Rip Van Winkle
by Washington Irving
A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich
|By Woden, God of Saxons,
From whence comes Wensday, that is Wodensday.
Truth is a thing that ever I will keep
Unto thylke day in which I creep into
The following Tale was found among the papers of
the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very
curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the
descendants from its primitive settlers. His historical researches, however,
did not lie so much among books as among men; for the former are lamentably
scanty on his favorite topics; whereas he found the old burghers, and still
more their wives, rich in that legendary lore, so invaluable to true history.
Whenever, therefore, he happened upon a genuine Dutch family, snugly shut up
in its low-roofed farmhouse, under a spreading sycamore, he looked upon it as
a little clasped volume of black-letter, and studied it with the zeal of a
The result of all these researches was a history of
the province during the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some
years since. There have been various opinions as to the literary character of
his work, and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better than it should be.
Its chief merit is its scrupulous accuracy, which indeed was a little
questioned on its first appearance, but has since been completely established;
and it is now admitted into all historical collections, as a book of
The old gentleman died shortly after the
publication of his work, and now that he is dead and gone, it cannot do much
harm to his memory to say that his time might have been much better employed
in weightier labors. He, however, was apt to ride his hobby his own way; and
though it did now and then kick up the dust a little in the eyes of his
neighbors, and grieve the spirit of some friends, for whom he felt the truest
deference and affection; yet his errors and follies are remembered "more
in sorrow than in anger," and it begins to be suspected, that he never
intended to injure or offend. But however his memory may be appreciated by
critics, it is still held dear by many folk, whose good opinion is well worth
having; particularly by certain biscuit-bakers, who have gone so far as to
imprint his likeness on their new-year cakes; and have thus given him a chance
for immortality, almost equal to the being stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a
Queen Anne's Farthing.
WHOEVER has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember
the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian
family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble
height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season,
every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in
the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the
good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and
settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on
the clear evening sky; but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is
cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their 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 descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs
gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into
the fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village, of great
antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists in the early times
of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter
Stuyvesant, (may he rest in peace!) and there were some of the houses of the
original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow bricks
brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with
In that same village, and in one of these very houses (which,
to tell the precise truth, was sadly time-worn and weather-beaten), 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. He was a descendant
of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter
Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort Christina. He inherited,
however, but little of the martial character of his ancestors. I have observed
that he was a simple, good-natured man; he was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and
an obedient, hen-pecked husband. Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be
owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for
those men are most apt to be obsequious and 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. A termagant wife may, therefore, in some respects,
be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.
Certain it is, that he was a great favorite among all
the good wives of the village, who, as usual, with the amiable sex, took his
part in all family squabbles; and never failed, whenever they talked those
matters over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van
Winkle. The children of the village, too, would shout with joy whenever he
approached. He assisted at their sports, made their playthings, taught them to
fly kites and shoot marbles, and told them long stories of ghosts, witches, and
Indians. Whenever he went dodging 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; and not a dog would bark at him throughout
The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable
aversion to all kinds of profitable labor. It could not be from the want of
assiduity or perseverance; for he would sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long
and heavy as a Tartar's lance, and fish all day without a murmur, even though he
should not be encouraged by a single nibble. He would carry a fowling-piece on
his shoulder for hours together, trudging through woods and swamps, and up hill
and down dale, to shoot a few squirrels or wild pigeons. He would never refuse
to assist a neighbor even in the roughest toil, and was a foremost man at all
country frolics for husking Indian corn, or building stone-fences; the women of
the village, too, used to employ him to run their errands, and to do such little
odd jobs as their less obliging husbands would not do for them. In a word Rip
was ready to attend to anybody's business but his own; but as to doing family
duty, and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.
In fact, he declared it was of no use to work on his
farm; it was the most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole country;
every thing about it went wrong, and would go wrong, in spite of him. His fences
were continually falling to pieces; his cow would either go astray, or get among
the cabbages; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields than anywhere else;
the rain always made a point of setting in just as he had some out-door work to
do; so that though his patrimonial estate had dwindled away under his management,
acre by acre, until there was little more left than a mere patch of Indian corn
and potatoes, yet it was the worst conditioned farm in the neighborhood.
His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they
belonged to nobody. His son Rip, an urchin begotten in his own likeness,
promised to inherit the habits, with the old clothes of his father. He was
generally seen trooping like a colt at his mother's heels, equipped in a pair of
his father's cast-off galligaskins, which he had much ado to hold up with one
hand, as a fine lady does her train in bad weather.
Rip Van Winkle, however, 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 thought or trouble, and would rather
starve on a penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he would have
whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning
in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing
on his family. Morning, noon, and night, her tongue was incessantly going, and
everything he said or did was sure to produce a torrent of household eloquence.
Rip had but one way of replying to all lectures of the kind, and that, by
frequent use, had grown into a habit. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head,
cast up his eyes, but said nothing. This, however, always provoked a fresh
volley from his wife; so that he was fain to draw off his forces, and take to
the outside of the house—the only side which, in truth, belongs to a
Rip's sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf, who was
as much hen-pecked as his master; for Dame Van Winkle regarded them as
companions in idleness, and even looked upon Wolf with an evil eye, as the cause
of his master's going so often astray. True it is, in all points of spirit
befitting an honorable dog, he was as courageous an animal as ever scoured the
woods; but what courage can withstand the ever-during and all-besetting terrors
of a woman's tongue? The moment Wolf entered the house his crest fell, his tail
dropped to the ground, or curled between his legs, he sneaked about with a
gallows air, casting many a sidelong glance at Dame Van Winkle, and at the least
flourish of a broomstick or ladle, he would run to the door with yelping
Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as years
of matrimony rolled on; a tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue
is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. For a long while he
used to console himself, when driven from home, by frequenting a kind of
perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle personages of the
village; which held its sessions on a bench before a small inn, designated by a
rubicund portrait of His Majesty George the Third. Here they used to sit in the
shade through a long lazy summer's day, talking listlessly over village gossip,
or telling endless sleepy stories about nothing. But it would have been worth
any statesman's money to have heard the profound discussions that sometimes took
place, when by chance an old newspaper fell into their hands from some passing
traveller. How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled out by
Derrick Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, a dapper learned little man, who was not
to be daunted by the most gigantic word in the dictionary; and how sagely they
would deliberate upon public events some months after they had taken place.
The opinions of this junto were completely controlled by
Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn, at the
door of which he took his seat from morning till night, just moving sufficiently
to avoid the sun and keep in the shade of a large tree; so that the neighbors
could tell the hour by his movements as accurately as by a sun-dial. It is true
he was rarely heard to speak, but smoked his pipe incessantly. His adherents,
however (for every great man has his adherents), perfectly understood him, and
knew how to gather his opinions. When any thing that was read or related
displeased him, he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently; and to send forth
short, frequent and angry puffs; but when pleased, he would inhale the smoke
slowly and tranquilly, and emit it in light and placid clouds; and sometimes,
taking the pipe from his mouth, and letting the fragrant vapor curl about his
nose, would gravely nod his head in token of perfect approbation.
From even this stronghold the unlucky Rip was at length
routed by his termagant wife, who would suddenly break in upon the tranquility
of the assemblage and call the members all to naught; nor was that august
personage, Nicholas Vedder himself, sacred from the daring tongue of this
terrible virago, who charged him outright with encouraging her husband in habits
Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his
only alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his wife,
was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods. Here he would sometimes
seat himself at the foot of a tree, and share the contents of his wallet with
Wolf, with whom he sympathized as a fellow-sufferer in persecution. "Poor
Wolf," he would say, "thy mistress leads thee a dog's life of it; but
never mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt never want a friend to stand by
thee!" Wolf would wag his tail, look wistfully in his master's face, and if
dogs can feel pity I verily believe he reciprocated the sentiment with all his
In a long ramble of the kind on a fine autumnal day, Rip
had unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill
mountains. He was after his favorite sport of squirrel shooting, and the still
solitudes had echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun. Panting and
fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered
with mountain herbage, that crowned the brow of a precipice. From an opening
between the trees he could overlook all the lower country for many a mile of
rich woodland. He saw at a distance the lordly Hudson, far, far below him,
moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud,
or the sail of a lagging bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and
at last losing itself in the blue highlands.
On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain
glen, wild, lonely, and shagged, the bottom filled with fragments from the
impending cliffs, and scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun.
For some time Rip lay musing on this scene; evening was gradually advancing; the
mountains began to throw their long blue shadows over the valleys; he saw that
it would be dark long before he could reach the village, and he heaved a heavy
sigh when he thought of encountering the terrors of Dame Van Winkle.
As he was about to descend, he heard a voice from a
distance, hallooing, "Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!" He looked round,
but could see nothing but a crow winging its solitary flight across the mountain.
He thought his fancy must have deceived him, and turned again to descend, when
he heard the same cry ring through the still evening air; "Rip Van Winkle!
Rip Van Winkle!"—at the same time Wolf bristled up his back, and giving a
low growl, skulked to his master's side, looking fearfully down into the glen.
Rip now felt a vague apprehension stealing over him; he looked anxiously in the
same direction, and perceived a strange figure slowly toiling up the rocks, and
bending under the weight of something he carried on his back. He was surprised
to see any human being in this lonely and unfrequented place; but supposing it
to be some one of the neighborhood in need of his assistance, he hastened down
to yield it.
On nearer approach he was still more surprised at the
singularity of the stranger's appearance. He was a short square-built old fellow,
with thick bushy hair, and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch
fashion—a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist—several pair of breeches,
the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows of buttons down the sides,
and bunches at the knees. He bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full
of liquor, and made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with the load.
Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with
his usual alacrity; and mutually relieving one another, they clambered up a
narrow gully, apparently the dry bed of a mountain torrent. As they ascended,
Rip every now and then heard long rolling peals, like distant thunder, that
seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks,
toward which their rugged path conducted. He paused for an instant, but
supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient thunder-showers which
often take place in mountain heights, he proceeded. Passing through the ravine,
they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular
precipices, over the brinks of which impending trees shot their branches, so
that you only caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening cloud.
During the whole time Rip and his companion had labored on in silence; for
though the former marvelled greatly what could be the object of carrying a keg
of liquor up this wild mountain, yet there was something strange and
incomprehensible about the unknown, that inspired awe and checked familiarity.
On entering the amphitheatre, new objects of wonder
presented themselves. On a level spot in the centre was a company of odd-looking
personages playing at nine-pins. They were dressed in a quaint outlandish
fashion; some wore short doublets, others jerkins, with long knives in their
belts, and most of them had enormous breeches, of similar style with that of the
guide's. Their visages, too, were peculiar: one had a large beard, broad face,
and small piggish eyes: the face of another seemed to consist entirely of nose,
and was surmounted by a white sugar-loaf hat, set off with a little red cock's
tail. They all had beards, of various shapes and colors. There was one who
seemed to be the commander. He was a stout old gentleman, with a weather-beaten
countenance; he wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high crowned hat
and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with roses in them. The whole
group reminded Rip of the figures in an old Flemish painting, in the parlor of
Dominie Van Shaick, the village parson, and which had been brought over from
Holland at the time of the settlement.
What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though
these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest
faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party
of pleasure he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness of the
scene but the noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled, echoed along
the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder.
As Rip and his companion approached them, they suddenly
desisted from their play, and stared at him with such fixed, statue-like gaze,
and such strange, uncouth, lack-lustre countenances, that his heart turned
within him, and his knees smote together. 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 whence he
had first seen the old man of the glen. He rubbed his eyes—it was a bright
sunny morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and the
eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure mountain breeze. "Surely,"
thought Rip, "I have not slept here all night." He recalled the
occurances before he fell asleep. The strange man with a keg of liquor—the
mountain ravine—the wild retreat among the rocks—the woe-begone party at
ninepins—the flagon—"Oh! that flagon! that wicked flagon!" thought
Rip,—"what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle!"
He 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 roisters of the mountain had put a trick upon him, and,
having dosed him with liquor, had robbed him of his gun. Wolf, too, had
disappeared, but he might have strayed away after a squirrel or partridge. He
whistled after him and shouted his name, but all in vain; the echoes repeated
his whistle and shout, but no dog was to be seen.
He determined to revisit the scene of the last evening's
gambol, and if he met with any of the party, to demand his dog and gun. As he
rose to walk, he found himself stiff in the joints, and wanting in his usual
activity. "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 with Dame Van Winkle." With some difficulty he got down
into the glen: he found the gully up which he and his companion had ascended the
preceding evening; but to his astonishment a mountain stream was now foaming
down it, leaping from rock to rock, and filling the glen with babbling murmurs.
He, however, made shift to scramble up its sides, working his toilsome way
through thickets of birch, sassafras, and witch-hazel, and sometimes tripped up
or entangled by the wild grapevines that twisted their coils or tendrils from
tree to tree, and spread a kind of network in his path.
At length he reached to where the ravine had opened
through the cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such opening remained.
The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall over which the torrent came
tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep basin, black
from the shadows of the surrounding forest. Here, then, poor Rip was brought to
a stand. He again called and whistled after his dog; he was only answered by the
cawing of a flock of idle crows, sporting high in air about a dry tree that
overhung a sunny precipice; and who, secure in their elevation, seemed to look
down and scoff at the poor man's perplexities. What was to be done? the morning
was passing away, and Rip felt famished for want of his breakfast. He grieved to
give up his dog and gun; he dreaded to meet his wife; but it would not do to
starve among the mountains. He shook his head, shouldered the rusty firelock,
and, with a heart full of trouble and anxiety, turned his steps homeward.
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. Their dress, too, was of a
different fashion from that to which he was accustomed. They all stared at him
with equal marks of surprise, and whenever they cast their eyes upon him,
invariably stroked their chins. The constant recurrence of this gesture induced
Rip, involuntarily, to do the same, when, to his astonishment, he found his
beard had grown a foot long!
He had now entered the skirts of the village. A troop of
strange children ran at his heels, hooting after him, and pointing at his gray
beard. The dogs, too, not one of which he recognized for an old acquaintance,
barked at him as he passed. 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—every thing was strange. His mind now
misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not
bewitched. Surely this was his native village which he had left but the day
before. There stood the Kaatskill mountains—there ran the silver Hudson at a
distance—there was every hill and dale precisely as it had always been. Rip
was sorely perplexed. "That flagon last night," thought he, "has
addled my poor head sadly!"
It was with some difficulty that he found his way to his
own house, which he approached with silent awe, expecting every moment to hear
the shrill voice of Dame Van Winkle. He found the house gone to decay—the roof
fallen in, the windows shattered, and the doors off the hinges. A half-starved
dog that looked like Wolf was sulking about it. Rip called him by name, but the
cur snarled, showed his teeth, and passed on. This was an unkind cut indeed.
"My very dog," sighed poor Rip, "has forgotten me!"
He entered the house, which, to tell the truth, Dame Van
Winkle had always kept in neat order. It was empty, forlorn, and apparently
abandoned. This desolateness overcame all his connubial fears—he called loudly
for his wife and children—the lonely chambers rang for a moment with his voice,
and then all again was silence.
He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort,
the village inn—but it too was gone. A large rickety wooden building stood in
its place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with old
hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, "The Union Hotel, by
Jonathan Doolittle." 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
something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was
fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes;—all
this was strange and incomprehensible. He recognized on the sign, however, 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,
There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but
none that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed.
There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the
accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity. He looked in vain for the sage
Nicholas Vedder, with his broad face, double chin, and fair long pipe, uttering
clouds of tobacco-smoke instead of idle speeches; or Van Bummel, the
schoolmaster doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper. In place of
these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, was
haranguing vehemently about rights of citizens—elections—members of congress—liberty—Bunker's
Hill—heroes of seventy-six—and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish
jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.
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
around him, eyeing him from head to foot with great curiosity. The orator
bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired "On which side
he voted?" Rip stared in vacant stupidity. Another short but busy little
fellow pulled him by the arm, and, rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear, "Whether
he was Federal or Democrat?" Rip was equally at a loss to comprehend the
question; when a knowing, self-important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat,
made his way through the crowd, putting them to the right and left with his
elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo,
the other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating, as it
were, into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone, "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?"—"Alas! gentlemen," cried
Rip, somewhat dismayed, "I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and
a loyal subject of the King, God bless him!"
Here a general shout burst from the by-standers—"A
tory! a tory! a spy! a refugee! hustle him! away with him!" It was with
great difficulty that the self-important man in the cocked hat restored order;
and, having assumed a tenfold austerity of brow, demanded again of the unknown
culprit, what he came there for, and whom he was seeking? The poor man humbly
assured him that he meant no harm, but merely came there in search of some of
his neighbors, who used to keep about the tavern.
"Well—who are they—name them."
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired, "Where's
There was a silence for a little while, when an old man
replied, in a thin piping voice, "Nicholas Vedder! why, he is dead and gone
these eighteen years! There was a wooden tombstone in the church-yard that used
to tell all about him, but that's rotten and gone too."
"Where's Brom Dutcher?"
"Oh, he went off to the army in the beginning of
the war; some say he was killed at the storming of Stony Point—others say he
was drowned in a squall at the foot of Antony's Nose. I don't know—he never
came back again."
"Where's Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?"
"He went off to the wars too, was a great militia
general, and is now in congress."
Rip's heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in
his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer
puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of matters
which he could not understand: war—congress—Stony Point;—he had no courage
to ask after any more friends, but cried out in despair, "Does nobody here
know Rip Van Winkle?"
"Oh, Rip Van Winkle!" exclaimed two or three,
"oh, to be sure! that's Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree."
Rip looked, and beheld a precise counterpart of himself,
as he went up to the mountain: apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged. The
poor fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and
whether he was himself or another man. In the midst of his bewilderment, the man
in the cocked hat demanded who he was, and what was his name?
"God knows," exclaimed he, at his wit's end;
"I'm not myself—I'm somebody else—that's me yonder—no—that's
somebody else got into my shoes—I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on
the mountain, and they've changed my gun, and every thing's changed, and I'm
changed, and I can't tell what's my name, or who I am!"
The by-standers began now to look at each other, nod,
wink significantly, and tap their fingers against their foreheads. There was a
whisper, also, about securing the gun, and keeping the old fellow from doing
mischief, at the very suggestion of which the self-important man in the cocked
hat retired with some precipitation. At this critical moment a fresh comely
woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-bearded man. She had
a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his looks, 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.
"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
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 peddler.
There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this
intelligence. The honest man could contain himself no longer. He caught his
daughter and her child in his arms. "I'm your father!" cried he—"Young
Rip Van Winkle once—old Rip Van Winkle now!—Does nobody know poor Rip Van
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 neighbor. Why, where have you been these twenty long
Rip's story was soon told, for the whole twenty years
had been to him but as one night. The neighbors stared when they heard it; some
were seen to wink at each other, and put their tongues in their cheeks: and the
self-important man in the cocked hat, who, when the alarm was over, had returned
to the field, screwed down the corners of his mouth, and shook his head—upon
which there was a general shaking of the head throughout the assemblage.
It was determined, however, to take the opinion of old
Peter Vanderdonk, who was seen slowly advancing up the road. He was a descendant
of the historian of that name, who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the
province. Peter was the most ancient inhabitant of the village, and well versed
in all the wonderful events and traditions of the neighborhood. He recollected
Rip at once, and corroborated his story in the most satisfactory manner. He
assured the company that it was a fact, handed down from his ancestor the
historian, that the Kaatskill mountains had always been haunted by strange
beings. That it was affirmed that the great Hendrick Hudson, the first
discoverer of the river and country, kept a kind of vigil there every twenty
years, with his crew of the Half-moon; being permitted in this way to revisit
the scenes of his enterprise, and keep a guardian eye upon the river, and the
great city called by his name. That his father had once seen them in their old
Dutch dresses playing at nine-pins in a hollow of the mountain; and that he
himself had heard, one summer afternoon, the sound of their balls, like distant
peals of thunder.
To make a long story short, the company broke up, and
returned to the more important concerns of the election. Rip's daughter took him
home to live with her; she had a snug, well-furnished house, and a stout cheery
farmer for a husband, whom Rip recollected for one of the urchins that used to
climb upon his back. As to Rip's son and heir, who was the ditto of himself,
seen leaning against the tree, he was employed to work on the farm; but evinced
an hereditary disposition to attend to anything else but his business.
Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found
many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of
time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he
soon grew into great favor.
Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that
happy age when a man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more on
the bench at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the
village, and a chronicle of the old times "before the war." It was
some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made
to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor. How
that there had been a revolutionary war,—that the country had thrown off the
yoke of old England,—and that, instead of being a subject of his Majesty
George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States. Rip, in fact,
was no politician; the changes of states and empires made but little impression
on him; but there was one species of despotism under which he had long groaned,
and that was—petticoat government. Happily that was at an end; he had got his
neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he pleased,
without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle. Whenever her name was mentioned,
however, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes; which
might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate, or joy at his
He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived
at Mr. Doolittle's hotel. He was observed, at first, to vary on some points
every time he told it, which was, doubtless, owing to his having so recently
awaked. It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related, and not a
man, woman, or child in the neighborhood, but knew it by heart. Some always
pretended to doubt the reality of it, and insisted that Rip had been out of his
head, and that this was one point on which he always remained flighty. The old
Dutch inhabitants, however, almost universally gave it full credit. Even to this
day they never hear a thunderstorm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill,
but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins; and it
is a common wish of all hen-pecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs
heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van
The foregoing Tale, one would suspect, had been
suggested to Mr. Knickerbocker by a little German superstition about the Emperor
Frederick der Rothbart, and the Kypphauser mountain: the subjoined note, however,
which he had appended to the tale, shows that it is an absolute fact, narrated
with his usual fidelity:
"The story of Rip Van Winkle may seem incredible
to many, but nevertheless I give it my full belief, for I know the vicinity of
our old Dutch settlements to have been very subject to marvellous events and
appearances. Indeed, I have heard many stranger stories than this, in the
villages along the Hudson; all of which were too well authenticated to admit of
a doubt. I have even talked with Rip Van Winkle myself, who, when last I saw him,
was a very venerable old man, and so perfectly rational and consistent on every
other point, that I think no conscientious person could refuse to take this into
the bargain; nay, I have seen a certificate on the subject taken before a
country justice and signed with a cross, in the justice's own handwriting. The
story, therefore, is beyond the possibility of doubt.