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" By Woden, God of Saxons,
From whence comes Wensday, that is Wodensday,
Truth is a thing that ever I will keep
Unto thylke day in which I creep into
My sepulchre. 7 '


WHOEVER has made a voyage up the Hudson,
must remember the Kaatskill Mountains. They
are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family,
and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to
a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country.
Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed
every hour of the day. produces some change in the magi-
cal hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are re-
garded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect
barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they
are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold out-
lines on the clear evening sky ; but sometimes, when the
rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood
of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays
of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of

At the foot of these fairy mountains the voyager may
have descried the light smoke curling up from a village,


whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the
blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of
the nearer landscape. It is a little village of great antiq-
uity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists
in the early times of the province, just about the beginning
of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant, (may he
rest in peace !) and there were some of the houses of the
original settlers standing within a few years, built of small
yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed win-
dows and gable fronts, surmounted with weathercocks.

In that same village, and in one of these very houses,
(which, to tell the precise truth, was sadly time-worn and
weather-beaten,) there lived many years since, while the
country was yet a province of Great Britain, a simple
good-natured fellow, of the name of Rip Van Winkle.
He was a descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so
gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant, and
accompanied him to the siege of Fort Christina. He in-
herited, however, but little of the martial character of his
ancestors. I have observed that he was a simple good-
natured man ; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and n
obedient hen-pecked husband. Indeed, to the latter cir-
cumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which
gained him such universal popularity ; for those men are
most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are
under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers,
doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery
furnace of domestic tribulation, and a curtain lecture is
worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues
of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may,
therefore, in some respects, be considered a tolerable bless-
ing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.

Certain it is, that he was a great favorite among all the
good wives of the village, who, as usual with the amiable
sex, -took his part in all family squabbles ; and never


failed, whenever they talked those matters over in their
evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van
Winkle. The children of the village, too, would shout
with joy whenever he approached. He assisted at their
sports, made their playthings, taught them to fly kites and
shoot marbles, and told them long stories of ghosts, witches,
and Indians. Whenever he went dodging about the vil-
lage, he was surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on
his skirts, clambering on his back, and playing a thousand
tricks on him with impunity ; and not a dog would bark
at him throughout the neighborhood.

The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable
aversion to all kinds of profitable labor. It could not be
from the want of assiduity or perseverance ; for he would
sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long and heavy as a Tar-
tar's lance, and fish all day without a murmur, even though
he should not be encouraged by a single nibble. He
would carry a fowling-piece on his shoulder for hours
together, trudging through woods and swamps, and up hill
and down dale, to shoot a few squirrels or wild pigeons.
He would never refuse to assist a neighbor even in the
roughest toil, and was a foremost man at all country frolics
for husking Indian corn, or building stone fences : the
women of the village, too, used to employ him to run their
errands, and to do such little odd jobs as their less obliging
husbands would not do for them. In a word, Rip was
ready to attend to anybody's business but his own ; but as
to doing family duty, and keeping his farm in order, he
found it impossible.

In fact, he declared it was of no use to work on his farm ;
it was the most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole
country ; everything about it went wrong, and would go
wrong, in spite of him. His fences were continually falling
to pieces ; his cow would either go astray, or get among the
cabbages ; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields


than anywhere else ; the rain always made a point of set-
ting in just as he had some out-door work to do ; so that
though his patrimonial estate had dwindled away under
his management, acre by acre, until there was little more
left than a mere patch of Indian corn and potatoes, yet
it was the worst conditioned farm in the neighborhood.

His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they
belonged to nobody. His son Rip, an urchin begotten in
his own likeness, promised to inherit the habits, with the
old clothes of his father. He was generally seen trooping
like a colt at his mother's heels, equipped in a pair of his
father's cast-off galligaskins, which he had much ado to
hold up with one hand, as a fine lady does her train in bad

Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy
mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the
world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got
with least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a
penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he would
have whistled life away in perfect contentment ; but his
wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idle-
ness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his
family. Morning, noon, and night her tongue was inces-
santly going, and everything he said or did was sure to
produce a torrent of household eloquence. Rip had but
one way of replying to all lectures of the kind, and that,
by frequent use, had grown into a habit. He shrugged
his shoulders, shook his head, cast up his eyes, but said
nothing. This, however, always provoked a fresh volley
from his wife, so that he was fain to draw off his forces,
and take to the outside of the house, the only side which,
in truth, belongs to a hen-pecked husband.

Rip's sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf, who was
as much hen-pecked as his master ; for Dame Van Winkle
regarded them as companions in idleness, and even looked


upon Wolf with an evil eye, as the cause of his master's
going so often astray. True it is, in all points of spirit be-
litting an honorable clog, he was as courageous an animal
as ever scoured the woods ; but what courage can withstand
the ever-during and all-besetting terrors of a woman's
tongue ? The moment Wolf entered the house his crest
fell, his tail drooped to the ground or curled between his
!ie sneaked about with a gallows air, casting many a
sidelong glance at Dame Van Winkle, and at the least
flourish of a broomstick or ladle, he would fly to the door
with yelping precipitation.

Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as
years of matrimony rolled on ; a tart temper never mellows
with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that
grows keener with constant use. For a long while he used
to console himself, when driven from home, by frequenting
a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and
other idle personages of the village, which held its sessions
on a bench before a small inn, designated by a rubicund
portrait of his Majesty George the Third. Here they
used to sit in the shade through a long, lazy summer's day,
talking listlessly over village gossip, or telling endless sleepy
stories about nothing. But it would have been worth any
statesman's money to have heard the profound discussions
that sometimes took place, when by chance an old news-
paper fell into their hands from some passing traveller.
How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled
out by Derrick Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, a dapper,
learned little man, who was not to be daunted by the
most jrigantic word in the dictionary ; and how sagely they
would deliberate upon public events some months after
they had taken place !

The opinions of this junto were completely controlled
by Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and land-
lord of the inn, at the door of which he took his seat from


morning till night, just moving sufficiently to avoid the
sun and keep in the shade of a large tree ; so that the
neighbors could tell the hour by his movements as accu-
rately as by a sun-dial. It is true he was rarely heard to
speak, but smoked his pipe incessantly. His adherents,
however, (for every great man has his adherents,) perfectly
understood him, and knew how to gather his opinions.
When anything that was read or related displeased him,
he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently, and to
send forth short, frequent, and angry puffs ; but when
pleased, he would inhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly,
and emit it in light and placid clouds ; and sometimes,
taking the pipe from his mouth, and letting the fragrant
vapor curl about his nose, would gravely nod his head in
token of perfect approbation.

From even this stronghold the unlucky Rip was at
length routed by his termagant wife, who would suddenly
break in upon the tranquillity of the assemblage and call
the members all to naught ; nor was that august person-
age, Nicholas Vedder himself, sacred from the daring
tongue of this terrible virago, who charged him outright
with encouraging her husband in habits of idleness.

Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and
his only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm
and clamor of his wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll
away into the woods. Here he would sometimes seat
himself at the foot of a tree, and share the contents of his
wallet with Wolf, with whom he sympathized as a fellow-
sufferer in persecution. " Poor Wolf," he would say,
" thy mistress leads thee a dog's life of it ; but never
mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt never want a friend
to stand by thee!" Wolf would wag his tail, look
wistfully in his master's face, and if dogs can feel pity,
I verily believe he reciprocated the sentiment with all
his heart.


In a long ramble of the kind on a fine autumnal day,
Rip had unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest
parts of the Kaatskill Mountains. He was after his
favorite sport of squirrel shooting, and the still soli-
tudes had echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his
^un. Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in
the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered with mountain
herbage, that crowned the brow of a precipice. From
an opening between the trees he could overlook all the
lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He
saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him,
moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflec-
tion of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark,
here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last
losing itself in the blue highlands.

On the other side he looked down into a deep moun-
tain glen, wild, lonely, and shagged, the bottom filled with
fragments from the impending cliffs, and scarcely lighted
by the reflected rays of the setting sun. For some time
Rip lay musing on this scene ; evening was gradually
advancing ; the mountains began to throw their long
blue shadows over the valleys ; he saw that it would be
dark long before he could reach the village, and he
heaved a heavy sigh when he thought of encountering
the terrors of Dame Van Winkle.

As he was about to descend, he heard a voice from a
distance, hallooing, " Rip Van Winkle ! Rip Van Win-
kle ! " He looked round, but could see nothing but a
crow winging its solitary flight across the mountain. He
thought his fancy must have deceived him, and turned
again to descend, when he heard the same cry ring
through the still evening air: "Rip Van Winkle! Rip
Van Winkle!" at the same time Wolf bristled up his
back, and. giving a loud growl, skulked to his master's
side, looking fearfully down into the glen. Rip now felt a


vague apprehension stealing over him; he looked anx-
iously in the same direction, and perceived a strange
figure slowly toiling up the rocks, and bending under the
weight of something he carried on his back. He was
surprised to see any human being in this lonely and un-
frequented place, but supposing it to be some one of the
neighborhood in need of his assistance, he hastened down
to yield it.

On near approach he was still more surprised at the
singularity of the stranger's appearance, lie was a short,
square-built old fellow, with thick bushy hair, and a grizzled
beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion, a
cloth jerkin strapped round the waist, several pairs of
breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows
of buttons down the sides, and bunches at the knees. He
bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full of liquor,
and made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with
the load. Though rather shy and distrustful of this new
acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity ; and
mutually relieving each other, they clambered up a narrow
gully, apparently the dry bed of a mountain torrent. As
they ascended, Rip every now and then heard long rolling
peals, like distant thunder, that seemed to issue out of a
deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks, toward
which their rugged path conducted. He paused for an in-
stant, but supposing it to be the muttering of one of those
transient bander-showers which often take place in moun-
tain heights, he proceeded. Passing through the ravine,
they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded
by perpendicular precipices, over the brinks of which
impending trees shot their branches, so that you only
caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening
cloud. During the whole time Rip and his companion
had labored on in silence; for though the former marvelled
greatly what could be the object of carrying a keg of


liquor up this wild mountain, yet there was something
strange and incomprehensible about the unknown, that
inspired awe and checked familiarity.

On entering the amphitheatre, new objects of wonder
presented themselves. On a level spot in the centre was a
company of odd-looking personages playing at ninepins.
They were dressed in a quaint outlandish fashion ; some
wore short doublets, others jerkins, with long knives in
their belts, and most of them had enormous breeches, of
similar style with those of the guide. Their visages, too,
were peculiar : one had a large head, broad face, and
small piggish eyes ; the face of another seemed to consist
entirely of nose, and was surmounted by a white sugar-
loaf hat, set off with a little red cock's tail. They all had
beards, of various shades and colors. There was one who
seemed to be the commander. He was a stout old gentle-
man, with a weather-beaten countenance ; he wore a
laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high-crowned hat
and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with
roses in them. The whole group reminded Rip of the
figures in an old Flemish painting, in the parlor of
Dominie Van Shaick, the village parson, and which had
been brought over from Holland at the time of the settle-

What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though
these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they
maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence,
and were, withal, the most melancholy party of pleasure
he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness
of the scene but the noise of the balls, which, whenever
they were rolled, echoed along the mountains like rum-
bling peals of thunder.

As Rip and his companion approached them, they sud-
denly desisted from their play, and stared at him with
such fixed statue-like gaze, and such strange, uncouth,


lack-lustre countenances, that his heart turned within
him, and his knees smote together. His companion now
emptied the contents of the keg into large flagons, and
made signs to him to wait upon the company. He
obeyed with fear and trembling ; they quaffed the liquor
in profound silence, and then returned to their game.

By degrees Kip's awe and apprehension subsided. He
even ventured, when no eye was fixed upon him, to taste
the beverage, which he found had much of the flavor of
excellent Hollands. He was naturally a thirsty soul, and
was soon tempted to repeat the draught. One taste pro-
voked another ; and he reiterated his visits to the flagon
so often that at length his senses were overpowered, his
eyes swam in his head, his head gradually declined, and
he fell into a deep sleep.

On waking, he found himself on the green knoll
whence he had first seen the old man of the glen. He
rubbed his eyes, it was a bright sunny morning. The
birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and
the eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure
mountain breeze. "Surely," thought Rip, "I have not
slept here all night." He recalled the occurrences before
he fell asleep. The strange man with a keg of liquor
the mountain ravine the wild retreat among the rocks
the woe-begorie party at ninepins the flagon ,
"Oh! that flagon! that wicked flagon !" thought Rip;
" what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle ? "

He looked round for his gun, but in place of the
clean, well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock
lying by him, the barrel incrusted with rust, the lock
i'alling off, and the stock worm-eaten. He now suspected
that the grave roysters of the mountain had put a trick
upon him, and, having dosed him with liquor, had
robbed him of his gun. Wolf, too, had disappeared,
but he might have strayed away after a squirrel or par-


tridge. He whistled after him and shouted his Dame,
but all in vain ; the echoes repeated his whistle and
shout, but no dog was to be seen.

He determined to revisit the scene of the last even-
gambol, and if he met with any of the party, to
demand his dog and gun. As he rose to walk, he
found himself stiff in the joints, and wanting in his
usual activity. "These mountain beds do not agree
with me,'' thought Rip, "and if this frolic should lay
me up with a fit of the rheumatism, I shall have a
I time with Dame Van Winkle." With some dif-
ficulty he got down into the glen : he found the gully
up which he and his companion had ascended the
preceding evening ; but to his astonishment a mountain
stream was now foaming down it, leaping from rock to
rock, and filling the glen with babbling murmurs. He,
however, made shift to scramble up its sides, working
his toilsome way through thickets of birch, sassafras,
and witch-hazel, and sometimes tripped up or entangled
by the wild grape-vines that twisted their coils or ten-
drils from tree to tree, and spread a kind of network in
his path.

At length he reached to where the ravine had opened
through the cliffs to the amphitheatre ; but no traces of
such opening remained. The rocks presented a high
impenetrable wall, over which the torrent came tumbling
in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep
basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest.
Here, then, poor Rip was brought to a stand. He again
called and whistled after his dog ; he was only answered
by the cawing of a flock of idle crows, sporting high in
air about a dry tree that overhung a sunny precipice ;
and who, secure in their elevation, seemed to look down
and scoff at the poor man's perplexities. What was to
be done ? the morning was passing away, and Rip felt


famished for want of his breakfast. He grieved to give
up his dog and his gun ; he dreaded to meet his wife ;
but it would not do to starve among the mountains. lie
shook his head, shouldered the rusty firelock, and, with a
heart full of trouble and anxiety, turned his steps hunne-

As he approached the village he met a number of peo-
ple, but none whom he knew, which somewhat surprised
him, for he had thought himself acquainted with every one
in the country round. Their dress, too, was of a different
fashion from that to which he was accustomed. They all
stared at him with equal marks of surprise, and whenever
they cast their eyes upon him, invariably stroked their
chins. The constant recurrence of this gesture induced
Rip, involuntarily, to do the same, when, to his astonish-
ment, he found his beard had grown a foot long !

He had now entered the skirts of the village. A troop
of strange children ran at his heels, hooting after him, and
pointing at his gray beard. The dogs, too, not one of
which he recognized for an old acquaintance, barked at
him as he passed. The very village was altered ; it was
larger and more populous. There were rows of houses
which he had never seen before, and those which had been
his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were
over the doors strange faces at the windows every-
thing was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began
to doubt whether both he and the world around him were
not bewitched. Surely this was his native village, which
he had left but the day before. There stood the Kaat-
skill Mountains; there ran the silver Hudson at a dis-
tance ; there was every hill and dale precisely as it had
always been ; Rip was sorely perplexed. " That flagon
last night," thought he, "has addled my poor head sadly !"

It was with some difficulty that he found the way to his
own house, which he approached with silent awe, expect-


ing every moment to hear the shrill voice of Dame Van
Winkle. He found the house gone to decay, the roof
fallen in, the windows shattered, and the doors off the
~. A half-starved dog that looked like Wolf was
skulking about it. Rip called him by name, but the cur
snarled, showed his teeth, and passed on. This was an
unkind cut indeed. " My very dog," sighed poor Rip,
" has forgotten me ! "

He entered the house, which, to tell the truth, Dame
Van Winkle had always kept in neat order. It was empty,
forlorn, and apparently abandoned. The desolateness over-
came all his connubial fears, he called loudly for his
wife and children ; the lonely chambers rang for a moment
with his voice, and then all again was silence.

He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort,
the village inn ; but it, too, was gone. A large rickety
wooden building stood in its place, with great gaping win-
dows, some of them broken, and mended with old hats and
petticoats ; and over the door was painted, " The Union
Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle." Instead of the great tree
that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there
was now reared a tall naked pole, with something on the
top that looked like a red nightcap, and from it was flut-
tering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars
and stripes ; all this was strange and incomprehensible.
He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King
George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful
pipe ; but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The
red coat was changed for one of blue and bluff, a sword
was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was
decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted
in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON.

There was, as usual, a crowd of folks about the door,
but none that Rip recollected. The very character of the
people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling, dis-


putatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm
and drowsy tranquillity. He looked in vain for the sage
Nicholas Vedder, with his broad face, double chin, and fair
long pipe, uttering clouds of tobacco-smoke instead of idle

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 65 of 66)