Adventure of Sam, the Black Fisherman
by Washington Irving
Tales of a Traveller
COMMONLY DENOMINATED MUD SAM.
Every body knows Mud Sam, the old negro fisherman who has fished about
the Sound for the last twenty or thirty years. Well, it is now many
years since that Sam, who was then a young fellow, and worked on the
farm of Killian Suydam on Long Island, having finished his work early,
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, he had been able to shift his station with the
shifting of the tide, from the Hen and Chickens to the Hog's back, and
from the Hog's back to the Pot, and from the Pot to the Frying-pan; but
in the eagerness of his sport Sam did not see that the tide was rapidly
ebbing; until the roaring of the whirlpools and rapids warned him of
his danger, and he had some difficulty in shooting his skiff from among
the rocks and breakers, and getting to the point of Blackwell's Island.
Here he cast anchor for some time, waiting the turn of the tide to
enable him to return homewards.
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 crouched in his
skiff, rocking upon the billows, until he fell asleep. When he awoke
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 homewards, when he saw a light gleaming along the water from a
distance, which seemed rapidly approaching. As it drew near he
perceived that it came from a lanthorn in the bow of a boat which was
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 lanthorn 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 woollen 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 burthen up the rocky bank. Sam's
curiosity was now fully aroused, so leaving his skiff he clambered
silently up the ridge that overlooked their path. They had stopped to
rest for a moment, and the leader was looking about among the bushes
with his lanthorn. "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 lanthorn was held up in the direction of the noise. One of the
red-caps cocked a pistol, and pointed it towards the very lace 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 lanthorn. "What a plague! you
would not fire off your pistol and alarm the country."
The pistol was uncocked; the burthen was resumed, and the party slowly
toiled up 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 with poor Sam. He hesitated and lingered and listened. By
and bye he heard the strokes of spades.
"They are digging the grave!" said he to himself; 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; every thing had an air of 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, therefore, resist an impulse, in spite of every danger, to
steal nearer, and overlook the villains 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; he
saw the light of their lanthorn 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 over
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 bush and briar; 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 he espied the strong cord-like
branch of a grape-vine 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 off 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, or Hog's-back itself; nor did he
feel himself thoroughly secure until safely nestled in bed in the
cockloft of the ancient farm-house of the Suydams.
Here the worthy Peechy 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
"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 redcaps?" said
Wolfert, eagerly; whose mind was haunted by nothing but ingots and
"Not that I know of; 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? every thing would look 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; "has none of you heard of father
red-cap that haunts the old burnt farm-house 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 wild, 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 that was 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 eye-sight, 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 rushlight.
"That's all humbug!" 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 the
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 that prevailed abroad, among the
elements, when suddenly they were all electrified by a tremendous clap
of thunder. A lumbering crash followed instantaneously that made the
building shake to its foundation. All started from their seats,
imagining it the shock of an earthquake, or that old father red-cap was
coming among them in all his terrors. They listened for a moment, but
only heard the rain pelting against the windows, and the wind howling
among the trees. The explosion was soon explained by the apparition of
an old negro's bald head thrust in at the door, his white goggle eyes
contrasting with his jetty poll, which was wet with rain and shone like
a bottle. In a jargon but half intelligible he announced that the
kitchen chimney had been struck with lightning.
A sullen pause of the storm, which now rose and sunk 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 shore.
Every one crowded to the window; another musket shot was heard, and
another long shout, that 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
bar-room 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
after 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
"Thunder and lightning!" exclaimed the merman, "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 again heard in a tone of impatience; the bystanders stared with
redoubled awe at this man of storms, which seemed to have come up out
of the deep and to be called back to it again. As, with the assistance
of the negro, he slowly bore his ponderous sea-chest towards 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 lanthorn.
"Douse the light!" roared the hoarse voice from the water. "No one
wants light here!"
"Thunder and lightning!" exclaimed the veteran; "back to the house with
Wolfert and his companions shrunk back is 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 heavy surges, and
swashing the water 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; he 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, sunk into the waves, and 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 drear and 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, for they could not leave it before
the storm should subside. 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 human existence, and
each felt as if the ground on which he stood was rendered less stable
by this 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 happy that the poor
dear man had paid his reckoning before he went.
"He came in a storm, and he went in a storm; he came in the night, and
he went in the night; he came nobody knows from 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 the landlord, "if he has
gone to Davy Jones that he had not left his sea-chest behind him."
"The sea-chest! St. Nicholas preserve us!" said 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 on 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 dead lights. And so it went on till they lost sight of him in
the fogs of Newfoundland, and supposed he had veered ship and stood for
Dead Man's Isle. So much for burying a man at sea without saying
prayers over him."
The thunder-gust which had hitherto detained the company was now at an
end. The cuckoo clock in the hall struck midnight; every one pressed to
depart, for seldom was such a late hour 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 aways and
lay piled up in fleecy masses on the horizon, lighted up by the bright
crescent of the moon, which looked like a 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 homewards; particularly
when they passed a lonely field where a man had been murdered; and he
who had farthest to go and had to complete his journey alone, though a
veteran sexton, and accustomed, one would think to ghosts and goblins,
yet went a long way round, rather than pass by his own church-yard.
Wolfert Webber had now carried home a fresh stock of stories and
notions to ruminate upon. His mind was all of a whirl with these
freebooting tales; and then these accounts of pots of money and Spanish
treasures, buried here and there and every where about the rocks and
bays of this wild shore, made him almost dizzy.
"Blessed St. Nicholas!" ejaculated he, half aloud, "is it not possible
to come upon one of these golden hoards, and so make one's self 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
As he turned over in his thoughts all that he had been told of the
singular adventure of the black fisherman, his imagination gave a
totally different complexion to the tale. He saw in the gang of redcaps
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 every thing with gold. He felt like the greedy inhabitant of
Bagdad, when his eye had been greased with the magic ointment of the
dervise, that gave him to see all the treasures of the earth. Caskets
of buried jewels, chests of ingots, bags of outlandish coins, seemed to
court him from their concealments, and supplicate him to relieve them
from their untimely graves.
On making private inquiries about the grounds said to be haunted by
father 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 Mud 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
their 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 shovel full 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, and ramping, and raging
of uncouth figures about the hole, and at length a shower of blows,
dealt by invisible cudgels, that fairly belabored him off the forbidden
ground. This Cobus Quackenbos had declared on his death-bed, 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 suddenly of a brain fever in the
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 negro 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 the town that
did not know Mud Sam the fisherman, and think that he had a right to
play his tricks upon the old negro. Sam was an amphibious kind of
animal, something more of a fish than a man; he had led the life of an
otter 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, looming
through mist and drizzle, like a solitary heron watching for its prey.
He was well acquainted with every hole and corner of the Sound; from
the Wallabout to Hell Gate, and from Hell Gate even unto the Devil's
Stepping Stones; and it was even affirmed that he knew all the fish in
the river by their Christian names.
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 drift-wood, and built on the rocky shore, at the foot of the old
fort, just about what at present forms the point of the Battery. A
"most ancient and fish-like smell" pervaded the place. Oars, paddles,
and fishing-rods were leaning against the wall of the fort; a net was
spread on the sands to dry; a skiff was drawn up on the beach, and at
the door of his cabin lay Mud Sam himself, indulging in a true negro's
luxury—sleeping in the sunshine.
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
unfrequently the case with authentic historians. As to the subsequent
researches of money-diggers, Sam knew nothing about them; they were
matters quite out of his line; neither did the cautious Wolfert care to
disturb his thoughts on that point. His only wish was to secure the old
fisherman as a pilot to the spot, and this was readily effected. The
long time that had intervened since his nocturnal adventure had effaced
all Sam's awe of the place, and the promise of a trifling reward roused
him at once from his sleep and his sunshine.
The tide was adverse to making the expedition by water, and Wolfert was
too impatient to get to the land of promise, to wait for its turning;
they set off, therefore, by land. A walk of four or five miles brought
them to the edge of a wood, which at that time covered the greater part
of the eastern side of the island. It was just beyond the pleasant
region of Bloomen-dael. Here they struck into a long lane, straggling
among trees and bushes, very much overgrown with weeds and mullein
stalks as if but seldom used, and so completely overshadowed as to
enjoy but a kind of twilight. Wild vines entangled the trees and
flaunted in their faces; brambles and briars caught their clothes as
they passed; the garter-snake glided across their path; the spotted
toad hopped and waddled before them, and the restless cat-bird 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
a 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.
On reaching the lower end of the lane they found themselves near the
shore of the Sound, in a kind of amphitheatre, surrounded by forest
tree. The area had once been a grass-plot, but was now shagged with
briars 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 centre. 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 these 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, as he streamed by them with his deep-red plumage, seemed
like some genius flitting about this region of mystery.
[Footnote 3: Orchard Oreole.]
They now came to an enclosure 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 rose-bush, 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 the bank,
facing the water. It had the look of a root-house. The door, though
decayed, was still strong, and appeared to have been recently patched
up. Wolfert pushed it open. It gave a harsh grating upon its hinges,
and striking against something like a box, a rattling sound ensued, and
a skull rolled on the floor. Wolfert drew back shuddering, but was
reassured on being informed by Sam that this was a family vault
belonging to one of the old Dutch families that owned this estate; an
assertion which was 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 quest.
They now made their way to the water's edge, scrambling along ledges of
rocks, and having often to hold by shrubs and grape-vines 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 sloped gradually within
the cove, but the current swept deep and black and rapid along its
jutting points. Sam 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 pointing to a
large iron ring, stapled firmly in the rock, just where a broad shelve
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 narrowly, 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 places looked 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 Sam thought
might be the very ridge from which he overlooked the diggers. Wolfert
examined it narrowly, and at length described three crosses similar to
those above the iron ring, cut deeply into the face of the rock, but
nearly obliterated by the moss that had grown on them. His heart leaped
with joy, for he doubted not but they were the private marks of the
buccaneers, to denote the places where their treasure lay buried. All
now that remained was to ascertain the precise spot; for otherwise he
might dig at random without coming upon the spoil, and he has already
had enough of such profitless labor. Here, however, Sam 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 it was just beside a
great white stone; then it must have been under a small green knoll, a
short distance from the ledge of rock: 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 farther at present; and, indeed, Wolfert had come
unprepared 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 on 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
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 burthen. They paused and regarded him
attentively. He wore what appeared to be a woollen 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 he looked around. What was the horror of
Wolfert when he recognized the grizzly 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
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 tagged at their skirts, nor did they
pause to breathe, until they had blundered their way through this
perilous wood and had fairly reached the high-road 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 dead, of the grizzly 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 bed-clothes
right and left, in the idea that he was shovelling among 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, mouldy
man of medicine famous among the old wives of the Manhattoes for his
skill not only in the healing art, but in all matters of strange and
mysterious nature. His name was Dr. Knipperhausen, but he was more
commonly known by the appellation of the High German doctor. To him
did the poor women repair for counsel and assistance touching the
mental vagaries of Wolfert Webber.
[Footnote 4: The same, no doubt, of whom mention is made in the history
of Dolph Heyliger.]
They found the doctor seated in his little study, clad in his dark
camblet robe of knowledge, with his black velvet cap, after the manner
of Boorhaave, Van Helmont, and other medical sages: a pair of green
spectacles set in black horn upon his clubbed nose, and poring over a
German folio that seemed to reflect 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.
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 in the Harz mountains of Germany,
and had derived much valuable instruction from the miners, touching the
mode of seeking treasure buried in the earth. He had prosecuted his
studies also under a travelling sage who united all 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, and divination; knew how to detect stolen money,
and to tell where springs of water lay hidden; in a word, by the dark
nature of his knowledge he had acquired the name of the High German
doctor, which is pretty nearly equivalent to that of necromancer. The
doctor had often heard rumors of treasure being buried in various parts
of the island, and' had long been anxious to get on the traces of it.
No sooner were Wolfert's waking and sleeping vagaries confided to him,
than he beheld in them the confirmed symptoms of a case of
money-digging, and lost no time in probing it to the bottom. Wolfert
had long been sorely depressed in mind by the golden secret, and as a
family physician is a kind of father confessor, he was glad of the
opportunity of unburthening 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 digged for at night; with certain forms and ceremonies; the
burning of drugs; the repeating of mystic words, and above all, that
the seekers must be provided with a divining rod, which had the
wonderful property of pointing to the very spot on the surface of the
earth under which treasure lay hidden. As the doctor had given much of
his mind to these matters, he charged himself with all the necessary
preparations, and, as the quarter of the moon was propitious, he
undertook to have the divining rod ready by a certain night.
[Footnote 5: The following note was found appended to this paper in the
handwriting of Mr. Knickerbocker. "There has been much written against
the divining rod by those light minds who are ever ready to scoff at
the mysteries of nature, but I fully join with Dr. Knipperhausen in
giving it my faith. I shall not insist upon its efficacy in discovering
the concealment of stolen goods, the boundary-stones of fields, the
traces of robbers and murderers, or even the existence of subterraneous
springs and streams of water; albeit, I think these properties not
easily to be discredited; but of its potency in discovering vein of
precious metal, and hidden sums of money and jewels, I have not the
least doubt. Some said that the rod turned only in the hands of persons
who had been born in particular months of the year; hence astrologers
had recourse to planetary influence when they would procure a talisman.
Others declared that the properties of the rod were either an effect of
chance, or the fraud of the holder, or the work of the devil. Thus
sayeth the reverend Father Gaspard Schott in his Treatise on Magic.
'Propter haec et similia argumenta audacter ego pronuncio vim
conversivam virgulae befurcatae nequaquam naturalem esse, sed vel casa
vel fraude virgulam tractantis vel ope diaboli,' etc.
"Georgius Agricula also was of opinion that it was a mere delusion of
the devil to inveigle the avaricious and unwary into his clutches, and
in his treatise 'de re Metallica,' lays particular stress on the
mysterious words pronounced by those persons who employed the divining
rod during his time. But I make not a doubt that the divining rod is
one of those secrets of natural magic, the mystery of which is to be
explained by the sympathies existing between physical things operated
upon by the planets, and rendered efficacious by the strong faith of
the individual. Let the divining rod be properly gathered at the proper
time of the moon, cut into the proper form, used with the necessary
ceremonies, and with a perfect faith in its efficacy, and I can
confidently recommend it to my fellow-citizens as an infallible means
of discovering the various places on the island of the Manhattoes where
treasure hath been buried in the olden time. D.K."]
Wolfert's heart leaped with joy at having met with so learned and able
a coadjutor. Every thing 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 Mud Sam was engaged to take them in his skiff to
the scene of enterprise; to work with spade and pick-axe 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 counselled 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 roused with tenfold force: they hung about him entreating
him not to expose himself to the night air, but all in vain. When
Wolfert was once mounted on his hobby, it was no easy matter 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 napped 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.
The doctor had been no less carefully armed and accoutred by his
housekeeper, the vigilant Frau Ilsy, and sallied forth in his camblet
robe by way of surtout; 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.
The great church clock struck ten as Wolfert and the doctor passed by
the church-yard, 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
echoing 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 lamp light threw
such vague gleams and shadows, that this might all have been mere
They found the negro fisherman waiting for them, smoking his pipe in
the stern of his skiff, which was moored just in front of his little
cabin. A pick-axe and spade were lying in the bottom of the boat, with
a dark lanthorn, and a stone jug of good Dutch courage, in which honest
Sam no doubt, put even more faith than Dr. Knipperhausen in his drugs.
Thus then did these three worthies embark in their cockleshell of a
skiff upon this nocturnal expedition, with a wisdom and valor equalled
only by the three wise men of Gotham, who went 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.
In a little while they glided by the point of Corlears Hook with the
rural inn which had been the scene of such night adventures. The family
had retired to rest, and the house was dark and still. Wolfert felt a
chill pass over him as they passed the point where the buccaneer had
disappeared. He pointed it out to Dr. Knipperhausen. While regarding
it, they thought they saw a boat actually lurking at the very place;
but the shore cast such a shadow over the border of the water that they
could discern nothing distinctly. They had not proceeded far when they
heard the low sounds of distant oars, as if cautiously pulled. Sam
plied his oars with redoubled vigor, and knowing all the eddies and
currents of the stream, soon left their followers, if such they were,
far astern. In a little while they stretched across Turtle bay and
Kip's bay, then shrouded themselves in the deep shadows of the
Manhattan shore, and glided swiftly along, secure from observation. At
length Sam 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 lanthorn, gathered their various implements and
proceeded slowly through the bushes. Every sound startled them, even
that of their footsteps among the dry leaves; and the hooting of a
screech owl, from the shattered chimney of father red-cap's ruin, made
their blood run cold.
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
lanthorn, Wolfert recognized the three mystic crosses. Their hearts
beat quick, for the momentous trial was at hand that was to determine
The lanthorn 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 centre, forming the stem, pointed
perpendicularly upwards. The doctor moved this 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 lanthorn 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 hand trembling with the agitation of his mind. The
wand continued slowly to turn, 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 Sam, grasping the spade.
"Pots tousends, 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 keep about buried
treasure from doing them any harm. The doctor then drew a circle round
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 marvellously of brimstone and
assafoetida, 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. Doctor
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 lanthorn, 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 pick-axe 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.
"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 about them in
silence; a bird roused from its nest by the light which glared up among
the trees, flew circling about the flame. In the profound stillness of
the woodland they could distinguish the current rippling along the
rocky shore, and the distant murmuring and roaring of Hell Gate.
Sam continued his labors, and had already digged a considerable hole.
The doctor stood on the edge, reading formulae every now and then from
the 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. Any one witnessing the scene thus strangely lighted up by
fire, lanthorn, and the reflection of Wolfert's red mantle, might have
mistaken the little doctor for some foul magician, busied in his
incantations, and the grizzled-headed Sam as some swart goblin,
obedient to his commands.
At length the spade of the fisherman struck upon something that sounded
hollow. The sound vibrated to Wolfert's heart. He struck his spade
"'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 overhead 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 lanthorn. 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
lanthorn extinguished. In their hurry-skurry 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, Mud Sam another, and Wolfert made for the water
side. As he plunged struggling onwards through bush 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 period, and showed two
figures grappling together—all was then darker than ever. The contest
continued—the combatants clenched each other, and panted and groaned,
and rolled among the rocks. There was snarling and growling as of a
cur, mingled with curses in which Wolfert fancied he could recognize
the voice of the buccaneer. He would fain have fled, but he was on the
brink of a precipice and could go no farther.
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 every
thing from view, and the swiftness of the current swept every thing
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 choaked by the string with
which his careful wife had fastened the garment round his neck. Wolfert
thought his last moment had 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 the morning were already shooting up the sky.
He found himself lying in the bottom of a boat, grievously battered. He
attempted to sit up but was too sore and stiff to move. A voice
requested him in 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 Mud 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 route 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 conveyed 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 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 holes and boxes, but this is all very dubious.
In fact, the secret of all this story has never to this day been
discovered: whether any treasure was ever actually buried at that
place, whether, if so, it was 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 many other parts of
this island and its neighborhood, ever since the times of the
buccaneers and the Dutch colonists; and I would earnestly recommend the
search after them to such of my fellow citizens as are not engaged in
any other speculations.
There were many conjectures formed, also, as to who and what was the
strange man of the seas who had domineered over the little fraternity
at Corlears 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 a buccaneer; one of the ancient comrades
either of Kidd or Bradish, returned to convey away treasures formerly
hidden in the vicinity. The only circumstance that throws any thing
like a vague light over this mysterious matter is a report that
prevailed of a strange foreign-built shallop, with the look of a
piccaroon, 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
I must not omit to mention another report, also, which I confess is
rather apocryphal, of the buccaneer, who was supposed to have been
drowned, being seen before daybreak, with a lanthorn in his hand,
seated astride 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 sorrowful 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 desertions 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, 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
Dirk Waldron was the only being that seemed to shed a ray of sunshine
into this house of mourning. He came in with cheery look and manly
spirit, and tried to reanimate the expiring heart of the poor
money-digger, but it was all in vain. Wolfert was completely done over.
If any thing was wanting to complete his despair, it was a notice
served upon him in the midst of his distress, that the corporation were
about to run a new street through the very centre of his cabbage
garden. He 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?
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
"Leave her to me, father!" said Dirk, manfully—"I'll take care of
Wolfert looked up in the face of the cheery, strapping youngster, and
saw there was none better able to take care of a woman.
"Enough," said he, "she is yours!—and now fetch me a lawyer—let me
make my will and die."
The lawyer was brought—a dapper, bustling, round-headed little man,
Roorback (or Rollebuck, as it was pronounced) by name. At the sight of
him the women broke into loud lamentations, for they looked upon the
signing of a will as the signing of a death-warrant. Wolfert made a
feeble motion for them to be silent. Poor Amy buried her face and her
grief in the bed-curtain. Dame Webber resumed her knitting to hide her
distress, which betrayed itself, however, in a pellucid tear, that
trickled silently down and hung at the end of her peaked nose; while
the cat, the only unconcerned member of the family, played with the
good dame's ball of worsted, as it rolled about the floor.
Wolfert lay on his back, his nightcap drawn over his forehead; his eyes
closed; his whole visage the picture of death. He begged the lawyer to
be brief, for he felt his end approaching, and that he had no time to
lose. The lawyer nibbed his pen, spread out his paper, and prepared to
"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 piece of meadow come to be laid out in streets, and cut up into
snug building lots—why, whoever owns them need not pull off his hat to
"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 burnt 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 a lethargy, and, to their astonishment, found
themselves rich men.
Before many months had elapsed a great bustling street passed through
the very centre 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 rents; insomuch that on quarter day, it was a goodly
sight to see his tenants rapping at his door, from morning to night,
each with a little round-bellied bag of money, the golden produce of
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 house 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 a crest a fullblown cabbage painted on the
pannels, 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 leathern-bottomed arm-chair in the inn parlor at
Corlears 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.