Rip Van Winkle
Rip Van Winkle
Once upon a time, high in the Catskill Mountains, lived an amiable fellow named Rip Van Winkle. Rip Van Winkle was not an ambitious guy; and in fact some, including his wife, called him lazy.
He was, though, a very popular fellow who, as far as anyone could tell, had just one failing: his uncanny ability to find employment and business anywhere but on his own farm. He could fish all day without a single nibble. The village women asked him to run their errands and to do other odd jobs since their own husbands wouldn't.
Rip Van Winkle was happy and would have believed his life to be quite perfect if it weren't for one particularly pesky thorn in his side: his wife. She kept at him day and night about his chronic idleness.
Rip's only friend at home was his dog, Wolf. As frequently as possible, both Rip and Wolf would sneak out of the house and sit on the bench outside the town's inn, underneath the sign with the picture of His Majesty George the Third. There they would sit and talk with other lazy folk like Derrick Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, or Nicholas Vedder, the landlord of the inn.
One fine autumn day, Rip put his musket on his shoulder, whistled Wolf to his side, and climbed up to one of the highest points of the Catskill Mountains. He hunted squirrel for a bit. Then, panting and fatigued, he threw himself on a green knoll and snoozed in peace.
“Rip Van Winkle!” said a voice. And he woke with a start.
He looked round and saw nothing but a crow. At the same time, though, Wolf bristled up his back and gave a low growl. Then Rip saw a strange, short, square-built man lumbering toward him. He had thick bushy hair and a grizzled beard. Rip followed the short fellow up into the mountains.
As they climbed, Rip heard sounds like distant thunder that seemed to come from a deep ravine. Here, the short man poured a glass of liquid from his keg for Rip, who obliged by taking a small taste. He then fell into a deep sleep.
On waking, he found himself on the green knoll where he had first seen the old man. He rubbed his eyes — it was a bright sunny morning. “Surely,” thought Rip, “I have not slept here all night.” He recalled the occurrences before he fell asleep — the strange man with a keg of potent liquid, the mountain ravine, and the deep sleep. For now, though, he was worried about what his wife would have to say about his absence!
He looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean, well-oiled musket, he found an old gun lying by him, the barrel coated with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock filled with worm holes. Perhaps that fellow had played a trick on him, poisoning his drink and taking his gun. Wolf, too, had disappeared. Rip whistled and shouted, but with no success.
As he rose to walk, he found himself stiff in the joints. He again called and whistled for his dog; he was answered only by the cawing of a flock of idle crows. He shook his head, shouldered the rusty musket, and, with a heart full of trouble and worry, turned his steps homeward.
As he approached the village, he met a number of people, but he didn't recognize any of them. This somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself acquainted with everyone in the area.
Their clothing, too, seemed different. They all stared at him in surprise. Rip stared back and pulled at his beard, and, to his astonishment, he found his beard had grown over a foot long!
A cluster of children ran at his heels, hooting and hollering after him, and pointing at his long gray beard. He hardly recognized his village. It was larger and more crowded. There were rows of houses that he had never seen before. Strange names were over the doors, strange faces at the windows — everything was strange. What was going on? he wondered.
He found the way to his own house, expecting to hear the shrill voice of Mrs. Van Winkle. He found the house gone to ruin — the roof fallen in, the windows shattered, and the doors off their hinges. A half-starved dog that looked like Wolf was skulking about, but it only snarled at him.
Eventually, a group of villagers gathered around this odd looking man. Rip thought for a moment, and then inquired of them, “Where's Nicholas Vedder?”
“Nicholas Vedder! Why, he's been dead for eighteen years!”
“Where's Brom Dutcher, or Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?”
“They went off to the army at the beginning of the war. Dutcher never came back. Van Bummel became a great general and is now in Congress.”
Rip's heart sunk. At last he cried out in despair, “Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?”
“Oh, Rip Van Winkle!” exclaimed two or three, “Oh, yes! That's Rip Van Winkle up there, leaning against the tree.”
Rip looked up and saw an exact image of himself as he looked the day he went up the mountain: apparently as lazy, and certainly as rough around the edges. The poor fellow was now completely mystified. He doubted his own identity and whether he was himself or another man.
“Who are you? What's your name?” asked the gathered crowd.
“I'm not sure,” said the old fellow.
At this critical moment a familiar-looking woman with a baby in her arms came to peek at Rip.
“What is your name, my good woman?” he asked.
“And what was your father's name?”
“Oh, poor guy. Rip Van Winkle was his name, but it's been twenty years since he went away from home with his gun and never has been heard of since — his dog came home without him. We don't know what happened to him.”
Rip had only one more question to ask: “Where's your mother?”
“Oh, she too died. She died in a fit of rage!”
Finally, Rip said, “I am your father. 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 at his face for a moment, exclaimed, “Sure enough! It is Rip Van Winkle — it is him! Welcome home again, old neighbor. Why, where have you been these twenty years?”
Rip's story was soon told. His daughter took him home to live with her. She had a snug house, and a round, happy farmer for a husband, whom Rip remembered as one of the urchins who used to torment him. As for Rip's son and heir, who was lazy like Rip Senior, he attended to just about anything except his business.
For many years, Rip Van Winkle (Senior) could be found hanging out at the new village inn, under the sign of George Washington, recounting the story of his strange travels into the mountains. Often Rip Van Winkle (Junior) would find the time to be there, too!