Part 7 (1/2)

”You shall take a hand at killing the first whale; shall command the larboard boat. And you shall never want a friend while Captain Price Bottom treads this quarter-deck,” he concluded.

t.i.te bowed, and thanked his benefactor again. He then proceeded to his duty, as the s.h.i.+p headed for Bahia, with a fair wind.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE COMING WINTER, AND A MERRY-MAKING.

November was come now. The day I write of was damp and cheerless. Grey, vapory clouds swept over the Tappan Zee, and a sad, sighing wind tossed it into crests. A drizzling rain fell over Nyack, and the little town looked as if it had just taken a bath and gone to sleep for the night.

The hills wore a cold and bleak look, the foliage had lost its bright, golden tints, and now looked faded and colorless. The leaves, too, were falling, and the naked trees seemed weeping and cold. Sheep browsed on the hill-sides, or nibbled coldly under the branches of sheltering trees. In the wet, dripping barn-yard cattle were seen huddled together under a lee, now seeking warmth in the fresh shocks, now proclaiming their troubles in subdued lowing.

The very landscape seemed weeping and melancholy. Even the summer birds, whose songs give such a charm to the woods, were gone. And there was the loon upon the lake gabbling his welcome to the approaching winter. The rain, too, had filled the brooks, and their waters were gurgling down deep, shadowy dells, mingling their touching music with the sad, sighing wind. There were pleasant memories entwined in that departing summer; and it now seemed as if all nature was joining in a requiem to its fading beauties.

The settlers had gathered their winter fruit, and the cider-presses had finished their work for the season. Squashes were hung up in the cellar, the corn was shucked and in the bins, and heaps of ripe, l.u.s.ty pumpkins stood in the fields. In the houses fresh flitches of bacon hung by the fireside, while festoons of dried apples decorated the beams overhead.

There, too, were the young nut-gatherers, coming home of an evening with their well-filled satchels. There was to be peace and plenty at the settlers' fireside this winter, for an all-wise Providence had so ordained it in an abundant harvest.

It was a custom with Hanz Toodleburg, as it was also with many other of the settlers, to entertain his friends and neighbors with a merry-making when the harvest was gathered. Hanz had invited his neighbors on the evening of the day I have described, and notwithstanding the cold and cheerless character of the night, the little house was full ere it was dark. The bright, happy faces of the women, and the jolly, ringing laugh of the men, all dressed in their neat new homespun, presented a pleasant picture of rustic life. Each man came armed with a long pipe, while his good vrow had some little present for Angeline. Hanz had a warm, hearty shake of the hand for each of his guests. Indeed, he welcomed each of the good vrows with a kiss and an admonition to be happy while they were under his roof. And these good vrows put their hands to the wheel, and a.s.sisted Angeline in preparing the feast. Indeed, she soon had her table spread with as good and well-cooked fare as could be found in the county.

There was the cold boar's head, decorated with flowers; the fattest turkey, roasted before the great fire; boiled beef, bathed in odorous krout, and declared delicacies by every st.u.r.dy Dutchman; a spiced ham, decorated with vegetables. Then there were apple and pumpkin pies just baked, cuddled apples, and jam, and fresh cranberry sauce. And these were backed up with new cider and home-brewed ale, and coffee. Such was the supper Hanz had prepared for his friends, and which he invited them to eat and be happy.

The good-natured Dominie was there, and so was Doctor Critchel and the school-master. Nor was t.i.tus Bright, the inn-keeper, forgotten. They were equally important characters in the settlement, and no honest Dutchman, who had any regard for his reputation for hospitality, would think of giving a merry-making without them. The good Dominie was fond of puddings and pies, and preached that the three highest objects a man had to live for were peace, contentment, and a good dinner. The Dutch regarded this as good enough religion for them--better, perhaps, than that preached by the man of the church of progressive ideas. The school-master could sing a good song, and, although an idle, s.h.i.+ftless fellow, got more invitations to supper than any other man in the settlement. As for the inn-keeper, he was a merry little man, who made everybody laugh, and was held in high esteem by all the good vrows around Nyack.

Now that the supper was ready, there was a general exchange of vrows, for it was not considered etiquette to sit at table with your own wife during one of these feasts. Then the Dominie invoked G.o.d's blessing on the bounties He had spread before them, thanked Him for the bountiful harvest, and for the love He had shown these happy people. He then proceeded to carve the boar's head, while every man and woman present went to enjoying the feast.

When supper was over and the table cleared away the men took to their pipes and discussed their crops, and the women discoursed of carding, and spinning, and housewifery in general. Then there was a dance around the apple-basket, and a dance in which every man kissed every other man's vrow, and in which the Dominie joined, and was as jolly as any of his flock. And they danced to the music of a fiddle, played by Lame George, who lived up in the mountain. Then the Dominie told a number of amusing stories, and the school-master sang them several of his best songs, and cider and ale was drank.

And while the pleasantry was at its highest, a loud knock was heard at the door. The revelry ceased for a moment. There was the postmaster's boy, bearing a letter with several curious stamps on it. Hanz was overjoyed. He shook the boy's hand, and then scanned over the letter.

”G.o.d pless mine poor poy, t.i.tus!” he exclaimed. ”He wrotes dat ledder.

Yes, he does; mine poor poy t.i.tus does;” and he struck his hands on his knees, and laughed with joy. ”He ton't forgets his old fadder. He be's a goot poy, mine t.i.tus.” And he shook hands with the Dominie and the inn-keeper. Indeed, he seemed so completely unmanned that he was powerless to open the letter. Then he took a candle in his right hand, and again scanned and scanned the superscription. ”Sumthin' goot in dat ledder. Mine poor poy t.i.tus writes him!” he e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed, in a subdued tone.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Then tears gushed into her eyes and moistened her pale cheeks. Page 102.]

During all this time, for it seemed long to Angeline, she became pale with anxiety. Then tears gushed into her eyes and moistened her pale cheeks. But they were tears of joy, not sorrow--the wealth of that pure, honest heart now beating so violently in antic.i.p.ation of the good tidings. When Hanz had somewhat controlled his feelings he sat down in the big chair, and with Angeline looking anxiously over his shoulder and holding the candle, opened and began reading the letter ”Yesh, t'is mine poor poy t.i.tus as writes him,” he said, pausing for a moment. ”Hish name shust as he wrotes him when a poy.” The rest of the company looked on and listened in silence. Then he resumed the reading. ”Vell, dere wash a pig sthorm, and t' s.h.i.+p most goes down to t' pottom. Den she does'nt go to t' pottom. No, she no goes to t' pottom. Den mine poy, he shaves t' s.h.i.+p.” Hanz went over the letter in this incoherent manner, and then handed it to the Dominie to read for the entertainment of the company. The letter was dated at Bahia, where the s.h.i.+p had put in for fresh supplies, as was the custom with whalers. He gave a glowing account of the voyage, and the storm, and the persons he found on board.

The good Dominie was several times interrupted by some one of the company invoking a blessing on t.i.te's head. And when it was announced that he had been made third mate of the s.h.i.+p, an expression of joy broke on every lip. The school-master shook Hanz warmly by the hand, and the inn-keeper declared it would not surprise him if t.i.te came home captain of the s.h.i.+p.

”High, high!” exclaimed the Dominie, re-adjusting his spectacles; ”here's news. An old acquaintance has turned up.” Then turning to Critchel, he touched that odd old gentleman on the elbow, saying: ”You remember the old grave-digger of thirty years ago, oh, Critchel?”

”Well, very well,” replied Critchel; ”he was a clever old man, and did his business well. He used to say I brought people into the world, and he sent them out.”

”Bless me!” resumed the Dominie; ”if here is'nt his son come to life again. The poor fellow! we all knew him well. t.i.te says here that he has found a good friend in the captain, an old acquaintance of his mother.

And who do you think it is?”

Not one in the company could answer, although Angeline blushed, and looked confused. ”Price Bottom, son of that clever old man, the grave-digger,” concluded the Dominie.

”How strange,” said the inn-keeper. ”Old Bottom had many a gla.s.s of ale at my house, and never troubled anybody, except to dig their graves.”