“His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate; — “
Two Gentlemen of Verona.
The philosophy of Alderman Van Beverout was not easily disturbed. Still there was a play of the nether muscles of the face, which might be construed into self complacency at his victory, while a certain contraction of those which controlled the expression of the forehead seemed to betray a full consciousness of the eminent risk he had run. The left hand was thrust into a pocket, where it diligently fingered the provision of Spanish coin without which the merchant never left his abode, while the other struck the cane it held on the pavement, with the force of a resolute and decided man. In this manner he proceeded in his walk, for several minutes longer, shortly quitting the lower streets, to enter one that ran along the ridge, which crowned the land, in that quarter of the island. Here he soon stopped before the door of a house which, in that provincial town, had altogether the air of a patrician dwelling.
Two false gables each of which was surmounted by an iron weathercock, intersected the roof of this building, and the high and narrow stoop was built of the red free-stone of the country. The material of the edifice, itself, was, as usual, the small hard brick of Holland, painted a delicate cream colour.
A single blow of the massive glittering knocker brought a servant to the door. The promptitude with which this summons was answered showed that, notwithstanding the early hour, the Alderman was an expected guest. The countenance of him who acted as porter betrayed no surprise when he saw the person who applied for admission, and every movement of the black denoted preparation and readiness for his reception. Declining his invitation to enter, however, the Alderman placed his back against the iron railing of the stoop, and opened a discourse with the negro. The latter was aged, with a head that was grizzled, a nose that was levelled nearly to the plane of his face, features that were wrinkled and confused, and with a form which, though still solid, was bending with its load of years.
“Brave cheer to thee, old Cupid;” commenced the burgher, in the hearty and cordial manner with which the masters of that period were wont to address their indulged slaves. “A clear conscience is a good night cap, and you look bright as the morning sun! I hope my friend the young Patroon has slept sound as yourself, and that he has shewn his face already, to prove it.”
The negro answered with the slow clipping manner that characterized his condition and years.
“He’m werry wakeful, Masser Al’erman. I t’ink he no sleep half he time, lately. All he a’tiverty and wiwacerty gone, an’ he do no single t’ing but smoke. A gentle’um who smoke alway, Masser Al’erman, get to be a melercholy man, at last. I do t’ink ‘ere be one young lady in York who be he deat’, some time!”
“We’ll find the means to get the pipe out of his mouth,” said the other, looking askance at the black, as if to express more than he uttered. “Romance and pretty girls play the deuce with our philosophy, in youth, as thou knowest, by experience, old Cupid.”
“I no good for any thing, dat-a-way, now, not’ing,” calmly returned the black. “I see a one time, when few colour’ man in York, hab more respect among a fair sec’, but dat a great while gone by. Now, de modder of your Euclid, Masser Al’erman, war’ a pretty woman, do’ she hab but poor conduc’. Den a war’ young heself, and I use to visit at de Al’ermans fadder’s; afore a English come, and when ole Patroon war’ a young man. Golly! I great affection for Euclid, do’ a young dog nebber come a near me!”
“He’s a black-guard! My back is no sooner turned than the rascal’s a-top of one of his masters’ geldings.”
“He’m werry young, master My’nert: No one get a wis’om fore a gray hair.”
“He’s forty every minute, and the rogue gets impudence with his years. Age is a reverend and respectable condition, when it brings gravity and thought, but if a young fool be tiresome, an old fool is contemptible. I’ll warrant me, you never were so thoughtless, or so heartless, Cupid, as to ride an over+worked beast, at night!”
“Well, I get pretty ole, Masser Myn’ert, an’ I forget all he do when a young man. But here be ‘e Patroon, who know how to tell ‘e Aler’man such t’ing better than a poor colour’ slave.”
“A fair rising and a lucky day to you, Patroon!” cried the Alderman, saluting a large, slow-moving, gentlemanly looking young man of five-and-twenty, who advanced with the gravity of one of twice that number of years, from the interior of the house, towards its outer door. “The winds are bespoken, and here is as fine a day as ever shone out of a clear sky, whether, it came from the pure atmosphere of Holland, or of old England itself. Colonies and patronage! If the people on the other side of the ocean had more faith in mother nature, and less opinion of themselves, they would find it very tolerable breathing in the plantations. But the conceited rogues are like the man who blew the bellows, and fancied he made the music, and there is never a hobbling imp of them all, but he believes he is straighter and sounder, than the best in the colonies. Here is our bay, now, as smooth as if it were shut in with twenty dykes, and the voyage will be as safe as if it were made on a canal.”
“Dat werry well if a do it,” grumbled Cupid, who busied himself affectionately about the person of his master. “I t’ink it alway better to travel on ‘e land, when a gentle’um own so much as Masser Oloff. Der’ war’ ‘e time a ferry boat go down wid crowd of people; and nobody ebber come up again to say how he feel.”
“Here is some mistake!” interrupted the Alderman, throwing an uneasy glance at his young friend. “I count four and fifty years, and remember no such calamity.”
“He’m werry sing’lar how a young folk do forget! ‘Ere war’ drown six people in dat werry boat. A two Yankee, a Canada Frenchman, and a poor woman from a Jarseys. Ebbery body, war’ werry sorry for a poor woman from a Jarseys!”
“Thy tally is false, Master Cupid,” promptly rejoined the Alderman, who was rather expert at figures. “Two Yankees, a Frenchman and your Jersey woman, make but four.”
“Well, den I s’pose ‘ere war’ one yankee; but I know all war’ drown, for’ e Gubbenor lose he fine coach horses in dat werry boat.”
“The old fellow is right, sure enough, for I remember the calamity of the horses, as if it were but yesterday. But death is monarch of the earth, and none of us may hope to escape his scythe, when the appointed hour shall come! Here are no nags to lose, to day, and we may commence our voyage, Patroon, with cheerful faces and light hearts. Shall we proceed?”
Oloff Van Staats, or the Patroon of Kinderhook, as, by the courtesy of the colony, he was commonly termed, did not want for personal firmness. On the contrary, like most of those who were descended from the Hollanders, he was rather distinguished for steadiness in danger, and obstinacy in resistance. The little skirmish which had just taken place, between his friend and his slave, had proceeded from their several apprehensions, the one feeling a sort of parental interest in his safety, and the other having particular reasons for wishing him to persevere in his intention to embark, instead of any justifiable cause in the character of the young proprietor himself. A sign to the boy who bore a portmanteau, settled the controversy, and then Mr. Van Staats intimated his readiness to move.
Cupid lingered on the stoop until his master had turned a corner, then shaking his head with all the misgivings of an ignorant and superstitious mind, he drove the young fry of blacks, who thronged the door, into the house, closing all after him with singular and scrupulous care. How far the presentiment of the black was warranted by the event, will be seen in the course of the narrative.
The wide avenue, in which Oloff Van Staats dwelt, was but a few hundred yards in length. It terminated at one end, with the fortress, and at the other it was crossed by a high stockade, which bore the name of the city walls; a defence that was provided against any sudden irruption of the Indians, who then hunted, and even dwelt in some numbers, in the lower counties of the colony.
It requires great familiarity with the growth of the town, to recognize, in this description, the noble street that now runs for a league through the centre of the island. From this avenue, which was then, as it is still, called the Broadway, our adventurers descended into a lower quarter of the town holding free converse by the way.
“That Cupid is a negro to keep the roof on a house, in its master’s absence, Patroon;” observed the Alderman, soon after they had left the stoop. “He looks like a padlock, and one might sleep, without a dream, with such a guardian near his dwelling. I wish I had brought the honest fellow the key of my stable!”
“I have heard my father say, that the keys of his own were always better near his own pillow,” coolly, returned the proprietor of a hundred thousand acres.”
“Ah, the curse of Cain! It is needless to look for the fur of a marten on the back of a cat. But, Mr. Van Staats, while walking to your door this morning, it was my fortune to meet the late governor, who is permitted by his creditors to take the air, at an hour when he thinks the eyes of the impertinent will be shut. I believe, Patroon, you were so lucky as to get back your moneys, before the royal displeasure visited the man?”
“I was so lucky as never to trust him.”
“That was better still, for it would have been a barren investment; great jeopardy to principal and no return. But we had discourse of various interests, and among others, something was hazarded concerning your amatory pretensions to my niece.”
“Neither the wishes of Oloff Van Staats, nor the inclinations of la belle Barbèèrie are a subject for the Governor in Council,” said the Patroon of Kinderhook stiffly.
“Nor was it thus treated. The Viscount spoke me fair, and had he not pushed the matter beyond discretion, we might have come to happier conclusions.”
“I am glad that there was some restraint in the discourse.”
“The man certainly exceeded reason, for he led the conference into personalities that no prudent man could relish. Still he said it was possible that the Coquette might yet be ordered for service, among the islands!”
It has been said, that Oloff Van Staats was a fair personable young man of vast stature, and with much of the air of a gentleman of his country; for though a British subject he was rather a Hollander in feelings, habits and opinions. He coloured at the allusion to the presence of his known rival, though his companion was at a loss to discover whether pride, or vexation, was at the bottom of his emotion.
“If Capt. Ludlow prefer a cruise in the Indies, to duty on this coast, I hope he may obtain his wish,” was the cautious answer.
“Your liberal man enjoys a sounding name, and an empty coffer,” observed the Alderman, drily. “To me it seems that a petition to the Admiral to send so meritorious an officer on service where he may distinguish himself, should deserve his thanks. The freeboters are playing the devil’s game with the sugar trade, and even the French are getting troublesome, further south.”
“He has certainly the reputation of an active cruiser.”
“Blixum and Philosophy! If you wish to succeed with Alida, Patroon, you must put more briskness into the adventure. The girl has a cross of the Frenchman in her temper, and none of your deliberations and taciturnities will gain the day. This visit to the Lust in Rust is Cupid’s own handy work, and I hope to see you both return to town as amicable as the Stadtholder and the States General after a sharp struggle for the years subsidy has been settled by a compromise.”
“The success of this suit is the affair nearest my — ” The young man paused, as if surprised at his own communicativeness, and taking advantage of the haste in which his toilette had been made, he thrust a hand into his vest, covering with its broad palm a portion of the human frame which poets do not describe as the seat of the passions.
“If you mean stomach, Sir, you will not have reason to be disappointed,” retorted the Alderman, a little more severely than was usual with one so cautious. “The heiress of Myndert Van Beverout will not be a pennyless bride, and Monsieur Barbaric did not close the books of life without taking good care of the balance sheet — but yonder are those devils of ferrymen quitting the wharf without us! Scamper ahead, Brutus, and tell them to wait the legal minute. The rogues are never exact; sometimes starting before I am ready, and sometimes keeping me waiting, in the sun, as if I were no better than a dried dun+fish. Punctuality is the soul of business, and one of my habits does not like to be ahead, nor behind his time.”
In this manner the worthy burgher, who would have been glad to regulate the movements of others on all occasions, a good deal by his own, vented his complaints, while he and his companion hurried on to overtake the slow+moving boat in which they were to embark. A brief description of the scene will not be without interest to a generation that may be termed modern, in reference to the time of which we write.
A deep narrow creek penetrated the island, at this point, for the distance of a quarter of mile. Each of its banks had a row of buildings, as the houses line a canal in the cities of Holland. As the natural course of the inlet was necessarily respected, the street had taken a curvature not unlike that of a new moon. The houses were ultra Dutch, being low, angular, fastidiously neat and all erected with their gables to the street. Each had its ugly and inconvenient entrance termed a stoop, its vane or weathercock, its dormer windows, and its graduated battlement walls. Near the apex of one of the latter, a little iron crane projected into the street. A small boat, of the same metal, swung from its end, a sign that the building to which it was appended was the ferry-house.
An inherent love of artificial and confined navigation had probably induced the burghers to select this spot, as the place whence so many craft departed from the town, since, it is certain, that the two rivers could have furnished divers points more favorable for such an object, inasmuch as they possess the advantage of wide and unobstructed channels.
Fifty blacks were already in the street, dipping their brooms into the creek, and flourishing water over the side walks, and on the fronts of the low edifices. This light but daily duty was relieved by clamorous collisions of wit, and by shouts of merriment, in which the whole street would join, as with one joyous and reckless movement of the spirit.
The language of this light-hearted and noisy race was Dutch, already corrupted by English idioms, and occasionally by English words; a system of change that has probably given rise to an opinion, among some of the descendants of the earlier colonists, that the latter tongue is merely a patois of the former. This opinion, which so much resembles that certain well read English scholars entertain of the plagiarisms of the continental writers, when they first begin to dip into their works, is not strictly true, since the language of England has probably bestowed as much on the dialect of which we speak, as it has ever received from the purer sources of the school of Holland. Here and there, a grave burgher, still in his night-cap, might be seen with a head thrust out of an upper window, listening to these barbarisms of speech, and taking note of all the merry jibes that flew from mouth to mouth with an indomitable gravity, that no levity of those beneath could undermine.
As the movement of the ferry boat was necessarily slow, the Alderman and his companion were enabled to step into it, before the fasts were thrown aboard. The periagua, as the craft was called, partook of an European and an American character. It possessed the length, narrowness and clean bow of the canoe, from which it name was derived, with the flat bottom and lee-boards of a boat constructed for the shallow waters of the Low Countries. Twenty years ago, vessels of this description abounded in our rivers, and even now their two long and unsupported masts, and high narrow-headed sails are daily seen bending like reeds to the breeze, and dancing lightly over the billows of the bay. There is a variety of the class, of a size and pretension altogether superior to that just mentioned, which deserves a place among the most picturesque and striking boats that float. He who has had occasion to navigate the southern shore of the Sound must have often seen the vessel to which we allude. It is distinguished by its great length, and masts which, naked of cordage, rise from the hull like two tall and faultless trees. When the eye runs over the daring height of canvass, the noble confidence of the rig, and sees the comparatively vast machine handled with ease and grace by the dexterity of two fearless and expert mariners, it excites some such admiration as that which springs from the view of a severe temple of antiquity. The nakedness and simplicity of the construction, coupled with the boldness and rapidity of its movements, imparts to the craft, an air of grandeur, that its ordinary uses would not give reason to expect.
Though, in some respects, of singularly aquatic habits, the original colonists of New York were far less adventurous, as mariners, than their present descendants. A passage across the bay did not often occur in the tranquil lives of the burghers, and it is still within the memory of man, that a voyage between the two principal towns of the State was an event to excite the solicitude of friends, and the anxiety of the traveller. The perils of the Tappaan Zee, as one of the wider reaches of the Hudson is still termed, was often dealt with by the good wives of the colony, in their relations of marvels, and she who had oftenest encountered them unharmed, was deemed a sort of marine amazon.