THE BATTERY AND ITS PECULIARITIES—A LOVELY SCENE—SWEDE AND DUTCHMAN TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO—OLD NAMES OF THE RIVER—INDIAN NAMES GENERALLY—COOLEY'S BOY—HIS ADVENTURE IN CHURCH—THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT—MR. COOLEY'S DOG AND OUR TROUBLES WITH IT.
HE closing hours of the long summer afternoon can be spent in no pleasanter place than by the water's side. And after tea I like to take my little group of Adelers out from the hot streets over the grassy way which leads to the river shore, and to find a comfortable loitering-place upon the Battery. That spot is adorned with a long row of rugged old trees whose trunks are gashed and scarred by the penknives of idlers. Their branches interlock overhead and form one great mass of tender green foliage, here sweeping down almost to the earth, and there hanging far out over the water, trembling and rustling in the breeze. Beneath, there is a succession of hewn logs, suggesting the existence of some sort of a wharf in the remote past, but now serving nicely for seats for those who come here to spend a quiet hour.
Around there is a sod which grows lush and verdant, excepting where the tread of many feet has worn a pathway backward to the village.
In front is as lovely a scene as any the eye can rest upon in this portion of the world. Below us the rising and the ebbing tides hurl the tiny ripples upon the pebbly beach, and the perpetual wash of the waves makes that gentle and constant music which is among the most grateful of the sounds of nature.
Away to the southward sweeps the Delaware shore line in a mighty curve which gives the river here the breadth and magnificence of a great lake, and at the end of the chord of the arc the steeples and the masts at Delaware City rise in indistinct outline from the waves. To the left, farther in the distance, old Fort Delaware lifts its battlements above the surface of the stream. And see! A puff of white smoke rises close by the flag-staff. And now a dull thud comes with softened cadence across the wide interval. It is the sunset gun. Far, far beyond, a sail glimmers with rosy light caught from the brilliant hues of the clouds which make the western heavens glorious with their crimson drapery; and while here as we gaze straight out through the bay there is naught in the perspective but water and sky, to the right the low-lying land below the island fortress seems, somehow, to be queerly suspended between river and heaven, until as it recedes it grows more and more shadowy, and at last melts away into the mist that creeps in from the ocean. It is pure happiness to sit here beneath the trees and to look upon the scene while the cool air pours in from the water and lifts into the upper atmosphere the oppressive heat that has mantled the earth during the day.
I do not know why the place is called "the Battery." Perhaps a couple of centuries ago the Swedes may have built here a breastwork with which to menace their hated Dutch rivals who held the fort just below us there upon the river bank. (We will walk over to the spot some day, Mrs. Adeler.) And who can tell what strange old Northmen in jerkin and helmet have marched up and down this very stretch of level sward, carrying huge fire-lock muskets and swearing mighty oaths as they watched the intruding Dutchman in his stronghold, caring little for the placid loveliness of the view which the rolling tide of the majestic river ever offered to their eyes!
But some of those people could appreciate this beautiful panorama. Some of them did not forget the grandeur of nature while their little passions raged against the Dutchmen. It was Jasper Dankers who came here from Sweden in 1676, and looked out from this Battery; returning home, he wrote in his diary in this fashion:
"The town is situated upon a point which extends out with a sandy beach, affording a good landing-place. It lies a little above the bay where the river bends and runs south from there, so that you can see down the river southwardly. The greater portion of it presents a beautiful view in perspective, and enables you to see from a distance the ships come out from the great bay and sail up the river."
The sandy beach is gone, and the ships which float upward from the bay are not such craft as Dankers saw; but the stream has its ancient majesty, and the wooded banks, I like to think, present to our eyes nearly the same sweet picture that touched the soul of that old Swede two long centuries ago.
Another thing has changed—yes, it has changed many times. The Indians, Mrs. A., called the bay Poutaxat and the river Lenape Wihittuck. The stream, too, was named the Arasapha, and also Mackerish Kitton—a title pretty enough in its way, but oddly suggestive of mackerel and kittens. But the Swedes came, and with that passion which burned in the bosoms of all the early European immigrants for prefixing the word "new "to the names of natural objects, they entitled the river New Swedeland Stream. Then the Dutch obtained the mastery here, and it became the South River, the Hudson being the North River, and finally the English obtained possession, and called it Delaware.
What a pity it is that they didn't suffer one of the original titles to remain! The Lenape would have been a beautiful name for the river—far better than the Gallic compound that it bears now. The men who settled this country seem to have had for Indian names the same intense dislike that they entertained for the savages themselves, and as a rule they rejected with scorn the soft, sweet syllables with which mountain and forest and, stream were crowned, substituting too often most barbarous words therefor. Even Penn and his Quakers disdained the Indian names. How much better Pennsylvania would have been treated if that grand old State had been called Susquehanna or Juniata or Allegheny! And would it not have been wiser if the city, instead of bringing its name from Asia, had sought it among its own surroundings, and had grown to greatness as Wissahickon or Wingohocking? The Indian names that still remain here and there to designate a stream, a district or a town are the few distinctly American words in existence. We have thrown away the others, although they were a very precious part of the legacy which we received from the race we have supplanted. One such word as Wyoming is worth an entire volume of such names as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Maryland and the like; and I have always wondered at the blundering egotism of the two men who, with such musical syllables at hand ready to be used, dubbed the town of Wilkes Barre with their own wretched names.
While we were sitting by the river discussing these and other matters, Cooley's boy, a thoroughly disagreeable urchin, who had been playing with some other boys upon the wharf near by, tumbled into the water. There was a terrible screaming among his companions, and a crowd quickly gathered upon the pier. For a few moments it seemed as if the boy would drown, for no one was disposed to leap in after him, and there was not a boat within saving distance. But fortunately the current swept him around to the front of the Battery, where the water is shallow, and before he was seriously hurt he was safely landed in the mud that stretches below the low-water mark. Then the excitement, which had been so great as to attract about half the population of the village, died away, and people who had just been filled with horror at the prospect of a tragedy began to feel a sense of disappointment because their fears had not been realized. I cannot of course say that I was sorry to see the youngster once more upon dry land; but if fate had robbed us of him, we should have accepted the dispensation without grievous complaint.
We did not leave all the nuisances behind us in the city. Cooley's dog and his boy are two very sore afflictions which make life even here very much sadder than it ought to be in a place that pretends to be something in the nature of an earthly paradise. The boy not only preys upon my melon-patch and fruit trees and upon those of my neighbors, but he has an extraordinary aptitude for creating a disturbance in whatever spot he happens to be. Only last Sunday he caused such a terrible commotion in church that the services had to be suspended for several minutes until he could be removed. The interior of the edifice was painted and varnished recently, and I suppose one of the workmen must have left a clot of varnish upon the back of Cooley's pew, which is directly across the aisle from mine. Cooley's boy was the only representative of the family at church upon that day, and he amused himself during the earlier portions of the service by kneeling upon the seat and communing with Dr. Jones's boy, who occupied the pew immediately in the rear. Sometimes, when young Cooley would resume a proper position, Jones's boy would stir him up afresh by slyly pulling his hair, whereupon Cooley would wheel about and menace Jones with his fist is a manner which betrayed utter indifference to the proprieties of the place and the occasion, as well as to the presence of the congregation. When Cooley finally sank into a condition of repose, he placed his head, most unfortunately, directly against the lump of undried varnish, while he amused himself by reading the commandments and the other scriptural texts upon the wall behind the pulpit.
In a few moments he attempted to move, but the varnish had mingled with his hair, and it held him securely. After making one or two desperate but ineffectual efforts to release himself, he became very angry; and supposing that Jones's boy was holding him, he shouted:
"Leg go o' my hair! Leg go o' my hair, I tell you!"
The clergyman paused just as he was entering upon consideration of "secondly," and the congregation looked around in amazement, in time to perceive young Cooley, with his head against the back of the pew, aiming dreadful blows over his shoulder with his fist at some unseen person behind him. And with every thrust he exclaimed:
"I'll smash yer nose after church! I'll go for you, Bill Jones, when I ketch you alone! Leg go o' my hair, I tell you, or I'll knock the stuffin' out o' yer," etc., etc.
Meanwhile, Jones's boy sat up at the very end of his pew, far away from Cooley, and looked as solemn as if the sermon had made a deep impression upon him. Then the sexton came running up, with the idea that the boy had fallen asleep and had nightmare, while Mrs. Dr. Magruder sallied out from her pew an over to Cooley's, convinced that he had a fit. When the cause of the disturbance was ascertained, the sexton took out his knife, and after sawing off enough of Cooley's hair to release him, dragged him out of church. The victim retreated unwillingly, glancing around at Jones's boy and shaking his fist at that urchin as if to indicate that he cherished a deadly purpose against Jones.
Then the sermon proceeded. I suppose a contest between the two boys has been averted, for only yesterday I saw Jones and Cooley, the younger, playing hop-scotch together in the street in apparent forgetfulness of the sorrows of the sanctuary.
Judge Pitman tells me that one of the reasons why Cooley and his wife disagree is that there is such a difference in their height. Cooley is tall, and Mrs. Cooley is small. Mrs. Cooley told Mrs. Pitman, if the judge is to be believed, that Cooley continually growled because she could not keep step with him. They always start wrong, somehow, when they go out together, and then, while he tries to catch step with her, she endeavors to get in with him. After both have been shuffling about over the pavement for several minutes in a perfectly absurd manner, they go ahead out of step just as before.
When Cooley tried to take short steps like hers, his gait was so ridiculous as to excite remark; while if she tried to make such long strides as his, people stopped and looked at her as if they thought she was insane. Then she would strive to take two steps to his one, but she found that two and a half of hers were equal to one of his; and when she undertook to make that fractional number in order to keep up with him, he would frown at her and say,
"Mrs. Cooley, if you are going to dance the polka mazourka upon the public highway, I'm going home."
I do not receive this statement with implicit confidence in its truthfulness. Pitman's imagination sometimes glows with unnatural heat, and he may have embellished the original narrative of Mrs. Cooley.
I shall probably never receive from any member of the Cooley family a correct account of the causes of the unpleasant differences existing therein, for we are on worse terms than ever with Cooley. His dog became such an intolerable nuisance because of his nocturnal vociferation that some practical humanitarian in the neighborhood poisoned him.
Cooley apparently cherished the conviction that I had killed the animal, and he flung the carcass over the fence into my yard. I threw it back. Cooley returned it. Both of us remained at home that day, and spent the morning handing the inanimate brute to each other across the fence. At noon I called my man to take my place, and Cooley hired a colored person to relieve him. They kept it up until nightfall, by which time I suppose the corpse must have worn away to a great extent, for at sundown my man buried the tail by my rose-bush and came in the house, while Cooley's representative resigned and went home.
The departed brute left behind him but one pleasant recollection; and when I recall it, I feel that he fully avenged my wrongs upon his master. Cooley went out a week or two ago to swim in the creek, and he took the dog with him to watch his clothing. While Cooley bathed the dog slept; but when Cooley emerged from the water, the dog did not recognize him in his nude condition, and it refused to let him come near his garments. Whenever Cooley would attempt to seize a boot or a stocking or a shirt, the dog flew at him with such ferocity that he dared not attempt to dress himself. So he stood in the sun until he was almost broiled; then he went into the water and remained there, dodging up and down for the purpose of avoiding the people who passed occasionally along the road. At last the dog went to sleep again, and Cooley, creeping softly behind the brute, caught it suddenly by the tail and flung it across the stream. Before the dog could recover its senses and swim back, Cooley succeeded in getting some of his clothing on him, and then the dog came sidling up to him looking as if it expected to be rewarded for its extraordinary vigilance. The manner in which Cooley kicked the faithful animal is said to have been simply dreadful. I should have entertained a positive affection for that dog if it had not barked at night. But I am glad it is gone. We came here to have quietness, and that was unattainable while Cooley's dog remained within view of the moon.