Stanstoe - Or, The Littlepage Manuscripts
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This story, the first of three entitled The Littlepage Manuscripts, is a tale of the Colony of New York, dealing especially with the settlement of the country northeast of Albany, now included in Washington County. The time is 1758, and the incidents include the unsuccessful attack on Ticonderoga, in the Old French War, in which General Howe lost his life. Satanstoe, the name of the estate of the Littlepage family, on a neck or peninsula of Westchester County, near Hell Gate, was so called because the devil was reputed to have left the print of his toe on it when on a roistering expedition in the neighbor-hood. The account is supposed to be told by Cornelius Littlepage, an eye-witness of the events.
I WAS born at Satanstoe on May 3, 1737. My father, Major Evans Littlepage, inherited this estate from his father, Captain Hugh Littlepage, an Englishman, who acquired it, through his wife, about thirty years after the cession of the colony to the English by its Dutch owners. My mother was of Dutch extraction on both sides, her father having been a Blauvelt, and her mother a Van Busser. My Christian name of Cornelius, familiarly Corny, was derived from my Dutch grandfather.
My early schooling was under the charge of the Rev. Thomas Worden, rector of St. Jude's, to which parish we be-longed. He was a good scholar and popular among the gentry, because he attended all the dinners, clubs, races, and other diversions for ten miles round, and never preached more than twenty minutes. He taught me Latin and Greek enough to enter Nassau Hall, the college of New Jersey, then established at Newark.
I had an intimate friend, Dirck Van Valkenburgh, son of Colonel Abraham Van Valkenburgh, who lived at Rockland, across the Hudson. The Colonel, a brother soldier of my father's, was familiarly called by his friends, 'Brom Follock, or Colonel Follock or Vollock. Dirck and I were no more alike than a horse and a mule, but we had been schoolmates under Mr. Worden, and I hoped we were to be college-mates. But his father decided that, as none of the family had been to college and all had got on very well, Dirck should be no exception to the rule. So I went to college while Dirck kept up his studies under Mr. Worden two years longer, when the rector, having fallen heir to some money, gave up his school. Jason New-come, a Yankee graduate of Yale, was called to fill his place. Colonel Follock and other Dutch neighbors, who had decided notions about Yankees, at once withdrew their sons, and from that hour Dirck never went to school again.
I spent four happy years in college, being graduated in 1755, when I was nineteen years old. I kept up my intimacy with Dirck during all this time. He was a sterling fellow, as true as steel, as brave as a game-cock, and as honest as noonday light. Jason Newcome, whom I found established in the school on my return, was a very different sort of person. He was tall, angular, and loose-jointed, but as active as a cat. He would think two feet to Dirck's one; but while the Dutchman was apt to come out right, give him time, Jason was quite liable to jump to wrong conclusions.
In the spring of the year when I was twenty, Dirck and I paid our first visit to town in the character of young men. We baited at Kingsbridge; and while dinner was cooking, walked out on the heights overlooking the Hudson, and Dirck pointed out a house below, with a lawn extending to the water and an orchard behind.
"That is Lilacsbush," he said. "It belongs to my mother's cousin, Herman Mordaunt."
I had heard of him, a man of considerable note in the colony, son of a Major Mordaunt of the British army, who had married the heiress of a wealthy Dutch merchant.
"If he is your mother's cousin," I asked, "why did you not ride on to Lilacsbush and levy a dinner on your relative?"
"Because Herman Mordaunt and his daughter Annekeher mother is dead—live in town in winter and never come out here until after the Pinkster holidays."
"Oh, ho! there is an Anneke! Pray, how old may Miss Anneke be, Master Dirck?"
Dirck blushed as I looked at him, but he answered stoutly:
"My cousin, Anneke Mordaunt, is just turned of seventeen; and I can tell you what, Corny, Anneke is one of the very prettiest girls in the colony, and just as sweet and good as she is pretty."
"I shall hope to have the honor of being introduced one of these days to Miss Anneke Mordaunt."
"I wish you to see her, Corny, and that before we go home."
The next day Dirck and I went up to the town common, and there we met his cousin Anneke, who, with other girls, was witnessing the Pinkster frolics. When I was introduced, she colored, and looking me steadily in the face, said:
"Mr. Littlepage, I believe, is not a total stranger, Cousin Dirck. He once did me an important service."
Then I recognized her as a beautiful girl for whom, several years before, on the Bowery Road, I had fought a pitched battle with a butcher-boy who had insulted her. This at once put me on a familiar footing, and we soon became friends.
Now it happened that a showman had brought a lion to Pinkster, and was exhibiting it in a booth hard by. As there were many visitors, we had some difficulty in finding places. Anneke, who was in front of the circle around the cage, was gradually pressed so close that the lion, perhaps attracted by a gay shawl she wore, thrust a paw through and caught her, drawing her quite up to the bars. I was at her side, and with a presence of mind that now surprises me, I threw the shawl from her shoulders, and lifting her from the ground, bore her to a safe distance from the beast. Anneke was rescued before she had time to comprehend her danger, but as soon as she became conscious of it she changed color and shed tears. We had all gone to the verge of the common before the sweet girl, looking at me earnestly, said:
"Mr. Littlepage, I am just getting to be fully conscious of what I owe to you. The thing passed so suddenly and I was so much alarmed, that I did not know how to express myself. But believe me that I never can forget this morning."
Herman Mordaunt, Anneke's father, called on me at once to express his gratitude and invited me to dine with him on the following Friday. When Dirck and I arrived at his house we found, besides Anneke and her most intimate friend, Mary Wallace, several other young ladies, and three scarlet coats: Harris, an ensign, younger son of a member of Parliament; Billings, a captain, said to be a natural son of a nobleman; and Bulstrode, a major, eldest son of a baronet. The last, who was distantly related to the Mordaunts, was a handsome fellow, and, I soon discovered, an ardent admirer of Anneke. To my surprise, the privileges of rank were waived in my favor, and I had the honor of handing Anneke downstairs to dinner. That night we all attended the theater, where Addison's Cato was performed by the gentlemen of the army, the principal character by Major Bulstrode.
When Dirck and I returned home the Mordaunts were at Lilacsbush, and it was arranged that we should stop and break-fast with them. At table Mr. Mordaunt spoke of some lands which my father, in connection with Colonel Follock, had bought in the neighborhood of Albany.
"It is not very extensive, sir," I replied, "there being only about forty thousand acres. It is not near Albany, but forty miles or more above that town. Dirck and I are to go in search of it next winter."
"Then we may meet in that quarter. I have affairs of importance at Albany, and shall pass some months at the north next season. Bulstrode's regiment expects to be ordered up as high as Albany, and we may all renew our songs and jests among the Dutchmen."
Anneke had made a lively impression on me from the first, but that impression had now very sensibly touched the heart. As proof that passion was getting the mastery over me, I now forgot Dirck, his obvious attachment and older claims. But of Dirck I had no fears, while Bulstrode gave me great uneasiness. I saw all his advantages from the first, and may even have magnified them, while those of my near and immediate friend gave me no trouble.
My feelings were intensified toward spring when my mother received a letter saying that Herman Mordaunt had left town for Albany two months before, intending to pass the summer north; that Anneke and Mary Wallace were with him, and that it was whispered around town that he had obtained some public office there so as to be near the th regiment, in which
was a certain baronet's son, a relative of his, whom he wished Anneke to marry.
We set out for Albany in sleighs on the first of March, 1758, our party consisting of, besides Dirck and myself, the Rev. Mr. Worden and Jason Newcome. Our luggage and necessary stores had been sent ahead in charge of Jaap, a faithful negro servant. We reached Albany, or rather the point opposite the town, in four days, and crossed the river there on the ice. When we were nearly across, a very handsome sleigh, full of ladies, came down the bank and went by us like a comet. But in that instant I recognized Bulstrode as the driver and saw among the ladies the face of Anneke Mordaunt.
The Rev. Mr. Worden, afraid to trust himself on the ice in the sleigh, had insisted on walking across. A man behind us, seeing a man in clerical costume walking, drove after him to offer him a seat. But the divine, hearing the bells and fearful of having a sleigh so near him, took to his heels, pursued by the people in the sleigh as fast as their horses could follow. Everybody stopped to gaze at the strange spectacle until Mr. Worden reached the shore, which he did at the same time with his pursuers. The driver of the sleigh stopped to inquire what had caused the reverend gentleman to run so fast when he was anxious to offer him the courtesy of a seat. The matter was soon explained, and the gentleman, finding that we were strangers in Albany, greeted us cordially, asked at what tavern we in-tended to stop, and promised to call on us. We thus made the acquaintance of Guert Ten Eyck, afterward our companion in many perils.
I found Guert a very companionable fellow and we soon be-came firm friends. He was a young man of a very handsome property, without father or mother, and lived in good style, his bachelor residence being as well kept as if it had a mistress at its head. Guert had become acquainted with the Mordaunts, and had fallen in love with Mary Wallace.
"How I wish I were as much a favorite with Herman Mordaunt as you appear to be," he said.
"I have some reason to think he does not dislike me," I replied. "I had it in my power to be of some trifling service to Miss Anneke last spring, and the whole family seem disposed to remember it."
"I have heard the whole story from Mary Wallace; it was about a lion. I would give half I am worth to see Mary Wallace in the paws of a lion, or any other wild beast, just to let her see that Guert Ten Eyck has a heart. Now, Corny, my boy, I want you to do me a favor. I should like to give Mary and Anneke a drive with my team and in my own sleigh. No man within twenty miles of Albany drives such a pair of beasts as I. You are in such favor, it will be easy for you to effect it. I might try in vain forever."
This led to a drive to Kinderhook the following week on the river, a rain having nearly cleared the roads of snow. There were two sleigh-loads in the party, the two young ladies, Guert, and I in Guert's sleigh, and Herman Mordaunt, Dirck, and a Mrs. Bogert in the other. The drive down was exhilarating, the smooth icy surface of the river furnishing an excellent road for trotting. We dined at Mrs. Van Heyden's, a connection of the Mordaunts, at Kinderhook, and passed so pleasant an evening that we did not leave until eight o'clock.
Of the events of that fearful night I can only record that the river ice broke up when we were about half way to Albany, that the two sleighs became separated by a wall of ice, and that Guert and I, with Mary Wallace and Anneke in charge, succeeded in reaching one of the islands, after cutting loose the horses.
"Corny," said Guert in a low tone, "Providence has punished me for my wicked wish of seeing Mary Wallace in the claws of lions: all the savage beasts in the world could hardly make our case more desperate than it is. The ice is in motion all around us. I fear me, Corny, Herman Mordaunt and his party are lost."
Guert and his charge and I and Anneke finally became separated, but each couple succeeded in gaining the mainland, where we found the rest of our party safe; but Herman Mordaunt's horses were lost, and both sleighs were carried down past New York.
Herman Mordaunt's delight and gratitude when he folded Anneke to his heart may be imagined.
"I want no details, noble young man," he said, "to feel certain that, under God, I owe my child's life, for the second time, to you. I wish to heaven!—but, no matter—it is now too late—I hardly know what I say, Littlepage."
Major Bulstrode called on me the very day of our return.
"You seem fated, my dear Corny," he observed, "to be always serving me in the most material way, and I hardly know how to express all I feel. First the lion, and now this affair of the river. I wish to heaven, Littlepage, you would come into the army. I will write to Sir Harry to obtain a pair of colors for you. As soon as he hears that we are indebted to you for the life of Miss Mordaunt, whom he has made up his mind to accept as a child of his own, he will move heaven and earth to manifest his gratitude."
"Mr. Bulstrode," I said, "I conceive it no more than fair to be as honest as yourself in this matter. You have told me that you are a suitor for Miss Mordaunt's hand; I will now own to you that I am your rival."
He heard this with a quiet smile and the most perfect good-nature.
"So you actually wish to become the husband of Anneke Mordaunt, my dear Corny, do you?" he said coolly.
"I do, Major Bulstrode—it is the first and last wish of my heart."
"Well, Corny, though we are rivals, there is no reason we should not remain friends. But I deem it no more than fair to tell you that Herman Mordaunt is on my side, heart and hand. He likes my offers of settlement; he likes my family; he likes my rank, civil and military; and I am not altogether with-out the hope that he likes me."
I made no direct answer, but this declaration gave me the clue to Herman Mordaunt's words when he thanked me for the life of his daughter.
Though Guert had saved Mary Wallace's life, for which she was more than grateful, it did not seem to aid him in his wooing. He came to me a few days later and, throwing his hat down with a most rueful aspect, said:
"Corny, I have been refused again! That word `no' has got to be so common with Mary Wallace, that I am afraid her tongue will never know how to utter a `yes'!"
Early in the spring Lord Howe arrived and the troops began their march northward, accompanied by a long train of baggage-wagons. Ten days later, Herman Mordaunt and party, consisting of, besides the ladies, several black servants and three white axmen, followed, accompanied by my own party. The latter consisted of Dirck, Guert Ten Eyck, and me, Mr. Traverse, the surveyor, two chain-bearers, two ax-men, and two negroes, Jaap, my faithful man, and Petrus or Pete, belonging to Guert. Mr. Worden and Jason Newcome went twenty-four hours in advance, agreeing to meet us at a certain point in the woods.
We stopped at Ravensnest, Herman Mordaunt's place, several days, in order to see him safely established before moving on to Mooseridge, our own property, about fourteen miles distant. The house at Ravensnest, a log structure, formed three sides of a parallelogram, the open part of the court in the center facing the cliff, where a strong palisade made a defense against bullets. All the windows of the building, which was a hundred feet long by fifty broad, opened on the court, and the single outer door was picketed. Four or five apartments within were prepared for the family, making them as comfortable as could be expected. Everything was plain, and many things rude; but shelter, warmth, and security had not been neglected.
Mr. Worden and Jason declined to go any farther, so we thought it best to add two Indians to our number, in the double character of hunters and runners, or messengers. One of these was called Jumper, and the other, from his faculty of leaving no trail, Trackless. The latter, about twenty-six years old, was an Onondaga, though living with the Mohawks, and his Indian name was Susquesus, or Crooked Turns. Through his aid we soon found a tree marking the corner of our possessions, and immediately set about our work. It took a week to build a comfortable log cabin, after which we began surveying in earnest. The surveying party usually returned to the cabin at night, but when the work led them to the other side of the tract they sometimes "camped out."
Meanwhile we kept constant communication with Ravens-nest by means of our runners, and sometimes made the party there a visit of a day or two. Once when Susquesus was sent there he was gone two weeks, and we had nearly given up hopes of seeing him again when he returned with news that Abercrombie was about to embark with his army on Lake George, and that we must be active if we hoped to be present at the operations against Ticonderoga. Traverse and the chain-bearers were in the woods, but we left a letter for them explaining our absence and promising to return as soon as the expedition was ended. Guert, Dirck, Jaap, and I then shouldered our knapsacks and guns, and set out, guided by Susquesus, for the seat of war.
The failure of the expedition, defeated by a much smaller force of French and Indians, and attended by the death of Lord Howe, is matter of history. We took a prominent part in the fray as volunteers, under the leadership of Guert, who seemed to be in his element. When a retreat was ordered we fell back with the rest, Jaap guarding a prisoner he had taken, a stout Canadian Indian. Of our military friends, Billings was left dead on the field, and Bulstrode and Harris were seriously wounded. As everything was in confusion, we had to look out for ourselves, but fortunately we fell in with Susquesus, who led us to a place where he had concealed a canoe. But the Indian would not permit Jaap to bring his prisoner: "No room," said he, "for red man. Five good—six bad. Take scalp."
But we decided against any more killing, and I ordered Jaap to cut the prisoner's fastenings and let him go. As I was about getting into the canoe I heard the sound of heavy blows, and running back I found Jaap thrashing the naked back of his prisoner with a rope. Indignantly I ordered the negro to the canoe, and with my own hands cut the savage's bonds. "Black man do foolish t'ing," remarked Susquesus, "beat warrior like dog. Warrior back like squaw's. Musquerusque Huron chief. He never forget."
We soon had cause to remember his words. When, a few days later, we returned to Mooseridge, we found the cabin empty, but with every evidence that the tenants had left it but a short time before. That night I was wakened out of a deep sleep by the Onondaga, who unbarred the door and beckoned me to follow him. He stopped fifteen or twenty feet from the cabin, and said in a suppressed voice: "Now, open ear."
I listened and soon caught the sound of a human cry, as from human lips in agony. It was loud, long, piercing—the word "Help" as distinct as tongue could make it.
"Great God!" I exclaimed. "Let's arouse the rest and go to his assistance."
"No need call. Two better than four. Stop minute."
He returned to the cabin, brought out our rifles, and closed the door, and we then set out. We went on about a half mile when Susquesus stopped. We could hear an occasional stifled groan, and an impulse of humanity tempted me to go to the person's assistance, but Susquesus checked me. "No good," he said sternly. "Sit still."
When morning came, Susquesus used the utmost caution in advancing. Presently I heard the familiar Indian interjection "Hugh!" and saw, suspended by the arms, ten or fifteen feet above the ground, the body of a man. He had been scalped and the blood had flowed freely from the head. Moving around to get a view of the face, I recognized the distorted features of Pete, Guert Ten Eyck's negro.
It was broad daylight when we returned to the cabin. After breakfast we set out with our rifles in Indian file, the Onondaga leading. Under a great chestnut-tree we found the body of Sam, one of our hunters, whom we supposed to be with Traverse, and a little farther on, Traverse himself and his two chain-bearers and Tom, the second axman, sitting n a circle as if dining, but all dead and scalped.
"Huron do that," said Susquesus. "Injin back sore; no love flog."
When we returned to the cabin, we found Jumper, our other Indian scout, who brought letters from Ravensnest. Major Bulstrode was expected that night in a horse-litter; and we were all asked to hasten thither without delay, as reports were rife that savages had been seen in the woods. We at once abandoned the cabin and, taking only our arms, ammunition, and food enough for the day, set out for Ravensnest. When near our destination, after nightfall, we came upon a band of forty savages, all in war-paint, gathered around a fire under a shelving rock for supper. We took them by surprise, fired on them, and then charged with knife and tomahawk, shouting. The savages yelled and scattered, and we passed through the slain and wounded, and reached the abatis covering the gate of Ravensnest, where Herman Mordaunt and a dozen armed men were ready to receive us.
Soon after our arrival I went to Bulstrode's room, he having asked to see me. His wound was by no means bad, and there was no danger of his losing his leg. He spoke freely of Anneke and begged me to pardon what he called his master-stroke—in having himself thus brought fresh from the field to the presence of his mistress.
"Make a nurse out of a woman and she is yours, nine times out of ten. I do not deny that you, as a defender, have at present some advantages. God bless you, Corny," he said as I left him; "improve the opportunity in your own way, for I assure you I shall do it in mine."
I took him at his word. That very night I found an occasion to press my suit with Anneke, and with success. She owned that she had long loved me, and that Bulstrode, though encouraged by her father, never had interested her in the least.
Poor Guert Ten Eyck, who had again tried his fortune with Mary Wallace, rejoined me, sadder and more despairing than ever. If she had been less obdurate he might have been saved; but that night, when the Hurons made a concerted attack on the house, he exposed himself recklessly and received his death-wound. Mary Wallace discovered when too late that she loved him, and he died in her arms. Mary Wallace never married.
In the following September I saw Bulstrode at Lilacsbush.
"I told you once, Corny," he said, offering his hand, "that we must remain friends, coute qui coute—you have been successful, and I have failed. It was the river that made your fortune, Corny, and undid me."
I smiled, but said nothing; though I knew better.