, stepping with the utmost care among the
dry leaves, lest their rustling should betray him. He came at
length to where a steep rock intervened between him and the gang,
for he saw the light of their lantern shining up against the
branches of the trees on the other side. Sam slowly and silently
clambered up the surface of the rock, and raising his head above
its naked edge, beheld the villains immediately below him, and so
near that though he dreaded discovery he dared not withdraw lest
the least movement should be heard. In this way he remained, with
his round black face peering above the edge of the rock, like the
sun just emerging above the edge of the horizon, or the round-
cheeked moon on the dial of a clock.
The red-caps had nearly finished their work, the grave was filled
up, and they were carefully replacing the turf. This done they
scattered dry leaves over the place. "And now," said the leader,
"I defy the devil himself to find it out."
"The murderers!" exclaimed Sam involuntarily.
The whole gang started, and looking up beheld the round black head
of Sam just above them, his white eyes strained half out of their
orbits, his white teeth chattering, and his whole visage shining
with cold perspiration.
"We're discovered!" cried one.
"Down with him!" cried another.
Sam heard the cocking of a pistol, but did not pause for the
report. He scrambled over rock and stone, through brush and brier,
rolled down banks like a hedgehog, scrambled up others like a
catamount. In every direction he heard some one or other of the
gang hemming him in. At length he reached the rocky ridge along
the river; one of the red-caps was hard behind him. A steep rock
like a wall rose directly in his way; it seemed to cut off all
retreat, when fortunately he espied the strong, cord-like branch of
a grapevine reaching half way down it. He sprang at it with the
force of a desperate man, seized it with both hands, and, being
young and agile, succeeded in swinging himself to the summit of the
cliff. Here he stood in full relief against the sky, when the red-
cap cocked his pistol and fired. The ball whistled by Sam's head.
With the lucky thought of a man in an emergency, he uttered a yell,
fell to the ground, and detached at the same time a fragment of the
rock, which tumbled with a loud splash into the river.
"I've done his business," said the red-cap to one or two of his
comrades as they arrived panting. "He'll tell no tales, except to
the fishes in the river."
His pursuers now turned to meet their companions. Sam, sliding
silently down the surface of the rock, let himself quietly into his
skiff, cast loose the fastening, and abandoned himself to the rapid
current, which in that place runs like a mill stream, and soon
swept him off from the neighborhood. It was not, however, until he
had drifted a great distance that he ventured to ply his oars, when
he made his skiff dart like an arrow through the strait of Hell
Gate, never heeding the danger of Pot, Frying Pan, nor Hog's Back
itself, nor did he feel himself thoroughly secure until safely
nestled in bed in the cockloft of the ancient farmhouse of the
Here the worthy Peechy Prauw paused to take breath, and to take a
sip of the gossip tankard that stood at his elbow. His auditors
remained with open mouths and outstretched necks, gaping like a
nest of swallows for an additional mouthful.
"And is that all?" exclaimed the half-pay officer.
"That's all that belongs to the story," said Peechy Prauw.
"And did Sam never find out what was buried by the red-caps?" said
Wolfert eagerly, whose mind was haunted by nothing but ingots and
"Not that I know of," said Peechy; "he had no time to spare from
his work, and, to tell the truth, he did not like to run the risk
of another race among the rocks. Besides, how should he recollect
the spot where the grave had been digged? everything would look so
different by daylight. And then, where was the use of looking for
a dead body when there was no chance of hanging the murderers?"
"Aye, but are you sure it was a dead body they buried?" said
"To be sure," cried Peechy Prauw exultingly. "Does it not haunt in
the neighborhood to this very day?"
"Haunts!" exclaimed several of the party, opening their eyes still
wider, and edging their chairs still closer.
"Aye, haunts," repeated Peechy; "have none of you heard of Father
Red-cap, who haunts the old burned farmhouse in the woods, on the
border of the Sound, near Hell Gate?"
"Oh, to be sure, I've heard tell of something of the kind, but then
I took it for some old wives' fable."
"Old wives' fable or not," said Peechy Prauw, "that farmhouse
stands hard by the very spot. It's been unoccupied time out of
mind, and stands in a lonely part of the coast, but those who fish
in the neighborhood have often heard strange noises there, and
lights have been seen about the wood at night, and an old fellow in
a red cap has been seen at the windows more than once, which people
take to be the ghost of the body buried there. Once upon a time
three soldiers took shelter in the building for the night, and
rummaged it from top to bottom, when they found old Father Red-cap
astride of a cider barrel in the cellar, with a jug in one hand and
a goblet in the other. He offered them a drink out of his goblet,
but just as one of the soldiers was putting it to his mouth--whew!-
-a flash of fire blazed through the cellar, blinded every mother's
son of them for several minutes, and when they recovered their
eyesight, jug, goblet, and Red-cap had vanished, and nothing but
the empty cider barrel remained."
Here the half-pay officer, who was growing very muzzy and sleepy,
and nodding over his liquor, with half-extinguished eye, suddenly
gleamed up like an expiring rush-light.
"That's all fudge!" said he, as Peechy finished his last story.
"Well, I don't vouch for the truth of it myself," said Peechy
Prauw, "though all the world knows that there's something strange
about that house and grounds; but as to the story of Mud Sam, I
believe it just as well as if it had happened to myself."
The deep interest taken in this conversation by the company had
made them unconscious of the uproar abroad among the elements, when
suddenly they were electrified by a tremendous clap of thunder. A
lumbering crash followed instantaneously, shaking the building to
its very foundation. All started from their seats, imagining it
the shock of an earthquake, or that old Father Red-cap was coming
among them in all his terrors. They listened for a moment, but
only heard the rain pelting against the windows and the wind
howling among the trees. The explosion was soon explained by the
apparition of an old negro's bald head thrust in at the door, his
white goggle eyes contrasting with his jetty poll, which was wet
with rain, and shone like a bottle. In a jargon but half
intelligible he announced that the kitchen chimney had been struck
A sullen pause of the storm, which now rose and sank in gusts,
produced a momentary stillness. In this interval the report of a
musket was heard, and a long shout, almost like a yell, resounded
from the shores. Everyone crowded to the window; another musket
shot was heard, and another long shout, mingled wildly with a
rising blast of wind. It seemed as if the cry came up from the
bosom of the waters, for though incessant flashes of lightning
spread a light about the shore, no one was to be seen.
Suddenly the window of the room overhead was opened, and a loud
halloo uttered by the mysterious stranger. Several hailings passed
from one party to the other, but in a language which none of the
company in the barroom could understand, and presently they heard
the window closed, and a great noise overhead, as if all the
furniture were pulled and hauled about the room. The negro servant
was summoned, and shortly afterwards was seen assisting the veteran
to lug the ponderous sea chest downstairs.
The landlord was in amazement. "What, you are not going on the
water in such a storm?"
"Storm!" said the other scornfully, "do you call such a sputter of
weather a storm?"
"You'll get drenched to the skin; you'll catch your death!" said
Peechy Prauw affectionately.
"Thunder and lightning!" exclaimed the veteran; "don't preach about
weather to a man that has cruised in whirlwinds and tornadoes."
The obsequious Peechy was again struck dumb. The voice from the
water was heard once more in a tone of impatience; the bystanders
stared with redoubled awe at this man of storms, who seemed to have
come up out of the deep, and to be summoned back to it again. As,
with the assistance of the negro, he slowly bore his ponderous sea
chest toward the shore, they eyed it with a superstitious feeling,
half doubting whether he were not really about to embark upon it
and launch forth upon the wild waves. They followed him at a
distance with a lantern.
"Dowse the light!" roared the hoarse voice from the water. "No
one wants light here!"
"Thunder and lightning!" exclaimed the veteran, turning short upon
them; "back to the house with you!"
Wolfert and his companions shrank back in dismay. Still their
curiosity would not allow them entirely to withdraw. A long sheet
of lightning now flickered across the waves, and discovered a boat,
filled with men, just under a rocky point, rising and sinking with
the heaving surges, and swashing the waters at every heave. It was
with difficulty held to the rocks by a boat hook, for the current
rushed furiously round the point. The veteran hoisted one end of
the lumbering sea chest on the gunwale of the boat, and seized the
handle at the other end to lift it in, when the motion propelled
the boat from the shore, the chest slipped off from the gunwale,
and, sinking into the waves, pulled the veteran headlong after it.
A loud shriek was uttered by all on shore, and a volley of
execrations by those on board, but boat and man were hurried away
by the rushing swiftness of the tide. A pitchy darkness succeeded.
Wolfert Webber, indeed, fancied that he distinguished a cry for
help, and that he beheld the drowning man beckoning for assistance;
but when the lightning again gleamed along the water all was void;
neither man nor boat was to be seen,--nothing but the dashing and
weltering of the waves as they hurried past.
The company returned to the tavern to await the subsiding of the
storm. They resumed their seats and gazed on each other with
dismay. The whole transaction had not occupied five minutes, and
not a dozen words had been spoken. When they looked at the oaken
chair they could scarcely realize the fact that the strange being
who had so lately tenanted it, full of life and Herculean vigor,
should already be a corpse. There was the very glass he had just
drunk from; there lay the ashes from the pipe which he had smoked,
as it were, with his last breath. As the worthy burghers pondered
on these things, they felt a terrible conviction of the uncertainty
of existence, and each felt as if the ground on which he stood was
rendered less stable by his awful example.
As, however, the most of the company were possessed of that
valuable philosophy which enables a man to bear up with fortitude
against the misfortunes of his neighbors, they soon managed to
console themselves for the tragic end of the veteran. The landlord
was particularly happy that the poor dear man had paid his
reckoning before he went, and made a kind of farewell speech on the
"He came," said he, "in a storm, and he went in a storm; he came in
the night, and he went in the night; he came nobody knows whence,
and he has gone nobody knows where. For aught I know he has gone
to sea once more on his chest, and may land to bother some people
on the other side of the world; though it's a thousand pities,"
added he, "if he has gone to Davy Jones's locker, that he had
not left his own locker behind him."
 Davy Jones is the spirit of the sea, or the sea devil, and Davy
Jones's locker is the bottom of the ocean; hence, "gone to Davy
Jones's locker" signifies "dead and buried in the sea."
"His locker! St. Nicholas preserve us!" cried Peechy Prauw. "I'd
not have had that sea chest in the house for any money; I'll
warrant he'd come racketing after it at nights, and making a
haunted house of the inn. And as to his going to sea in his chest,
I recollect what happened to Skipper Onderdonk's ship on his voyage
"The boatswain died during a storm, so they wrapped him up in a
sheet, and put him in his own sea chest, and threw him overboard;
but they neglected, in their hurry-skurry, to say prayers over him,
and the storm raged and roared louder than ever, and they saw the
dead man seated in his chest, with his shroud for a sail, coming
hard after the ship, and the sea breaking before him in great
sprays like fire; and there they kept scudding day after day and
night after night, expecting every moment to go to wreck; and every
night they saw the dead boatswain in his sea chest trying to get up
with them, and they heard his whistle above the blasts of wind, and
he seemed to send great seas, mountain high, after them that would
have swamped the ship if they had not put up the deadlights. And
so it went on till they lost sight of him in the fogs off
Newfoundland, and supposed he had veered ship and stood for Dead
Man's Isle. So much for burying a man at sea without saying
prayers over him."
 Probably Deadman's Point, a small island near Deadman's Bay,
off the eastern coast of Newfoundland.
The thunder gust which had hitherto detained the company was now at
an end. The cuckoo clock in the hall told midnight; everyone
pressed to depart, for seldom was such a late hour of the night
trespassed on by these quiet burghers. As they sallied forth they
found the heavens once more serene. The storm which had lately
obscured them had rolled away, and lay piled up in fleecy masses on
the horizon, lighted up by the bright crescent of the moon, which
looked like a little silver lamp hung up in a palace of clouds.
The dismal occurrence of the night, and the dismal narrations they
had made, had left a superstitious feeling in every mind. They
cast a fearful glance at the spot where the buccaneer had
disappeared, almost expecting to see him sailing on his chest in
the cool moonshine. The trembling rays glittered along the waters,
but all was placid, and the current dimpled over the spot where he
had gone down. The party huddled together in a little crowd as
they repaired homeward, particularly when they passed a lonely
field where a man had been murdered, and even the sexton, who had
to complete his journey alone, though accustomed, one would think,
to ghosts and goblins, went a long way round rather than pass by
his own churchyard.
Wolfert Webber had now carried home a fresh stock of stories and
notions to ruminate upon. These accounts of pots of money and
Spanish treasures, buried here and there and everywhere about the
rocks and bays of these wild shores, made him almost dizzy.
"Blessed St. Nicholas!" ejaculated he, half aloud, "is it not
possible to come upon one of these golden hoards, and to make
oneself rich in a twinkling? How hard that I must go on, delving
and delving, day in and day out, merely to make a morsel of bread,
when one lucky stroke of a spade might enable me to ride in my
carriage for the rest of my life!"
As he turned over in his thoughts all that had been told of the
singular adventure of the negro fisherman, his imagination gave a
totally different complexion to the tale. He saw in the gang of
red-caps nothing but a crew of pirates burying their spoils, and
his cupidity was once more awakened by the possibility of at length
getting on the traces of some of this lurking wealth. Indeed, his
infected fancy tinged everything with gold. He felt like the
greedy inhabitant of Bagdad when his eyes had been greased with the
magic ointment of the dervish, that gave him to see all the
treasures of the earth. Caskets of buried jewels, chests of
ingots, and barrels of outlandish coins seemed to court him from
their concealments, and supplicate him to relieve them from their
 See Story of the Blind Man, Baba Abdalla, in Arabian Nights'
Entertainment. An inhabitant of Bagdad, Asiatic Turkey, meets with
a dervish, or Turkish monk, who presents him with a vast treasure
and with a box of magic ointment, which, applied to the left eye,
enables one to see the treasures in the bosom of the earth, but on
touching the right eye, causes blindness. Having applied it to the
left eye with the result predicted, he uses it on his right eye, in
the hope that still greater treasures may be revealed, and
immediately becomes blind.
On making private inquiries about the grounds said to be haunted by
Feather Red-cap, he was more and more confirmed in his surmise. He
learned that the place had several times been visited by
experienced money diggers who had heard Black Sam's story, though
none of them had met with success. On the contrary, they had
always been dogged with ill luck of some kind or other, in
consequence, as Wolfert concluded, of not going to work at the
proper time and with the proper ceremonials. The last attempt had
been made by Cobus Quackenbos, who dug for a whole night, and met
with incredible difficulty, for as fast as he threw one shovelful
of earth out of the hole, two were thrown in by invisible hands.
He succeeded so far, however, as to uncover an iron chest, when
there was a terrible roaring, ramping, and raging of uncouth
figures about the hole, and at length a shower of blows, dealt by
invisible cudgels, fairly belabored him off of the forbidden
ground. This Cobus Quackenbos had declared on his deathbed, so
that there could not be any doubt of it. He was a man that had
devoted many years of his life to money digging, and it was thought
would have ultimately succeeded had he not died recently of a brain
fever in the almshouse.
Wolfert Webber was now in a worry of trepidation and impatience,
fearful lest some rival adventurer should get a scent of the buried
gold. He determined privately to seek out the black fisherman, and
get him to serve as guide to the place where he had witnessed the
mysterious scene of interment. Sam was easily found, for he was
one of those old habitual beings that live about a neighborhood
until they wear themselves a place in the public mind, and become,
in a manner, public characters. There was not an unlucky urchin
about town that did not know Sam the fisherman, and think that he
had a right to play his tricks upon the old negro. Sam had led an
amphibious life for more than half a century, about the shores of
the bay and the fishing grounds of the Sound. He passed the
greater part of his time on and in the water, particularly about
Hell Gate, and might have been taken, in bad weather, for one of
the hobgoblins that used to haunt that strait. There would he be
seen, at all times and in all weathers, sometimes in his skiff,
anchored among the eddies, or prowling like a shark about some
wreck, where the fish are supposed to be most abundant; sometimes
seated on a rock from hour to hour, looking, in the mist and
drizzle, like a solitary heron watching for its prey. He was well
acquainted with every hole and corner of the Sound, from the
Wallabout to Hell Gate, and from Hell Gate unto the Devil's
Stepping-Stones; and it was even affirmed that he knew all the fish
in the river by their Christian names.
 A bay of the East River, on which the Brooklyn Navy Yard is
Wolfert found him at his cabin, which was not much larger than a
tolerable dog house. It was rudely constructed of fragments of
wrecks and driftwood, and built on the rocky shore at the foot of
the old fort, just about what at present forms the point of the
Battery. A "very ancient and fishlike smell" pervaded the
place. Oars, paddles, and fishing rods were leaning against the
wall of the fort, a net was spread on the sand to dry, a skiff was
drawn up on the beach, and at the door of his cabin was Mud Sam
himself, indulging in the true negro luxury of sleeping in the
 The southern extremity of New York City.
 See Shakespeare's The Tempest, act ii., sc. 2.
Many years had passed away since the time of Sam's youthful
adventure, and the snows of many a winter had grizzled the knotty
wool upon his head. He perfectly recollected the circumstances,
however, for he had often been called upon to relate them, though
in his version of the story he differed in many points from Peechy
Prauw, as is not infrequently the case with authentic historians.
As to the subsequent researches of money diggers, Sam knew nothing
about them; they were matters quite out of his line; neither did
the cautious Wolfert care to disturb his thoughts on that point.
His only wish was to secure the old fisherman as a pilot to the
spot, and this was readily effected. The long time that had
intervened since his nocturnal adventure had effaced all Sam's awe
of the place, and the promise of a trifling reward roused him at
once from his sleep and his sunshine.
The tide was adverse to making the expedition by water, and Wolfert
was too impatient to get to the land of promise to wait for its
turning; they set off, therefore, by land. A walk of four or five
miles brought them to the edge of a wood, which at that time
covered the greater part of the eastern side of the island. It was
just beyond the pleasant region of Bloomen-dael. Here they
struck into a long lane, straggling among trees and bushes very
much overgrown with weeds and mullein stalks, as if but seldom
used, and so completely overshadowed as to enjoy but a kind of
twilight. Wild vines entangled the trees and flaunted in their
faces; brambles and briers caught their clothes as they passed; the
garter snake glided across their path; the spotted toad hopped and
waddled before them; and the restless catbird mewed at them from
every thicket. Had Wolfert Webber been deeply read in romantic
legend he might have fancied himself entering upon forbidden,
enchanted ground, or that these were some of the guardians set to
keep watch upon buried treasure. As it was, the loneliness of the
place, and the wild stories connected with it, had their effect
upon his mind.
 At the time this story was written Bloomen-dael (Flowery
Valley) was a village four miles from New York. It is now that
part of New York known as Bloomingdale, on the west side, between
about Seventieth and One Hundredth Streets.
On reaching the lower end of the lane they found themselves near
the shore of the Sound, in a kind of amphitheater surrounded by
forest trees. The area had once been a grass plot, but was now
shagged with briers and rank weeds. At one end, and just on the
river bank, was a ruined building, little better than a heap of
rubbish, with a stack of chimneys rising like a solitary tower out
of the center. The current of the Sound rushed along just below
it, with wildly grown trees drooping their branches into its waves.
Wolfert had not a doubt that this was the haunted house of Father
Red-cap, and called to mind the story of Peechy Prauw. The evening
was approaching, and the light, falling dubiously among the woody
places, gave a melancholy tone to the scene well calculated to
foster any lurking feeling of awe or superstition. The night hawk,
wheeling about in the highest regions of the air, emitted his
peevish, boding cry. The woodpecker gave a lonely tap now and then
on some hollow tree, and the firebird streamed by them with his
deep red plumage.
 Orchard oriole.
They now came to an inclosure that had once been a garden. It
extended along the foot of a rocky ridge, but was little better
than a wilderness of weeds, with here and there a matted rosebush,
or a peach or plum tree, grown wild and ragged, and covered with
moss. At the lower end of the garden they passed a kind of vault
in the side of a bank, facing the water. It had the look of a root
house. The door, though decayed, was still strong, and appeared
to have been recently patched up. Wolfert pushed it open. It gave
a harsh grating upon its hinges, and striking against something
like a box, a rattling sound ensued, and a skull rolled on the
floor. Wolfert drew back shuddering, but was reassured on being
informed by the negro that this was a family vault, belonging to
one of the old Dutch families that owned this estate, an assertion
corroborated by the sight of coffins of various sizes piled within.
Sam had been familiar with all these scenes when a boy, and now
knew that he could not be far from the place of which they were in
 "Root house," i.e., a house for storing up potatoes, turnips,
or other roots for the winter feed of cattle.
They now made their way to the water's edge, scrambling along
ledges of rocks that overhung the waves, and obliged often to hold
by shrubs and grapevines to avoid slipping into the deep and
hurried stream. At length they came to a small cove, or rather
indent of the shore. It was protected by steep rocks, and
overshadowed by a thick copse of oaks and chestnuts, so as to be
sheltered and almost concealed. The beach shelved gradually within
the cove, but, the current swept deep and black and rapid along its
jutting points. The negro paused, raised his remnant of a hat, and
scratched his grizzled poll for a moment, as he regarded this nook;
then suddenly clapping his hands, he stepped exultingly forward,
and pointed to a large iron ring, stapled firmly in the rock, just
where a broad shelf of stone furnished a commodious landing place.
It was the very spot where the red-caps had landed. Years had
changed the more perishable features of the scene; but rock and
iron yield slowly to the influence of time. On looking more
closely Wolfert remarked three crosses cut in the rock just above
the ring, which had no doubt some mysterious signification. Old
Sam now readily recognized the overhanging rock under which his
skiff had been sheltered during the thunder gust. To follow up the
course which the midnight gang had taken, however, was a harder
task. His mind had been so much taken up on that eventful occasion
by the persons of the drama as to pay but little attention to the
scenes, and these places looked so different by night and day.
After wandering about for some time, however, they came to an
opening among the trees which Sam thought resembled the place.
There was a ledge of rock of moderate height, like a wall, on one
side, which he thought might be the very ridge whence he had
overlooked the diggers. Wolfert examined it narrowly, and at
length discovered three crosses similar to those on the above ring,
cut deeply into the face of the rock, but nearly obliterated by
moss that had grown over them. His heart leaped with joy, for he
doubted not they were the private marks of the buccaneers. All now
that remained was to ascertain the precise spot where the treasure
lay buried, for otherwise he might dig at random in the
neighborhood of the crosses, without coming upon the spoils, and he
had already had enough of such profitless labor. Here, however,
the old negro was perfectly at a loss, and indeed perplexed him by
a variety of opinions, for his recollections were all confused.
Sometimes he declared it must have been at the foot of a mulberry
tree hard by; then beside a great white stone; then under a small
green knoll, a short distance from the ledge of rocks, until at
length Wolfert became as bewildered as himself.
The shadows of evening were now spreading themselves over the
woods, and rock and tree began to mingle together. It was
evidently too late to attempt anything further at present, and,
indeed, Wolfert had come unprovided with implements to prosecute
his researches. Satisfied, therefore, with having ascertained the
place, he took note of all its landmarks, that he might recognize
it again, and set out on his return homeward, resolved to prosecute
this golden enterprise without delay.
The leading anxiety which had hitherto absorbed every feeling being
now in some measure appeased, fancy began to wander, and to conjure
up a thousand shapes and chimeras as he returned through this
haunted region. Pirates hanging in chains seemed to swing from
every tree, and he almost expected to see some Spanish don, with
his throat cut from ear to ear, rising slowly out of the ground,
and shaking the ghost of a money bag.
Their way back lay through the desolate garden, and Wolfert's
nerves had arrived at so sensitive a state that the flitting of a
bird, the rustling of a leaf, or the falling of a nut was enough to
startle him. As they entered the confines of the garden, they
caught sight of a figure at a distance advancing slowly up one of
the walks, and bending under the weight of a burden. They paused
and regarded him attentively. He wore what appeared to be a woolen
cap, and, still more alarming, of a most sanguinary red.
The figure moved slowly on, ascended the bank, and stopped at the
very door of the sepulchral vault. Just before entering it he
looked around. What was the affright of Wolfert when he recognized
the grisly visage of the drowned buccaneer! He uttered an
ejaculation of horror. The figure slowly raised his iron fist and
shook it with a terrible menace. Wolfert did not pause to see any
more, but hurried off as fast as his legs could carry him, nor was
Sam slow in following at his heels, having all his ancient terrors
revived. Away, then, did they scramble through bush and brake,
horribly frightened at every bramble that tugged at their skirts,
nor did they pause to breathe until they had blundered their way
through this perilous wood, and fairly reached the highroad to the
Several days elapsed before Wolfert could summon courage enough to
prosecute the enterprise, so much had he been dismayed by the
apparition, whether living or dead, of the grisly buccaneer. In
the meantime, what a conflict of mind did he suffer! He neglected
all his concerns, was moody and restless all day, lost his
appetite, wandered in his thoughts and words, and committed a
thousand blunders. His rest was broken, and when he fell asleep
the nightmare, in shape of a huge money bag, sat squatted upon his
breast. He babbled about incalculable sums, fancied himself
engaged in money digging, threw the bedclothes right and left, in
the idea that he was shoveling away the dirt, groped under the bed
in quest of the treasure, and lugged forth, as he supposed, an
inestimable pot of gold.
Dame Webber and her daughter were in despair at what they conceived
a returning touch of insanity. There are two family oracles, one
or other of which Dutch housewives consult in all cases of great
doubt and perplexity,--the dominie and the doctor. In the present
instance they repaired to the doctor. There was at that time a
little dark, moldy man of medicine, famous among the old wives of
the Manhattoes for his skill, not only in the healing art, but in
all matters of strange and mysterious nature. His name was Dr.
Knipperhausen, but he was more commonly known by the appellation of
the "High German Doctor." To him did the poor women repair for
counsel and assistance touching the mental vagaries of Wolfert
 The same, no doubt, of whom mention is made in the history of
They found the doctor seated in his little study, clad in his dark
camlet robe of knowledge, with his black velvet cap, after the
manner of Boerhaave, Van Helmont, and other medical sages, a
pair of green spectacles set in black horn upon his clubbed nose,
and poring over a German folio that reflected back the darkness of
his physiognomy. The doctor listened to their statement of the
symptoms of Wolfert's malady with profound attention, but when they
came to mention his raving about buried money the little man
pricked up his ears. Alas, poor women! they little knew the aid
they had called in.
 A fabric made of goat's hair and silk, or wool and cotton.
 Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738), a celebrated Dutch physician and
 Jan Baptista Van Helmont (1577-1644), a celebrated Flemish
physician and chemist.
Dr. Knipperhausen had been half his life engaged in seeking the
short cuts to fortune, in quest of which so many a long lifetime is
wasted. He had passed some years of his youth among the Harz
mountains of Germany, and had derived much valuable instruction
from the miners touching the mode of seeking treasure buried in the
earth. He had prosecuted his studies, also, under a traveling sage
who united the mysteries of medicine with magic and legerdemain.
His mind, therefore, had become stored with all kinds of mystic
lore; he had dabbled a little in astrology, alchemy, divination;
knew how to detect stolen money, and to tell where springs of water
lay hidden; in a word, by the dark nature of his knowledge he had
acquired the name of the "High German Doctor," which is pretty
nearly equivalent to that of necromancer. The doctor had often
heard rumors of treasure being buried in various parts of the
island, and had long been anxious to get on the traces of it. No
sooner were Wolfert's waking and sleeping vagaries confided to him
than he beheld in them the confirmed symptoms of a case of money
digging, and lost no time in probing it to the bottom. Wolfert had
long been sorely oppressed in mind by the golden secret, and as a
family physician is a kind of father confessor, he was glad of any
opportunity of unburdening himself. So far from curing, the doctor
caught the malady from his patient. The circumstances unfolded to
him awakened all his cupidity; he had not a doubt of money being
buried somewhere in the neighborhood of the mysterious crosses, and
offered to join Wolfert in the search. He informed him that much
secrecy and caution must be observed in enterprises of the kind;
that money is only to be dug for at night, with certain forms and
ceremonies and burning of drugs, the repeating of mystic words,
and, above all, that the seekers must first be provided with a
divining rod, which had the wonderful property of pointing to
the very spot on the surface of the earth under which treasure lay
hidden. As the doctor had given much of his mind to these matters
he charged himself with all the necessary preparations, and, as the
quarter of the moon was propitious, he undertook to have the
divining rod ready by a certain night.
 A mountain chain in northwestern Germany, between the Elbe and
 Astrology, alchemy, and divination were three imaginary arts.
The first pretended to judge of the influence of the stars on human
affairs, and to foretell events by their positions and aspects; the
second aimed to transmute the baser metals into gold, and to find a
universal remedy for diseases; while the third dealt with the
discovery of secret or future events by preternatural means.
 A divining rod is a rod used by those who pretend to discover
water or metals underground. It is commonly made of witch hazel,
with forked branches.
Wolfert's heart leaped with joy at having met with so learned and
able a coadjutor. Everything went on secretly but swimmingly. The
doctor had many consultations with his patient, and the good women
of the household lauded the comforting effect of his visits. In
the meantime the wonderful divining rod, that great key to nature's
secrets, was duly prepared. The doctor had thumbed over all his
books of knowledge for the occasion, and the black fisherman was
engaged to take them in his skiff to the scene of enterprise, to
work with spade and pickax in unearthing the treasure, and to
freight his bark with the weighty spoils they were certain of
At length the appointed night arrived for this perilous
undertaking. Before Wolfert left his home he counseled his wife
and daughter to go to bed, and feel no alarm if he should not
return during the night. Like reasonable women, on being told not
to feel alarm they fell immediately into a panic. They saw at once
by his manner that something unusual was in agitation; all their
fears about the unsettled state of his mind were revived with
tenfold force; they hung about him, entreating him not to expose
himself to the night air, but all in vain. When once Wolfert was
mounted on his hobby, it was no easy manner to get him out of
the saddle. It was a clear, starlight night when he issued out of
the portal of the Webber palace. He wore a large flapped hat, tied
under the chin with a handkerchief of his daughter's, to secure him
from the night damp, while Dame Webber threw her long red cloak
about his shoulders, and fastened it round his neck.
 Hobby, or hobbyhorse, a favorite theme of thought; hence, "to
mount a hobby" is to follow a favorite pursuit.
The doctor had been no less carefully armed and accoutered by his
housekeeper, the vigilant Frau Ilsy, and sallied forth in his
camlet robe by way of surcoat, his black velvet cap under his
cocked hat, a thick clasped book under his arm, a basket of drugs
and dried herbs in one hand, and in the other the miraculous rod of
The great church clock struck ten as Wolfert and the doctor passed
by the churchyard, and the watchman bawled in hoarse voice a long
and doleful "All's well!" A deep sleep had already fallen upon
this primitive little burgh; nothing disturbed this awful silence
excepting now and then the bark of some profligate, night-walking
dog, or the serenade of some romantic cat. It is true Wolfert
fancied more than once that he heard the sound of a stealthy
footfall at a distance behind them; but it might have been merely
the echo of their own steps along the quiet streets. He thought
also at one time that he saw a tall figure skulking after them,
stopping when they stopped and moving on as they proceeded; but the
dim and uncertain lamplight threw such vague gleams and shadows
that this might all have been mere fancy.
They found the old fisherman waiting for them, smoking his pipe in
the stern of the skiff, which was moored just in front of his
little cabin. A pickax and spade were lying in the bottom of the
boat, with a dark lantern, and a stone bottle of good Dutch
courage, in which honest Sam no doubt put even more faith than
Dr. Knipperhausen in his drugs.
 Dutch courage is courage that results from indulgence in Dutch
gin or Hollands; here applied to the gin itself.
Thus, then, did these three worthies embark in their cockleshell of
a skiff upon this nocturnal expedition, with a wisdom and valor
equaled only by the three wise men of Gotham, who adventured to
sea in a bowl. The tide was rising and running rapidly up the
Sound. The current bore them along, almost without the aid of an
oar. The profile of the town lay all in shadow. Here and there a
light feebly glimmered from some sick chamber, or from the cabin
window of some vessel at anchor in the stream. Not a cloud
obscured the deep, starry firmament, the lights of which wavered on
the surface of the placid river, and a shooting meteor, streaking
its pale course in the very direction they were taking, was
interpreted by the doctor into a most propitious omen.
 "Three wise men of Gotham,
They went to sea in a bowl--
And if the bowl had been stronger,
My tale had been longer."
Mother Goose Melody.
 Gotham was a village proverbial for the blundering simplicity of
its inhabitants. At first the name referred to an English village.
Irving applied it to New York City.
In a little while they glided by the point of Corlear's Hook, with
the rural inn which had been the scene of such night adventures.
The family had retired to rest, and the house was dark and still.
Wolfert felt a chill pass over him as they passed the point where
the buccaneer had disappeared. He pointed it out to Dr.
Knipperhausen. While regarding it they thought they saw a boat
actually lurking at the very place; but the shore cast such a
shadow over the border of the water that they could discern nothing
distinctly. They had not proceeded far when they heard the low
sounds of distant oars, as if cautiously pulled. Sam plied his
oars with redoubled vigor, and knowing all the eddies and currents
of the stream, soon left their followers, if such they were, far
astern. In a little while they stretched across Turtle Bay and
Kip's Bay, then shrouded themselves in the deep shadows of the
Manhattan shore, and glided swiftly along, secure from observation.
At length the negro shot his skiff into a little cove, darkly
embowered by trees, and made it fast to the well-known iron ring.
They now landed, and lighting the lantern gathered their various
implements and proceeded slowly through the bushes. Every sound
startled them, even that of their own footsteps among the dry
leaves, and the hooting of a screech owl, from the shattered
chimney of the neighboring ruin, made their blood run cold.
 A small bay in the East River below Corlear's Hook.
In spite of all Wolfert's caution in taking note of the landmarks,
it was some time before they could find the open place among the
trees, where the treasure was supposed to be buried. At length
they came to the ledge of rock, and on examining its surface by the
aid of the lantern, Wolfert recognized the three mystic crosses.
Their hearts beat quick, for the momentous trial was at hand that
was to determine their hopes.
The lantern was now held by Wolfert Webber, while the doctor
produced the divining rod. It was a forked twig, one end of which
was grasped firmly in each hand, while the center, forming the
stem, pointed perpendicularly upward. The doctor moved his wand
about, within a certain distance of the earth, from place to place,
but for some time without any effect, while Wolfert kept the light
of the lantern turned full upon it, and watched it with the most
breathless interest. At length the rod began slowly to turn. The
doctor grasped it with greater earnestness, his hands trembling
with the agitation of his mind. The wand continued to turn
gradually, until at length the stem had reversed its position, and
pointed perpendicularly downward, and remained pointing to one spot
as fixedly as the needle to the pole.
"This is the spot!" said the doctor, in an almost inaudible tone.
Wolfert's heart was in his throat.
"Shall I dig?" said the negro, grasping the spade.
"Pots tausend, no!" replied the little doctor hastily. He now
ordered his companions to keep close by him, and to maintain the
most inflexible silence; that certain precautions must be taken and
ceremonies used to prevent the evil spirits which kept about buried
treasure from doing them any harm. He then drew a circle about the
place, enough to include the whole party. He next gathered dry
twigs and leaves and made a fire, upon which he threw certain drugs
and dried herbs which he had brought in his basket. A thick smoke
rose, diffusing a potent odor savoring marvelously of brimstone and
asafetida, which, however grateful it might be to the olfactory
nerves of spirits, nearly strangled poor Wolfert, and produced a
fit of coughing and wheezing that made the whole grove resound.
Dr. Knipperhausen then unclasped the volume which he had brought
under his arm, which was printed in red and black characters in
German text. While Wolfert held the lantern, the doctor, by the
aid of his spectacles, read off several forms of conjuration in
Latin and German. He then ordered Sam to seize the pickax and
proceed to work. The close-bound soil gave obstinate signs of not
having been disturbed for many a year. After having picked his way
through the surface, Sam came to a bed of sand and gravel, which he
threw briskly to right and left with the spade.
 A German exclamation of anger, equivalent to the English
"Hark!" said Wolfert, who fancied he heard a trampling among the
dry leaves and a rustling through the bushes. Sam paused for a
moment, and they listened. No footstep was near. The bat flitted
by them in silence; a bird, roused from its roost by the light
which glared up among the trees, flew circling about the flame. In
the profound stillness of the woodland they could distinguish the
current rippling along the rocky shore, and the distant murmuring
and roaring of Hell Gate.
The negro continued his labors, and had already digged a
considerable hole. The doctor stood on the edge, reading formulae
every now and then from his black-letter volume, or throwing more
drugs and herbs upon the fire, while Wolfert bent anxiously over
the pit, watching every stroke of the spade. Anyone witnessing the
scene thus lighted up by fire, lantern, and the reflection of
Wolfert's red mantle, might have mistaken the little doctor for
some foul magician, busied in his incantations, and the grizzly-
headed negro for some swart goblin obedient to his commands.
At length the spade of the fisherman struck upon something that
sounded hollow. The sound vibrated to Wolfert's heart. He struck
his spade again.
"'Tis a chest," said Sam.
"Full of gold, I'll warrant it!" cried Wolfert, clasping his hands
Scarcely had he uttered the words when a sound from above caught
his ear. He cast up his eyes, and lo! by the expiring light of the
fire he beheld, just over the disk of the rock, what appeared to be
the grim visage of the drowned buccaneer, grinning hideously down
Wolfert gave a loud cry and let fall the lantern. His panic
communicated itself to his companions. The negro leaped out of the
hole, the doctor dropped his book and basket, and began to pray in
German. All was horror and confusion. The fire was scattered
about, the lantern extinguished. In their hurry-scurry they ran
against and confounded one another. They fancied a legion of
hobgoblins let loose upon them, and that they saw, by the fitful
gleams of the scattered embers, strange figures, in red caps,
gibbering and ramping around them. The doctor ran one way, the
negro another, and Wolfert made for the water side. As he plunged
struggling onward through brush and brake, he heard the tread of
some one in pursuit. He scrambled frantically forward. The
footsteps gained upon him. He felt himself grasped by his cloak,
when suddenly his pursuer was attacked in turn; a fierce fight and
struggle ensued, a pistol was discharged that lit up rock and bush
for a second, and showed two figures grappling together; all was
then darker than ever. The contest continued, the combatants
clinched each other, and panted and groaned, and rolled among the
rocks. There was snarling and growling as of a cur, mingled with
curses, in which Wolfert fancied he could recognize the voice of
the buccaneer. He would fain have fled, but he was on the brink of
a precipice, and could go no farther.
 A swift, disorderly movement.
Again the parties were on their feet, again there was a tugging and
struggling, as if strength alone could decide the combat, until one
was precipitated from the brow of the cliff, and sent headlong into
the deep stream that whirled below. Wolfert heard the plunge, and
a kind of strangling, bubbling murmur, but the darkness of the
night hid everything from him, and the swiftness of the current
swept everything instantly out of hearing. One of the combatants
was disposed of, but whether friend or foe Wolfert could not tell,
nor whether they might not both be foes. He heard the survivor
approach, and his terror revived. He saw, where the profile of the
rocks rose against the horizon, a human form advancing. He could
not be mistaken; it must be the buccaneer. Whither should he fly?-
-a precipice was on one side, a murderer on the other. The enemy
approached--he was close at hand. Wolfert attempted to let himself
down the face of the cliff. His cloak caught in a thorn that grew
on the edge. He was jerked from off his feet, and held dangling in
the air, half choked by the string with which his careful wife had
fastened the garment around his neck. Wolfert thought his last
moment was arrived; already had he committed his soul to St.
Nicholas, when the string broke, and he tumbled down the bank,
bumping from rock to rock and bush to bush, and leaving the red
cloak fluttering like a bloody banner in the air.
It was a long while before Wolfert came to himself. When he opened
his eyes, the ruddy streaks of morning were already shooting up the
sky. He found himself grievously battered, and lying in the bottom
of a boat. He attempted to sit up, but was too sore and stiff to
move. A voice requested him in a friendly accents to lie still.
He turned his eyes toward the speaker; it was Dirk Waldron. He had
dogged the party, at the earnest request of Dame Webber and her
daughter, who, with the laudable curiosity of their sex, had pried
into the secret consultations of Wolfert and the doctor. Dirk had
been completely distanced in following the light skiff of the
fisherman, and had just come in time to rescue the poor money
digger from his pursuer.
Thus ended this perilous enterprise. The doctor and Black Sam
severally found their way back to the Manhattoes, each having some
dreadful tale of peril to relate. As to poor Wolfert, instead of
returning in triumph, laden with bags of gold, he was borne home on
a shutter, followed by a rabble-rout of curious urchins. His
wife and daughter saw the dismal pageant from a distance, and
alarmed the neighborhood with their cries; they thought the poor
man had suddenly settled the great debt of nature in one of his
wayward moods. Finding him, however, still living, they had him
speedily to bed, and a jury of old matrons of the neighborhood
assembled to determine how he should be doctored. The whole town
was in a buzz with the story of the money diggers. Many repaired
to the scene of the previous night's adventures; but though they
found the very place of the digging, they discovered nothing that
compensated them for their trouble. Some say they found the
fragments of an oaken chest, and an iron pot lid, which savored
strongly of hidden money, and that in the old family vault there
were traces of bales and boxes; but this is all very dubious.
 A noisy throng.
In fact, the secret of all this story has never to this day been
discovered. Whether any treasure were ever actually buried at that
place; whether, if so, it were carried off at night by those who
had buried it; or whether it still remains there under the
guardianship of gnomes and spirits until it shall be properly
sought for, is all matter of conjecture. For my part, I incline to
the latter opinion, and make no doubt that great sums lie buried,
both there and in other parts of this island and its neighborhood,
ever since the times of the buccaneers and the Dutch colonists; and
I would earnestly recommend the search after them to such of my
fellow citizens as are not engaged in any other speculations.
There were many conjectures formed, also, as to who and what was
the strange man of the seas, who had domineered over the little
fraternity at Corlear's Hook for a time, disappeared so strangely,
and reappeared so fearfully. Some supposed him a smuggler
stationed at that place to assist his comrades in landing their
goods among the rocky coves of the island. Others, that he was one
of the ancient comrades of Kidd or Bradish, returned to convey away
treasures formerly hidden in the vicinity. The only circumstance
that throws anything like a vague light on this mysterious matter
is a report which prevailed of a strange, foreign-built shallop,
with much the look of a picaroon, having been seen hovering
about the Sound for several days without landing or reporting
herself, though boats were seen going to and from her at night; and
that she was seen standing out of the mouth of the harbor, in the
gray of the dawn, after the catastrophe of the money diggers.
 A piratical vessel.
I must not omit to mention another report, also, which I confess is
rather apocryphal, of the buccaneer who is supposed to have been
drowned, being seen before daybreak, with a lantern in his hand,
seated astride of his great sea chest, and sailing through Hell
Gate, which just then began to roar and bellow with redoubled fury.
While all the gossip world was thus filled with talk and rumor,
poor Wolfert lay sick and sorrowfully in his bed, bruised in body
and sorely beaten down in mind. His wife and daughter did all they
could to bind up his wounds, both corporal and spiritual. The good
old dame never stirred from his bedside, where she sat knitting
from morning till night, while his daughter busied herself about
him with the fondest care. Nor did they lack assistance from
abroad. Whatever may be said of the desertion of friends in
distress, they had no complaint of the kind to make. Not an old
wife of the neighborhood but abandoned her work to crowd to the
mansion of Wolfert Webber, to inquire after his health and the
particulars of his story. Not one came, moreover, without her
little pipkin of pennyroyal, sage, balm, or other herb tea,
delighted at an opportunity of signalizing her kindness and her
doctorship. What drenchings did not the poor Wolfert undergo, and
all in vain! It was a moving sight to behold him wasting away day
by day, growing thinner and thinner and ghastlier and ghastlier,
and staring with rueful visage from under an old patchwork
counterpane, upon the jury of matrons kindly assembled to sigh and
groan and look unhappy around him.
Dirk Waldron was the only being that seemed to shed a ray of
sunshine into this house of mourning. He came in with cheery look
and manly spirit, and tried to reanimate the expiring heart of the
poor money digger, but it was all in vain. Wolfert was completely
done over. If anything was wanting to complete his despair, it
was a notice, served upon him in the midst of his distress, that
the corporation was about to run a new street through the very
center of his cabbage garden. He now saw nothing before him but
poverty and ruin; his last reliance, the garden of his forefathers,
was to be laid waste, and what then was to become of his poor wife
His eyes filled with tears as they followed the dutiful Amy out of
the room one morning. Dirk Waldron was seated beside him; Wolfert
grasped his hand, pointed after his daughter, and for the first
time since his illness broke the silence he had maintained.
"I am going!" said he, shaking his head feebly, "and when I am
gone, my poor daughter--"
"Leave her to me, father!" said Dirk manfully; "I'll take care of
Wolfert looked up in the face of the cheery, strapping youngster,
and saw there was none better able to take care of a woman.
"Enough," said he, "she is yours! And now fetch me a lawyer--let
me make my will and die."
The lawyer was brought,--a dapper, bustling, round-headed little
man, Roorback (or Rollebuck, as it was pronounced) by name. At the
sight of him the women broke into loud lamentations, for they
looked upon the signing of a will as the signing of a death
warrant. Wolfert made a feeble motion for them to be silent. Poor
Amy buried her face and her grief in the bed curtain. Dame Webber
resumed her knitting to hide her distress, which betrayed itself,
however, in a pellucid tear, which trickled silently down, and hung
at the end of her peaked nose; while the cat, the only unconcerned
member of the family, played with the good dame's ball of worsted
as it rolled about the floor.
Wolfert lay on his back, his nightcap drawn over his forehead, his
eyes closed, his whole visage the picture of death. He begged the
lawyer to be brief, for he felt his end approaching, and that he
had no time to lose. The lawyer nibbed his pen, spread out his
paper, and prepared to write.
 In Irving's time, quills were made into pens by pointing or
"nibbing" their ends.
"I give and bequeath," said Wolfert faintly, "my small farm--"
"What! all?" exclaimed the lawyer.
Wolfert half opened his eyes and looked upon the lawyer.
"Yes, all," said he.
"What! all that great patch of land with cabbages and sunflowers,
which the corporation is just going to run a main street through?"
"The same," said Wolfert, with a heavy sigh, and sinking back upon
"I wish him joy that inherits it!" said the little lawyer,
chuckling and rubbing his hands involuntarily.
"What do you mean?" said Wolfert, again opening his eyes.
"That he'll be one of the richest men in the place," cried little
The expiring Wolfert seemed to step back from the threshold of
existence; his eyes again lighted up; he raised himself in his bed,
shoved back his red worsted nightcap, and stared broadly at the
"You don't say so!" exclaimed he.
"Faith but I do!" rejoined the other. "Why, when that great field
and that huge meadow come to be laid out in streets and cut up into
snug building lots,--why, whoever owns it need not pull off his hat
to the patroon!"
"Say you so?" cried Wolfert, half thrusting one leg out of bed;
"why, then, I think I'll not make my will yet."
To the surprise of everybody the dying man actually recovered. The
vital spark, which had glimmered faintly in the socket, received
fresh fuel from the oil of gladness which the little lawyer poured
into his soul. It once more burned up into a flame.
Give physic to the heart, ye who would revive the body of a spirit-
broken man! In a few days Wolfert left his room; in a few days
more his table was covered with deeds, plans of streets and
building lots. Little Rollebuck was constantly with him, his right
hand man and adviser, and instead of making his will assisted in
the more agreeable task of making his fortune. In fact Wolfert
Webber was one of those worthy Dutch burghers of the Manhattoes
whose fortunes have been made, in a manner, in spite of themselves;
who have tenaciously held on to their hereditary acres, raising
turnips and cabbages about the skirts of the city, hardly able to
make both ends meet, until the corporation has cruelly driven
streets through their abodes, and they have suddenly awakened out
of their lethargy, an