Part 1 (1/2)

The Von Toodleburgs.

by F. Colburn Adams.

PREFACE.

I never could see what real usefulness there was in a preface to a work of this kind, and never wrote one without a misgiving that it would do more to confuse than enlighten the reader.

The good people of Nyack will pardon me, I know they will, for taking such an unwarrantable liberty as to locate many of my scenes and characters in and around their flouris.h.i.+ng little town. I have no doubt there are persons yet living there who will readily recognize some of my characters, especially those of Hanz and Angeline Toodleburg. That the very distinguished family of Von Toodleburgs, which flourished so extensively in New York at a later period, as described in the second series of this work, will also be recognized by many of my readers I have not a doubt. Nyack should not be held responsible for all the sins of the great Kidd Discovery Company, since some of the leading men engaged in that remarkable enterprise lived on the opposite side of the river, many miles away.

The reader must not think I have drawn too extensively on my imagination for material to create ”No Man's Island” and build ”Dunman's Cave” with.

About eighteen years ago I chanced to have for fellow traveller an odd little man, of the name of Price, (better known as b.u.t.ton Price,) who had been captain of a New Bedford or Nantucket whales.h.i.+p. He was an earnest, warm-hearted, talkative little man, and one of the strangest bits of humanity it had ever been my good fortune to fall in with. He had lost his s.h.i.+p on what he was pleased to call an unknown island in the Pacific. He applied the word ”unknown” for the only reason that I could understand, that he did not know it was there until his s.h.i.+p struck on it. He regarded killing a whale as the highest object a man had to live for, and had no very high respect for the mariner who had never ”looked round Cape Horn,” or engaged a whale in mortal combat. He was on his way home to report the loss of his s.h.i.+p to his owners. An act of kindness, and finding that I knew something of the sea, and could sympathize with a sailor in misfortune, made us firm friends to the end of our journey.

To this odd little man, then, I am indebted for the story of the old pirate of ”No Man's Island,” and what took place in ”Dunman's Cave;” for it was in just such a place, according to his own account, that he lost his s.h.i.+p. Much of his story, as told to me then, seemed strange and incredible--in truth, the offspring of a brain not well balanced.

Time has shown, however, that there was much more truth in this old whaleman's story than I had given him credit for. ”No Man's Island” is somewhat better known to navigators now, though still uninhabited and bearing a different name. ”Dunman's Cave,” too, has been the scene of more than one s.h.i.+pwreck within six years.

Those who have carefully studied the causes producing ”boars,” or ”tidal waves,” as they appear in different parts of the world, and the singular atmospheric phenomena which at times accompany them, will not find it difficult to understand the startling changes which took place in ”Dunman's Cave” when the ”_Pacific_” was wrecked. They will understand, also, why the ”_set_” was so strong at so great a distance from the entrance, and why the ”boar” rose to such a height in a narrow gate, or entrance formed by steep rocks, before it broke, and went rus.h.i.+ng and roaring onward with irresistible force. They will also understand what produced the noise resembling the sound of a mighty waterfall.

F.C.A.

WAs.h.i.+NGTON, D.C., _January_, 1868.

CHAPTER I.

ANCIENT HEADS OF THE FAMILY.

Not more than a mile from the brisk little town of Nyack, on the Hudson river, and near where the road makes a sharp turn and winds up into the mountain, there lived, in the year 1803, an honest old farmer of the name of Hanz Toodleburg. Hanz was held in high esteem by his neighbors, many of whom persisted in p.r.o.nouncing his name Toodlebug, and also electing him hog-reef every year, an honor he would invariably decline.

He did this, he said, out of respect to the rights of the man last married in the neighborhood. It mattered not to Hanz how his name was p.r.o.nounced; nor did it ever occur to him that some of his more ambitious descendants might be called on in a court of law to explain the circ.u.mstances under which their name was changed. I speak now of things as they were when the old settlers around Nyack were honest and unsuspecting, before Fulton had astonished them with his steamboat, or those extravagant New Yorkers had invaded the town, building castles overlooking the Tappan Zee, and school-houses where the heads of honest Dutch children were filled with wicked thoughts.

Hanz Toodleburg was short and stout of figure, had a full, round face, a large blunt nose, and a small gray eye. Indeed, there was no mistaking his ancestors, in whose language he spoke whenever the Dominie paid him a visit, which he did quite often, for Hanz had always good cheer in the house; and a bed for a stranger. In short, it was a boast of Hanz that no traveller ever pa.s.sed his house hungry, if he knew it. And it increased his importance with his neighbors that he raised more bushels to the acre than any of them, and sent better vegetables to the New York market. More than that, he would tell all the big folks in the village, with a nod of his head, that he owed no man a stiver he could not pay before the sun set, and in such a way as to convey a sly hint that it was more than they could do. The neighbors consulted Hanz concerning their worldly affairs, and, indeed, received his opinions as good authority. In fine, Hanz and the Dominie were called in to settle nearly all the disputes arising between the country folks for miles around. And it was said by these simple minded people that they got their rights quicker and less expensively in this way than when they went to law in the village and trusted to the magistrate and the lawyers for justice.

As, however, there always will be idle and gossiping people everywhere to say unkind things of their neighbors, especially when they are more prosperous than themselves, so there were gossips and mischievous people in the settlement who, when engaged over their cups, would hint at suspicious enterprises in which Hanz's ancestors were engaged on the Spanish Main. Indeed, they would hint at times that it was not saying much for his family that his father had sailed with Captain Kidd, which would account for the doubloons and Mexican dollars Hanz could always bring out of a ”rainy day.” That Hanz had a stock of these coins put safely away there could not be a doubt, for he would bring them out at times and part with them, declaring in each case that they were the last. But how he came by them was a mystery not all the wisdom of the settlement could penetrate. It was conceded that if there was any man in the settlement who knew more than Jacques, the schoolmaster, it was t.i.tus Bright, who kept the little inn near the big oak; and these two worthies would discuss for hours over their toddy the question of how Hanz came by his dollars and doubloons. But they never came to a decision; and generally ended by sending their listeners home with their wits worse perplexed than ever. It was all well enough for old Jacques and the inn-keeper to show their knowledge of history; but the gossips would have it that if Hanz's father had sailed with Captain Kidd he, of course, knew where that bold pirate had buried his treasure, and had imparted the secret to his son. Here was the way Hanz came possessed of the doubloons and dollars. Indeed, it was more than hinted that Hanz had been seen of dark and stormy nights navigating the Tappan Zee, alone in his boat, and no one knew where he went. Another had it that he was sure to part with a doubloon or two shortly after one of these excursions, which told the tale. There were others who said it did not matter a fig if Hanz Toodlebug's doubloons were a part of Kidd's hidden treasure; but it was selfish of him not to disclose the secret, and by so doing give his neighbors a chance to keep as good cows and sheep as he did. Hanz was not the man to notice small scandal, and continued to smoke his pipe and make his friends welcome whenever they looked in. Once or twice he had been heard to say, that if anybody was particular to know how he came by his doubloons and dollars he would tell them. There was a place up in the mountain where he made them.

I will say here, for the benefit of my readers, that the little old house where Hanz Toodleburg lived, and about which there cl.u.s.tered so many pleasant memories, still stands by the roadside, and is an object of considerable curiosity. It is much gone to decay now, and a very different person occupies it. There are persons still living in the village who knew Hanz, and never pa.s.s the place without recurring to the many happy hours spent under his roof. That was in the good old days, before Nyack began to put on the airs of a big town. There is the latticed arch leading from the gate to the door; the little veranda, where the vines used to creep and flower in spring; the moss-covered roof, and the big arm chair, made of cedar branches, where Hanz used to sit of a summer evening contemplating the beauties of the Tappan Zee, while drinking his cider and smoking his pipe. It was in this little veranda that business of great importance to the settlers would at times be discussed. The good sloop Heinrich was at that time the only regular New York packet, making the round voyage every week. Her captain, one Jonah Balchen, was much esteemed by the people of Nyack for his skill in navigation; and it was said of him that he knew every rock and shoal in the Tappan Zee, and no man ever lost his life who sailed with him. The arrival of the good sloop Heinrich then was quite an event, and whenever it occurred the neighbors round about would gather into Hanz's little veranda to hear what news she brought from the city, and arrange with Captain Balchen for the next freight. Indeed, these honest old Dutchmen used to laugh at the idea of a man who would think of navigating the Tappan Zee in a boat with a big tea-kettle in her bottom, and making the voyage to New York quicker than the good sloop Heinrich.

I have been thus particular in describing Hanz Toodleburg's little home, since it was the birth-place of t.i.tus Bright Von Toodleburg, who flourished at a more recent date as the head of a very distinguished family in New York, and whose fortunes and misfortunes it is my object to chronicle.

Having spoken only of one side of the family, I will proceed now to enlighten the reader with a short account of the other, ”Mine vrow, Angeline,” for such was the name by which Hanz referred to his good wife, was a woman of medium size and height, and endowed with remarkable good sense and energy. Heaven had also blessed her with that gentleness of temper so necessary to make a home happy. They had, indeed, been married nearly twenty years, and although nothing had come of it in the way of an offspring, not a cross word had pa.s.sed between them. It was said to her credit that no housewife this side of the Tappan Zee could beat her at making bread, brewing beer, or keeping her house in good order. The frosts of nearly forty winters had whitened over her brows, yet she had the manner and elasticity of a girl of eighteen, and a face so full of sweetness and gentleness that it seemed as if G.o.d had ordained it for man's love. Angeline's dress was usually of plain blue homespun, woven by her own hands, and with her cap and ap.r.o.n of snowy whiteness she presented a picture of neatness and comeliness not seen in every house.

There was a big, square room on the first floor, with a little bed room adjoining, and an old-fas.h.i.+oned bed with white dimity curtains, fringe, and ta.s.sels made by Angeline's own hand. Snow white curtains also draped the windows; and there was a tidy and cosy air about the little bed room that told you how good a housewife Angeline was. An old-fas.h.i.+oned hand-loom stood in one corner of the big, square room; and a flax and a spinning-wheel had their places in another. A farm-house was not considered well furnished in those days without these useful implements, nor was a housewife considered accomplished who could not card, spin, and weave. Angeline carded her own wool, spun her own yarn, and weaved the best homespun made in the settlement; and had enough for their own use and some to sell at the store. In addition to that there was no housewife more expert at the flax-wheel, and her homemade linen was famous from one end to the other of the Tappan Zee. Hanz was, indeed, so skilful in the art of raising, hetcheling, and dressing flax, that all the neighbors wanted to borrow his hetchel. And if needs be he could make reeds and shuttles for the loom, while Angeline always used harnesses of her own make. And so industrious was this good wife that you could rarely pa.s.s the house of a night without hearing the hum of the wheel or the clink of the loom.

The good people about Nyack were honest in those days, paid their debts, were happy in their very simplicity, and had no thought of sending to Paris either for their fabrics or their fas.h.i.+ons.

Now Angeline's father was a worthy blacksmith, an honest and upright man, who lived hard by, had a house of his own, and owed no man a s.h.i.+lling. This worthy blacksmith had two daughters, Angeline and Margaret, both remarkable for their good looks, and both blessed with loving natures. And it was said by the neighbors that the only flaw in the character of this good man's family was made by pretty Margaret, who went away with and married one Gosler, a travelling mountebank. This man, it is true, a.s.serted that he was a Count in his own country, and that misfortune had brought him to what he was. His manners were, indeed, those of a gentleman; and there were people enough who believed him nothing more than a spy sent by the British to find out what he could.