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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter53)

2006-09-08 19:50


  Only a man who in his youth has come at last in sight of some great city he had dreamed of all his life and longed to see, can enter into Rolf's feelings as they swept around the big bend, and Albany —— Albany, hove in view. Abany, the first chartered city of the United States; Albany, the capital of all the Empire State; Albany, the thriving metropolis with nearly six thousand living human souls; Albany with its State House, beautiful and dignified, looking down the mighty Hudson highway that led to the open sea.

  Rolf knew his Bible, and now he somewhat realized the feelings of St. Paul on that historic day when his life-long dream came true, when first he neared the Eternal City —— when at last he glimpsed the towers of imperial, splendid Rome.

  The long-strung docks were massed and webbed with ship rigging; the water was livened with boats and canoes; the wooden warehouses back of the docks were overtopped by wooden houses in tiers, until high above them all the Capitol itself was the fitting climax.

  Rolf knew something of shipping, and amid all the massed boats his eyes fell on a strange, square-looking craft with a huge water-wheel on each side. Then, swinging into better view, he read her name, the Clermont, and knew that this was the famous Fulton steamer, the first of the steamboat age.

  But Bill was swamped by no such emotion. Albany, Hudson, Clermont, and all, were familiar stories to him and he stolidly headed the canoe for the dock he knew of old.

  Loafers roosting on the snubbing posts hailed him, at first with raillery; but, coming nearer, he was recognized. "Hello, Bill; back again? Glad to see you," and there was superabundant help to land the canoe.

  "Wall, wall, wall, so it's really you," said the touter of a fur house, in extremely friendly voice; "come in now and we'll hev a drink."

  "No, sir-ree," said Bill decisively, "I don't drink till business is done."

  "Wall, now, Bill, here's Van Roost's not ten steps away an' he hez tapped the finest bar'l in years."

  "No, I tell ye, I'm not drinking —— now."

  "Wall, all right, ye know yer own business. I thought maybe ye'd be glad to see us."

  "Well, ain't I?"

  "Hello, Bill," and Bill's fat brother-in-law came up. Thus does me good, an' yer sister is spilin' to see ye. We'll hev one on this."

  "No, Sam, I ain't drinkin'; I've got biz to tend."

  "Wall, hev just one to clear yer head. Then settle yer business and come back to us."

  So Bill went to have one to clear his head. "I'll be back in two minutes, Rolf," but Rolf saw him no more for many days.

  "You better come along, cub," called out a red-nosed member of the group. But Rolf shook his head.

  "Here, I'll help you git them ashore," volunteered an effusive stranger, with one eye.

  "I don't want help."

  "How are ye gain' to handle 'em alone?"

  "Well, there's one thing I'd be glad to have ye do; that is, go up there and bring Peter Vandam."

  "I'll watch yer stuff while you go."

  "No, I can't leave." "Then go to blazes; d'yte take me for yer errand boy?" And Rolf was left alone.

  He was green at the business, but already he was realizing the power of that word fur and the importance of the peltry trade. Fur was the one valued product of the wilderness that only the hunter could bring. The merchants of the world were as greedy for fur as for gold, and far more so than for precious stones.

  It was a commodity so light that, even in those days, a hundred weight of fur might range in value from one hundred to five thousand dollars, so that a man with a pack of fine furs was a capitalist. The profits of the business were good for trapper, very large for the trader, who doubled his first gain by paying in trade; but they were huge for the Albany middleman, and colossal for the New Yorker who shipped to London.

  With such allurements, it was small wonder that more country was explored and opened for fur than for settlement or even for gold; and there were more serious crimes and high-handed robberies over the right to trade a few furs than over any other legitimate business. These things were new to Rolf within the year, but he was learn- ing the lesson, and Warren's remarks about fur stuck in his memory with growing value. Every incident since the trip began had given them new points.

  The morning passed without sign of Bill; so, when in the afternoon, some bare-legged boys came along, Rolf said to them: "Do any of ye know where Peter Vandam's house is?"

  "Yeh, that's it right there," and they pointed to a large log house less than a hundred yards away.

  "Do ye know him?"

  "Yeh, he's my paw," said a sun-bleached freckle-face.

  "If you bring him here right away, I'll give you a dime. Tell him I'm from Warren's with a cargo."

  The dusty stampede that followed was like that of a mustang herd, for a dime was a dime in those days. And very soon, a tall,ruddy man appeared at the dock. He was a Dutchman in name only. At first sight he was much like the other loafers, but was bigger, and had a more business-like air when observed near at hand.

  "Are you from Warren's?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Alone? "

  "No, sir. I came with Bill Bymus. But he went off early this morning; I haven't seen him since. I'm afraid he's in trouble."

  "Where'd ho go?"

  "In there with some friends."

  "Ha, just like him; he's in trouble all right. He'll be no good for a week. Last time he came near losing all our stuff. Now let's see what ye've got."

  "Are you Mr. Peter Vandam? "

  "Of course I am."

  Still Rolf looked doubtful. There was a small group around, and Rolf heard several voices, "Yes, this is Peter; ye needn't a-worry." But Rolf knew none of the speakers. His look of puzzlement at first annoyed then tickled the Dutchman, who exploded into a hearty guffaw.

  "Wall, wall, you sure think ill of us. Here, now look at that," and he drew out a bundle of letters addressed to Master Peter Vandam. Then he displayed a gold watch inscribed on the back "Peter Vandam"; next he showed a fob seal with a scroll and an inscription, "Petrus Vandamus"; then he turned to a youngster and said, "Run, there is the Reverend Dr. Powellus, he may help us"; so the black-garbed, knee-breached, shovel-hatted clergyman came and pompously said: "Yes, my young friend, without doubt you may rest assured that this is our very estimable parishioner, Master Peter Vandam; a man well accounted in the world of trade."

  "And now," said Peter, "with the help of my birth- register and marriage-certificate, which will be placed at your service with all possible haste, I hope I may win your recognition." The situation, at first tense, had become more and more funny, and the bystanders laughed aloud. Rolf rose to it, and smiling said slowly, "I am inclined to think that you must be Master Peter Vandam, of

  Albany. If that's so, this letter is for you, also this cargo." And so the delivery was made.

  Bill Bymus has not delivered the other letter to this day. Presumably he went to stay with his sister, but she saw little of him, for his stay at Albany was, as usual, one long spree. It was clear that, but for Rolf, there might have been serious loss of fur, and Vandam showed his appreciation by taking the lad to his own home, where the story of the difficult identification furnished ground for gusty laughter and primitive jest on many an after day.

  The return cargo for Warren consisted of stores that the Vandam warehouse had in stock, and some stuff that took a day or more to collect in town.

  As Rolf was sorting and packing next day, a tall, thin, well-dressed young man walked in with the air of one much at home.

  "Good morrow, Peter."

  "Good day to ye, sir," and they talked of crops and politics.

  Presently Vandam said, "Rolf, come over here."

  He came and was presented to the tall man, who was indeed very thin, and looked little better than an invalid. "This," said Peter, "is Master Henry van Cortlandt the son of his honour, the governor, and a very learned barrister. He wants to go on a long hunting trip for his health. I tell him that likely you are the man he needs."

  This was so unexpected that Rolf turned red and gazed on the ground. Van Cortlandt at once began to clear things by interjecting: "You see, I'm not strong. I want to live outdoors for three months, where I can have some hunting and be beyond reach of business. I'll pay you a hundred dollars for the three months, to cover board and guidance. And providing I'm well pleased and have good hunting, I'll give you fifty dollars more when I get back to Albany."

  "I'd like much to be your guide," said Rolf, "but I have a partner. I must find out if he's willing."

  "Ye don't mean-that drunken Bill Bymus?"

  "No! my hunting partner; he's an Indian." Then, after a pause, he added, " You wouldn't go in fly-time, would you?"

  "No, I want to be in peace. But any time after the first of August."

  "I am bound to help Van Trumper with his harvest; that will take most of August."

  As he talked, the young lawyer sized him up and said to himself, "This is my man."

  And before they parted it was agreed that Rolf should come to Albany with Quonab as soon as he could return in August, to form the camping party for the governor's son.


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