By Rev. Charles Rockwell
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
Catskill Creek-Hudson and the Indians—Road to the Mountains—Onti Ora—Cole, the Artist—His Paintings—Sketch of the Road—Rip Van Winkle’s Cabin—The Mountain House—View from it—Cloud Mirror—North and South Mountains—The Lakes—The Falls—Cauterskill Clove—The Fawn’s Leap—Palensville—Cooper’s "Pioneers"—The Mountains and Falls,--RipVan Winkle—Sketch of Him—His Trip up the Mountains—His Companion—Playing at Ninepins—Hard Drinking—A Long Nap—Walking Up—Return Home—Changes there.
An able author and artist, after speaking of Catskill as lying at the mouth of the Catskill Creek, a clear and beautiful stream that flows down from the hill-country of Schoharie County for nearly forty miles, thus writes: "It was near Catskill that the Half Moon, Hendrick Hudson’s vessel, anchored September 20, 1609, and was detained all the next day on account of the great number of natives who came on board; and had a merry time." Master Juet, one of Hudson’s companions, says, in his journal, "Our master and his mate determined to trie some of the chefe men of the country, whether they had any treacherie in them. So they tooke them down into the cabbin and gave them so much wine and aqua vitae the they were all merrie; and one of them had his wife with him, which sate so modestly as any of our country-women would doe in a strange place. In the ende, one of them was drunke, which had been aboord our ship all the time that we had beene there; and that was strange to them, for they could not tell how to take it. The canoes and folks all went on shore; but some of them came again, and brought stropes of beades (wampum made of the clam shell); some had six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and gave him (that is, Hudson). So he (the Indian) slept all night quietly. The savages did not venture on board until noon the next day, when they were glad to find their old companion that was so drunk quite well again. They then brought on board tobacco and more beads, which they gave to Hudson, and made an oration; and afterwards sent for vension, which was brought on board."
From Catskill, at the distance of eight miles in an air line, the Mountain House may be seen. The river is crossed on a stream ferry-boat, and omnibuses convey travellers to the pleasant village of Catskill, half a mile from the landing. From thence conveyance take the tourist to the Mountain House, twelve miles distant, through a picturesque and highly cultivated country, to the foot of the mountains. From the banks of the Hudson, a few miles into the country, may be seen from different points of view some of the most charming scenery in the world. Every turn in the road, every bend in the stream, presents new and attractive pictures, remarkable for beauty and diversity in outline, color, and aerial perspective. The solemn Katzbergs, sublime in form, and mysterious in their dim, incomprehensible, and ever-changing aspect, almost form a prominent feature in the landscape.
The Indians called these mountains "Onti Ora," or "Mountains of the Sky;" for, in some conditions of the atmosphere, they are said to appear like a heavy cumulose cloud above the horizon. In the midst of this scenery, Cole, the eminent painter, delighted to linger when the shadows of the early morning were projected towards the mountains, then bathed in purple mist; or at evening when there lofty heights, then dark and awful, cast their deep shadows over more than half of the country below between their base and the river. Charmed with Catskill and its vicinity, Cole made it at first a summer retreat, and finally his permanent residence; and there, in a fine old family mansion, delightfully situated to command, his spirit passed from earth; while a sacred poem, created by his wealthy imagination and deep religious sentiment, was finding expression upon his easel in a series of fine pictures like those of "The Course of Empire" and the "Voyage of Life." He entitled the series "The Cross and the World." Two of them were unfinished. One had found form in a "study" only, which the other was half finished upon the large canvas, with some figures sketched in white chalk. So they remain, just as the master left them; and so remains his studio. It is regarded by his devoted widow as a place too sacred for the common gaze. The stranger never enters it.
The mountains rise abruptly from the plain on their eastern side, where the road that leads to the Mountain House enters them, and follows the margin of a deep, dark glen, through which flows a clear mountain stream, seldom seem by the traveller, but heard continually for nearly a mile, as in swift rapids or in little cascades it hurries to the plain below. The road is winding, and in its ascent along the side of the glen, or, more properly, magnificent gorge, it is so inclosed by the towering heights on one side, and the lofty trees that shoot up on the other, that little can be seen beyond a few roads except the sky above or glimpses of some distant summit, until the pleasant nook in the mountains is reached wherein the Rip Van Winkle cabin is nestled. After that the course of the road is more nearly parallel with the river and the plain, and through frequent vistas glimpses may be caught of the country below that charm the eye, the fancy and imagination, and make the heart throb quicker an stronger with pleasurable emotions. Rip’s cabin is a small, white building, with two rooms, where travellers formerly obtained refreshments; and is at the head of the gorge along whose margin the traveller has ascended. It is so called because it stands within the amphitheatre, inclosed by lofty heights, reputed to be the place where the ghostly ninepin players held their revel; and where Rip Van Winkle lay down to his long repose. From a rude spout by the cabin there pour cooling draughts from a mountain spring, more delicious than ever came from the juice of the grape.
There are many delightful resting-places upon the road, soon after leaving Rip’s cabin, as we toil wearily up the mountain, where the eye takes in a magnificent panorama of hill and valley, forest and river, hamlet and village, and thousands of broad acres, where herds graze and the farmer gathers his crops; much of it dimly defined because of distance, a beautifully colored map rather than a picture. These delight the eye and quicken the pulse; but there is one place upon the road where the ascending weary ones enjoy more exquisite pleasure, for a moment, than at any other point in all that mountain region. It is at a turn in the road where the Mountain House stands; suddenly, before and above the traveller, revealed in perfect distinctness, column, capital, window, rock, people,--all apparently only a few rods distant. There too the road is level, and the traveller rejoices in the assurance that the toilsome journey is at an end, when suddenly, like the young pilgrim in Cole’s "Voyage of Life," he finds himself disappointed in his course. The road that seemed to be leading directly to the beautiful mansion upon the crag just above him turns away, like the stream that appeared to be taking the ambitious young man directly to the shadowy temple of fame in the clouds; and many a weary step must be taken over a steep, crooked road before the traveller can reach the object of his journey.
The grand rock platform on which the Mountain House stands I reached at last, and then comes the full recompense for all weariness. Bathed, immersed, in pure mountain air, almost three thousand feet above tide-water, full, positive, enduring rest is given to every muscle, after half an hour’s respiration of that invigorating atmosphere, and soul and limb are ready for a longer, loftier, and more rugged ascent. There is something indescribable in the pleasure experienced during the first hour passed upon the piazza of the Mountain House, grazing upon the scene towards the east. That view had been described a thousand times. I shall not attempt it. Much rhetoric and rhyme, with sentimental platitudes, have been employed in describing it.
The aerial pictures seen from the Mountain House are sometimes marvellous, especially during a shower in the plain, when all is sunshine above, while the lightning plays and the thunder rolls far below those upon the summits; or after a storm, when mists are driving over the mountains, struggling with the wind and sun, or dissolving in the pure air. At rare intervals an apparition, like the spectre of the Brocken, may be seen. A late writer, who was there during the summer storm, was favored with the sight. The guests were in the parlor when it was announced that "the house was going past, on the outside." All rushed to the piazza; and there, sure enough, upon a moving cloud more dense than the fog that enveloped the mountains, was a perfect picture of the great building, in colossal proportions. The mass of vapor was passing slowly from north to south, directly in front, at a distance apparently of two hundred feet from the house, and reflected the noble Corinthian columns, which ornament the front of the building, every window, and all the spectators. The cloud moved on, and ere long we saw one pillar disappear, and then another. We, ourselves, who were expanded into giants in size, saw the gulf into which we were to enter and be lost. I almost shuddered when my turn came; but there was no escaping my fate; one side of my face was veiled, and in a moment the whole had passed like a dream. An instant before, and we were the inhabitants of a gorgeous palace; but it was the "baseless fabric of a vision," and now there was left not a wreck behind."
Although the Mountain House is far below the higher summits of the range, yet portions of four States of the Union and an area of about ten thousand square miles are comprised in the scope of vision from its piazza. From the top of the South Mountain, near and three hundred feet above the Mountain House, and of the North Mountain more distant and higher, a greater range of sight may be obtained, including part of a fifth State. The lakes, lying in a basin a short distance from the Mountain House, with all their grand surroundings, the house itself, the South Mountain, and the Roundtop or Liberty Cap, from the middle ground; while in the dim distance the winding Hudson, with Esopus, Shawangunk, and the Highland ranges are revealed, the borders of rivers dotted with villas and towns, appearing mere white specks on the landscape.
Two miles and a half from the Mountain House is an immense gorge scooped from the rugged hills, into which pours the gentle outlet of the Cauterskill Lakes, in a fall, first of one hundred and seventy-five feet, and close to it another of eighty feet. If the visitor would enjoy one of the wildest and most romantic rambles in the world, let him follow the little stream in its way off the mountains, down the deep, dark, mysterious gorge, until it joins the Cauterskill proper, that rushes through the Clove from the neighborhood of Hunter, among the hills above, and thence onward to the plain. The tourist, if he fails to traverse the rugged gorge, should not omit a ride from the Mountain House, down through the Clove to Palensville and the plain, a distance of eight miles. After leaving the falls and reaching the Clove, down, down, sometimes with only a narrow space between the base of a high mountain on one side and steep precipices on the other, whose feet are washed by the rushing Cauterskill, our crooked road pursues its way, now passing a log house, now a pleasant cottage, and at length the ruins of a leather-manufacturing village, deserted because the bark upon the hills around, used for tanning, is exhausted.
Near this picturesque scene the Cauterskill leaps into a seething gulf between the cleft rocks and flows gently on, to make still greater plunges into darker depths a short distance below. This cleft is called the "Fawn’s Leap," a young deer having there escaped a hunter and his dog, that pursued to the verge of the chasm. The fawn leaped it; but the dog, attempting to follow, fell into the gulf below and was drowned. The foiled hunter went home without dog or game. By some, less poetical than others, the place is called the "Dog Hole." A few rods below the Fawn’s Leap the road crosses a rustic bridge, at the foot of a sheer precipice, and for half a mile traverses as shelf cut from the mountain side, two hundred feet above the stream that has found its way into depths so dark as to be hardly visible. Upon the opposite side of the creek, a perpendicular wall rises many hundred feet; and then, in slight inclination, the mountain towers up at least a thousand feet higher, and forms a portion of the range know as the South Mountain. At the mouth of his cavernous gorge lied the pretty little village of Palensville, where we again cross the stream, and in a few moments find ourselves upon a beautiful and highly cultivated plain. From this point, along the base of the mountains to the road by which we enter them, or more directly to Catskill, the drive is a delightful one.
EXTRACT FROM COOPER’S "PIONEERS,"
Volume I., Pages 105 – 109.
"I have travelled the woods for fifty years," said Leather-Stocking, "and have made them my home for more than forty years: and I can say that I have met but one place that was more to my liking; and that was only to eyesight, and not for hunting or fishing."
"And where was that?" asked Edwards.
"Where! why, up on the Catskills. I used often go up into the mountains after wolves’ skins and bears; once they brought me to get them a stuffed painter; and so I often went. There’s a place in them hills that I used to climb to when I wanted to see the carryings on of the world, that would well pay any man for a barked shin or a torn moccasin. You know the Catskills, lad, for you must have seen them on your left, as you followed the river up from York, looking as blue as a piece of clear sky, and holding the clouds on their tops, as the smoke curls over the head of an Indian chief at a council fire. Well, there’s the High-peak and the Round-top, which lay back, like a father and mother among their children, seeing they are far above all the other hills. But the place I mean is next to the river, where one of the ridges juts out a little from the rest, and where the rocks fall for the best part of a thousand feet so much up and down that a man standing on their edges is fool enough to think he can jump from top to bottom."
"What see you when you get there?" asked Edwards.
"Creation!" said Natty, dropping the end of his rod into the water, and sweeping one hand around him in a circle, "all creation, lad. I was on that hill when Vaughan burnt Sopus, in the last way; and I seen the vessels come out of the Highlands as plainly as I can see that lime-scow rowing into the Susquehanna, though one was twenty times further from me that the other. The river was in sight for seventy miles under my feet, looking like a curled shaving, though it was eight long miles to its banks. I saw the hills in the Hampshire grants, the high lands of the river, and all that God had done or man could do, as far as the eye could reach,--you know that the Indians named me for my sight, lad, --and , from the flat on the top of that mountain, I have often found the place where Albany stands; and, as for Sopus, the day the royal troops burned the town the smoke seemed so nigh that I thought I could hear the screeches of the women."
"It must have been worth the toil to meet with such a glorious view."
"If being the best part of a mile in the air, and having men’s farms and houses at your feet, with rivers looking like ribands, and mountains bigger than the ‘Vision’ seeming to be haystacks of green grass under you, gives any satisfaction to a man, I can recommend the sport. When I first came to the woods to live, I used to have weak spells, and I felt lonesome; and then I would go to the ways of man; but it’s now many a year since I felt any such longings, and I’m getting too old for these rugged rocks. But there’s a place, a short two miles back of that very hill, that in late times I relished better than the mountains; for it was more kivered by the trees, and more nateral."
"And where was that? " inquired Edwards, whose curiosity was strongly excited by the simple description of the hunter.
"Why, there’s a fall in the hills, where the water of two little ponds that lie near each other breaks out of their bound, and runs over the rocks into the valley. The stream is, may be, such a one as would turn a mill, if so useless a thing was wanted in the wilderness. But the hand that made that ‘Leap’ never made a mill. There the water comes crooking and winding among the rocks, first so slow that a trout could swim in it, and then starting and running just like any creater that wanted to make a fair spring, till it gets to where the mountains divides like the cleft hoof of a deer, leaving a deep hollow for the brook to tumble into. The first pitch is nigh two hundred feet, and the water looks like flakes of driven snow afore it touches the bottom; and there the stream gathers itself together again for a new start, and maybe flutters over fifty feet of flat rock, before it falls for another hundred, when it jumps about from shelf to shelf, first turning this-a-way and then turning that-a-way, striving to get out of the hollow, till it finally comes to the plain."
"I have never heard of this spot before," exclaimed Edwards; "it is not mentioned in the books."
"I never read a book in my life," said Leather-Stocking; "and how should a man who has lived in towns and schools know anything about the wonders of the woods? No, no, lad, there has that little stream of water been playing among them hills since He made the world, and not a dozen white men have ever laid eyes upon it. The rock sweeps like mason-work, in the half-round, on both sides of the fall, and shelves over the bottom for fifty feet; so that when I’ve been sitting at the foot of the first pitch, and my hounds have run into the caverns behind the sheet of water, they’ve looked no bigger than so many rabbits. To my judgement, lad, it’s the best piece of work that I’ve met with in the woods; and none know how often the hand of God is seen in a wilderness but then that rove it for a man’s life."
"What becomes of the water? in which direction does it run? is it a tributary of the Delaware?"
"Anan !" said Natty.
"Does the water run into the Delaware?"
"No, no: it’s drop for the old Hudson; and a merry time it has till it gets down off the mountain. I’ve sat on the shelving rock many a long hour, boy, and watched the bubbles as they shot by me, and thought how long it would be before that very water which seemed made for the wilderness would be under the bottom of a vessel, and tossing in the salt sea. It is a spot to make a man solemnize. You can see right down into the valley that lies to the east of the High-peak, where, in the fall of the year, thousands of acres of woods are before your eyes in the deep hollow and along the side of the mountain, painted like ten thousand rainbows by no hand of man, though not without the ordering of God’s providence."
"Why, you are eloquent, Leather-Stocking," exclaimed the youth.
RIP VAN WINKLE
A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker, From
Irving’s "Sketch-Book," Volume I., Page 45.
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--- Cartwright
Who ever 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 magic hues and shapes of these mountains; and they are regarded 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 outlines on the clear evening sky; but some times, 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 glory.
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 antiquity, 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 lattice windows 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 descendent of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesdant, and accompanied him to the siege of Christina. He inherited, 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 an obedient, henpecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance 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 blessing; 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 village, he was surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on his skirts, clambering on his back, and playing thousand tricks on him with impunity; and not a dog 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 want of assiduity or perseverance; for he would sit on a wet rock with a rod as long and heavy as a Tartar’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 cows 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 setting in just as he had some out-door work to do; so that 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 a 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 weather.
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 idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family.
Morning, noon and night, her tongue was incessantly 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 the henpecked husband.
Rip’s sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf, who was as much henpecked 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 befitting an honorable dog, he was as courageous an animal as ever scoured the woods; but what courage can withstand the everduring and all-besetting terrors of a woman’s tongue? The moment Wolf entered the house his crest fell, his tail dropped to the ground or curled between his legs, he 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 edge 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 personage of the village, which held its sessions on a bench before a small inn, designated by a rubicund portrait of His Majesty George III. Here they used to sit in the shade, of 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 which sometimes took place, when by chance an old newspaper fell into their hands from some passing traveller. How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled by Derrick Van Bummell, the school-master, a dapper, learned little man, who was not to be daunted by the most gigantic 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 landlord 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 accurately 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 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 nought; nor was that august personage, 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 the 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 solitudes had echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun. 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 miles of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection 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 mountain 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. *(The glen here described is passed by the visitor to the Mountain House during the first mile of ascent in climbing the mountain. It begins near the gate, and ends at the "Shanty.") 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 Winkle!" He looked around, 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 descent, 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 low growl, skulked to this master’s side, looking fearfully down into the glen. Rip now felt a vague apprehension stealing over him: he looked anxiously 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 unfrequented place; but, supposing it to be some one of the neighborhood in need of assistance, he hastened down to yield it.
On nearer approach, he was still more surprised at the singularity of the stranger’s appearance. He was a short, square-built old fellow, with thick, brushy hair and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion; a cloth jerkin strapped around 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 shoulders 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 a instant; but, supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient thunder-showers which often take place in mountain heights, the proceeded. Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices, over the banks of which impending trees shot their branches, so that you 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 that of the guide’s. 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 shapes and colors. There was one who seemed to be the commander. He was a stout old gentleman, 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 Domine Van Schaick, the village parson, and which had been brought over from Holland at the time of the settlement.
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 rumbling peals of thunder.
As Rip and his companion approached them they suddenly desisted from their play, and stared at him with such a 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 Rip’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 provoked 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 walking he found himself on the green knoll from 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 the keg of liquor, the mountain ravine, the wild retreat among the rocks, the woe-begone party of ninepins, the flagon. "Oh! that wicked flagon!" though Rip, "what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle?"
He looked around for his gun; but in place of the clean, well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel encrusted with rust, the lock falling 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 partridge. He whistled after him, and shouted his name, 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 evening’s 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 blessed time with Dame Van Winkle." With some difficulty 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 grapevines that twisted their coils and tendrils 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 gun; he dreaded to meet his wife; but it would not do to starve among the mountains. He shook his head, shouldered the rusty firelock, and, with a heart full of trouble and anxiety, turned his steps homeward.
As he approached the village he met a number of people, but none of 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 eyes upon him, invariably stroked their chins. The constant recurrence of this gesture induced Rip involuntarily to do the same, when, to his astonishment, 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; everything 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 a day before. There stood the Kaatskill Mountains; there ran the silver Hudson at a distance; there was every hill and dale precisely as it has 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 silence awe, expecting 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, the doors off the hinges. A half-starved dog, that looked like Wolf, was skulking, 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. This desolateness overcame all his connubial fears; he called loudly for his wife and children; the lonely chamber 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 windows, 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 now was reared a tall, naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red nightcap, and from it was fluttering 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 buff; a sword was held in the hand instead of a scepre; the head was decorated with a cocked hat; and underneath was painted, in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON.
There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but none that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegon 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 speeches; or Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper. In place of these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens, election, member of Congress, liberty, Bunker’s Hill, heroes of seventy-six, and other words that were perfect Baby lonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.
***The appearance of Rip, with his long, grizzled beard, his rusty fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and the army of women and children that had gathered at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians. They crowded round him, eyeing him from head to foot with great curiosity. The orator bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired on which side he voted. Rip stared in vacant stupidity. Another short but busy little fellow pulled him by the arm, and, rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear, whether he was Federal or Democrat. Rip was equally at a loss to comprehend the question; when a knowing, self-important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat, made his way through the crowd, putting them in the right and left with his elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm a-kimbo, the other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating as it were into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone what brought him to the election with a gun on his shoulder and a mob at his heels, and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village.
"Alas, gentlemen!" cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, "I am a poor, quiet man, a native of the place, an a loyal subject of the King, God bless him!"
Here a general shout burst from the bystanders: "A tory! A spy! A refugee! Away with him!" It was with great difficulty that the self-important man in the cocked hat restored order; and, having assumed a tenfold austerity of brow, demanded again of the unknown culprit what he came there for, and whom he was seeking. The poor man humbly assured him that he meant no harm, but merely came there I search of some of his neighbors, who used to keep about the tavern.
"Well, who are they?—name them."
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired.---"Where is Nicholas Vedder?"
There was a silence for a little while, when an old man replied, in a thin, piping voice, "Nicholas Vedder? Why, he is dead and gone these eighteen years. There was a wooden tombstone in the churchyard that used to tell all about him, but that’s rotten and gone too."
"Where’s Brom Dutcher?"
"Oh, he went off to the army in the beginning of the war; some say he was killed at the storming of Stony Point; others say he was drowned in the squall, at the foot of Antony’s Nose. I don’t know,--he never came back again."
"Where’s Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?"
"He went off to the wars too, was a great militia general, and is now in Congress."
Rip’s heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer puzzled him, too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of matters which he could not understand,--war, Congress, Stony Point. He had no courage to ask after any more friends, but cried out in despair, "Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?"
"Oh! Rip Van Winkle!" exclaimed two or three; "Oh, to be sure! That’s Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree."
Rip looked, and beheld a precise counterpart of himself as he went up the mountain; apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged. The poor fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man. In the midst of his bewilderment, the man in the cocked hat demanded who he was, and what was his name?
"God knows," exclaimed he, at his wit’s end. "I’m not myself; I’m somebody else; that me yonder; no, that’s somebody else got into my shoes. I was myself last night; but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and everything’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am.
The bystanders began now to look at each other, nod, wink significantly, and tap their fingers against their foreheads. There was a whisper, also, about securing the gun, and keeping the old fellow from doing mischief; at the very suggestion of which the self-important man wit the cocked had retired with some precipitation. At this critical moment a fresh, comely woman passed through the thong to get a peep at the great-bearded man. She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his looks, began to cry. "Hush, Rip," cried she, "hush, you little fool; the old man won’t hurt you." The name of the child, the air of the mother, the tone of her voice, all awakened a train of recollections in his mind. "What is you name, my good woman?" asked he.
"And your father’s name?"
"Ah, poor man! his name was Rip Van Winkle; it’s twenty years since he went away from home with his gun, and never has been heard of since; his dog came home without him; but whether he shot himself, or was carried away by the Indians, nobody can tell. I was then but a little girl."
Rip had but one question more to ask; but he put it with a faltering voice:
"Where’s your mother?"
Oh, she too had died but a short time since: she broke a blood-vessel in a fit of passion at a New England pedlar.
There was a drop of comfort contain himself no longer. He caught his daughter and her child in his arms. "I am your father," cried he,--"Young Rip Van Winkle once.—old Rip Van Winkle now. Does nobody know poor Rip Van Winkle?"
All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd, put her had to her brow, and peering under it in his face for a moment, exclaimed, "Sure enough, it is Rip Van Winkle!—it is himself. Welcome home again, old neighbor. Why, where have you been these twenty long years?"
Rip’s story was soon told, for the whole twenty years had been to him but as one night. The neighbors stared when they heard it; some were seen to wink at each other, and put their tongues in their cheeks; and the self-important man in the cocked hat, who, when the alarm was over, had returned to the field, screwed down the corners of his mouth and shook his head, --upon which there was a general shaking of the head throughout the assemblage.
It was determined, however, to take the opinion of old Peter Vanderdonk, who was seen slowly advancing up the road. He was a descendant of the historian of that name, who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the province. Peter was the most ancient inhabitant of the village, and well versed in all the wonderful events and traditions of the neighborhood. He recollected Rip at once, and corroborated his story in the most satisfactory manner. He assured the company that it was a fact, handed down from his ancestor the historian, that the Kaatskill Mountains had always been haunted by strange beings; that it was affirmed that the great Hendrick Hudson, the first discoverer of the river and country, kept a kind of vigil there every twenty years, with his crew of the Half Moon, being permitted in this way to revisit the scenes of his enterprise, and keep a guardian eye upon the river and the great city called by his name; that his father had once seen them in their old Dutch dresses playing at ninepins in a hollow of the mountain; and that he himself had heard, one summer afternoon, the sound of their balls like distant pearls of thunder.
To make a long story short, the company broke up, and returned to the more important concerns of the election. Rip’s daughter took him home to live with her; she had a snug, well-furnished house, and a stout, cheery farmer for a husband, whom Rip recollected for one of the urchins that used to climb upon his back. As to Rip’s son and heir, who was the ditto of himself, seen leaning against the tree, he was employed to work on the farm; but evinced a hereditary disposition to attend to anything else but his business.
Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favor.
Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can do nothing with impunity, he took his place once more on a bench, at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times "before the war." It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor.—how that there had been a revolutionary war; that the country had thrown off the yoke of old England; and that, instead of being a subject of His Majesty George III., he was now a free citizen of the United States. Rip, in fact, was no politician; the changes of states and empires made but little impression on him; but here was one species of despotism under which he had long groaned, and that was petticoat government. Happily that was at an end; he had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle. Whenever her name was mentioned, however, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes; which might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate; or joy at his deliverance.
He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived at Mr. Doolittle’s hotel. He was observed, at first, to vary on some points every time he told it, which was doubtless owing to his having so recently awaked. It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related; and not a man, woman, or child in the neighborhood, but knew it by heart. Some always pretended to doubt the reality of it, and insisted that Rip had been out of his head, and that this was one point on which he always remained flighty. The old Dutch inhabitants, however, almost universally gave it full credit. Even to this day, they never hear a thunder-storm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill, but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins; and it is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon.
Table of Contents
Greene County History Home Page
Catskill Mountains and the Region Around Home Page