This book established Mrs. Barr’s popularity and has remained the greatest favorite among her many novels. It was the second book she wrote, being preceded by Jan Vedder’s Wife, also a story of New York under the Dutch.
ATE one afternoon of May, 1765, in the picturesque little city of New York, a group of grave-looking men were separating at the steps of the City Hallmembers of His Majesty’s Council for the Province of New York. One of them was Joris Van Heemskirk. He was massively built, and richly dressed in a style that proclaimed him a Hollander. He was proud of his race as any English duke of his royal line, and while he associated with the ruling English in civic and commercial affairs, he scorned those of his Dutch neighbors who mingled with them socially. On arriving at his handsome dwelling in the northwestern outskirts of the city, with its great garden sloping down to the river-side, the Councilor sat down to refresh himself with his pipe.
Madam Lysbet Van Heemskirk, his wise little wife, busy in household matters, moved steadily about, and, in her trig Dutch costume, made a pleasant picture of domesticity.
Joanna, the plump elder daughter, was out; Bram, the broad-shouldered son, had not yet come home; and when the good man asked for Katherine, his lovely seventeen-year-old darling, the mother’s brow clouded.
“Katherine troubles me,” she said. “She is quiet, and thinks much, and when I ask of what she is thinking, she answers, `Nothing, mother.’ But when a girl says, `Nothing,’ there is somethingperhaps indeed somebodyon her mind.”
But soon came the two daughters, who had been visiting Madam Semple, their next neighbor; and with them Elder Semple, a rich and godly Scotchman, with whose family the Van Heemskirks had kept up a friendship through four generations. The Elder stayed to supper; and after that, when the girls had retired, he opened his mind, formally proposing marriage between his son Neil and Katherine. This was received in friendly spirit, it being agreed that at the proper time Neil would be acceptable; but as yet, said the mother, Katherine was too young, and had not begun to think of such things. The Elder reminded them, however, that Colonel Gordon, of an English regiment, and his fine English wife, had been living at his house, and that among their visitors was Mistress Gordon’s handsome nephew, Captain Richard Hyde; adding that, as Katherine had been there often to learn the crewel-stitch from Mrs. Gordon, both he and his son Neil had noticed that the young officer had shown much interest in her. This startled Joris and his wife, who were alarmed by the dangerespecially from one of the hated English race. They decided that Katherine should go no more to the Semples’, and the Elder departed. Even so, Madam Van Heemskirk was not altogether happy. Their eldest two daughters had married substantial Dutch citizens of Albany, and Joanna was betrothed to a successful and self-satisfied sea-trader, Captain Batavius De Vries; but, for the charming Katherine, Lysbet had dreamed of some higher advancement. Indeed, that very day had been dangerously fascinating for the girl. Mrs. Gordon greatly fancied her, and seeing that her nephew did so too, knowing that the gay Captain’s gambling debts were pressing, and thinking that the wealthy Councilor would handsomely portion his daughter, she skilfully favored his suit. She had that morning flattered the maiden with tales of Richard’s admiration; and, when he came in and invited Katherine to sail with him, she laughed away the girl’s doubts of propriety and sent them off together. But Captain Hyde had no idea of going on the river; they stopped on the lower steps of the landing, and there he enchanted the fair girl with his love-story, and she resigned her heart to him. When they returned, Hyde spoke of the pleasure of their excursion, and Madam Semple and Joanna accepted it; but Neil Semple suspected something, and scented danger. A talk with his father led to the Elder’s evening visit to the Van Heemskirks.
Katherine sadly obeyed her father’s injunction to go no more to Madam Semple’s, but decided to send some apology to Mrs. Gordon, and wrote as follows:
” To MISTRESS COLONEL GORDON:
” Honored Madam: My father forbids that I come to see you. He thinks you should upon my mother call. That you will judge me to be rude and ungrateful I fear very much. But that is not true. I am unhappy, indeed. I think all the day of you.
” Your obedient servant,
” KATHERINE VAN HEEMSKIRK.”
Mrs. Gordon answered this by visiting the Van Heemskirks the next morning, where she charmed the appreciative Lysbet with her gracious manners. Before leaving, she managed to. see Katherine alone, and, depicting Richard’s distress at not seeing her, coaxed her to send him a love-token. So Katherine gave her a little bow of orange ribbon that she had worn on St. Nicholas’s Day, and agreed to walk in the garden beside the river at three o’clock, so that Richard might see her from his boat. She was there, but with Joanna; and, while the latter stooped to pick flowers, a boat appeared, and an officer arose in the stern, and threw back his cloak, showing a bow of orange ribbon upon his breast. And joy throbbed in the maiden’s heart.
Neil Semple was a promising young lawyer, of grave deportment and shrewd mind. Although reared with Katherine from her childhood, and always regarding her as his future wife, he never had spoken of love. But the attentions of the Gordons and young Hyde had aroused his jealousy, which now was firing his complacent affection to real passion. But, even since the Elder’s talk, nothing had been said to Katherine about Neil; the father had shrunk from so positive an act, while the mother had no enthusiasm for the commonplace match. Thus all circumstances conspired to leave Katherine free to respond to her handsome and gallant lover.
A few days later, the arrival of Captain Batavius De Vries with his rich cargo, and rare gifts for Joanna, occasioned an evening gathering at the Van Heemskirk house to welcome the future son-in-law. Neil, with his dark beauty, made a fine foil to Katherine’s delicate grace when they danced the minuet; but after the arrival of Mrs. Gordon and Hyde the young officer engrossed Katherine, to her delight, and Neil went home, Blooming. The very next day Hyde went manfully to see Van Heemskirk in his great warehouse. At the mention of Katherine, the Councilor stood up; his kindly face grew stern, and he forbade the Captain even to speak her name. He scorned Hyde’s frank story of his own family and his possible inheritance of its earldom, told him that he regarded neither king nor kaiser superior to his own Dutch ancestry, and bade him seek a wife among his own women. “My daughter,” he added, “is to another man promised.”
“Look you, Councilor,” said Hyde, “that would be monstrous. Your daughter loves me,” and he further quietly asserted that he would marry the girl if he could compass it.
“Not one guilder,” cried Joris, “will I give my daughter if”
“To the devil with your guilders! Dirty money made in dirty traffic!” shouted Hyde; and, pale with rage, he went out.
The proposal, and Hyde’s assertion that Katherine loved him, smote Joris with a shock. He saw trouble for the house of his friend Semple, and sought him for conference. The Elder heard him quietly, and told him that it was mostly his own fault for not being more decided with the girl, who, young as Van Heemskirk thought her, had been old enough to fool one of the councilors of the colony. So Joris returned to his house and, with the mother, told Katherine of the arrangements for her marriage with Neil, and the new house and allbut with the dictum that she should see Hyde no more until after the wedding. He reluctantly consented, on the mother’s plea, that she might see him once more, to tell him of the facts and to bid him farewell; and Katherine sped away to the river-side, where Richard’s boat was soon to come.
Meantime, the Elder had told Neil of Hyde’s proposal and seeming success with the girl, and, as hate flashed up in the young man’s face, he cautioned him against fighting, but advised him to be more lover like if he would win his wife. Neil was no coward, but a duel might have untoward effects upon his career, and he walked about the city debating with himself, when a sudden determination to go to Katherine took him down a river-path. As he descended he met Hyde coming up from his interview with Katherine. Looks of mutual defiance broke into words:
“At your service, sir,” cried Neil.
“Mr. Semple, at your service,” replied Hyde, and throwing back his coat he added, “As for the cause, Mr. Semple, here it is,” showing the bow of orange ribbon.
“I will dye it crimson in your blood,” shouted Neil.
“In the meantime, I have the felicity of wearing it,” answered Hyde, and, with an offensively deep salute, he passed on.
Neil pursued his way to the house, and found Katherine tearful after her parting with Richard; but, intent on his own ideas, he poured out vows of love and devotion. Katherine met him kindly, but declared that she should never marry; and, when he persisted, turned from him with dignity. He then spoke of the bow of orange ribbon, and begged, and finally demanded, that she should give him one also. When at last she vehemently denied him, he retorted :
“Well, then, I will cut my bow from Hyde’s breast, though I cut his heart out with it,” and abruptly left her.
The seconds of the young men arranged the meeting for sunset on the Kalehook Hill. Neil made his will and settled his affairs. Hyde did what he could to arrange his debts, and visited a venerable Jew, named Cohen, to whom he owed a hundred guineas, leaving with him a ring, which was accepted in settlement. But the Jew’s daughter, Miriam, learning from her father of the duel, sent word to Van Heemskirk, through his son Bram, who had answered her summons for his father, and who speedily told both the Councilor and the Elder.
The encounter was bitter. Hyde had no special desire to fight, but, knowing that Semple had just cause of anger, was willing enough. Some bloody thrusts from Semple, however, roused him, while the sight of the bow of ribbon on Hyde’s breast filled Neil with fury. At last, bleeding from many wounds, both lost their swords in the same entanglement, and before they could recover Van Heemskirk and Elder Semple rushed between them, while they fell fainting to the ground. One of Semple’s friends tried to take the blood-stained love-knot for him, but Van Heemskirk thrust him away.
“To touch it would be the vilest theft,” he cried. “His own it is. With his life he has bought it.”
News of the duel spread rapidly, and, strangely enough, censure of the innocent girl seemed to be the verdict of the Dutch community, so that even after it was decided that both the grievously wounded men would live, Katherine felt as if God, fate, and the world had united against her. In three months Neil was about again, his sword-arm in a sling, but he was able to resume his duties. He was, however, further than ever from Katherine, who treated him kindly, but ignored or repelled every attempt at sentiment. Her brother Bram went often to old Cohen, who had saved Hyde’s life when the English surgeons said he must die, and from the Jew, or from the lovely Miriam, brought her news of Richard’s progress. Brain soon saw life a heavenly thing in Miriam’s eyes; but their dream was short-lived, for the Jew married his daughter to one of their own race.
One day Katherine ventured out to buy some things for her mother, and, passing along Pearl Street, heard her name called. A door flew open, and Mrs. Gordon rushed down the steps, embraced her, and constrained her to enter. Once in, despite the parental injunction, Mrs. Gordon persuaded Katherine to drive with her to see Dick at The King’s Arms. They found him, still very weak, but delighted to receive them. When it was time to go, Hyde begged Katherine to come again, saying:
“Upon my honor, I promise to ask Katherine Van Heemskirk only this once.”
She promised, for two days from that time, on the appointed day, Katherine went again to Mrs. Gordon, who had just received some dainty gowns from Paris, and persuaded her to put on one, an exquisite light-blue satin, sprigged with silver, and a dark-blue manteau trimmed with fur” just to please Dick.” They found a soldierly man in full uniform sitting beside the couch of the invalid, who himself was attired in a chamber-gown of maroon satin, with deep ruffles at wrists and bosom.
“Ah, if you were only my wife, Katherine!” cried Richard.
“Only your wife will I be,” responded the blushing girl.
“Now, Katherine? This minute, darling? I promised not to ask Katherine Van Heemskirk here again, but Katherine Hyde would have a right to come.”
And, with trembling hesitation, in great pity for the man she loved, Katherine consented. The Governor’s chaplain was in attendance, Colonel Gordon, Mrs. Gordon, and Captain Earle were witnesses, and the ceremony was performed, Katherine kneeling by Richard’s side.
Neil still persisted in coming to see Katherine, despite her discouraging attitude. The secret marriage had been contracted in October, and since then she had not seen Richard, although she had exchanged letters with him; and now St. Nicholas’s Day was at hand, appointed for the wedding of Batavius and Joanna. It was a splendid affair, and when the afternoon dinner had given place to the evening’s entertainment, and dancing began, Neil solicited Katherine. But she refused, saying she could not take his blood-stained hand, and left him, helpless and distraught. After this he came no more to see her, though there was no break between the families.
Spring came, and one fine May morning Madam Semple excitedly entered the Van Heemskirk dwelling with the startling news that the British ship Dauntless had sailed for the West Indies with Captain Earle and his contingent, “and who wi’ him, guess you, but Captain Hyde!” Katherine was heart-struck. Her father and Bram confirmed the news, and they felt tender pity for the little maid. But, when she was sitting with her sympathetic mother at household work that afternoon, Mrs. Gordon rustled in, took her for a drive, and told her that, while Richard had gone, he was coming back at eight o’clock that evening to see her, down by the garden river-steps. Whether Lysbet suspected Katherine’s desire to get out that evening or not, was uncertain; but, after supper, when the father and Bram had gone to a meeting, she sent Katherine to Joanna’s on an errand. Katherine blushed scarlet, and lingered about till her mother tied on her hood and bade her go. At the riversteps, a boat soon shot out of the shadows to her feet, and Richard leaped ashore. She flew to his arms, and then, holding her fast, Richard told her he had come to take her, so that they should never be separated more. Her mental struggle was severe, but it had to be short, for Richard could wait but five minutes, and, recalling her agony when she thought he had gone without her, Katherine yielded; they entered the boat, and were gone to join the Dauntless in the lower bay.
At home, they thought Katherine had stayed with Joanna overnight; but in the morning came a note to Joris at his store, brought by a fisherman:
“MY FATHER AND MOTHER : I have gone with my husband. I married Richard when he was ill, and to-night he came for me. When I left home I knew not I was to go. Only five minutes I had. In God’s name, this is the truth. Always, at the end of the world, I shall love you. Forgive me, forgive me, myn fader, myn moeder. Your child,
Joris hastened to Mrs. Gordon, who told him all about the wedding; but he was crushed. At home, the mother kissed the letter and said, “It was a great strait, Joris”; and then heartened up her man to uphold his daughter’s honor and proclaim that she had gone with her husband. Of course, Batavius and Joanna, the neighbors, the town at large, took the worst possible view; but the doubters were silenced by the next issue of the New York Gazette, containing an advertisement of the marriage : “October 19, 1765, by the Rev. Mr. Somers, Chaplain to his Excellency the Governor, Richard Drake Hyde, of Hyde Manor, Norfolk, son of the late Richard Drake Hyde and brother of William Drake Hyde, Earl of Dorset and Hyde, to Katherine Van Heemskirk, the youngest daughter of Joris and Lysbet Van Heemskirk, of the city and province of New York,” with the names of the aristocratic witnesses in full.
And now it was May againa fair English May. In Hyde Manor House, Richard, in full uniform, his twelve months’ leave expired, was hastily breakfasting with his wife before re-turning to duty. But neither was sorrowful, for he had been exchanged into a court regiment and was going only to London. Hyde Manor House was not beautiful, but it was old and interesting, and Katherine, with Dutch orderliness and thrift, had gradually cleansed and adorned the halls and rooms, and brought to bloom the neglected garden, while Richard, spurred by this, had cared well for his stables, his fields, and his woods; and the birth of a son increased his sense of responsibility. Katherine had kept up a loving correspondence with her mother, but when the little son camewhom Richard had cordially consented to name George, the English form of Jorisshe had written full-heartedly to her father. He was immensely pleased, and sent Katherine as her portion five thousand pounds, and to the little Joris the famous old silver Middleburg cup, their choicest family heirloom. Richard, gratified that the money had been entrusted to his honor, not settled on his wife, arranged to use only the interest. He knew, too, that rumor would swell the five thousand pounds to fifty thousanda satisfactory answer to the jibes of his fashionable friends in London.
Richard’s first visit in town was to his maternal grand-mother, the Dowager Lady Capela wealthy, ill-tempered old woman, who, nevertheless, liked her gay grandson and had twice paid his gambling debts. She rallied him about his Dutch wife, commended her fifty thousand pounds of fortune, laughed at his constancy for a whole year, and claimed his social service for herself and his cousin, Lady Arabella Suffolka fashionable coquette with an indulgent old husband. In this lady’s fascinations she foresaw mischief and amusement.
In the next six months Lady Capel was satisfied. Society idolized Captain Hyde, and he, while flirting with a dozen other women, was pretty constantly at Lady Arabella’s side. His marriage was a topic of doubt and dispute; but no one dared ask him about it. He loved his wife tenderly, but was susceptible to the beauty and attractiveness of other women, and spent his days and nights in a perpetual round of social folly. His income was small, and his debts began to press. He must borrow. One Sunday afternoon a sweet letter from Katherine touched his better nature, and he determined to go to her. Obtaining a two weeks’ leave of absence, he went to Lady Capel’s brilliant mansion, as Sunday evening was her great card-night, hoping to find her in good humor. But she had been losing, and it was only after much scolding that she gave her grandson the hundred guineas he sought. Next morning he mounted his horse and made his way to Norfolk. Here he spent two happy weeks with his wife and son, and then was off to London once more.
It was May again, but in 1774. The years had passed without much variation in the lives of Hyde and his wife; but the troubles between England and the Colonies were culminating, and party feeling ran high, even in the army, for many officersHyde among themangrily opposed the policy of the Government. At Hyde’s club one evening an altercation arose, in which he took part so vigorously that a certain Lord Paget called him a traitor, and, being himself a suitor for the hand of Lady Suffolk, now a widow, proceeded further to question Hyde sarcastically about his American wife. Hyde blazed with rage, when a messenger summoned him to his grandmother, who had been death-stricken while at whist. She told him she had left him eight thousand pounds, and, with a cynical smile on her old face, passed away.
On the same afternoon a London pedler came to Hyde Manor. Ladies in the country purchased most of their toilet accessories from these packmen, and Katherine went to inspect his wares. She had laid out and paid for several things, when the pedler showed a beautiful scarf which he had bought, he said, for Lady Suffolk, “but Lord Suffolk died sudden, and my lady had to wear black”; and then he continued, detailing the London gossip about Lady Arabella and her lover, a fine cavalry officer, adding, ” Though there’s them that do say the Captain has a comely wife hid up in the country.” Katherine turned on him with quiet, concentrated anger. She charged him with being a bad man, sent by a bad woman to lie about her husband. She returned his goods, demanded her money, and had him driven from the house and grounds.