Rip Van Winkle
by Washington Irving
Narrator #1 Narrator #2 Narrator #3
Rip Van Winkle Dame Van Winkle (Wife) Mrs. Bigsby
Nicolas Vedder Wolf Voice
Lean Fellow First Old Man Second Old Man
Young Woman Old Woman Peter Vanderdonk
Narrator #1: Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson River must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical colors and shapes of these mountains. When the weather is fair and settled, the mountains are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky, but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
Narrator #2: At the foot of these fairy mountains, visitors will see wisps of smoke rising from the chimneys of a little village. As one draws nearer the rooftops come into view, and as one crosses the last big hill the town seems to rise from the green meadowlands into the blue of the sky. It’s an old little village, first settled by Dutch colonists, and some of their houses stand to this very day. They are cozy homes, built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, with latticed windows, gable fronts, and weather-cocks that show the direction of the wind.
Narrator #3: In that same village, and in one of those old houses, a house that was worn with time and beaten by weather, lived a simple good-natured fellow of the name of Rip Van Winkle. Although he came from a long heritage of hard-working Dutch setters, Rip was a lazy soul who did not inherit their industrious ways. There was a kindness about Rip that made him a good neighbor, but his wife took advantage of his gentle nature and he was constantly hen-pecked.
Wife: Rip Van Winkle! When are you going to fix the fence?
Rip: I plan to fix it tomorrow! I’ve told Mr. Schaafsma that I’ll be there about one o’clock.
Wife: You fool! I meant when are you going to fix our fence? You’ve always got time to help Mr. Jones paint his house or help Mr. Van Tassel build a barn, but you never have time to fix our house!
Rip: I suppose you’re right.
Wife: Well, what are you going to do about it?
Rip: About what?
Wife: The fence!
Rip: What about the fence?
Wife: When are you going to fix it?
Rip: I don’t see what good it would do. Every time I fix it, it just falls down again.
Wife: But if you don’t fix it the cow will wander off.
Rip: The cow wanders off even when the fence is up. Remember last year when she jumped the fence and got into the cabbages? It ruined the whole crop.
Wife: What crop? This used to be a real farm! Now all we have is a little patch of Indian corn and potatoes, and even that small area has more weeds than any other farm in the neighborhood.
Rip: I don’t know what it is about the soil on our farm. It doesn’t like to grow corn or cabbage or potatoes, but it sure can grow weeds.
Wife: And yet you just sit, like you haven’t a care in the world!
Rip: My dear, what good does it do to worry? You worry about everything, and the only thing you get is a headache. I’d be happy eating white bread or brown bread, whichever is easiest to come by.
(There is a knock at the door)
Rip: I wonder who that could be?
Wife: Why don’t you answer the door and find out?
Rip: Oh, hello Mrs. Bigsby!
Mrs. Bigsby: Good morning, Mr. Van Winkle. I brought you some fresh corn to thank you for patching that hole in my roof. (To Mrs. Winkle) You’re so lucky to be married to such a nice man. He’s such a hard worker.
Wife: Not around here! He helps everybody’s wife except his own. No matter how much I nag him, he never does a lick of work.
Rip: I started to paint our shed last week, but then it rained. It’s funny, but every time I start an outdoor project on our farm it seems to rain.
Mrs. Bigsby: Oh, and the children love him, too. He’s always got time to teach them how to shoot marbles or how to build a kite. Every child in the village adores him! Why, even the dogs love him! Even the meanest watchdog wags his tail when he sees Mr. Van Winkle.
Wife: Yes, but our own children are running around in rags. Rip Junior is forced to wear your old clothes. And God help me for saying it, but between the clothes and the name he’s growing into the spitting image of his father.
Mrs. Bigsby: How nice!
Wife: Nice! The boy is going to be a lazy bum, just like his father. I’ve married the laziest man in the county! Look at him! He’d rather starve on a penny than work for a pound!
Mrs. Bigsby: But he can be such a hard worker. Why, just last month he won a corn-husking contest. He beat some of the fastest hands in the area.
Rip: Do you know what would taste good with this corn? Some fresh meat! I’m going to fetch my fowling-piece and shoot us a squirrel or two.
Wife: You mean shoot at a squirrel! You’re always shooting, but you never seem to hit anything.
Rip: Well, I guess part of me feels sorry for the squirrel, and that makes it hard for me to aim. Well, I suppose I’d better get moving if I’m going to go hunting.
Wife: And take that filthy dog with you, too.
Rip: Of course. I couldn’t go hunting without Wolf.
Narrator #1: On his way to this favorite hunting spot, Rip passed through town. Standing beneath a sign bearing the portrait of His Majesty George the Third was Nicolas Vedder, an innkeeper and town philosopher.
Nicolas Vedder: Hello, Rip!
Rip: Good day, Mr. Vedder.
Nicolas Vedder: Why don’t you come into my inn? The schoolmaster and some of the others are getting ready to start a philosophical conversation.
Rip: I’d love to, but my wife has forbidden me from entering the inn.
Nicolas Vedder: No!
Rip: ‘Tis true. She says I waste too much sitting and talking. Besides, I don’t need to sit with you gentlemen to know what’s going on.
Nicolas Vedder: What do you mean?
Rip: Well, Derrick Van Bummel is such an educated man and uses so many big words that I can’t understand most of what he’s saying, so I guess there isn’t any point of listening. And you hardly say a word, but you let your pipe do your talking for you, so I already know how you feel.
Nicolas Vedder: What do you mean?
Rip: Well, if you’re upset, you make angry little puffs of smoke, but when you’re feeling fine gentle clouds come from your pipe. I can see by the way you’re huffing and puffing that whatever you’re talking about is making you mad, and I get enough of that at home.
Nicolas Vedder: God bless you Mr. Van Winkle! You might be the wisest sage in my group, because you’re smart enough to keep on walking. Have a good day.
Rip: You, too, sir!
Narrator #1: And so, on that fine autumn day, Rip and Wolf headed out to the woods. Without paying much attention to where he was going, Rip found his way to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill mountains.
Rip: What a view! Why, I can even see the Hudson River! I could sit here all day and watch those boats sail lazily by.
Narrator #2: With that, Rip settled under a tree. His faithful dog, Wolf, put his nose into Rip’s clothing and sniffed about.
Rip: What’s the matter, boy? Are you hungry? Well, I just happened to bring a little food, and you’re welcome to share it with me. Poor Wolf! Dame Van Winkle nags you almost as much as she nags me! A knife grows duller every time it’s used, but a sharp tongue grows sharper with use! Well, as long as I’m alive you’ll never be without a friend.
Narrator #3: Wolf hung on his master’s every word, and wagged his tail as if he understood.
Rip: I’m afraid it’s getting late. It’ll be dark by the time we get back home, and your mistress is going to be angry that I’m late, and even angrier because I haven’t shot any squirrels!
Voice: Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!
Rip: Who could that be?
Rip: Don’t be silly, boy! That’s just a crow. I must be hearing things. There isn’t anybody around for miles. Besides, who out here would know my name?
Voice: Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!
Narrator # 1: Wolf bristled up his back, and giving a low growl, skulked to his master’s side, looking fearfully down into the glen. Rip now felt a vague apprehension stealing over him; he looked anxiously in the same direction, and perceived a strange figure slowly toiling up the rocks, and bending under the weight of something he carried on his back. He was surprised to see any human being in this lonely and unfrequented place, but supposing it to be some one of the neighborhood in need of his assistance, he hastened down to yield it.
Narrator #2: On nearer approach he was still more surprised at the singularity of the stranger’s appearance. He was a short square-built old fellow, with thick bushy hair, and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique Dutch fashion—a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist—several pair of breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows of buttons down the sides, and bunches at the knees. He bore on his shoulder a stout keg, that seemed full of liquor, and made signs for Rip to approach and assist him with the load. Though rather shy and distrustful of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity; and mutually relieving one another, they clambered up a narrow gully, apparently the dry bed of a mountain torrent.
Narrator #3: As they ascended, Rip every now and then heard long rolling peals, like distant thunder, that seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks, toward which their rugged path conducted. He paused for an instant, but supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient thunder-showers which often take place in mountain heights, he proceeded. Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices, over the brinks of which impending trees shot their branches, so that you only caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening cloud. During the whole time Rip and his companion worked in silence. Rip wondered why they were carrying a keg of liquor up the wild mountain, but thought it best to be quiet.
Narrator #1: On entering the amphitheatre, new objects of wonder presented themselves. On a level spot in the centre was a company of odd-looking people playing at nine-pins. They were dressed in a quaint outlandish fashion; some wore short doublets, others jerkins, with long knives in their belts, and most of them had enormous breeches, of similar style with that of the guide’s. Their faces, too, were peculiar: one had a large beard, broad face, and small piggish eyes: the face of another seemed to consist entirely of nose, and was surmounted by a white sugar-loaf hat set off with a little red cock’s tail. They all had beards, of various shapes and colors.
Narrator #2: There was one who seemed to be the commander. He was a stout old gentleman, with a weather-beaten countenance; he wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high-crowned hat and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with roses in them. The whole group reminded Rip of the figures in an old painting which had been brought over from Holland.
Rip: (whispering to his dog) Wolf, something doesn’t seem right about this. These gentlemen are playing games, but they all look so serious. Nobody’s smiling or talking. I’ve never seen such quiet men or heard such a noisy game. It sounds like thunder.
Narrator # 3: Just then, all of the men grew silent and stared at Rip. They looked like grim statues, and Rip’s heart skipped a beat and his knees knocked against each other. The man who led Rip up the mountain poured the contents of the keg into cups, and motioned for Rip to serve the drinks. He obeyed with fear and trembling; they quaffed the liquor in profound silence, and then returned to their game.
Narrator #1: By degrees Rip’s awe and apprehension subsided. He even ventured, when no eye was fixed upon him, to taste the beverage. He was naturally a thirsty soul, and was soon tempted to repeat the draught. One taste provoked another; and he reiterated his visits to the flagon so often that at length his senses were overpowered, his eyes swam in his head, his head gradually declined, and he fell into a deep sleep.
Narrator #2: On waking, he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first seen the old man of the glen. He rubbed his eyes—it was a bright sunny morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and the eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure mountain breeze.
Rip: Surely, I have not slept here all night. But I must have! It’s already light! How could this have happened? The last thing I remember, a strange man with a keg of liquor appeared at this very spot. He led me to the mountain ravine, and then I saw that woe-begone party playing nine-pins, and then I drank…Oh, that must be it! That drink! That wicked drink! What excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle!
Narrator #3: He looked around for his gun, but in place of the clean well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel encrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten.
Rip: Those men from the mountain must have played a trick on me! They got me drunk, stole my gun, and replaced it with this rusty old piece! They must have carried me back to this place. Well, I suppose they’re having a good laugh at my expense! Well, Wolf, we’d better get back. Wolf? Wolf! Where have you gone? Did you run off after a squirrel? Wolf!
Narrator #1: Rip called and called, but his dog did not come. He whistled after him and shouted his name, but all in vain; the echoes repeated his whistle and shout, but no dog was to be seen.
Rip: That’s it! I’m going back to the place where this trouble began and have a word or two with the gentlemen who caused all of this mischief!
Narrator #2: As he rose to walk, he found himself stiff in the joints, and wanting in his usual activity.
Rip: These mountain beds do not agree with me, and if this frolic should lay me up with a fit of the rheumatism, I shall have a blessed time with Dame Van Winkle.
Narrator #3: With some difficulty he got down into the glen; he found the gully up which he and his companion had ascended the preceding evening, but to his astonishment a mountain stream was now foaming in what had been a dry river bed the night before.
Narrator #1: At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such opening remained. Rip was confused. He called again for his dog, but once again the only reply was his own echo.
Narrator #2: What was to be done? The morning was passing away, and Rip felt famished for want of his breakfast. He grieved to give up his dog and gun; he dreaded to meet his wife; but it would not do to starve among the mountains. He shook his head, shouldered the rusty firelock, and, with a heart full of trouble and anxiety, turned his steps homeward.
Narrator #3: As he approached the village he met a number of people, but none whom he knew, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself acquainted with every one in the country round. Their dress, too, was of a different fashion from that to which he was accustomed. They all stared at him with equal marks of surprise, and whenever they cast their eyes upon him, invariably stroked their chins. The constant recurrence of this gesture induced Rip, involuntarily, to do the same, when to his astonishment, he found his beard had grown a foot long!
Narrator #1: He had now entered the skirts of the village. A troop of strange children ran at his heels, hooting after him, and pointing at his gray beard. The dogs, too, not one of which he recognized for an old acquaintance, barked at him as he passed. The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors—strange faces at the windows—every thing was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village, which he had left but the day before. There stood the Kaatskill mountains—there ran the silver Hudson at a distance—there was every hill and dale precisely as it had always been—Rip was sorely perplexed.
Rip: That drink last night has addled my poor head sadly!
Narrator # 2: It was with some difficulty that he found the way to his own house, which he approached with silent awe, expecting every moment to hear the shrill voice of Dame Van Winkle. He found the house gone to decay—the roof fallen in, the windows shattered, and the doors off the hinges. A half-starved dog that looked like Wolf was skulking about it. Rip called him by name, but the cur snarled, showed his teeth, and passed on.
Rip: This is an unkind cut indeed! My own dog has forgotten me!
Narrator #3: He entered the house, which, to tell the truth, Dame Van Winkle had always kept in neat order. It was empty, forlorn, and apparently abandoned.
Rip: Hello! I’m home! Is anybody here? Hello!
Narrator # 1: He called loudly for his wife and children—the lonely chambers rang for a moment with his voice, and then all again was silence.
Narrator #2: He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the village inn—but it too was gone. A large rickety wooden building stood in its place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with old hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, “The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle.”
Narrator #3: Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars and stripes—all this was strange and incomprehensible. He recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George, under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a scepter, the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON.
Narrator #1: There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but none that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed. He looked in vain for the sage Nicholas Vedder, with his broad face, double chin, and fair long pipe, uttering clouds of tobacco-smoke instead of idle speeches; or Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper. In place of these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow, with his pockets full of handbills, was haranguing vehemently:
Lean Fellow: Gentlemen! We must get ready to elect our next representative to congress! I say that I am your man! For in me there is the great spirit of Liberty that was in the hearts of the Heroes of ’76…
Narrator #2: To poor old Rip, it sounded like the man was speaking a different language.
Narrator #3: The appearance of Rip, with his long grizzled beard, his rusty fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and an army of women and children at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians. They crowded round him, eyeing him from head to foot with great curiosity. The orator bustled up to him.
Lean Fellow: On which side are you voting?
Rip: Sir, I am having the greatest trouble understanding your words.
Lean Fellow: Are you a Federalist or a Democrat?
Narrator #1: A knowing, self-important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat, made his way through the crowd, putting them to the right and left with his elbows as he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating, as it were, into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone.
First Old Man: What brings you to this election with a gun on your shoulder and a mob on your heels? Are attempting to incite a riot?
Rip: A riot? I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!
First Old Man: What? We have a Tory in our presence! Perhaps he’s a spy!
Rip: I’m no spy! I just came here to look for my friends.
First Old Man: Well—who are they?—name them.
Rip: Where’s Nicholas Vedder?
Second Old Man: Nicholas Vedder! Why, he is dead and gone these eighteen years! There was a wooden tombstone in the church-yard that used to tell all about him, but that’s rotten and gone too.
Rip: Where’s Brom Dutcher?
Second Old Man: Oh, he went off to the army in the beginning of the war; some say he was killed at the storming of Stony Point—others say he was drowned in a squall at the foot of Antony’s Nose. I don’t know—he never came back again.
Rip: Where’s Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?
First Old Man: He went off to the wars too, was a great militia general, and is now in congress.
Narrator #2: 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.
Rip: Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?
Lean Fellow: Oh, Rip Van Winkle! Oh, to be sure! That’s Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree.
Narrator #3: 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.
First Old Man: What is your name?
Rip: God knows. I’m not myself—I’m somebody else—that’s me yonder—no—that’s somebody else got into my shoes—I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and every thing’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!
Narrator #1: The by-standers began now to look at each other, nod, wink significantly, and tap their fingers against their foreheads. There was a whisper also, about securing the gun, and keeping the old fellow from doing mischief.
Narrator #2: At this critical moment a fresh comely woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-bearded man. She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his looks, began to cry.
Young Woman: Hush, Rip. Hush, you little fool; the old man won’t hurt you.
Rip: What is your name, my good woman?
Young Woman: Judith Gardenier.
Rip: And your father’s name?
Young Woman: Ah, poor man, Rip Van Winkle was his name, but 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. I was then but a little girl.
Rip: (nervously) Where’s your mother?
Young Woman: Oh, she too had died but a short time since; she broke a blood-vessel in a fit of passion at a New-England peddler.
Rip: (excitedly) I am your father! Young Rip Van Winkle once—old Rip Van Winkle now!—Does nobody know poor Rip Van Winkle?
Narrator #1: All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peered under it in his face for a moment, and cried out.
Old Woman: Sure enough! It is Rip Van Winkle—it is himself! Welcome home again, old neighbor—Why, where have you been these twenty long years?
Narrator #3: Rip’s story was soon told, for the whole twenty years had been to him but as one night. The neighbors stared when they heard it; some were seen to wink at each other.
Lean Man: This old guy is trying to fool us!
Old Woman: I’m telling you, this is Rip Van Winkle.
First Old Man: I don’t believe it for a minute!
Young Woman: Here comes old Peter Vanderdonk! He knew my father! Let’s ask him.
Lean Man: Do you know this man?
Narrator #1: There was a minute of silence while Peter Vanderdonk looked at Rip, then a smile crossed Vanderdonk’s face.
Rip: Hello, Peter.
Peter Vanderdonk: Good day, Mr. Van Winkle. It’s been a long time.
Rip: You won’t believe what happened! I was up in the Kaatskills, and I ran across a group of strange men…
Peter Vanderdonk: And they were playing nine-pins!
Rip: Yes, how did you know?
Peter Vanderdonk: Don’t any of you know your history? The Kaatskills have always been haunted by strange men. Why, this goes back to the great Hendrick Hudson, the explorer for whom the river is named, the man who discovered this land and claimed it for the Dutch. That’s Henry Hudson and his crew, sailors from the Half Moon, who are keeping watch over Hudson’s new land. My own father once saw the strange men, and I’ve heard the thunder of their game of nine-pins.
Young Woman: Sir, would you like to meet your grandson?
Narrator #2: Rip took the child in his arms, and his daughter threw her arms around his neck.
Rip: I hope to see a lot of this young man.
Young Woman: I should hope so. I’d love to have you move into our home.
Rip: Shouldn’t you ask your husband?
Young Woman: I’m sure he’ll be happy to have you. He’s often spoken fondly of how, as a child, you taught him to play marbles and build kites.
Narrator #2: Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favor.
Narrator #3: Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the fathers of the village, and a chronicle of the old times “before the war.” It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his nap. He learned that there had been a revolutionary war, and that, instead of being a subject of his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States.
Narrator #1: He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived at Mr. Doolittle’s hotel. He was observed, at first, to vary on some points every time he told it, which was, doubtless, owing to his having so recently awaked. It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related, and not a man, woman, or child in the neighborhood, but knew it by heart. Some always pretended to doubt the reality of it, and insisted that Rip had been out of his head. The old Dutch inhabitants, however, almost universally gave it full credit. Even to this day they never hear a thunderstorm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill, but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of nine-pins; and it is a common wish of all hen-pecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle’s flagon.