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
ll Gate.

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.[1] 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.

[1] 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

with lightning.

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[1] the light!" roared the hoarse voice from the water. "No

one wants light here!"

[1] Extinguish.

"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[1] locker, that he had

not left his own locker[2] behind him."

[1] 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."

[2] Chest.

"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

from Amsterdam.

"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.[1] So much for burying a man at sea without saying

prayers over him."

[1] 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[1] 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.[2] 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

untimely graves.

[1] Aspect.

[2] 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[1] 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.

[1] 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.[1] A "very ancient and fishlike smell"[2] 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


[1] The southern extremity of New York City.

[2] 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.[1] 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.

[1] 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[1] streamed by them with his

deep red plumage.

[1] 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.[1] 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


[1] "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."[1] To him did the poor women repair for

counsel and assistance touching the mental vagaries of Wolfert


[1] The same, no doubt, of whom mention is made in the history of

Dolph Heyliger.

They found the doctor seated in his little study, clad in his dark

camlet[1] robe of knowledge, with his black velvet cap, after the

manner of Boerhaave,[2] Van Helmont,[3] 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.

[1] A fabric made of goat's hair and silk, or wool and cotton.

[2] Hermann Boerhaave (1668-1738), a celebrated Dutch physician and


[3] 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[1]

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;[2]

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,[3] 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.

[1] A mountain chain in northwestern Germany, between the Elbe and

the Weser.

[2] 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.

[3] 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,[1] 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.

[1] 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,[1] 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


[1] Overcoat.

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,[1] in which honest Sam no doubt put even more faith than

Dr. Knipperhausen in his drugs.

[1] 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,[1] 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.

[1] "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.

[1] 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,[1] 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.

[1] 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,[1] 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.

[1] 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

with rapture.

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

upon him.

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[1] 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.

[1] 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[1] 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.

[1] 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,[1] 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.

[1] 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.[1] 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

and child?

[1] Exhausted.

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[1] his pen, spread out his

paper, and prepared to write.

[1] 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

his pillow.

"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