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Derby & Jackson, New York; 1860, pp. 64-78.



An Event — Wolfert’s Roost — The Nepperhan and its Legends — Mr. Sparrowgrass descends to the Infernal Regions on a Dumb Waiter — Carrier Pigeons and Roosters — The great Polish Exile — Poetry — Altogether a Chapter of Birds.

WE have had an event in our family. The children are half crazy about it; Mrs. Sparrowgrass says she cannot lay it down for a moment; when she does, Miss Lobelia, our niece, takes it up, and there she will sit over it, in her lap, for hours together. It is called “WOLFERT’S ROOST,” a new book, by Washington Irving. When I brought it home in my carpet-bag, and opened it at our winter tea-table, and read all about Nepperhan (our river) to the boys, their eyes dilated so, that I seemed to be surrounded with the various mill-ponds of that celebrated stream. Here we are within the enchanted ground, and the shadow of the great “Katrina Van Courtland, with one foot resting on Spiting Devil Creek, and the other on the Croton River,” is over us. It is pleasant to 65 know that, in case of invasion, we are in the same county with the lusty goose-gun of the lion-hearted Jacob Van Tassel; and, even in this biting winter-weather, there is a sort of local pride in the reflection that the north wind cannot approach us, without making all the weathercocks on the “Roost” point towards Yonkers.

As for our eldest, the reading to him of “The Adalantado of the Seven Cities,” and “The Three Kings of Bermuda” has filled his head with ships, sails, anchors, salt-water, and ambergris,

“ Nothing of him —
   But doth suffer a sea-change
   Into something rich and strange.”

And while perusing “Mountjoy,” I observed our niece, Miss Lobelia, glancing contemplatively more than once at her slipper. “Uncle Sparrowgrass,” said she, “you have been to Wolfert’s Roost, I believe?” I answered, with all the humility I could muster, that I had, and proceeded to give a full and minute account of the particulars; how L. G. C. and I walked from “Dobb his ferry,” upon the rigid back-bone of the aqueduct, to Dearman’s one memorable summer day; how the Roost looked, 66 and everything about it — the rough-cast walls, overclung with Abbotsford ivy, and trumpet creeper — the crow-step gables — the Sunny-side pond, with its navy of white, topsail ducks — the Spanish chestnut that stood on the bank — the splendid tulip-trees in the ravine back of the Roost — Gentleman Dick in the stable — the well-worn tiles in the hall, the Stadt-House weathercock on the peak of the roof. Miss Lobelia interrupted me — “Is Mr. a — a— I mean, what became of the heroine of the footsteps?” “Oh, ho!” thought I, “I see where the shoe pinches,” and then gravely answered, “Mountjoy is still a bachelor;” at which our niece glanced furtively at her little slipper, and a fleeting dimple faded from her cheek, as I have seen a farewell ship gleam for a moment in the sun, then vanish in shadow.

There’s magic in the book, it has bewitched everybody!

What I most admire in it is, the juvenile air it has; there is a freshness about Wolfert’s Roost, a sort of spring-like freshness, which makes it more attractive than anything else Irving ever wrote. It is a younger brother of the Sketch Book, not so scholarly, perhaps, but sprightlier; fuller of 67 fine impulses — genius — fire — spirit! And then it has mentioned our village once or twice; and the beloved Nepperhan river rolls along, no longer a dumb feeder of mill-ponds, but a legended stream, that “winds, for many miles, through a lovely valley, shrouded by groves, and dotted by Dutch farm-houses, and empties itself into the Hudson, at the ancient Dorp of Yonkers!”

“The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
  The fair humanities of old religion,
  The power, the beauty, and the majesty,
  That had her haunts in dale, and piny mountains,
  Or forest by slow steam, or pebbly spring,
  Or chasms and watery depths,”

may now visit the sacred shores of the Saw-Mill river — the Nepperhan. A touch of Irving’s quill, and lo, it is immortal! As Arno to the Tuscan, or Quadalquiver to the Andalusian; as the Ganges to the Hindoo, or the Nile to the Egyptian, henceforth and for ever the Nepperhan to the Yonk — to the future citizens of the ancient Dorp of Yonkers.

“Bottom, thou art translated,”

We, too, have our traditions, and some remain 68 untold. One is that of the horse-ghost, who may be seen every Evacuation night, after twelve, on a spectral trot towards the City of New York; and the other is the legend of the Lop-horned Buck, who sometimes, in a still summer evening, comes through the glen, to drink from Baldwin’s phantom-haunted pond. When these are recorded, in a future Wolfert’s Roost, then will the passenger, by loitering steamboat, or flying train, draw a long breath as he passes our village, and say, “there! look! behold! the ancient Dorp of Yonkers!”

We have put a dumb waiter in our house. A dumb waiter is a good thing to have in the country, on account of its convenience. If you have company, everything can be sent up from the kitchen without any trouble, and, if the baby gets to be unbearable, on account of his teeth, you can dismiss the complainant by stuffing him in one of the shelves, and letting him down upon the help. To provide for contingencies, we had all our floors deafened. In consequence, you cannot hear anything that is going on in the story below; and when you are in an upper room of the house, there might be a democratic ratification meeting in the cellar, and you would not know it. Therefore, if 69 any one should break into the basement, it would not disturb us; but to please Mrs. Sparrowgrass, I put stout iron bars in all the lower windows. Besides, Mrs. Sparrowgrass had bought a rattle when she was in Philadelphia; such a rattle as watchmen carry there. This is to alarm our neighbor, who, upon the signal, is to come to the rescue with his revolver. He is a rash man, prone to pull trigger first, and make inquiries afterwards.

One evening, Mrs. S. had retired, and I was busy writing, when it struck me a glass of ice-water would be palatable. So I took the candle and a pitcher, and went down to the pump. Our pump is in the kitchen. A country pump, in the kitchen, is more convenient; but a well with buckets is certainly most picturesque. Unfortunately, our well water has not been sweet since it was cleaned out. First I had to open a bolted door that lets you into the basement-hall, and then I went to the kitchen-door, which proved to be locked. Then I remembered that our girl always carried the key to bed with her, and slept with it under her pillow. Then I retraced my steps; bolted the basement-door, and went up in the dining-room. As is always the case, I found, when I could not get any 70 water, I was thirstier than I supposed I was. Then I thought I would wake our girl up. Then I concluded not to do it. Then I thought of the well, but I gave that up on account of its flavor. Then I opened the closet doors, there was no water there; and then I thought of the dumb waiter! The novelty of the idea made me smile; I took out two of the movable shelves, stood the pitcher on the bottom of the dumb waiter, got in myself with the lamp; let myself down, until I supposed I was within a foot of the floor below, and then let go!

We came down so suddenly, that I was shot out of the apparatus as if it had been a catapult; it broke the pitcher, extinguished the lamp, and landed me in the middle of the kitchen at midnight, with no fire, and the air not much above the zero point. The truth is, I had miscalculated the distance of the descent — instead of falling one foot, I had fallen five. My first impulse was, to ascend by the way I came down, but I found that impracticable. Then I tried the kitchen door, it was locked; I tried to force it open; it was made of two-inch stuff, and held its own. Then I hoisted a window, and there were the rigid iron bars. If I ever I felt angry at anybody it was at myself, for 71 putting up those bars to please Mrs. Sparrowgrass. I put them up, not to keep people in, but to keep people out.

I laid my cheek against the ice-cold barriers, and looked out at the sky; not a star was visible; it was as black as ink overhead. Then I thought of Baron Trenck, and the prisoner of Chillon. Then I made a noise! I shouted until I was hoarse, and ruined our preserving-kettle with the poker. That brought our dogs out in full bark, and between us we made night hideous. Then I thought I heard a voice, and listened — it was Mrs. Sparrowgrass calling to me from the top of the stair-case. I tried to make her hear me, but the infernal dogs united with howl, and growl, and bark, so as to drown my voice, which is naturally plaintive and tender. Besides, there were two bolted doors and double deafened floors between us; how could she recognize my voice, even if she did hear it? Mrs. Sparrowgrass called once or twice, and then got frightened; the next thing I heard was a sound as if the roof had fallen in, by which I understood that Mrs. Sparrowgrass was springing the rattle! That called out our neighbour, already wide awake; he came to the rescue with a bull-terrier, a Newfoundland 72pup, a lantern, and a revolver. The moment he saw me at the window, he shot at me, but fortunately just missed me. I threw myself under the kitchen table and ventured to expostulate with him, but he would not listen to reason. In the excitement I had forgotten his name, and that made matters worse. It was not until he had roused up everybody around, broken in the basement door with an axe, gotten into the kitchen with his cursed savage dogs and shooting-iron, and seized me by the collar, that he recognized me — and then, he wanted me to explain it! But what kind of an explanation could I make to him? I told him he would have to wait until my mind was composed, and then I would let him understand the whole matter fully. But he never would have the particulars from me, for I do not approve of neighbors that shoot at you, break in your door, and treat you, in your own house, as if you were a jail-bird. He knows all about it however — somebody has told him — somebody tells everybody everything in our village.

That somebody reminds me of a queer fowl that roosts in the village, and in all villages, to hatch disturbances among weak-minded people. I allude 73 to the Carrier Pigeon. The Carrier Pigeon tells you all your friends say of you, and tells your friends all you say of them. The mode of tactics is somewhat in this wise. She goes to Mrs. Kornkobbe’s, takes tea with that lady, pets the children, takes out her needle and thread, opens her little basket, pulls out a bit of linen, with a collar pattern pencilled upon it, puts on her thimble, then stitches away, and innocently asks Mrs. K. if she has heard that ridiculous story about her husband.

Mrs. Kornkobbe had not heard of it, but bridles up, and would like to know who has had the impudence to say anything about her husband! The Carrier Pigeon doe not like to mention names, but vaguely hints that something is in the wind. Mrs. K., of course, is anxious to know the particulars. Carrier Pigeon would not for the world hurt Mrs. K.’s feelings, but, just for her own satisfaction, she would like to ask “where Mr. Kornkobbe’s father was born?” Mrs. K, is completely nonplused by this question, for, to use a mercantile phrase, she had never been posted up in regard to the incubation of her father-in-law, deceased some twenty years before she was married and two years before she was born. Carrier Pigeon, seeing Mrs. 74 K.’s trepidation, adds, carelessly, as it were, “Your husband is an American, I believe?” Mrs. K. catches at that, and answers “Yes.” “German name?” Mrs. K. replies in the affirmative. “That is all I want to know,” sighs Carrier Pigeon. Whereupon Mrs. K., who is wrought up to fever point, answers, “But that is not all I want to know;” and, by dint of a deal of persuasion, finally draws out the important secret; the Carrier Pigeon has heard it reported all over the village, that Mr. Kornkobbe’s father was nothing but a low German shoemaker. Now, if there is any information that Mrs. K. desires next in the world, it is to have the name of the person who said so; and Carrier Pigeon, after a temporary struggle between duty and propriety, finally, but reluctantly, gives up Mrs. Marshmallow as the author, at which Mrs. Kornkobbe lets loose all the pent-up fury in her soul upon the whole Marshmallow tribe, from the old grandfather, who hands around the plate in church, down to the youngest member of the family, just recovering from the united attacks of sprue, measles, hooping cough, and chicken pox.

The next day Mrs. Marshmallow, who really loves Mrs. K. like a sister, and who possibly might 75 have repeated by way of a mere joke, and not as a reflection, that Kornkobbe senior, had been a Teutonic cordwainer — the next day, Mrs. Marshmallow is visited by the Carrier Pigeon. Now, Mrs. M. is a lady of much stronger mind than Mrs. K.; not so easily excited by any means; but Carrier Pigeon, by dint of hints, innuendoes, and all the artillery of shrugs and smiles, finally manages to excite her curiosity; and then, when pressed to divulge, after binding up Mrs. Marshmallow not to tell a living soul, and taking other precautions of like nature, reluctantly, after struggling again through duty and propriety, allows Mrs. Marshmallow to draw from her all and everything Mrs. Kornkobbe had said about her the previous evening; but, of course, does not say a word of the use she had made of Mrs. Marshmallow’s name, by which the fire had been kindled so as to bring Mrs. K. up to the scalding point. And, as the tone of the Carrier Pigeon would lead Mrs. M. to believe that all her friend, Mrs. Kornkobbe, had said, was gratuitous, she at once makes us her mind that Mrs. Kornkobbe is a base, cold-blooded, double-faced, malicious slanderer. How pleased she is that she has found her out. Explanation is out of the 76 question; neither Mrs. K. nor Mrs. M. will condescend to notice each other, and Mr. Marshmallow and Mr. Kornkobbe go down to town in separate cars from that time and for ever.

I love to see the Carrier Pigeon; to admire its pretty glossy neck, its mild eyes, its chaste and elegant plumage; but Mrs. Sparrowgrass and I have determined never to listen to its dulcet voice, whether it bring accounts of how our neighbors look, or how we look ourselves when others see us.

We have gotten another rooster. Our Bantam disappeared one day; but we do not think it a serious loss, as he was of very little use. While he remained with us he kept up a sort of rakish air, and swaggered among the young pullets, just as you sometimes see an old bachelor with a bevy of buxom damsels; but the dame Partlets did not have much respect for him, and I am afraid he was terribly hen-pecked by Leah and Rachel. He left us one day. Probably he made away with himself — there is a great deal of vanity in a rooster, and wounded vanity is often the cause of suicide. One evening, on my return from the city, Mrs. Sparrowgrass said she had a surprise for me — a present from a friend. It was a Rooster; a magnificent 77 black Poland cock, with a tuft of white feathers on his crown, and the most brilliant plumage in Westchester county. There he stood, one foot advanced, head erect, eye like a diamond, tail as high as his top-knot. There, too, was his mate, a matron-like, respectable looking female, who would probably conduct herself according to circumstances, and preserve her dignity amid the trying difficulties of her new position. “A present from Judge Waldbin,” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass. “So I thought,” said I; “generous friend! Do you know what I intend to do with this rooster?” Mrs. Sparrowgrass was frightened, and said she did not know. “Put him in verse,” said I. Mrs. Sparrowgrass said she never heard of such a thing. But I will, Mrs. S., though I cannot write verse except upon great occasions. So, after a hearty supper and two cigars, I composed the following: —


“O thou, whatever title please thine ear.”
  He-chicken, Rooster, Cock, or Chanticleer;
  Whether on France’s flag you flap and flare,
  Or roost and drowse in Shelton’s elbow-chair;
  Or wake the drones, or please the female kind,
  And cluck and strut with all your hens behind;
78   As symbol, teacher, time-piece, spouse, to you
  Our praise is doubtless, Cock-a-doodle, due.

  Oviparous Sultan, Pharaoh, Cæsar, Czar,
  Sleep-shattering songster, feathered morning-star;
  Many-wived Mormon, cock-pit Spartacus,
  Winner alike of coin and hearty curse;
  Sir Harem Scarum, knight by crest and spur,
  Great, glorious, gallinaceous Aaron Burr,
  How proud am I — how proud yon corn-fed flock
  Of cackling houris are — of thee, Old Cock!

  Illustrious Exile! far thy kindred crow
  Where Warsaw’s towers with morning glories glow;
  Shanghai and Chittagong may have their day,
  And even BRAHMA-POOTRA fade away;
  But thou shalt live, immortal Polack, thou,
  Though Russia’s eagle clips thy pinions now,
  To flap thy wings and crow with all thy soul,
  When Freedom spreads her light from Pole to Pole.

“I think,” said Mrs. Sparrowgrass, “I have heard something like that before.”

“No doubt you have,” said I; “part is from Pope, part from Halleck, especially the pun in the first stanza; but how can you make decent poetry in the country without borrowing a little here and there, unless you have the genius of a Homer or of an Alexander Smith, Mrs. Sparrowgrass?”


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