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Whoever first described common fame, or rumor, as belonging to the sager sex, was a very owl for shrewdness. She has in truth certain feminine qualities to an astonishing degree, particularly that benevolent anxiety to take care of the affairs of others, which keeps her continually hunting after secrets and gadding about proclaiming them. Whatever is done openly and in the face of the world, she takes but transient notice of; but whenever a transaction is done in a corner, and attempted to be shrouded in mystery, then her goddess-ship is at her wits' end to find it out, and takes a most mischievous and lady-like pleasure in publishing it to the world.
It is this truly feminine propensity which induces her continually to be prying into the cabinets of princes, listening at the key-holes of senate chambers, and peering through chinks and crannies, when our worthy congress are sitting with closed doors, deliberating between a dozen excellent modes of ruining the nation. It is this which makes her so baneful to all wary statesmen and intriguing commanders--such a stumbling-block to private negotiations and secret expeditions; betraying them by means and instruments which never would have been thought of by any but a female head.
Thus it was in the case of the affair of Fort Casimir. No doubt the cunning Risingh imagined, that, by securing the garrison he should for a long time prevent the history of its fate from reaching the ears of the gallant Stuyvesant; but his exploit was blown to the world when he least expected, and by one of the last beings he would ever have suspected of enlisting as trumpeter to the wide-mouthed deity.
This was one Dirk Schuiler (or Skulker), a kind of hanger-on to the garrison, who seemed to belong to nobody, and in a manner to be self-outlawed. He was one of those vagabond cosmopolites who shark about the world, as if they had no right or business in it, and who infest the skirts of society like poachers and interlopers. Every garrison and country village has one or more scapegoats of this kind, whose life is a kind of enigma, whose existence is without motive, who comes from the Lord knows where, who lives the Lord knows how, and who seems created for no other earthly purpose but to keep up the ancient and honorable order of idleness. This vagrant philosopher was supposed to have some Indian blood in his veins, which was manifested by a certain Indian complexion and cast of countenance, but more especially by his propensities and habits. He was a tall, lank fellow, swift of foot, and long-winded. He was generally equipped in a half Indian dress, with belt, leggings, and moccasins. His hair hung in straight gallows locks about his ears, and added not a little to his sharking demeanor. It is an old remark, that persons of Indian mixture, are half civilized, half savage, and half devil--a third half being provided for their particular convenience. It is for similar reasons, and probably with equal truth, that the backwoodsmen of Kentucky are styled half man, half horse, and half alligator by the settlers on the Mississippi, and held accordingly in great respect and abhorrence.
The above character may have presented itself to the garrison as applicable to Dirk Schuiler, whom they familiarly dubbed Gallows Dirk. Certain it is, he acknowledged allegiance to no one--was an utter enemy to work, holding it in no manner of estimation--but lounging about the fort, depending upon chance for a subsistence, getting drunk whenever he could get liquor, and stealing whatever he could lay his hands on. Every day or two he was sure to get a sound rib-roasting for some of his misdemeanors; which, however, as it broke no bones, he made very light of, and scrupled not to repeat the offence whenever another opportunity presented. Sometimes, in consequence of some flagrant villainy, he would abscond from the garrison, and be absent for a month at a time; skulking about the woods and swamps, with a long fowling-piece on his shoulder, lying in ambush for game, or squatting himself down on the edge of a pond catching fish for hours together, and bearing no little resemblance to that notable bird of the crane family, yclept the mudpoke. When he thought his crimes had been forgotten or forgiven, he would sneak back to the fort with a bundle of skins or a load of poultry, which, perchance, he had stolen, and would exchange them for liquor, with which having well soaked his carcase, he would lie in the sun, and enjoy all the luxurious indolence of that swinish philosopher Diogenes. He was the terror of all the farmyards in the country, into which he made fearful inroads; and sometimes he would make his sudden appearance in the garrison at daybreak, with the whole neighborhood at his heels; like the scoundrel thief of a fox, detected in his maraudings and hunted to his hole. Such was this Dirk Schuiler; and from the total indifference he showed to the world and its concerns, and from his truly Indian stoicism and taciturnity, no one would ever have dreamt that he would have been the publisher of the treachery of Risingh.
When the carousal was going on, which proved so fatal to the brave Poffenburgh and his watchful garrison, Dirk skulked about from room to room, being a kind of privileged vagrant, or useless hound whom nobody noticed. But though a fellow of few words, yet, like your taciturn people, his eyes and ears were always open, and in the course of his prowlings he overheard the whole plot of the Swedes. Dirk immediately settled in his own mind how he should turn the matter to his own advantage. He played the perfect jack-of-both-sides--that is to say, he made a prize of everything that came in his reach, robbed both parties, stuck the copper-bound cocked hat of the puissant Van Poffenburgh on his head, whipped a huge pair of Risingh's jack-boots under his arms, and took to his heels, just before the catastrophe and confusion at the garrison.
Finding himself completely dislodged from his haunt in this quarter, he directed his flight towards his native place, New Amsterdam, whence he had formerly been obliged to abscond precipitately, in consequence of misfortune in business--that is to say, having been detected in the act of sheep-stealing. After wandering many days in the woods, toiling through swamps, fording brooks, swimming various rivers, and encountering a world of hardships that would have killed any other being but an Indian, a backwoodsman, or the devil, he at length arrived, half famished, and lank as a starved weasel, at Communipaw, where he stole a canoe, and paddled over to New Amsterdam. Immediately on landing, he repaired to Governor Stuyvesant, and in more words than he had ever spoken before in the whole course of his life, gave an account of the disastrous affair.
On receiving these direful tidings, the valiant Peter started from his seat--dashed the pipe he was smoking against the back of the chimney--thrust a prodigious quid of tobacco into his left cheek--pulled up his galligaskins, and strode up and down the room, humming, as was customary with him when in a passion, a hideous north-west ditty. But, as I have before shown, he was not a man to vent his spleen in idle vaporing. His first measure, after the paroxysm of wrath had subsided, was to stump upstairs to a huge wooden chest which served as his armory, from whence he drew forth that identical suit of regimentals described in the preceding chapter. In these portentous habiliment she arrayed himself, like Achilles in the armor of Vulcan, maintaining all the while an appalling silence, knitting his brows, and drawing his breath through his clenched teeth. Being hastily equipped, he strode down into the parlor, and jerked down his trusty sword from over the fireplace, where it was usually suspended; but before he girded it on his thigh, he drew it from its scabbard, and as his eye coursed along the rusty blade, a grim smile stole over his iron visage; it was the first smile that had visited his countenance for five long weeks; but every one who beheld it prophesied that there would soon be warm work in the province!
Thus armed at all points, with grisly war depicted in each feature, his very cocked hat assuming an air of uncommon defiance, he instantly put himself upon the alert, and dispatched Antony Van Corlear hither and thither, this way and that way, through all the muddy streets and crooked lanes of the city, summoning by sound of trumpet his trusty peers to assemble in instant council. This done, by way of expediting matters, according to the custom of people in a hurry, he kept in continual bustle, shifting from chair to chair, popping his head out of every window, and stumping up and downstairs with his wooden leg in such brisk and incessant motion, that, as we are informed by an authentic historian of the times, the continual clatter bore no small resemblance to the music of a cooper hooping a flour-barrel.
A summons so peremptory, and from a man of the governor's mettle, was not to be trifled with; the sages forthwith repaired to the council chamber, seated themselves with the utmost tranquillity, and lighting their long pipes, gazed with unruffled composure on his excellency and his regimentals; being, as all counsellors should be, not easily flustered, nor taken by surprise. The governor, looking around for a moment with a lofty and soldier-like air, and resting one hand on the pommel of his sword, and flinging the other forth in a free and spirited manner, addressed them in a short but soul-stirring harangue.
I am extremely sorry that I have not the advantages of Livy, Thucydides, Plutarch, and others of my predecessors, who were furnished, as I am told, with the speeches of all their heroes taken down in short-hand by the most accurate stenographers of the time, whereby they were enabled wonderfully to enrich their histories, and delight their readers with sublime strains of eloquence. Not having such important auxiliaries, I cannot possibly pronounce what was the tenor of Governor Stuyvesant's speech. I am bold, however, to say, from the tenor of his character, that he did not wrap his rugged subject in silks and ermines, and other sickly trickeries of phrase, but spoke forth like a man of nerve and vigor, who scorned to shrink in words from those dangers which he stood ready to encounter in very deed. This much is certain, that he concluded by announcing his determination to lead on his troops in person, and rout these costard-monger Swedes from their usurped quarters at Fort Casimir. To this hardy resolution, such of his council as were awake gave their usual signal of concurrence; and as to the rest, who had fallen asleep about the middle of the harangue (their "usual custom in the afternoon"), they made not the least objection.
And now was seen in the fair city of New Amsterdam a prodigious bustle and preparation for iron war. Recruiting parties marched hither and thither, calling lustily upon all the scrubs, the runagates, and tatterdemalions of the Manhattoes and its vicinity, who had any ambition of sixpence a day, and immortal fame into the bargain, to enlist in the cause of glory; for I would have you note that you warlike heroes who trudge in the rear of conquerors are generally of that illustrious class of gentlemen who are equal candidates for the army or the bridewell, the halberds or the whipping-post, for whom Dame Fortune has cast an even die whether they shall make their exit by the sword or the halter, and whose deaths shall, at all events, be a lofty example to their countrymen.
But, not withstanding all this martial rout and invitation, the ranks of honor were but scantily supplied, so averse were the peaceful burghers of New Amsterdam from enlisting in foreign broils, or stirring beyond that home which rounded all their earthly ideas. Upon beholding this, the great Peter, whose noble heart was all on fire with war, and sweet revenge, determined to wait no longer for the tardy assistance of these oily citizens, but to muster up his merry men of the Hudson, who, brought up among woods, and wilds, and savage beasts, like our yeomen of Kentucky, delighted in nothing so much as desperate adventures and perilous expeditions through the wilderness. Thus resolving, he ordered his trusty squire, Antony Van Corlear, to have his state galley prepared and duly victualed; which being performed, he attended public service at the great church of St. Nicholas, like a true and pious governor; and then leaving peremptory orders with his council to have the chivalry of the Manhattoes marshaled out and appointed against his return, departed upon his recruiting voyage up the waters of the Hudson.
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