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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.
The appearance of Rip, with his long grizzled beard, his rusty fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and the army of women and children that had gathered at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians. They crowded round him, eyeing him from head to foot, with great curiosity. A man 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 tip-toe, inquired in his ear, "whether he was Federal or Democrat."
"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 bystanders—“A tory! a tory! a spy! a refugee! hustle him! away with him!” The poor man humbly assured them that he meant no harm, but merely came there in search of some of his neighbours, who used to keep about the tavern.
“Well—who are they?-name them."
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired, "Where's Nicholas Vedder?"
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 tomb-stone in the church-yard that used to tell all about him, but that's rotten and gone too."
"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 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.
At this critical moment a fresh comely woman passed through the throng to get a peep at the graybearded man. She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his looks, began to cry. “Hush, Rip," she cried, “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.
"Ah, poor man, his name was Rip Van Winkle; 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. was then but a little girl."
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 pedlar.
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 am your father!" cried he-"Young Rip Van Winkle once-old Rip Van Winkle now! Does nobody know poor Rip Van Winkle?"
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 neighbour. Why, where have you been these twenty long years?"
Rip's story was soon told, for the whole twenty years had been to him but as one night.
“Robert Browning Personalia." Copyright, 1890, by Houghton, Mifflin & Company. Reprinted with permission. By EDMUND GOSSE.
OBERT BROWNING. can hardly remember a time his
was not to be eminent in rhyme, and he began to write at least as early as Cowley. His sister remembers him, as a very little boy, walking round and round the dining-room table, and spanning out the scansion of his verses with his hand on the smooth mahogany. When he was about eight years old, this ambitious young person disdained the narrow field of poetry, and, while retaining that sceptre, debated within himself, as Dryden says Anne Killegrew did, whether he should invade and conquer the province of painting or that of music. It soon became plain to him, however, that, as he himself put it thirty-five years later:
"I shall never, in the years remaining,
. Verse alone, one life allows me,” and he began writing with assiduity. It is curious to reflect that all the giants were alive in those days-not even Keats himself laid to sleep under the Roman grasses.
In 1824, the year that Byron died, the boy had collected poems enough to form a volume, and these were taken around to publisher after publisher, but in vain. The first people who saw the nascent genius of this lad of twelve years old were the two Misses Flower, the younger afterward authoress of Vivia Perpetua, and too sadly known as Sarah Flower Adams. The elder
Miss Flower thought the poems so remarkable that she copied them and showed them to the distinguished Unitarian, the Rev. William Johnson Fox, then already influential as a radical politician of the finer order. As a matter of course, Mr. Fox was too judicious to recommend the publication of poems so juvenile, but he ventured to prophesy a splendid future for the boy, and he kept the transcripts in his possession. To Mr. Browning's great amusement, after the death of Mr. Fox, in 1864, his daughter, Mrs. Bridell-Fox, returned the MS. to the author, who read in maturity the forgotten verses of his childhood.