The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, illustrated by Paul Lantz
Chapter 1 THE SPANISH GUN
Edward watched intently as his father struggled into the blue uniform coat that he had had made when he was elected captain of the Guilderland militia. It was a fine thing, he thought, to have Captain Teunis Van Alstyne for one’s father, but he did wish that some day, just once even, his father would take the Spanish Gun to the muster.
It hung over the fireplace, its bell mouth pointing towards the front of the house, its brass-heeled stock towards the shed door. It was longer than a grown man, half again the length of the musket kept on pegs over the stoop door, and more than twice the length of Edward, who was ten years old, with long legs, dark hair, like his mother’s, and serious eyes.
Teunis Van Alstyne often said that he had seen culverins that did not look so big as this matchlock gun. He used to tease Gertrude, his wife, about it, asking whether she had brought the gun with her to kill Indians. They were a young couple to have a ten-year-old son; they were handsome and high-spirited; he, lusty and thick-set, a true Dutchman; she, showing her
Palatine breeding, dark, brown-eyed, with black hair braided round her head, her slim body limber and quick about her work. They had been nineteen and sixteen when they married; and she hated it when Teunis put on the militia coat.
All summer he had been going off on military service, into the hills and down to Albany; and every time, to Edward’s disappointment, he took the musket.
This time, before Teunis could reach for it, Edward asked, “Aren’t you ever going to take the big gun, Father?”
Teunis swung round to his son, looking down into the thin serious dark face. “Look, Edward I’ll show you.” He lifted the long gun down. It was so heavy that a man could hardly hold it. As for Edward, when he tried, he could not keep both ends off the floor together.
Then, as though Van Aernam were not waiting outside impatiently in the gathering darkness, sitting his own horse and holding Teunis’s mare, Teunis bent down to show the boy how the gun worked. “See, Edward (he pronounced the name Ateoord in the Dutch manner), it’s a matchlock. It doesn’t fire itself like the musket, with a flint. You have got to touch the priming with fire, like cannon. It’s a nonsensical, old-fashioned kind of a gun, isn’t it?”
Edward felt disappointment over the lock. But he still thought it was a magnificent gun; and the candlelight caught the tracery on the boss bindings, making them look rich. He let go of it reluctantly when his father straightened up to replace it over the fireplace. Gertrude stooped down to pat her son. “Never mind,” she said to him, “your Great-Grandfather Dygert brought it all the way over from Holland with him.”
Edward brightened a little. “Yes,” he cried, “he bought it in Bergom op Zoom to bring to the wild America.”
Six-year-old Trudy laughed and said, “Bergom op Zoom!” and clapped her hands and jumped up and down in delight.
Teunis took his hat from his wife and looked at her over the heads of their children. Outside one of the horses jingled its bits as it shook itself. A northwest rain was falling, a real November storm that had been blowing all day over the Helderbergs, with low clouds driving. At dusk, just before Van Aernam came, they had heard geese quartering the clouds, invisible and high. Winter was coming close.
“Where are you going, Teunis?”
“To Palatine Bridge.”
“Did Van Aernam say whether there were any French?”
She was stuffing half a loaf and some sausage into his pouch, but she was looking at him. He had taken down the musket. He looked so manly and brave in his blue coat with red facings, his wide-brim hat and heavy boots. Now he seemed absorbed in examining his powder horn, then filling it from the big horn beside the chimney. He said to her, “I don’t know. Indians, anyway. He said the settlers were running down from the north to the Flats. A horseman reached Albany two hours past noon.”
He looked up then as he passed the thong of the powder horn over his head.
“Gertrude, you mustn’t be worried. There’s no real chance the Indians will carry so far as this. And, anyway, we shall have the militia at the bridge.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Good girl. If you get lonely, go over to the brick house. It’s like a fort and Mother has guns for the negroes.”
“I won’t go over there.” She saw the look cross his face. “Unless there are Indians.”
He knew how she felt about the Widow Van Alstyne. The older woman made no bones about telling him what she thought of Gertrude, either — “a black-haired Palatine wench with no ‘Van’ to her name.
“Give me a kiss, Gertrude.”
He put one arm round his wife and kissed her mouth. She had both arms round his neck. The children watched them with interest. It was not usual for their parents to behave so.
Then Van Aernam’s voice battered through the wall. “Teunis! It’s wet as the ocean out here. Come on!”
“Coming,” shouted Teunis in his great voice. He could roar like a bull when he wanted. “Remember, Gertrude. I’ll send a man if the Indians go by us. But they’ll never get so far.”
He had opened the door now. The wind swept past his stout legs to set the candles swaying. Outside the noise of rain and wind-whipped trees was a living sound. The two horses looked
all shining, like metal beasts, and Van Aernam, sitting one stoutly, dripped all around his hat brim.
“We’re late already now” he said. “But I don’t blame you. Here get up.” The children saw his eyes and teeth white under his hat. “It’s been a long time since the French were in the valley. But they won’t come this far. And if they do, we’ll blast the breeches off them.”
Teunis had mounted and swung the mare away from the stoop. The two splashed off through the rain. The darkness seemed to come down like the black cover of a closing book to hide them. Gertrude stood for a moment staring after them. Then she leaned against the door to close it, and the wind swept her skirt back from her legs.
Buy The Matchlock Gun and read how Edward saves his family from the Indians.
Also by Walter D. Edmonds