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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKnickerbocker's History Of New York - BOOK 4 - Chapter 11
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Knickerbocker's History Of New York - BOOK 4 - Chapter 11 Post by :aeyates Category :Long Stories Author :Washington Irving Date :May 2012 Read :2540

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Knickerbocker's History Of New York - BOOK 4 - Chapter 11

BOOK IV. CHAPTER XI.

The eyes of all New Amsterdam were now turned to see what would be the end of this direful feud between William the Testy and the patron of Rensellaerwick; and some, observing the consultations of the governor with the skipper and the trumpeter, predicted warlike measures by sea and land. The wrath of William Kieft, however, though quick to rise, was quick to evaporate. He was a perfect brush-heap in a blaze, snapping and crackling for a time, and then ending in smoke. Like many other valiant potentates, his first thoughts were all for war, his sober second thoughts for diplomacy.

Accordingly Govert Lockerman was once more despatched up the river in the company's yacht, the Goed Hoop, bearing Anthony the Trumpeter as ambassador, to treat with the belligerent powers of Rensellaersteen. In the fulness of time the yacht arrived before Bearn Island, and Anthony the Trumpeter, mounting the poop, sounded a parly to the forces. In a little while the steeple-crowned hat of Nicholas Koorn, the wacht-meester, rose above the battlements, followed by his iron visage, and ultimately his whole person, armed, as before, to the very teeth; while one by one a whole row of Helderbergers reared their round burly heads above the wall, and beside each pumpkin-head peered the end of a rusty musket. Nothing daunted by this formidable array, Anthony Van Corlear drew forth and read with audible voice a missive from William the Testy, protesting against the usurpation of Bearn Island, and ordering the garrison to quit the premises, bag and baggage, on pain of the vengeance of the potentate of the Manhattoes.

In reply, the wacht-meester applied the thumb of his right hand to the end of his nose, and the thumb of the left hand to the little finger of the right, and spreading each hand like a fan, made an aerial flourish with his fingers. Anthony Van Corlear was sorely perplexed to understand this sign, which seemed to him something mysterious and masonic. Not liking to betray his ignorance, he again read with a loud voice the missive of William the Testy, and again Nicholas Koorn applied the thumb of his right hand to the end of his nose, and the thumb of his left hand to the little finger of the right, and repeated this kind of nasal weathercock. Anthony Van Corlear now persuaded himself that this was some short-hand sign or symbol, current in diplomacy, which, though unintelligible to a new diplomat like himself, would speak volumes to the experienced intellect of William the Testy. Considering his embassy therefore at an end, he sounded his trumpet with great complacency, and set sail on his return down the river, every now and then practising this mysterious sign of the wacht-meester, to keep it accurately in mind.

Arrived at New Amsterdam, he made a faithful report of his embassy to the governor, accompanied by a manual exhibition of the response of Nicholas Koorn. The governor was equally perplexed with his ambassador. He was deeply versed in the mysteries of freemasonry, but they threw no light on the matter. He knew ever variety of windmill and weathercock, but was not a whit the wiser as to the aerial sign in question. He had even dabbled in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the mystic symbols of the obelisk, but none furnished a key to the reply of Nicholas Koorn. He called a meeting of his council. Anthony Van Corlear stood forth in the midst, and putting the thumb of his right hand to his nose, and the thumb of his left hand to the finger of the right, he gave a faithful fac-simile of the portentous sign. Having a nose of unusual dimensions, it was as if the reply had been put in capitals, but all in vain, the worthy burgomasters were equally perplexed with the governor. Each one put his thumb to the end of his nose, spread his fingers like a fan, imitated the motion of Anthony Van Corlear, then smoked on in dubious silence. Several times was Anthony obliged to stand forth like a fugleman and repeat the sign, and each time a circle of nasal weathercocks might be seen in the council chamber.

Perplexed in the extreme, William the Testy sent for all the soothsayers and fortune tellers and wise men of the Manhattoes, but none could interpret the mysterious reply of Nicholas Koorn. The council broke up in sore perplexity. The matter got abroad; Anthony Van Corlear was stopped at every corner to repeat the signal to a knot of anxious newsmongers, each of whom departed with his thumb to his nose and his fingers in the air, to carry the story home of his family. For several days all business was neglected in New Amsterdam; nothing was talked of but the diplomatic mission of Anthony the Trumpeter, nothing was to be seen but knots of politicians with their thumbs to their noses. In the meantime the fierce feud between William the Testy and Killian Van Rensellaer, which at first had menaced deadly warfare, gradually cooled off, like many other war questions, in the prolonged delays of diplomacy.

Still, to this early affair of Rensellaersteen may be traced the remote origin of those windy wars in modern days which rage in the bowels of the Helderberg, and have well nigh shaken the great patroonship of the Van Rensellaers to its foundation: for we are told that the bully boys of the Helderberg, who served under Nicholas Koorn, the wacht-meester, carried back to their mountains the hieroglyphic sign which had so sorely puzzled Anthony Van Corlear and the sages of the Manhattoes; so that to the present day, the thumb to the nose and the fingers in the air is apt to be the reply of the Helderbergers whenever called upon for any long arrears of rent.

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