Rip Van Winkle

Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill.

They are a dismembered branch of the Appalachian family, seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, lording it over the country.

When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, bold outlines on the clear evening sky; when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of grey vapours near summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.

At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have seen the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees.

It is a little village, of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists in the early times of the province of good Peter Stuyvesant.

There lived, many years since, while the country was yet a province of Great Britain, a simple, good-natured fellow, of the name of Rip Van Winkle.

A descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant he had joined the siege of Fort Christina.

I have observed that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and an obedient, hen-pecked husband.

That meekness of spirit gained him universal popularity; men are apt to be conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home.

Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a curtain-lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering.

Rip assisted children at sports, made them playthings, taught them to fly kites, shoot marbles, told them long stories of ghosts, witches and Indians.

Whenever he went about the village, he was surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on his skirts, clambering on his back, and playing a thousand tricks on him with impunity; not a dog would bark throughout the neighborhood.

Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to any profitable labor.

But he would never refuse to assist a neighbor even in the roughest toil

In a word, Rip was ready to attend to anybody's business but his own.

Rip Van Winkle was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work.

Times grew worse with Rip Van Winkle as years of matrimony rolled on.

When driven from home he frequented a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers and idle personages of the village on a bench before a small inn designated by a rubicund portrait of His Majesty George the Third.

Rip, reduced almost to despair would escape the labor of the farm and clamour of his wife by taking the gun in hand and strolling into the woods.

In a long ramble of the kind on a fine autumnal day, Rip had subconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill Mountains.

He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson with the reflection of a purple cloud.

On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain glen, wild, lonely, and shaggy, the bottom filled with fragments from the imposing cliffs, scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun.

As he was about to descend, he heard a voice from a distance, hallooing: “Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!”

He perceived a strange figure slowly toiling up the rocks bending under the weight of something he carried on his back.

His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion with several pair of breeches, the outer one of ample volume decorated with rows of buttons down the sides.

He bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full of liquor.

He made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with the load.

Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices, over which trees shot branches, so that you only caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening cloud.

On a level spot was a company of odd-looking personages playing ninepins.

Nothing interrupted the stillness of the scene but the noise of the balls, which, when rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder.

His companion now emptied the contents of the keg into large flagons, and made signs to him to wait upon the company.

He obeyed with fear and trembling; they quaffed the liquor in profound silence, and then returned to their game.

By degrees Rip's awe and apprehension subsided.

He even ventured, when no eye was fixed upon him, to taste the beverage, which he found had much of the flavor of excellent Hollands.

He was naturally a thirsty soul, and was soon tempted to repeat the draught.

One taste provoked another; and he reiterated his visits to the flagon so often that at length his senses were overpowered, his eyes swam in his head, his head gradually declined, and he fell into a deep sleep.

On waking, he found himself on the green knoll.

He rubbed his eyes - it was a bright sunny morning.

The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, the eagle was wheeling aloft, breasting the pure mountain breeze.

He recalled the occurrences before he fell asleep.

The strange man with a keg of liquor - the mountain ravine - the wild retreat among the rocks - the woebegone party at ninepins - the flagon.

Rip looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean, well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel incrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten.

He now suspected that the grave roysterers of the mountains had put a trick upon him, and, having dosed him with liquor, had robbed him of his gun.

“These mountain beds do not agree with me,” thought Rip, “and if this frolic should lay me up with a fit of the rheumatism, I shall have a blessed time.”

Determined to revisit the scene of the last evening's gambol working his toilsome way through thickets of birch, sassafras, and witch-hazel, he found only a high, impenetrable rock wall.

As he approached the village he met a number of people, but none whom he knew, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself acquainted with every one in the country round.

The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous.

There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared.

Strange names were over the doors - strange faces at the windows - everything was strange.

It was with some difficulty that he found the way to his own house.

He entered the house, always kept in neat order, now empty, forlorn, and apparently abandoned.

He hastened to his old resort, the village inn - but it too was gone.

Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall, naked pole, with a red nightcap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes.

He recognised on the sign the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was singularly metamorphosed.

The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, “General Washington.”

The appearance of Rip, with his long, grizzled beard, his rusty fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and an army of women and children at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians.

They crowded round him, eyeing him from head to foot with great curiosity.

"What brought him to the election with a gun on his shoulder, and a mob at his heels; and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?”

The poor man humbly assured him that he meant no harm, but merely came there in search of some of his neighbours, who used to keep about the tavern.

Rip's heart died away at hearing of the great length of time passed, the sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world.

“Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?”

“Rip Van Winkle! That's Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree.”

Rip looked, and beheld a precise counterpart of himself, as he went up the mountain; apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged.

At this critical moment a fresh, comely woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the grey-bearded man.

She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened, began to cry.

“Hush, Rip,” cried she, “hush, you little fool; the old man won't hurt you.”

The name of the child, the air of the mother, the tone of her voice, all awakened a train of recollections in his mind.

“What is your name, my good woman?” asked he.

Judith Gardenier.”

“And your father's name?”

“Ah, poor man, Rip Van Winkle was his name, but it's twenty years since he went away from home with his gun, and never has been heard of since, his dog came home without him; but whether he shot himself, or was carried away by the Indians, nobody can tell.

I was then but a little girl.”

Rip had but one question more to ask; but he put it with a faltering voice: “Where's your mother?”

“Oh, she too had died but a short time since; she broke a blood vessel in a fit of passion at a New-England pedler.”

All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peering under it in his face for a moment, exclaimed: “Sure enough! it is Rip Van Winkle—it is himself! Welcome home again, old neighbour. Why, where have you been these twenty long years?”

For the whole twenty years had seemed to him as but one night.

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