University of Virginia Library


In the edge of a June evening in the summer vacation of 1827,
I was set down by the coach at the gate of my friend Horace Van
Pelt's paternal mansion—a large, old-fashioned, comfortable
Dutch house, clinging to the side of one of the most romantic
dolls on the North river. In the absence of his whole family on
the summer excursion to the falls and lakes (taken by almost
every “well-to-do” citizen of the United States), Horace was
emperor of the long-descended, and as progressively enriched
domain of one of the earliest Dutch settlers—a brief authority
which he exercised more particularly over an extensive stud, and
bins number one and two.

The west was piled with gold castles, breaking up the horizon
with their burnished pinnacles and turrets, the fragrant dampness


Page 12
of the thunder-shower that had followed the heat of noon
was in the air, and in a low room, whose floor opened out so exactly
upon the shaven sward, that a blind man would not have known
when he passed from the heavily-piled carpet to the grass, I
found Horace sitting over his olives and claret, having waited
dinner for me till five (long beyond the latest American hour),
and in despair of my arrival, having dined without me. The old
black cook was too happy to vary her vocation by getting a
second dinner; and when I had appeased my appetite, and overtaken
my friend in his claret, we sat with the moonlight breaking
across a vine at our feet, and coffee worthy of a filagree cup in
the Bezestien, and debated, amid a true embarras des richesses,
our plans for the next week's amusement.

The seven days wore on, merrily at first, but each succeeding
one growing less merry than the last. By the fifth eve of my
sojourn, we had exhausted variety. All sorts of headaches and
megrims in the morning, all sorts of birds, beasts, and fishes, for
dinner, all sorts of accidents in all sorts of vehicles, left us on the
seventh day out of sorts altogether. We were two discontented
Rasselases in the Happy Valley. Rejoicing as we were in vacation,
it would have been a relief to have had a recitation to read
up, or a prayer-bell to mark the time. Two idle sophomores in
a rambling, lonely old mansion, were, we discovered, a very
insufficient dramatis personæ for the scene.

It was Saturday night. A violent clap of thunder had interrupted
some daring theory of Van Pelt's on the rising of champagne-bubbles,
and there we sat, mum and melancholy, two sated
Sybarites, silent an hour by the clock. The mahogany was bare
between us. Any number of glasses and bottles stood in their
lees about the table; the thrice-fishes juice of an olive-dish and


Page 13
a solitary cigar in a silver case had been thrust aside in a warm
argument, and, in his father's sacred gout-chair, buried to the
eyes in his loosened cravat, one leg on the table, and one somewhere
in the neighborhood of my own, sat Van Pelt, the eidolon
of exhausted amusement.

“Phil!” said he, starting suddenly to an erect position, “a
thought strikes me!”

I dropped the claret-cork, from which I was at the moment
trying to efface the “Margaux” brand, and sat in silent expectation.
I had thought his brains as well evaporated as the last
bottle of champagne.

He rested his elbows on the table, and set his chin between his
two palms.

“I'll resign the keys of this mournful old den to the butler, and
we'll go to Saratoga for a week. What say?”

“It would be a reprieve from death by inanition,” I answered,
“but, as the rhetorical professor would phrase it, amplify your
meaning, young gentleman.”

“Thus: To-morrow is Sunday. We will sleep till Monday
morning to purge our brains of these cloudy vapors, and restore
the freshness of our complexions. If a fair day, you shall start
alone in the stanhope, and on Monday night sleep in classic
quarters at Titus's in Troy.”

“And you,” I interrupted, rather astonished at his arrangement
for one.

Horace laid his hand on his pocket with a look of embarrassed

“I will overtake you with the bay colts in the drosky, but I
must first go to Albany. The circulating medium—”

“I understand.”


Page 14


We met on Monday morning in the breakfast-room in mutual
spirits. The sun was two hours high, the birds in the trees were
wild with the beauty and elasticity of the day, the dew glistened
on every bough, and the whole scene, over river and hill, was a
heaven of natural delight. As we finished our breakfast, the
light spattering of a horse's feet up the avenue, and the airy
whirl of quick-following wheels, announced the stanhope. It was
in beautiful order, and what would have been termed on any pave
in the world a tasteful turn-out. Light cream-colored body, black
wheels and shafts, drab lining edged with green, dead-black harness,
light as that on the panthers of Bacchus—it was the last style of
thing you would have looked for at the “stoup” of a Dutch homestead.
And Tempest! I think I see him now!—his small inquisitive
ears, arched neck, eager eye, and fine, thin nostril—his
dainty feet flung out with the grace of a flaunted riband—his
true and majestic action and his spirited champ of the bit, nibbling
at the tight rein with the exciting pull of a hooked trout—
how evenly he drew!—how insensibly the compact stanhope, just
touching his iron-gray tail, bowled along on the road after him!

Horace was behind with the drosky and black boy, and with a
parting nod at the gate, I turned northward, and Tempest took
the road in beautiful style. I do not remember to have been ever
so elated. I was always of the Cyrenaic philosophy that “happiness
is motion,” and the bland vitality of the air had refined my
senses. The delightful feel of the reins thrilled me to the
shoulder. Driving is like any other appetite, dependant for the
delicacy of its enjoyment on the system, and a day's temperate
abstinence, long sleep, and the glorions perfection of the morning,


Page 15
had put my nerves “in condition.” I felt the air as I rushed
through. The power of the horse was added to my consciousness
of enjoyment, and if you can imagine a centaur with a harness
and stanhope added to his living body, I felt the triple enjoyment
of animal exercise which would then be his.

It is delightful driving on the Hudson. The road is very fair
beneath your wheels, the river courses away under the bold shore
with the majesty inseparable from its mighty flood, and the
constant change of outline in its banks, gives you, as you proceed,
a constant variety of pictures, from the loveliest to the most
sublime. The eagle's nest above you at one moment, a sunny
and fertile farm below you at the next—rocks, trees, and waterfalls,
wedded and clustered as, it seems to me, they are nowhere
else done so picturesquely—it is a noble river, the Hudson!
And every few minutes, while you gaze down upon the broad
waters spreading from hill to hill like a round lake, a gayly-painted
steamer with her fringed and white awnings and streaming
flag, shoots out as if from a sudden cleft in the rock, and draws
across it her track of foam.

Well—I bowled along. Ten o'clock brought me to a snug
Dutch tavern, where I sponged Tempest's mouth and nostrils,
lunched, and was stared at by the natives, and continuing my
journey, at one I loosed rein and dashed into the pretty village
of —, Tempest in a foam, and himself and his extempore
master creating a great sensation in a crowd of people, who stood
in the shade of the verandah of the hotel, as if that asylum for
the weary traveller had been a shop for the sale of gentlemen in

Tempest was taken round to the “barn,” and I ordered rather
an elaborate dinner, designing still to go on some ten miles in the


Page 16
cool of the evening, and having, of course, some mortal hours
upon my hands. The cook had probably never heard of more
than three dishes in her life, but those three were garnished with
all manner of herbs, and sent up in the best china as a warranty
for an unusual bill, and what with coffee, a small glass of new
rum as an apology for a chasse café, and a nap in a straight-backed
chair, I killed the enemy to my satisfaction till the
shadows of the poplars lengthened across the barnyard.

I was awoke by Tempest, prancing round to the door in undiminished
spirits; and as I had begun the day en grand seigneur,
I did not object to the bill, which considerably exceeded the outside
of my calculation, but giving the landlord a twenty-dollar
note received the change unquestioned, doubled the usual fee to
the ostler, and let Tempest off with a bend forward which served
at the same time for a gracious bow to the spectators. So
remarkable a coxcomb had probably not been seen in the village
since the passing of Cornwallis's army.

The day was still hot, and as I got into the open country, I
drew rein and paced quietly up hill and down, picking the road
delicately, and in a humor of thoughtful contentment, trying my
skill in keeping the edges of the green sod as it leaned in and out
from the walls and ditches. With the long whip I now and then
touched the wing of a sulphur butterfly hovering over a pool, and
now and then I stopped and gathered a violet from the unsunned
edge of the wood.

I had proceeded three or four miles in this way, when I was
overtaken by three stout fellows, galloping at speed, who rode
past and faced round with a peremptory order to me to stop. A
formidable pitchfork in the hand of each horseman left me no
alternative. I made up my mind immediately to be robbed


Page 17
quietly of my own personals, but to show fight, if necessary, for
Tempest and the stanhope.

“Well, gentlemen,” said I, coaxing my impatient horse, who
had been rather excited by the clatter of hoofs behind him, “what
is the meaning of this?”

Before I could get an answer, one of the fellows had dismounted
and given his bridle to another, and coming round to the left
side, he sprang suddenly into the stanhope. I received him as
he rose with a well-placed thrust of my heel which sent him back
into the road, and with a chirrup to Tempest, I dashed through
the phalanx, and took the road at a top speed. The short lash
once waved round the small ears before me, there was no stopping
in a hurry, and away sped the gallant gray, and fast behind
followed my friends in their short sleeves, all in a lathering
gallop. A couple of miles was the work of no time, Tempest
laying his legs to it as if the stanhope had been a cobweb at his
heels; but at the end of that distance there came a sharp descent
to a mill-stream, and I just remember an unavoidable milestone
and a jerk over a wall, and the next minute, it seemed to me, I
was in the room where I had dined, with my hands tied, and a
hundred people about me. My cool white waistcoat was matted
with mud, and my left temple was, by the glass opposite me, both
bloody and begrimed.

The opening of my eyes was a signal for a closer gathering
around me, and between exhaustion and the close air I was half
suffocated. I was soon made to understand that I was a prisoner,
and that the three white-frocked highwaymen, as I took them to
be, were among the spectators. On a polite application to the
landlord, who, I found out, was a justice of the peace as well, I was
informed that he had made out my mittimus as a counterfeiter,


Page 18
and that the spurious note I had passed upon him for my dinner
was safe in his possession! He pointed at the same time to a
placard newly stuck against the wall, offering a reward for the
apprehension of a notorious practiser of my supposed craft, to the
description of whose person I answered, to the satisfaction of all

Quite too indignant to remonstrate, I seated myself in the chair
considerately offered me by the waiter, and listening to the whispers
of the persons who were still permitted to throng the room,
I discovered, what might have struck me before, that the initials
on the panel of the stanhope and the handle of the whip had been
compared with the card pasted in the bottom of my hat, and the
want of correspondence was taken as decided corroboration. It
was remarked also by a bystander that I was quite too much of
a dash for an honest man, and that he had suspected me from
first seeing me drive into the village! I was sufficiently humbled
by this time to make an inward vow never again to take airs
upon myself if I escaped the county jail.

The justice meanwhile had made out my orders, and a horse
and cart had been provided to take me to the next town. I
endeavored to get speech of his worship as I was marched out of
the inn parlor, but the crowd pressed close upon my heels and
the dignitary-landlord seemed anxious to rid his house of me. I
had no papers, and no proofs of my character, and assertion went
for nothing. Besides, I was muddy, and my hat was broken in
on one side, proofs of villany which appeal to the commonest

I begged for a little straw in the bottom of the cart, and had
made myself as comfortable as my two rustic constables thought
fitting for a culprit, when the vehicle was quickly ordered from


Page 19
the door to make way for a carriage coming at a dashing pace up
the road. It was Van Pelt in his drosky.

Horace was well known on the road, and the stanhope had
already been recognized as his. By this time it was deep in the
twilight, and though he was instantly known by the landlord, he
might be excused for not so readily identifying the person of his
friend in the damaged gentleman in the straw.

“Ay, ay! I see you don't know him,” said the landlord, while
Van Pelt surveyed me rather coldly; “on with him, constables!
he would have us believe you knew him, sir! Walk in, Mr. Van
Pelt! Ostler, look to Mr. Van Pelt's horses! Walk in, sir!”

“Stop!” I cried out in a voice of thunder, seeing that Horace
really had not looked at me. “Van Pelt! stop, I say!”

The driver of the cart seemed more impressed by the energy
of my cries than my friends the constables, and pulled up his
horse. Some one in the crowd cried out that I should have a
hearing or he would “wallup the comitatus,” and the justice,
called back by this expression of an opinion from the sovereign
people, requested his new guest to look at the prisoner.

I was preparing to have my hands untied, yet feeling so
indignant at Van Pelt for not having recognized me that I would
not look at him, when, to my surprise, the horse started off once
more, and looking back, I saw my friend patting the neck of his
near horse, evidently not having thought it worth his while to
take any notice of the justice's observation. Choking with rage,
I flung myself down upon the straw, and jolted on without further
remonstrance to the county town.

I had been incarcerated an hour, when Van Pelt's voice,
half angry with the turnkey and half ready to burst into a laugh,
resounded outside. He had not heard a word spoken by the


Page 20
officious landlord, till after the cart had been some time gone.
Even then, believing it to be a cock-and-bull story, he had
quietly dined, and it was only on going into the yard to see after
his horses that he recognized the debris of his stanhope.

The landlord's apologies, when we returned to the inn, were
more amusing to Van Pelt than consolatory to Philip Slingsby.