« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
was very acrimonious in reply, and Tough Breeches, whı was a sturdy little man, and never gave up the last word rejoined with increasing spirit~ Ten Breeches had the advantage of the greatest volubility, but Tough Breeches had that invaluable coat of mail in argument called ohsti.. nacy-Ten Breeches had, therefore, the most mettle, but Tough Breeches the best bottom—so that though Ten Breeches made a dreadful clattering about his ears, and battered and belaboured him with hard vords and sound arguments; yet Tough Breeches hung' on most resolutely to the last. They parted, therefore, as is usual in all arguments where both parties are in the right, without coming to any conclusion; but they hated each other most heartily for ever after, and a similar breach with that between the houses of Capulet and Montague did ensue between the families of Ten Breeches and Tough Breeches.
I would not fatigue my reader with these dull matters of fact, but that my duty as a faithful historian requires that I should be particular; and, in truth, as I am now treating of the critical period, when our city, like a young twig first appeared, the twists and turns, that have since contributed to give it the present picturesque irregularity for which it is celebrated, I cannot be too minute in detailing their first causes.
After the unhappy altercation I have just mentioned, I do not find that any thing further was said on the subject worthy of being recorded. The council, consisting of the largest and oldest heads in the community, met regularly once a week, to ponder on this monstrous subject; but either they were deterred by the war of words they had witnessed, or they were naturally averse to the exercise of the tongue, and the consequent exercise of the brain -certain it is, the most profound silence was maintained -the question, as usual, lay on the table--the members quietly smoked their pipes, making but few laws, without ever enforcing any, and in the mean time the affairs of the settlement went on-as it pleased God.
As most of the council were but little skilled in the mystery of combining pothooks and hangers, they deter
mined, most judiciously, not to puzzle either themselves or posterity with voluminous records.
The Secretary, however, kept the minutes of the council with tolerable precision, in a large vellum folio, fastened with massy brass clasps; the journal of each meeting consisted but of two lines, stating, in Dutch, that “ the council sat this day, and smoked twelve pipes on the affairs of the colony." By which it appears that the first settlers did not regulate their time by hours, but pipes, in the same manner as they measure distances in Holland at this very time; an admirably exact measurement, as á pipe in the 'mouth of a true born Dutchman is never liable to those accidents and irregularities that are continually putting our clocks out of order.
In this manner did the profound council of New-AmSTERDAM smoke, and doze, and ponder, from week to week, month to month, and year to year, in what manner they should construct their infant 'settlement: mean'while, the town took care of itself, and like a sturdy brat which is suffered to run about wild, unshackled by clouts and bandages, and other abominations, by which your notable nurses and sage old women cripple and disfigure the children of men, increased so rapidly in strength and magnitude, that before the honest burgomasters had determined upon a plan, it was too late to put it in execution-whereupon they wisely abandoned the subject altogether.
THE LITTLE MAN IN BLACK,
The following story has been handed down by a family tradition for more than a century. It is one on which
my cousin Christopher dwells with more than usual pro"lixity; and, being in some measure connected with a personage often quoted in our work, I have thought it worthy of being laid before my readers.
Soon after my grandfather, Mr. Lemuel Cockloft, had quietly settled himself at the Hall, and just about the
time that the gossips of the neighbourhood, tired of prying into his affairs, were anxious for some new tea-table topic, the busy community of our little village was thrown into a grand turmoil of curiosity and conjecture-a situation very common to little gossiping villages by the sudden and unaccountable appearance of a mysterious individual.
The object of this solicitude was a little black-looking man, of a foreign aspect, who took possession of an old building, wbich having long had the reputation of being haunted, was in a state of ruinous desolation, and an object of fear to all true believers in ghosts. He usually wore a high sugar-loaf hat with a narrow brim, and a little black cloak, which, short as he was, scarcely reached below bis knees. He sought no intimacy or acquaintance with any one appeared to take no interest in the pleasures or the little broils of the village-nor ever talked, except sometimes to himself in an outlandish tongue. He commonly carried a large book, covered with sheepskin, under his arm, appeared always to be lost in medi. tation--and was often met by the peasantry, sometimes watching the dawning of the day, sometimes at noon seated under a tree poring over his volume, and somer times at evening gazing, with a look of sober tranquillity, at the sun as it gradually sunk below the horizon.
The good people of the vicinity beheld something prodigiously singular in all this; a profound mystery seemed to hang about the stranger, which, with all their sagacity, they could not penetrate; and in the excess of worldly charity they pronounced it a sure sign “that he was no better than he should be;" a phrase innocent enough in itself; but which, as applied in common, signities nearly every thing that is bad. The young people thought him a gloomy misanthrope, because he never joined in their sports; the old men thought still more hardly of him, because he followed no trade, nor ever seemed ambitious of earning a farthing; and as to the old gossips, baffled by the inflexible taciturnity of the stranger, they unanimously declared that a man who could not or would not talk was no better than a dumb beast. The little
man in black, careless of their opinions, seemed resolved to maintain the liberty of keeping his own secret; and the consequence was, that, in a little while, the whole village was in an uproar; for in little communities of this description, the members have always the privilege of being thoroughly versed, and even of meddling in all the affairs of each other.
A confidential conference was held one Sunday morning after sermon, at the door of the village church, and the character of the unknown fully investigated. The schoolmaster gave as his opinion that he was the wandering Jew; the sexton was certain that he must be a freemason from his silence; a third maintained, with great obstinacy, that he was a High German Doctor, and that the book which he carried about with him contained the secrets of the black art; but the most prevailing opinion seemed to be that be was a witch—a race of beings at that time abounding in those parts: and a sagacious old matron, from Connecticut, proposed to ascertain the fact by sousing him into a kettle of hot water.
Suspicion, when once afloat, goes with wind and tide, and soon becomes certainty. Many a stormy night was the little man in black seen by the flashes of lightning, frisking and curveting in the air upon a broomstick; and it was always observed, that at those times the storm did more mischief than at any other. The old lady in particular, who suggested the humane ordeal of the boiling kettle, lost on one of these occasions a fine brindle cow; which accident was entirely ascribed to the vengeance of the little man in black. If ever a mischievous hireling rode his master's favourite horse to a distant frolic, and the animal was observed to be lame and jaded in the * morning,--the little man in black was sure to be at the bottom of the affair; nor could a high wind howl throngh the village at night, but the old women shrugged up their shoulders, and observer, “ the little man in black was in his tantrums." In short, he became the bugbear of every house; and was as effectual in frightening little children into obedience and hysterics, as the redoubtable Rawhead-and-bloody-bones himself; nor could a housewife
of the village sleep in peace, except under the guardainship of a horse-shoe nailed to the door.
The object of these direful suspicions remained for some time totally ignorant of the wonderful quandary he had occasioned; but he was soon doomed to feel its effects. An individual who is once so unfortunate as to incur the odium of a village is in a great measure outlawed and prescribed, and becomes a mark for injury and insult; particularly if he has not the power or the disposition to recriminate. The little venomous passions, which in the great world are dissipated and weakened by being widely diffused, act in the narrow limits of a country town with collected vigour, and become rancorous in proportion as they are confined in their sphere of action. The little man in black experienced the truth of this; every mischievous urchin returning from school had full liberty to break his windows; and this was considered as a most daring exploit; for in such awe did they staud of him, that the most adventurous schoolboy was never seen to approach his threshold, and at night would prefer going round by the cross-roads, where a traveller had been murdered by the Indians, rather than pass by the door of his forlorn habitation.
The only living creature that seemed to have any care or affection for this deserted being was an old turnspit, the companion of this lonely mansion and his solitary wanderings ;-the sharer of his scanty meals, and, sorry am I to say it—the sharer of his persecutions. The turnspit, like his master, was peaceable and inoffensive; never known to bark at a horse, to growl at a traveller, or to quarrel with the dogs of the neighbourhood. He followed close by his master's heels when he went out, and when he returned stretched himself in the sunbeams at the door; demeaning himself in all things like a civil and well disposed turnspit. But notwithstanding his exemplary deportment he fell likewise under the ill report of the village; as being the familiar of the little man in black, and the evil spirit that presided at his incanta tions. The old hovel was considered as the scene of their unhallowed rites, and its harmless tenants regarded with