The Vrouw Van Twinkle's Krullers

by Agnes Carr Sage


A Story of Old New York

Clean, snug, and picturesque as a Holland town was our city of New York for some years after it had dropped its juvenile name of New Amsterdam and adopted its present name; but not so suddenly could it change its nature and Dutch ways. Dutch neatness and the Dutch tongue still reigned supreme. Substantial wooden houses turned gable ends of black and yellow Holland bricks to the front, until Pearl Street appeared like a triumphal procession of chess-boards; while no mansion in that then fashionable quarter could boast more big doors and small windows than that of the worthy burgher Van Twinkle, and the little weathercock on the roof was as giddy as any of its neighbors, and as undecided as to which way the wind actually did blow.

An air of festivity pervaded this residence on a certain winter’s day in the early part of the eighteenth century; windows were thrown open, and Gretel, the eldest daughter of the family, followed by black Sophy, armed with brooms, mops, and pails, entered that sanctum sanctorum, the best parlor, to scrub and scour with unwonted energy; for to-morrow would be that greatest of Knickerbocker holidays, Nieuw Jaar, or New Year, when every good Hollander would consider it his duty to call upon his friends and neighbors, and the front door with its great brass knocker would swing from morning till night to admit the well-wishers of the season.

In the big kitchen also active preparations were going forward. A royal fire blazed in the wide chimney, and the Vrouw Van Twinkle, in short gown and petticoat, was cutting out and boiling those lightest and richest of krullers for which she was famous among the good housewives of the town: real Dutch krullers, brown as nuts, and crisp as pie-crust.

“Out of the way, youngsters!” cried the dame to a boy and girl lounging near to watch the boiling, “or spattered will you be with the hog’s fat. Take thy sister, Jan, and off with her to the Flatten Barrack. She would enjoy a good sledding this fine day, and that I know.”

“Rather would I go to the skating on the Salt River,” said Jan.

“But that you must not. It I forbid, for very unsafe is it now, thy father did observe only this morning.”

“Foolishness, though, was that, mother,” argued Jan, “for last night Tunis Vanderbeck from Breucklyn came over on the ice, and told me that firm was it as any rock, and smooth as thy soft, pink cheek.”

“Thou flatterer!” laughed his mother; “but not so canst thou pull the wool over my eyes; so away with you both to the sledding, and here are two stivers with which to buy New-Year cakes at Peter Clopper’s bake-house.” And diving in the patchwork pocket hung at her side, Madam Van Twinkle produced the coins, which sent the children off with smiling faces to the hill at the end of Garden Street, stopping on the way to invest in the sweet New-Year cakes, stamped with a crown and breeches.

Jan made short work of his; but Katrina had scarce begun to nibble her fluted oval when she spied an aged man, with a long gray beard, begging for charity.

“See, Jan,” she cried, “the poor, miserable old beggar! How cold and hungry he looks!”

“Then to work should he go.”

“But it may be no work he has to do. Ach! the sight of him makes my heart to ache, and help him will I all I can.” So saying, the kind-hearted girl darted to the mendicant’s side and slipped her cake into his hand.

“A thousand thanks, little lady!” exclaimed the man, fervently; “for I am near to starving, or I would not be here; and you are the first who has heeded me to-day.”

 He was evidently English; but Katrina cared not for that, and, carried away by her feelings, added a guilder, given her at Christmas, to her gift of the New-Year cake, thereby calling forth a shower of benedictions, although the old fellow seemed strangely nervous meanwhile, glancing in a frightened manner at each passer-by. As soon as the little maid’s back was turned he slunk into a dark alley and out of sight.

“A silly noodle art thou, Katrina, thus to throw away thy presents,” said Jan, as they hurried on. But his sister only shook her head, and smiled as though quite satisfied, while her heart beat a happy roundelay all the short December afternoon as she slid on her wooden sled and frolicked with the little Dutch Vans and Vanders on the Flatten-Barrack Hill.

Twilight was falling when the young Van Twinkles wended their way home, to find their bread and buttermilk ready for them by the kitchen fire, and their father and mother and Gretel gone to a supper of soft waffles and chocolate and a New-Year’s-Eve dance at the Van Corlear Bouwerie.

“The best parlor, does it look fine and gay, Sophy?” asked Katrina, as she finished her evening meal.

“Dat it do,” replied the old slave woman; “for waved am de sand on de floor like white clouds, and de brass chair-nails shine jest like little missy’s eyes. ’Spect de ole mynheer and his vrouw come down and dance dis night for sure.”

“What mynheer, Sophy?” asked Jan.

“De great mynheer in de portrait—your gran’fader, ob course. Hab you chillens neber heard how on New-Year Eve, when de clock strike twelve, down come all de pictur’ folkses to shake hands and wish each oder ‘Happy New-Year,’ and den, if nuffin disturb ’em, mebbe dey dance in de firelight.”

“Really, Sophy, do they?” asked the little girl.

“Yah, dey do. Master Jan may laugh if he please, but right am I. My ole moeder hab so tole me, and wif her own eyes hab she seen de ghostes dances.”

 “A rare sight it must be! I wish that I could see it,” said Katrina; and later, when she went in to inspect the parlor, she gazed up with increased respect at her stolid-faced Holland ancestors.

“Much would I love to see them tread a minuet!” sighed Katrina again, and even after her head was laid on her pillow the idea haunted her dreams, until, as the tall clock in the hall struck eleven, she started up wide-awake, with the feeling that something eventful was about to happen.

“Almost spent is the old year!” she thought, “and soon down the picture folk will come to greet the new. Oh, I must, I must them see!” and although the household was by this time asleep, she crept out of bed, slipped on her clothes, and stole noiselessly down-stairs.

“Still are they yet,” she whispered, glancing up at the pictured faces. “But near the hour draws, and hide I must, or they may not come down, for Sophy says that spectators they do not love. Ah, there is just the place!” and running to the linen chest she lifted the lid, and clambering lightly in, nestled down among the lavender-scented sheets and table-cloths.

“A very comfortable hiding-spot, truly!” exclaimed Katrina, as she placed a book beneath the cover to hold it slightly open; and so cosey did it prove that she grew a bit drowsy before the midnight bells chimed the knell of another twelvemonth. Then indeed, however, she was on the alert in an instant and peering eagerly out. Her corner was in shadow, but the ruddy glow from the hickory logs revealed the portraits still unmoved, and she was about to utter an exclamation of disappointment, when she was startled to see a door leading to the rear of the house suddenly swing open and the figure of a man carrying a lantern enter with slow and stealthy tread. An old man, apparently, with gray hair and beard, and a sack thrown across his shoulders. “’Tis the Old Year himself!” thought the fanciful girl; but the next moment she almost betrayed herself by a scream as she recognized the beggar to whom she had given her New-Year cake that very afternoon.

 Slowly the midnight marauder approached, and then, all at once, a wonderful transformation took place. The bent form became straight, the gray beard and hair were torn off, and a younger and not unhandsome man stood before the little watcher’s astonished gaze.

She was too dumfounded to do anything but tremble and stare, as the intruder seated himself at the table and ate and drank, almost snatching the viands in his eagerness. His appetite appeased, however, he seemed to hesitate; but then, with a muttered, “Well, what must be must, and here’s for home and Emily!” he seized a silver bowl and dropped it into his bag, following it up with the porringers and plates, that were the very apple of the Dutch house-mother’s eye.

Too frightened to speak, poor little Katrina watched these proceedings; but when the thief laid hands on a certain old and beautifully engraved flagon, she murmured: “The loving-cup! the dear loving-cup! Oh, my father’s heart ’twill break to lose that!”

“Plenty of the needful here!” chuckled the burglar; but a moment later he had his surprise, for out of the shadows suddenly emerged a small, slight figure, and a stern voice cried, “Stop!”

With a startled exclamation the man fell back, and then, as Katrina exclaimed, “The loving-cup that is so old—ah, take not that!” he dropped into a chair, ejaculating, “By St. George, ’tis the little lady of the cake herself!”

“That is so,” said Katrina.

The man reddened. “Believe me, miss,” he said, “I did not know this was your home, or naught would have tempted me here; and this is the first time I have ever soiled my fingers with such work as this.”

“Then why begin now?” asked Katrina.

“Because I was down on my luck, and there seemed no other way. Listen! For two years I have served as a soldier in the British army, and no more honest one ever entered the province. I did not mind hard work, but my health gave out, and at last the rude fare and the homesickness I could stand no longer, and three days ago I deserted from the English fort down yonder. The officers are on my track, but, so far, disguised as an old beggar, I have escaped detection beneath their very noses. If caught I shall be flogged within an inch of my life, and, it may be, shot. Just over the water my wife and a blue-eyed lass like you are longing for my return, but, saving your guilder, I was penniless, and so, for the first time, determined to take what was not my own.”

“Poor man!” sighed Katrina, the tears starting.

“To-morrow night the Golden Lion sails for England. Her crew, after the New-Year festivities, will be dazed at least, so I can readily conceal myself until the ship is out at sea. Then ho! for home and my little Jeanie!”

“And as a bad, wicked robber will you go to her?” asked the girl.

“No; indeed no!” cried the man, emptying his sack. “You have saved me from that, little lady, as well as from starvation to-day, for I would not steal from you or yours. Give me but these krullers to eat while I am a stowaway, and all the plate I will leave.”

“Yes, that will I do,” said Katrina, rejoiced, and she herself dropped the crisp cakes into the man’s bag. “Now at once go, and godspeed.”

“But first you must promise to mention this meeting to no one until after the Golden Lion weighs anchor at seven o’clock on New-Year’s night.”

“To my mother may I not?” asked Katrina.

“No, no, to nobody! Oh, remember my life is in your hands! Promise, I beg.”

His tone was so imploring the girl was touched.

“I like it not, but I promise,” she said.

“Thank you. Farewell.” And again disguised, the deserter departed, as he came, by a back window.

Feeling as though in a dream, Katrina rearranged the disordered table, and then, creeping up to bed, fell so sound asleep that she never heard Jan when he awoke the household with his “Happy New-Years.”

 Gayly the sunbeams glittered on the black-and-yellow gables that 1st of January, and fully as resplendent were the maids and matrons of New York in their best muslins and brocades; while Katrina presented a very quaint, attractive little vision when she came down in her taffeta gown and embroidered stomacher, with her amber beads about her neck. Her face was hardly in accord with her attire, however, when she found every one demanding, “What has become of the krullers—the New-Year krullers?”

Madam Van Twinkle looked flushed and angry. “The beautiful cakes with which I so much trouble took!” she cried. “Ach! a bad, wicked theft it is, and a mystery unaccountable.”

“Mebbe de great ole mynheer and his vrouw gobbled ’em up,” put in Sophy.

“But what is worse,” continued the dame, “in one big kruller, as a surprise, I did hide a ring of gold sent to Gretel by her godmother in Holland, and that too is whisked away.”

At this Gretel also began to bewail the loss, and suggested that perhaps little black Josie, Sophy’s son, was the miscreant.

“If so it be, to the whipping-post shall he go!” cried the enraged Dutchwoman, starting for the kitchen; but before she reached the door Katrina exclaimed, “No, mother, no; Josie is not the one.”

“Why, mine Katrina, what canst thou know of this?” asked Mynheer Van Twinkle, in amazement.

“I know—I know who has taken the cakes,” stammered the blushing girl; “but tell I cannot now.”

“Not tell!” gasped her mother. “Why and wherefore?”

“Because my promise I have given. But when the night comes, then shall you know all.”

“Foolishness is this, Katrina,” cried the good housewife, who was fast losing her temper as well as her cakes, “and at once I command you to say who has my New-Year krullers.”

“And my ring from Rotterdam,” added Gretel.

 “But that I cannot. A lie would it be. Oh, my vader, canst thou not me trust until the nightfall?”

“Surely, sweetheart. There, good vrouw, say no more, but leave the little one in peace. A promise thou wouldst not have her break.”

“Some there be better broken than kept; but whom promised she?”

Katrina was silent, and now even her father looked grave. “Speak, mijn kind; whom didst thou promise?”

“I cannot tell.”

“See you, Jacobus, ’tis stubborn she is, and wrong it looks. But list, Katrina; you shall speak this minute, or else to your chamber go, and there spend your New-Year’s Day.”

At this mynheer puffed grimly at his pipe, and Gretel would have remonstrated, but without a word Katrina turned and left the parlor. Ascending to her little attic-room, she removed her holiday finery, and sat sadly down to work on her Flemish lace, trying to console herself by repeating: “Right am I, and I know I am right. A promise once given must not broken be,” while the New-Year callers came and went, and the sound of merry greetings floated up from below.

So it was scarce a happy New-Year, and the little weathercock must have pointed very much to the east if he considered the way the wind blew within-doors, for even Jan turned fractious, and declared, “There was no fun in calling on a parcel of old vrouws,” and he should go to the turkey-shooting at Beekman’s Swamp instead. But this his mother forbade. “Shoot you will not this day,” she said, “for at fourteen, like a gentleman and a good Hollander should you behave. So start at once, and my greetings bear to the Van Pelts and Vander Voorts and Mistress Hogeboom,” while his father carried him off with him to call on the dominie’s wife.

This visit over, however, they parted company, and Jan lingered long in the market-place to see the darkies dance to the rude music of horns and tom-toms. Here he encountered two of his chums, Nicholas Van Ripper and Rem Hochstrasser, carrying guns on their shoulders.

“Thee, Jan? Good!” they cried. “Now come with us to the turkey-shooting. A prize thou art sure to win.”

“But I started the New-Year visits to make!” said Jan.

“And paid them in the market-place!” laughed Nicholas. “Thou art a sly one, Jan! But great sport is there at the Swamp to-day; much better than the chatter of the girls and a headache to-morrow.”

“So think I, Nick; but I have on my kirch clothes;” and Jan glanced down at his best galligaskins and his coat with its silver buttons.

“Not a bit will it hurt them; so come along.” And thus urged, Jan joined his friends, and was soon at Beekman’s Swamp, where a bevy of youths were squandering their stivers in the exciting sport of firing at live turkeys.

Nick and Rem did well, and each bore off a plump fowl, but luck seemed against Jan, who could not succeed in even ruffling a feather; while at last he had the misfortune to slip and get a rough tumble, besides soiling his breeches and tearing a rent in the skirt of his fine broadcloth coat.

“Ha! ha! What will Madam Van Twinkle say to that?” laughed his unsympathetic companions, when they saw Jan stamping round, his little queue of hair, tied with an eel-skin, fairly standing out with rage.

“Whatever she says, ’twill be your fault, ye dough-nuts!” he shouted, and would have indulged in some rather forcible Dutch epithets had not his cousin Tunis Vanderbeck come up at the moment, saying, “Mind it not, Jan, but with me come to Breucklyn to skate.”

“Yah; better will that be than facing the mother in this plight,” said Jan; and he was skating across the Salt River before he remembered that he had been positively forbidden to venture there.

“Sure art thou that the ice is strong, Tunis?” he asked.

“Not so strong as it was. The thaw has weakened it some, but ’twill hold to-night, if—” But at that instant an ominous cracking sounded beneath their feet, and Tunis had just time to glide to a firmer spot before a scream rang through the air, and he looked back to see the dark surging water in an opening in the ice, and Jan’s head disappearing beneath.

While, in the twilight, Katrina sat by her window, thinking of blue-eyed English Jeanie, she was startled by a voice on the shed roof without calling, “Let me in, Katrina—let me in;” and on opening the casement a very wet and bedraggled boy tumbled at her feet, sputtering out, “Run for dry clothes and a hot drink, my Trina, for nearly drowned am I, and frozen as well.”

The girl hastened to obey, and not until her brother was snug and warm in her feather-bed did she ask, “Whatever has happened to thee, Jan?”

“Why, on the river I was, and the ice it broke, and in I fell. But for an old cove who risked his life to save me, in Davy Jones’s locker would I be this minute; for never a hand did Tunis Vanderbeck stir to help me, and unfriends will we be henceforth.”

“And thy kirch suit is ruined. Does the mother know it?”

“No; for fear of her I came in by the roof, but I met the father outside, and angry enough he is because I went to the shooting and on the river. He says that on bread and water shall I live for a week, and to the Philadelphia Fair shall I not go;” and a sob rose in the boy’s throat. “But what is queerest, Katrina, the old chap who pulled me out seemed to know me, and gave me this for you,” and Jan produced a moist, soggy package, which, on being undone, revealed a single broken kruller, in the centre of which, however, gleamed a heavy gold ring.

“Good! good! Oh, glad am I!” cried Katrina; and hastening to put on her festival dress, when the clock chimed seven she went dancing down to the parlor, and creeping to her mother’s side, whispered, “Now, my moeder, all will I tell thee.”

In amazement the family listened to her story of the midnight visitor, and when she ended by slipping the ring on Gretel’s finger, saying, “No common thief was he, for this he sent me by Jan, whom he has saved from a grave in the Salt River,” the Dutchwoman caught her to her heart, sobbing, “Oh, my Katrina, forgive thy mother, for it was in my temper I spoke this morning, and a true, brave girl hast thou been. To think that but for thee our rare old silver would be on its way to England!” Gretel too hugged her rapturously, and the tears were in Mynheer Van Twinkle’s eyes as he asked:

“How can I repay my daughter for saving the loving-cup of my ancestors, and for her lonely day above?”

“By forgiving Jan, father, and letting him come to the New-Year supper. Disobedient has he been, I know, but well punished is he, and he is full of sorrow.”

“Well, then, for thee, it shall be so.”

So Jan was summoned down, and a truly festal evening was held within the home circle, beneath the gaze of the old mynheer and his vrouw, who beamed benignantly from their heavy frames.

 The Golden Lion sailed true to time, and never again was the deserter heard of on this side of the Atlantic; but for long after Katrina was pointed out as “the blue-eyed maid who saved the family plate and gave away Vrouw Van Twinkle’s New-Year krullers.”