Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams

Washington Irving

17 Jun, 2014 10:09 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fudge!" said the half-pay officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Shabby.

[2] Noisy.

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

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

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

[2] Triangular.

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

[1] Reckless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
Hell 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 cliff.

"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

"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 Suydams.

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 Wolfert.

"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

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

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 occasion.

"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

[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

[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 sunshine.

[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 city.

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 Webber.

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

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

[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

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 finding.

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 divination.

[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

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 "zounds!"

"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

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

At length the spade of the fisherman struck upon something that sounded
hollow. The sound vibrated to Wolfert's heart. He struck his spade

"'Tis a chest," said Sam.

"Full of gold, I'll warrant it!" cried Wolfert, clasping his hands with

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

[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

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 her!"

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

"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 lawyer.

"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

"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, and, to their astonishment, found
themselves rich men.

Before many months had elapsed a great, bustling street passed through
the very center of the Webber garden, just where Wolfert had dreamed of
finding a treasure. His golden dream was accomplished; he did, indeed,
find an unlooked-for source of wealth, for, when his paternal lands were
distributed into building lots and rented out to safe tenants, instead
of producing a paltry crop of cabbages they returned him an abundant
crop of rent, insomuch that on quarter day it was a goodly sight to see
his tenants knocking at the door from morning till night, each with a
little round-bellied bag of money, a golden produce of the soil.

The ancient mansion of his forefathers was still kept up, but, instead
of being a little yellow-fronted Dutch house in a garden, it now stood
boldly in the midst of a street, the grand home of the neighborhood; for
Wolfert enlarged it with a wing on each side, and a cupola or tea room
on top, where he might climb up and smoke his pipe in hot weather, and
in the course of time the whole mansion was overrun by the chubby-faced
progeny of Amy Webber and Dirk Waldron.

As Wolfert waxed old and rich and corpulent he also set up a great
gingerbread-colored carriage, drawn by a pair of black Flanders mares
with tails that swept the ground; and to commemorate the origin of his
greatness he had for his crest a full-blown cabbage painted on the
panels, with the pithy motto, ALLES KOPF, that is to say, ALL HEAD,
meaning thereby that he had risen by sheer head work.

To fill the measure of his greatness, in the fullness of time the
renowned Ramm Rapelye slept with his fathers, and Wolfert Webber
succeeded to the leather-bottomed armchair in the inn parlor at
Corlear's Hook; where he long reigned, greatly honored and respected,
insomuch that he was never known to tell a story without its being
believed, nor to utter a joke without its being laughed at.

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