OLD FORT KASIMIR TWO CENTURIES AGO—THE GOBLINS OF THE LANE—AN OUTRAGE UPON PITMAN'S COW—THE JUDGE DISCUSSES THE SUBJECT OF BITTERS—HOW COOLEY CAME HOME—TURNING OFF THE GAS—A FRIGHTFUL ACCIDENT IN THE ARGUS OFFICE—THE TERRIBLE FATE OF ARCHIBALD WATSON—HOW MR. BERGNER TAUGHT SUNDAY-SCHOOL.
HEN the people of our village are in the mood to reflect upon antiquity, when they feel as if they would like to meditate upon the heroic deeds that have been achieved in this kindly old place by the mighty men of valor who swaggered and swore and fought here a hundred years before the war of the Revolution was dreamed of, they turn from the street down the gentle slope of the highway which runs by the river; and when they have wandered on a brief distance beyond the present confines of the town, they reach old Fort Lane. It is but a little stretch of greensward, gashed by the wheels of vehicles and trodden by the feet of wayfarers. It extends from the road eastward for a hundred yards, and then it dip downward and ends upon the sandy beach of the stream. Here, right upon the edge of the water, once stood brave old Fort Kasimir, with its guns threatening destruction not only to unfriendly vessels which sailed up the bay, but absolutely menacing the very town itself. The village then was called New Stockholm. That was the name given to it by the Swedes, who perceived what a superb site for a city lay here, and who went to work and built a swarm of snug wooden houses. It has had half a dozen other names since. When the Dutchmen conquered it, they dubbed it Sandhoec then New Amstel and then Fort Kasimir. Afterward it was known as Grape Wine Point, then as Delaware-town and finally as New Castle. But twenty years after the Swedes had settled here, the Dutchmen at New York coveted the place and the command of the river; and as an earnest of what they intended to do, they came right here under the very noses of the villagers and built Fort Kasimir.
I can imagine how the old Swedes in the village stood over there on the Battery and glowered at the Dutchmen as they labored upon the fort; and it is not difficult to conceive the terror and dismay that filled those humble little homes, in New Stockholm when the intruder placed his queer brass cannon in the embrasures of the fort after its completion, and when he would hurl a ball across the bows of a Swedish ship coming up to the town, or would send a shot whistling over the roofs of the village itself merely to gratify a grim humor. I would give a great deal, Mrs. Adeler, to have but one day of that distant past recalled; to see New Stockholm and its people as they were; to watch the Dutch chieftain and his handful of men parading about in the fort in the panoply of war, and boasting of the prowess that dared thus to defy the enemy upon his own threshold. But, alas! look! not one vestige of the ancient battlements remains. The grass has grown over the spot whereon they stood, and the rolling river has long since buried beneath the sand of its shores whatever timbers of the structure touched its waters.
It would have been forgotten, perhaps, but that Irving, with the humorous pen which traced the history of the Knickerbockers, has given it immortality in the lines that tell how the exasperated Swedes seized the fort and held the Dutchmen prisoners, and how, when the news came to Manhattan island, the Dutch sent forth a valiant army, which not only retook the fortress, but carried away nearly all the villagers.
There was wild lamentation in the little community upon that day as the unhappy people were torn from their homes and sent into exile; and though the historian tells his tale sportively, the story always seemed to me to be full of pathos.
This place was thronged with strange figures, and it witnessed some very sad scenes in that far-off time. And if the traditions of the neighborhood may be believed, those tough old warriors even yet have not bid farewell for ever to the spot. There is no more fighting here, unless when some of the village urchins come out to have a tussle upon the sward, and the chimneys of the town are unmolested by hostile shot. But they do say that sometimes we may look upon the shadowy outline of the ancient Hollanders who made this their battleground.
The venturesome wight who comes to old Fort Lane at certain seasons after nightfall may see headless Dutchmen in strange and ghostly attire marching up and down the shore, and he may hear the cry of sentinels, uttered in an unknown tongue, borne past him on the wind. There are those who have listened to the noise of cannon balls rolling in the dusk over floors which no mortal eye can ever see, and often, when there is a tempest, the booming of guns will be heard above the roar of the storm, and from spectral ships floating upon the bosom of the river will come the wailing voices of women and children who are still sorrowing for their lost homes.
I do not say that this is so, Mrs. Adeler; I merely. assert the existence of a popular theory to that effect. I have private doubts if the goblin Dutchmen ever have been seen, and I know of no reason why, if a ghost of that kind really comes back to earth, he should return without his head.
Judge Pitman has a field that is bounded upon one side by the lane, and in this enclosure we found, upon our visit to the historic spot, a meditative cow with a blind-board upon her forehead. There was nothing especially remarkable about the board, and yet it has caused a great deal of trouble. In a recent interview with me, the judge sought to console himself for the misery, created by that blind-board by relating the story of his sorrow.
Adeler," he said, "you know I j'ined. the temp'rance society a couple o' months ago, not because I was much afeared of gittin' drunk often, but just to please the old woman. You know how women are—kinder insane on the subject of drinkin'. Well, my cow had a way o' jumpin' the fence, an' I couldn't do nothin' to stop her. She was the ornariest critter that way that I ever see. So at last I got a blind-board an' hung it on haer horns. That stopped her. But you know she used to come jam up agin' the fence an' stand there for hours; an' one day one o' them vagabone advertisin' agents come along—one o' them fellers that daubs signs all over the face of natur'—an' as soon as he seen that blind-board he went for it."
"A patent medicine man, I suppose?"
No, he was advertisin' some kind o' stomach bitters; and he painted on that board the follerin': 'Take Brown's Bitters for your Stomach's Sake. They make the Best Cocktails.'"
"The temperance society didn't like that, of course?"
"No, sir! The secretary happened to see it, and he brought out the board of directors; and the fust thing I knowed, they hauled me up an' wanted to expel me for circulatin' scand'lous information respectin' bitters an' cocktails."
"That was very unjust."
"Well, sir, I had the hardest time to make them fellers understand that I was innercent, an' to git 'em to let up on me. But they did. Then I turned the blind-board over; and now the first man I ketch placin' any revolutionary sentiments on the frontispiece of that cow, why, down goes his house; I'll knock the stuffin' out o' him; now mind me!"
"I am usually not in favor of resort to violence, judge; but I must say that under the circumstances even such severity would be perfectly justifiable."
"This bitters business is kinder fraudulent anyway," continued the judge, meditatively. "I once had a very cur'ous experience drinkin' that stuff. Last winter I read in one of the papers an advertisment which said—But hold on; I'll read it to you. I've got 'em all. I kep' 'em as a cur'osity. Let's see; whered' I put them things? Ah! yes; here they are;" and the judge produced some newspaper cuttings from his pocketbook. "Well, sir, I read in the Argus this parergraph:
"'The excessive moisture and the extreme cold and continuous dampness of winter are peculiarly deleterious to the human system, and colds, consumption and death are very apt to ensue unless the body is braced by some stimulating tonic such as Blank's Bitters, which give tone to the stomach, purify the blood, promote digestion and increase the appetite. The Bitters are purely medicinal, and they contain no intoxicating element.'
"I'd been kinder oneasy the winter afore about my health, and this skeered me. So I drank them Bitters all through the cold weather; an' when spring come, I was just about to knock off an' begin agin on water, when I was wuss frightened than ever to see in the Argus the followin':
"'The sudden changes of temperature which are characteristic of the spring, and the enervating influence of the increased heat, make the season one of peculiar danger to the human system, so that ague, fever and diseases resulting from impurities clogging the circulation of the blood can only be avoided by giving tone to the stomach and increasing the powers of that organ by a liberal use of Blank's Bitters.'
"I thought there wa'n't no use takin' any risks, so I begun agin; but I made up my mind to stop drinkin' when summer come an' danger was over."
"Your confidence in those advertisements, judge, was something wonderful."
"Jes' so. Well, about the fust of June, while I was a-finishin' the last bottle I had, I seen in the Argus this one. Jes lissen to this:
"'The violent heat of summer debilitates and weakens the human system so completely that, more easily than at any other time, it becomes a prey to the insidious diseases which prevail during what may fairly be called the sickly season. The sacrifice of human life during this dangerous period would be absolutely frightful had not Nature and Art offered a sure preventive in Blank's Bitters, which give tone to the stomach,' etc., etc.
"This seemed like such a solemn warnin' that I hated to let it go; an' so I bought a dozen more bottles an' took another turn. I begun to think that some mistake'd been made in gittin' up a climate for this yer country, and it did seem astonishin' that Blank should be the only man who knew how to correct the error, Howsomdever, I determined to quit in the fall, when the sickly season was over, an' I was jes gittin' ready to quit when the Argus published another one of them notices, Here it is:
"'The miasmatic vapors with which the atmosphere is filled during the fall of the year break down the human system and destroy life with a frightful celerity which is characteristic of no other season, unless the stomach is strengthened by constant use of' Blank's Bitters, which are a sure preventive of disease,' etc., etc.
"But they didn't fool me that time. No, sir. I took the chances with those asthmatic vapors, and let old Blank rip. I j'ined the temperance society, an' here I am, hearty as a buck."
"You look extremely well."
"But, Adeler, I never bore no grudge agin the bitters men for lyin' until they spread their owdacious falsehoods on the blind-board of my cow. Then it did 'pear 's if they was crowdin' me too hard."
"Judge, did you ever try to convert Cooley to temperance principles? It seems to me that he would be a good subject to work upon."
"Well, no; I never said nothin' to him on the subject. I'm not a very good hand at convertin' people; but I s'pose oughtter tackle Cooley too. He's bin a-carryin' on scand'lus lately, so I hear."
"Indeed! I hadn't heard of it."
"Yes, sir; comin' home o' nights with a load on, an' a-snortin' at that poor little wife of his'n. By gracious, it's rough, isn't it? An' Mrs. Cooley was tellin' my old woman that some of them fellers rubbed Cooley's nose the other night with phosphorous while he was asleep down at the tavern; an' when he went home, it 'peared 's if he had a locomotive headlight in front of him."
"A very extraordinary proceeding, judge."
"Well, sir, when he got in the hall it was dark, an' he ketched a sight o' that nose in the lookin'-glass on the hat-rack, an' he thought Mrs. Cooley had left the gas burnin'. Then he tried to turn it off, an' after fumblin' around among the umbrellers an' hat-pegs for a while for the stop-cock, he concluded the light must come from a candle, an' he nearly bu'sted his lungs tryin' to blow it out. Then he grabbed his hat an' tried to jam her down over that candle; an' when he found he couldn't, he got mad, picked up an umbreller an' hit a whack at it, which broke the lookin'-glass all to flinders; an' there was Mrs. Cooley a-watchin' that old lunatick all the time, an' afraid to tell him it was his own nose. I tell you, Adeler, this yer rum drinkin's a fearful thing any way you take it, now, ain't it?"
I am glad to say that the Argus has been fully repaid for its attempts to beguile the judge into the use of bitters. The Argus is in complete disgrace with all the people who attend our church. Some of the admirers of Rev. Dr. Hopkins, the clergyman, gave him a gold-headed cane a few days ago, and a reporter of the Argus was invited to be present. Nobody knows whether the reporter was temporarily insane, or whether the foreman, in giving out the "copy," mixed it accidentally with an account of a patent hog-killing machine which was tried in Wilmington on that same day, but the appalling result was that the Argus next morning contained this some-what obscure but very dreadful narrative:
"Several of Rev. Dr. Hopkins's friends called upon him yesterday, and after a brief conversation the unsuspicious hog was seized by the hind legs and slid along a beam until he reached the hot-water tank. His friends explained the object of their visit, and presented him with a. very hand-some gold-headed butcher, who grabbed him by the tail, swung him around, slit his throat from ear to ear, and in less than a minute the carcass was in the water. Thereupon he came forward and said that there were times when the feelings overpowered one, and for that reason he would not attempt to do more than thank those around him, for the manner in which such a huge animal was cut into fragments was simply astonishing. The doctor concluded his remarks, when the machine seized him, and in less time than it takes to write it the hog was cut into fragments and worked up into delicious sausage. The occasion will long be remembered by the doctor's friends as one of the most delightful of their lives. The best pieces can be procured for fifteen cents a pound; and we are sure that those who have sat so long under his ministry will rejoice that he has been treated so handsomely."
The Argus lost at least sixty subscribers in consequence of this misfortune, and on the following Sunday we had a very able and very energetic sermon from Dr. Hopkins upon "The Evil Influence of a Debauched Public Press." It would have made Colonel Bangs shiver to have heard that discourse. Lieutenant Smiley came home with us after church, and I am sorry to say he exulted over the sturdy blows given to the colonel.
"I haven't any particular grudge against the man," he said, "but I don't think he has treated me exactly fair. I sent him an article last Tuesday, and he actually had the insolence to return me the manuscript without offering a word of explanation."
"To what did the article refer?"
"Why, it gave an account of a very singular thing that appened to a friend of mine, the son of old Commodore Watson. Once, when the commodore was about to go upon it voyage, he had a presentiment that something would occur to him, and he made a will leaving his son Archibald all his property on condition that, in case of his death, Archibald would visit his tomb and pray at it once every year. Archibald made a solemn vow that he would, and the commodore started upon his journey. Well, sir, the fleet went to the Fiji Islands, and while there the old man came ashore one day, and was captured by the natives. They stripped him, laid him upon a gridiron, cooked him and ate him."
"That placed Archibald in a somewhat peculiar position?"
"Imagine his feelings when he heard the news! How could he perform his vow? How could he pray at the commodore's tomb? Would not the tomb, as it were, be very apt to prey upon him, to snatch him up and assimilate him? There seemed to be an imminent probability that it would. But he went. That noble-hearted young man went out to the islands in search of the savage that ate the commodore, and I have no doubt that he suffered upon the same gridiron."
"You don't mean to say that Bangs declined to publish that narrative?"
"He did, and he offered no explanation of his refusal."
"He is certainly a very incompetent person to conduct a newspaper. A man who would refuse to give such a story to a world which aches for amusement 'is worse than a blockhead."
[Note: I have reasons for believing that Smiley did not construct this story. I remember having seen it in a French newspaper long before I met the lieutenant, and I am sure he borrowed it from that or some other publication.]
"By the way," said the lieutenant, changing the subject suddenly, "I hear Parker has taken a class in the Sunday-school. He is sly—monstrous sly, sir. Miss Magruder teaches there, too. Parker seems to be determined to have her, and I hope he may be successful, but I don't think he will be, I'm sorry to say."
It was evident that Smiley had not heard the news, and I did not enlighten him.
"Some men have a fitness for that kind of work, and some haven't. There was poor Bergner, a friend of mine. He took a class in a Sunday-school at Carlisle while stationed there. The first Sunday, he told the scholars a story about a boy named Simms. Simms, he said had climbed a tree for the purpose of stealing apples, and he fell and killed himself. 'This,' said Bergner, conveys an impressive warning to the young. It teaches an instructive lesson which I hope will be heeded by all you boys. Bear in mind that if Simms had not gone into that tree he would probably now be alive and well, and he might have grown up to be a useful member of society. Remember this, boys,' said Bergner, 'and resolve firmly now that when you wish to steal apples you will do so in the only safe way, which is to stand on the ground and knock them down with a pole.'
A healthy moral lesson, wasn't it? Somebody told the superintendent about it, and they asked Bergner to resign. Yes, a man has to have a peculiar turn for that kind of thing to succeed in teaching Sunday-school. I don't know how Parker will make out."
Then the lieutenant shook hands, and left in order to catch the last boat for the fort.
"Mrs. Adeler," I said, as I lighted a fresh cigar, "we may regard it as a particularly fortunate thing that Smiley is not entrusted with the religious education of any number of American youth. Place the Sunday-schools of this land in the hands of Smiley and others like him, and in the next generation the country would be overrun with a race of liars."
I am not aware that Bob Parker has ever made any very serious attempt to write poetry for the public. Of course since he has been in love with the bewildering Magruder he has sometimes expressed his feelings in verse. But fortunately these breathings of passion were not presented to a cold and heartless world; they were reserved for the sympathetic Magruder, who doubtless read them with delight and admiration, and locked them up in her writing-desk with Bob's letters and other precious souvenirs. This, of course, is all right. Every lover writes what he considers poetry, and society permits such manifestations without insisting upon the confinement of the offenders in lunatic asylums. Bob, however, has constructed some verses which are not of a sentimental kind. Judge Pitman's story of the illumination of Cooley's nose suggested the idea which Bob has worked into rhyme and published in the Argus. As the poet has not been permitted to shine to any great extent in these pages as a literary person, it will perhaps be fair to reproduce his poem in the chapter which contains the account of Cooley's misfortune. Here it is:
TIM KEYSER'S NOSE.
TIM KEYSER lived in Wilmington;
He had a monstrous nose,
Which was a great deal redder than
The very reddest rose,
And was completely capable
Of most terrific blows.
He wandered down one Christmas day
To skate upon the creek,
And there, upon the smoothest ice,
He slid around so quick
That people were amazed to see
Him do it up so slick.
The exercise excited thirst;
And so, to get a drink,
He cut an opening in the ice
And lay down on the brink.
He said, "I'll dip my lips right in
And suck it up, I think."
And while his nose was thus immersed
Six inches in the stream,
A very hungry pickerel was
Attracted by its gleam;
And darting up, he gave a snap,
And Keyser gave a scream.
Keyser then was well assured
He had a splendid bite.
To pull his victim up he jerked
And tugged with all his might;
But that disgusting pickerel had
The better of the fight.
And just as Mr. Keyser thought
His nose was cut in two,
The pickerel gave its tail a twist
And pulled Tim Keyser through,
And he was scudding through the waves
The first thing that he knew.
Then onward swam that savage fish
With swiftness toward its nest,
Still chewing Mr. Keyser's nose;
While Mr. Keyser guessed
What sort of policy would suit
His circumstances best.
Just then his nose was tickled with
A spear of grass close by;
Then came an awful sneeze, which knocked
The pickerel into pi,
And blew its bones, the ice and waves
Two hundred feet on high!
Tim Keyser swam up to the top
A breath of air to take;
And finding broken ice, he hooked
His nose upon a cake,
And gloried in a nose which could
Such a concussion make.
And thus he drifted slowly on
Until he reached the shore;
And creeping out all dripping wet
He very roundly swore
To use that crimson nose as bait
For pickerel no more.
His Christmas turkey on that day
He tackled with a vim,
And thanked his stars as, shuddering,
He thought upon his swim,
That that wild pickerel had not
Spent Christmas eating him!