Rip Van Winkle: A Posthumous Writing of Diedrick Knickerbocker
The appearance of Rip with his long grizzled beard, his rusty fowling piece, his uncouth dress, and an army of women and children at his heels soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians. They crowded around 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 to the right and left with his elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo, 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, and a loyal subject of the King—God bless him!”
Here a general shout burst from the bystanders—“A Tory! a Tory! a spy! a Refugee! hustle him! 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 in 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’s Nicholaus Vedder?”
There was a silence for a little while, when an old man replied, in a thin, piping voice, “Nicholaus 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 rotted 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 Stoney Point—others say he was drowned in a 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, Stoney 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—what was his name?
“God knows,” exclaimed he, at his wit’s end, “I’m not myself.—I’m somebody else—that’s 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 in the cocked hat retired with some precipitation. At this critical moment a fresh likely looking woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-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 your name my good woman?” asked he.
“And your father’s name?”
“Ah, poor man, Rip Van Winkle was his name, but 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 peddler.—
There was a drop of comfort at least in this intelligence. The honest man could 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 hand 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 peals 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 an hereditary disposition to attend to anything else but his business.
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