Roistering Dirck Van Dara by Charles M. Skinner
In the days when most of New York stood below Grand Street, a roistering
fellow used to make the rounds of the taverns nightly, accompanied by a
friend named Rooney. This brave drinker was Dirck Van Dara, one of the
last of those swag-bellied topers that made merry with such solemnity
before the English seized their unoffending town. It chanced that Dirck
and his chum were out later than usual one night, and by eleven o'clock,
when all good people were abed, a drizzle set in that drove the watch to
sleep in doorways and left Broadway tenantless. As the two choice spirits
reeled out of a hostelry near Wall Street and saw the lights go out in
the tap-room windows they started up town to their homes in Leonard
Street, but hardly had they come abreast of old St. Paul's when a strange
thing stayed them: crying was heard in the churchyard and a
phosphorescent light shone among the tombs. Rooney was sober in a moment,
but not so Dirck Van Dara, who shouted, "Here is sport, friend Rooney.
Let's climb the wall. If the dead are for a dance, we will take partners
and show them how pigeons' wings are cut nowadays."
"No," exclaimed the other; "those must perish who go among the dead when
they come out of their graves. I've heard that if you get into their
clutches, you must stay in purgatory for a hundred years, and no priest
can pray you out."
"Bah! old wives' tales! Come on!" And pulling his friend with him, they
were over the fence. "Hello! what have we here?" As he spoke a haggard
thing arose from behind a tombstone, a witchlike creature, with rags
falling about her wasted form and hair that almost hid her face. The
twain were set a-sneezing by the fumes of sulphur, and Rooney swore
afterwards that there were little things at the end of the yard with
grinning faces and lights on the ends of their tails. Old Hollands are
heady. Dirck began to chaff the beldam on her dilapidation, but she
stopped his talk by dipping something from a caldron behind her and
flinging it over both of her visitors. Whatever it was, it burned
outrageously, and with a yell of pain they leaped the wall more briskly
than they had jumped it the other way, and were soon in full flight. They
had not gone far when the clock struck twelve.
"Arrah! there's a crowd of them coming after," panted Rooney. "Ave Mary!
I've heard that if you die with witch broth being thrown over you, you're
done for in the next world, as well as this. Let us get to Father
As he made this exclamation the fugitives found their way opposed by a
woman, who looked at them with immodest eyes and said, "Dirck Van Dara,
your sire, in wig and bob, turned us Cyprians out of New York, after
ducking us in the Collect. But we forgive him, and to prove it we ask you
to our festival."
At the stroke of midnight the street before the church had swarmed with a
motley throng, that now came onward, waving torches that sparkled like
stars. They formed a ring about Dirck and began to dance, and he, nothing
loth, seized the nymph who had addressed him and joined in the revel. Not
a soul was out or awake except themselves, and no words were said as the
dance went wilder to strains of weird and unseen instruments. Now and
then one would apply a torch to the person of Dirck, meanly assailing him
in the rear, and the smart of the burn made him feet it the livelier. At
last they turned toward the Battery as by common consent, and went
careering along the street in frolic fashion. Rooney, whose senses had
thus far been pent in a stupor, fled with a yell of terror, and as he
looked back he saw the unholy troop disappearing in the mist like a
moving galaxy. Never from that night was Dirck Van Data seen or heard of
more, and the publicans felt that they had less reason for living.