The Von Toodleburgs

An excerpt from F. Colburn Adams' The Von Toodleburgs.



October was come again, the poetry of summer had almost departed, and it was a quiet Sunday morning in the country. The bell on the little old church by the hillside, at Nyack, was calling the plodding Dutch settlers to morning service. The hard, hollow sounds of the old bell echoed harshly over the hills, and yet there was something in its familiar sounds, and the quiet pastoral scenes it was associated with, that always moved our feelings, and prompted us to give them a pleasant resting place in our love.

Cattle were resting in the fields, and their yokes hung on the gate posts that day. A soft, Indian-summer glow hung with transparent effect over the landscape; and a gentle wind whispered lovingly over the Tappan Zee. Autumn, too, had hung the trees in her brightest colors.

It was Harvest Sunday, a sort of festive resting-day with the Dutch settlers, who had gathered about the little church in great numbers, young and old, all dressed in their simple but neat attire. Others were quietly wending their way thitherward, along the lanes and through the fields. There they gathered about the little old church, a smiling, happy, and contented people, and waited for the Dominie, for it was their custom to meet him at the church door, and after exchanging greetings, follow him like a loving flock into their seats.[Pg 252]

The Dominie was to preach his harvest sermon, and his flock was to join him in giving thanks to God for the bounties He had bestowed upon them. He had, indeed, blessed them with an abundant harvest that year; and now they had come to thank Him and be joyful. Conspicuous in the group was the little snuffy doctor, Critchel, looking happy among the people whose ills he had administered to for half a century. On Harvest-Sunday he could kiss and caress the bright faced little children he had helped bring into the world as fondly as a young mother. There, too, was the schoolmaster, with his ruddy face and his seedy clothes, ready to do his part in making Harvest-Sunday pass pleasantly, for indeed the crop was a matter of importance with him. And there was Titus Bright, for the merry little inn-keeper would have considered such a gathering incomplete without him. Titus was not so well thought of by the Dutch settlers since he gave up his little tavern for a big one, and had taken to boarding fine folks from the city.

And now the appearance of Hanz and Angeline, advancing slowly up the road, for Hanz walked with a staff, created a pleasant diversion. Several of the young people ran to meet them, and greeted them with such expressions of welcome as must have filled their hearts with joy.

When they had nearly reached the church, Critchel proceeded to meet them with his hand extended. "Verily, good neighbor Hanz," said he, after greeting the old people with a hearty shake of the hand, "the people have had strange news to talk about for a week past." Critchel shook his head, looked serious, and taking Hanz by the arm, drew him aside. "This Chapman has fallen to the ground, they say."[Pg 253]

"Mine friend Critchel," returned Hanz, leaning on his staff, and casting a look upward. "I tolds you tar pees un shust Got; and now you shees how dat shust Got he pees mine friend."

"Aye, verily," rejoined Critchel, "and he lets them what builds castles and lives like lords suffer their disappointments. Poor people like us, who work with their hands, stick to their lands, and pay their debts, have their castles in peace and contentment."

"Tar pees shust so much wisdom in vat you shays, mine friend Critchel. In dis world tar pees nothin' sartin. Dis Chapman, he puts his money in his pocket, and ven he gets his money in his pocket he gets rich and prout. Zen he goes to t' city so pig and prout as he can pe. Now he comes pack from t' city, mit his pig vrow, and tar pees nobody as makes one pow to his pig vrow. Above tar pees one shust Got, Critchel."

The misfortunes of the Chapman family, my reader must know, had been furnishing Nyack something to talk about for several months. But it was only with their return to town, which important event took place one morning during the last week, that the quiet of Nyack was disturbed and the gossips sent into a state of excitement. The family, indeed, returned as quietly as a family in misfortune could be expected to do, and put up at Bright's Inn, where, it was given out, they would live on the wreck of their fortune until Chapman could see his way clear for a new start in the world. But little was seen of Mrs. Chapman, of whom it was reported that she desired to live in retirement, and did not see visitors.

The lady, however, had resolved that Nyack should not turn up its nose without being kept in mind of the high social position the family had held in the city.[Pg 254] And as a means of making the desired impression, and also of finding relief for her injured feelings, she had brought Napoleon Bowles into "retirement" with the family. And that faithful domestic accommodated his pride of a Sunday by dressing in his livery and top-boots, and walking out, to the astonishment and amusement of a crowd of curious urchins, who were sure to gather about him.

As for Chapman, he went about the town as if nothing had happened, renewing acquaintances, and declaring there was no honester man in the settlement than Hanz Toodleburg; that the charges against his honesty, and his connection with the Kidd Discovery Company, were all scandals, got up by bad men; and that he had been deceived by them himself.

During the few days Chapman had been in Nyack, he had made himself appear so good a friend of Hanz that the honest settlers not only began to express sympathy for him in his misfortunes, but to enquire what they could do to put him on his feet again. When, however, he told them it was not their sympathy he wanted, but their money to assist him in building a steamboat two hundred feet long, and that he had matured a plan for a railroad, so that they might ride from Nyack to New York in an hour, they became alarmed, put their heads together wisely, and declared the man mad beyond cure.

Here I must leave Chapman waiting to see his way clear. He came of that old round-head stock which, wanting its way always, ready to meddle with everything, never contented, ready to play the sycophant to gain power, selfish and arrogant in the use of it, is, nevertheless, found giving shape, action, and momentum to all our great enterprises. Out of all the trouble[Pg 255] Chapman had caused Nyack, there had come some good that would be turned to account in the future. Misfortune had bowed, not broken his spirit. He was again prepared to invent a new religion, to build a church, to keep a boarding-house, to start a bank or run a steamboat-and all with modern improvements.

The little church bell was still ringing, and the crowd still kept increasing in numbers and cheerfulness. "The Dominie's coming! the Dominie's coming! The Dominie's coming!" was lisped by a score of lips, as the attention of the people was attracted down the road. There the old Dominie came, mounted on a clumsy-footed, big-headed, bay cob-a little bright-eyed girl, whose face was full of sweetness and love, and dressed in blue and white, riding behind him. His broad, kindly face, shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat, his flowing white hair, his quaintly cut coat, with the ample side pocket, and his long, white necktie, presented a picture so full of truth and simplicity as to be worthy of being preserved on canvas. He was, in truth, a figure belonging to an order of things that was fast passing way-at least along the banks of the Hudson.

Children clapped their hands and ran to meet him; girls greeted him with offerings of flowers; and when he had dismounted, both old and young gathered about him, lisping him a welcome and shaking him by the hand. There was nobody like Dominie Payson, and the love these people bore him, and now gave him so many expressions of, was true and heartfelt. And when he had kissed the children, and exchanged greetings and kind words with their parents, he proceeded into the church, followed by his flock. His sermon was, perhaps, one of the oddest ever listened to, for[Pg 256] after returning thanks for the bountiful harvest, and extending on the goodness of God, and advising his flock to stick firmly to their farms and their religion, that being the only true way of getting to Heaven, he turned his guns against Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, though he never once mentioned their names. He urged his flock to keep in mind always how much better off they were, how much more happy they were than those men who came to town with the devil and a number of strange religions in their heads. Such people, he added, always had the devil for a friend; and it was the devil who assisted them to get poor people's money. And with this money they dressed their wives in silks and satins, built big houses, and lived like people who were very proud and never paid their debts, nor did a day's work on the roads. It was all well enough for these men to talk of Heaven and put on pious faces, but Heaven would take no notice of them while they gave themselves up to the temptations of the devil and built steamboats and founded railroads, to kill honest people with, and ruin the country.

"My friends," said the Dominie, resting for a moment, and then charging his guns for another fire at Chapman, "you have seen a man ready to sell his soul for money enough to build a steamboat. Now he wants to build a railroad to get you out of the world quicker." The Dominie shook his head, wiped his brow, and again paused for a few seconds. "Let them dress their wives in satins and silks, let them ruin their country with their steamboats and railroads, let them build their big houses, go to the city, get proud, waste all their money in folly and vice, and return among honest people with a sheriff at their heels, because they don't pay nobody-but don't you go and do it. My[Pg 257] friends-there will be an account to settle with these people who swell themselves up so big, when roasting-day comes. You that have wives-look to them. Keep their hearts pure and simple. Don't let them spend your money in silks and satins. If you do, the sheriff locks up your door and puts the key in his pocket." Thus the Dominie concluded, reminding his hearers that, as it was Harvest-Sunday, they must not forget to be liberal with their sixpences when the box came round.

His hearers were greatly delighted, and declared they had not heard him preach so good a sermon for many a day. And when he came down from the pulpit they congratulated him, and sundry extra pecks of wheat were promised as a reward for the light he had favored them with.

The day wore away pleasantly, and when evening came, when the gleams of the setting sun tipped the surrounding hills with golden light, and dusky shadows were creeping up the valley, the reader, if he had looked in at Hanz Toodleburg's little house, might have seen one of those quaint but pleasant pictures which are a fit ending of such a day.

There, grouped around his table, sat the Dominie, Doctor Critchel, Bright the inn-keeper, and the schoolmaster, for Hanz had invited them to sup with him, and Angeline had prepared the best she had to set before them. There, too, was Tite's empty chair. There it stood, silent and touching, all the pleasant memories it once contained made sad now by the mystery that enshrouded his long absence. There was his plate, and his knife and fork, all so bright and clean, set as regularly as if he were home, and guarded so tenderly. The eloquence of that vacant chair, appealing so directly to the finer sensibilities of every one[Pg 258] present, left a deep and sad impression. Supper was nearly over before any of the guests had courage to refer to it. The Dominie at length raised his spectacles and addressing Angeline, said: "Heaven gives to every house its idol. We have been blessed to-day, and made happy. It will yet please Heaven to bring back the idol of this house, and fill that empty chair. I am sure we shall all be glad when the boy gets home."

"When he does, there will be such a time at my house," interposed the inn-keeper, nodding his head approvingly. "There's the parlor for him to do his courting in. And one of the prettiest little sweethearts is waiting to give him such a welcome. God bless her-she isn't a bit like the rest of them Chapmans-she isn't."

"My school don't keep the day he comes home," rejoined the schoolmaster, helping himself to another piece of pumpkin pie.

The mention of Tite's name filled old Hanz's eyes with tears. He buried his face in his hands, and remained silent for several minutes, overcome by his feelings. As soon as he had recovered control of them, he wiped the tears from his eyes, and replied in broken sentences: "I vas sho happy ven mine Tite, mine poor poy Tite vas home. Peers as if now, mine poor poy he never comes home no more, he never prings shoy into mine house no more."

"Always look on the best side of things, neighbor Hanz," replied the Dominie.

"Yah, put I gets sho old now."

"It would not astonish me," continued the Dominie, playfully, "if the young gentleman surprised us all to-night. Stranger things have happened." These remarks excited a feeling of anxiety.[Pg 259]

"I was on the other side of the river last night," continued the Dominie, "and the people there had a report from the city that the vessel he sailed in had been heard from." Angeline quietly left the table, for the wells of her heart were overflowing.

"Tar shall come news as t' wessel mine Tite shails in comed pack, eh?" enquired Hanz, fixing his eyes steadily on the Dominie.

"Not that she has arrived," returned the Dominie, "but that there is news of her-"

"Tar pees news," muttered Hanz, his eyes glistening with anxiety. "An nopody tells me t' news before, eh? Tar pees shum news of t'at wessel, eh? Tar don't pee no news of mine poor Tite, eh?" The old man extended his trembling hand and grasped the Dominie's arm nervously, his face became as pale as marble, and his whole system shook with excitement.

"Tar shall come news as t' wessel mine Tite shails in comes pack," he ejaculated, "an tar pees no news of mine poor poy, eh?" And he threw up his arms, rested his head on the Dominie's shoulder and wept like a child. "No, mine Tite he ton't comes home no more," he sobbed.

About this Document

  • Source: The Von Toodleburgs
  • Author: F. Colburn Adams
  • Publisher: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger
  • Published: Philadelphia, PA
  • Date: 1868