Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book VII/Chapter X

Chapter XEdit

Now did the high-minded Peter de Groodt shower down a pannier load of maledictions upon his burgomaster for a set of self-willed, obstinate, factious varlets, who would neither be convinced nor persuaded. Nor did he omit to bestow some left-handed compliments upon the sovereign people, as a heard of poltroons, who had no relish for the glorious hardships and illustrious misadventures of battle, but would rather stay at home, and eat and sleep in ignoble ease, than fight in a ditch for immortality and a broken head.

Resolutely bent, however, upon defending his beloved city, in despite even of itself, he called unto him his trusty Van Corlear, who was his right-hand man in all times of emergency. Him did he adjure to take his war-denouncing trumpet, and mounting his horse, to beat up the country night and day--sounding the alarm along the pastoral border of the Bronx--startling the wild solitudes of Croton--arousing the rugged yeomanry of Weehawk and Hoboken--the mighty men of battle of Tappan Bay--and the brave boys of Tarry-Town, Petticoat-Lane, and Sleepy-Hollow--charging them one and all to sling their powder-horns, shoulder their fowling-pieces, and march merrily down to the Manhattoes.

Now there was nothing in all the world, the divine sex excepted, that Antony Van Corlear loved better than errands of this kind. So just stopping to take a lusty dinner, and bracing to his side his junk bottle, well charged with heart-inspiring Hollands, he issued jollily from the city gate, which looked out upon what is at present called Broadway; sounding a farewell strain, that rung in sprightly echoes through the winding streets of New Amsterdam. Alas! never more were they to be gladdened by the melody of their favorite trumpeter.

It was a dark and stormy night when the good Antony arrived at the creek (sagely denominated Haerlem river) which separates the island of Manna-hata from the mainland. The wind was high, the elements were in an uproar, and no Charon could be found to ferry the adventurous sounder of brass across the water. For a short time he vapored like an impatient ghost upon the brink, and then, bethinking himself of the urgency of his errand, took a hearty embrace of his stone bottle, swore most valorously that he would swim across in spite of the devil (spyt den duyvel), and daringly plunged into the stream. Luckless Antony! scarce had he buffeted half-way over when he was observed to struggle violently, as if battling with the spirit of the waters. Instinctively he put his trumpet to his mouth, and giving a vehement blast sank for ever to the bottom.

The clangor of his trumpet, like that of the ivory horn of the renowned Paladin Orlando, when expiring in the glorious field of Roncesvalles, rang far and wide through the country, alarming the neighbors round, who hurried in amazement to the spot. Here an old Dutch burgher, famed for his veracity, and who had been a witness of the fact, related to them the melancholy affair; with the fearful addition (to which I am slow of giving belief) that he saw the duyvel, in the shape of a huge mossbonker, seize the sturdy Antony by the leg and drag him beneath the waves. Certain it is, the place, with the adjoining promontory, which projects into the Hudson, has been called Spyt den Duyvel ever since; the ghost of the unfortunate Antony still haunts the surrounding solitudes, and his trumpet has often been heard by the neighbors of a stormy night, mingling with the howling of the blast.

Nobody ever attempts to swim across the creek after dark; on the contrary, a bridge has been built to guard against such melancholy accidents in the future; and as to moss-bonkers, they are held in such abhorrence that no true Dutchman will admit them to his table who loves good fish and hates the devil.

Such was the end of Antony Van Corlear--a man deserving of a better fate. He lived roundly and soundly, like a true and jolly bachelor, until the day of his death; but though he was never married, yet did he leave behind some two or three dozen children in different parts of the country--fine, chubby, brawling, flatulent little urchins, from whom, if legends speak true (and they are not apt to lie), did descend the innumerable race of editors who people and defend this country, and who are bountifully paid by the people for keeping up a constant alarm and making them miserable. It is hinted, too, that in his various expeditions into the east he did much towards promoting the population of the country, in proof of which is adduced the notorious propensity of the people of those parts to sound their own trumpet.

As some way-worn pilgrim, when the tempest whistles through his locks, and night is gathering round, beholds his faithful dog, the companion and solace of his journeying, stretched lifeless at his feet, so did the generous-hearted hero of the Manhattoes contemplate the untimely end of Antony Van Corlear. He had been the faithful attendant of his footsteps; he had charmed him in many a weary hour by his honest gayety and the martial melody of his trumpet, and had followed him with unflinching loyalty and affection through many a scene of direful peril and mishap. He was gone for ever! and that, too, at a moment when every mongrel cur was skulking from his side. This, Peter Stuyvesant, was the moment to try thy fortitude; and this was the moment when thou didst indeed shine forth--Peter the Headstrong!

The glare of day had long dispelled the horrors of the stormy night; still all was dull and gloomy. The late jovial Apollo hid his face behind lugubrious clouds, peeping out now and then for an instant, as if anxious, yet fearful, to see what was going on in his favorite city. This was the eventful morning when the Great Peter was to give his reply to the summons of the invaders. Already was he closeted with his privy council, sitting in grim state, brooding over the fate of his favorite trumpeter, and anon boiling with indignation as the insolence of his recreant burgomasters flashed upon his mind. While in this state of irritation, a courier arrived in all haste from Winthrop, the subtle governor of Connecticut, counseling him, in the most affectionate and disinterested manner, to surrender the province, and magnifying the dangers and calamities to which a refusal would subject him. What a moment was this to intrude officious advice upon a man who never took advice in his whole life! The fiery old governor strode up and down the chamber with a vehemence that made the bosoms of his councillors to quake with awe; railing at his unlucky fate, that thus made him the constant butt of factious subjects and jesuitical advisers.

Just at this ill-chosen juncture the officious burgomasters, who had heard of the arrival of mysterious despatches, came marching in a body into the room, with a legion of schepens and toad-eaters at their heels, and abruptly demanded a perusal of the letter. This was too much for the spleen of Peter Stuyvesant. He tore the letter in a thousand pieces--threw it in the face of the nearest burgomaster--broke his pipe over the head of the next--hurled his spitting-box at an unlucky schepen, who was just retreating out at the door; and finally prorogued the whole meeting sine die, by kicking them downstairs with his wooden leg.

As soon as the burgomasters could recover from their confusion, and had time to breathe, they called a public meeting, where they related at full length, and with appropriate coloring and exaggeration, the despotic and vindictive deportment of the governor, declaring that, for their own parts, they did not value a straw the being kicked, cuffed, and mauled by the timber toe of his excellency, but that they felt for the dignity of the sovereign people, thus rudely insulted by the outrage committed on the seat of honor of their representatives. The latter part of the harangue came home at once to that delicacy of feeling and jealous pride of character vested in all true mobs; who, though they may bear injuries without a murmur, yet are marvelously jealous of their sovereign dignity; and there is no knowing to what act of resentment they might have been provoked, had they not been somewhat more afright of their sturdy old governor than they were of St. Nicholas, the English, or the d----l himself.