"Dirk Heldriver" is a three-part tale of greed and revenge. Set in the Hudson River Highlands, it's surprisingly gothic for Robert Merry's Museum. With some changes in wording, it was reprinted in 1845 as "Dirk Hieldover," in A Tale of the Revolution, and Other Sketches.


DIRK HELDRIVER (from Robert Merry's Museum, July 1844, pp. 34-37

I recollect, one winter evening, when Bill and myself, with three or four young companions, were assembled around the fire of the "Cock and Bull," it chanced to be Bill's turn to tell a story. It was a wild night, for the wind blew, and the sleet rattled against the windows, as the heavy gusts swept round the corner of the old tavern. When Bill was about to begin his story, I could see that his cheek was a little pale, and his eye glistened as if there were something extraordinary in his mind. At length, he began, and related the following story, as nearly as I can recollect it.

About sixty miles north of the city of New York, a range of lofty highlands crosses the Hudson, nearly from west to east, which passes under the name of the Fishkill mountains. The river has cut away this mighty barrier for the space of two or three miles, but it rises on either side and lifts its blue summits almost to the clouds. At the foot of the eastern portion of this range is now the pretty village of Fishkill, and scattered along the banks of the river are the luxurious country-seats of the De Wints, Verplancks, and other old Dutch families.

But our story goes back for nearly a century, to a period when there were only a few scattered settlements along

p. 35

the banks of this noble river, and while yet the savage, the bear, and the panther were found in the forest. At this time, a man, who bore the semblance of a gentleman, purchased a large tract of land along the bank of the river, and at the distance of two or three miles from the eastern branch of the mountains we have described. Here he caused a large mansion to be constructed in the Dutch fashion, and having laid out his grounds with considerable care, he removed hither with his wife, and a large retinue of servants. He bore the name of Hielder, and supported the style and figure of a man of fortune.

After a few years he had a child, a daughter, which became the special object of the care an attention of both parents. H[ie]lder himself was a somewhat stern and gloomy man, and he seemed to impress his character upon everything around him. The mansion was deeply imbedded in the tall trees, and the apartments, wainscotted with oak and feebly lighted, had a peculiarly sombre aspect. The servants gradually assumed a dark and mysterious look, and the lady herself, though very beautiful, was always dressed in black, and was distinguished by a complexion of almost deathlike paleness.

Several years passed, and the little girl, who was named Katrina, might now be seen walking with her mother amid the long, straight, shady avenues that were cut in the forest. Excepting the persons connected with the establishment, few persons visited the spot; it was therefore marked with peculiar loneliness, which seemed to increase the gloomy and mysterious aspect of the place. The proprietor of the mansion had no intercourse whatever with the people of the vicinity, and never, except once a year, when he made a short visit to the city of New York, did he leave his residence. He spent much of his time in reading, and devoted several hours each day to the instruction of his child, who now seemed to be the only object of his affections. It appeared indeed that there was some deep-rooted bitterness at his heart, which he attempted to alleviate by the education of his daughter.

The child was indeed worthy of all his care, yet she seemed the very opposite of everything around her. She had light, flaxen hair, blue eyes, snowy complexion, and an ever-laughing expression of countenance. Seated in the gloomy library with her father, she seemed like a spot of playful sunshine, lighting the recesses of a cavern.

It was remarkable, that although she was the favorite of all around, and evidently the object of the deepest interest to her parents, the father still seemed not to reflect from his own heart any portion of the child's cheerfulness and vivacity. Though she romped, frolicked, laughed and toyed, a ray of pleasure, or even a passing smile never lighted his countenance. Her spirit shone upon him, but it was like light falling upon a black surface, which absorbed, but did not throw back, its rays. A keen observer, indeed, would have said that the moody father felt even a rebuke in the joyous gaiety of his child.

With the mother there was this difference, that though she was generally sorrowful, the springs of happiness seemed

p. 36

not wholly dried up. She felt a mother's pride in the surpassing beauty of the child, and was often cheered by the little creature's hoyden mirth. In the presence of the master, the servants were habitually silent and gloomy. But if at any time they found the little girl apart, they not unfrequently indulged in a game of romps.

Such was little Katrina, a playful, happy creature, in the midst of shadows and gloom--the idol of all, and apparently the object in which the affections of the parents, as well as the rest of the household were centred. It was when she had reached the age of about six years, that an incident occurred of the deepest interest. At the close of a summer evening, a small sloop anchored in the river, near the house we have described. A boat was let down, and a man, wrapped in a cloak, was landed upon the beach. He proceeded to the mansion, and, inquiring for the master, was conducted to the library. The room was vacant, but the stranger sat down, and occupied himself in gazing around the apartment. At length, the proprietor came, his countenance being marked with something of anxiety. The stranger arose, laid aside his cloak, and stood before his host. For a moment he did not speak; but, at last, he said, "You pass, I understand, by the name of Hielder. I know your real name, and I presume you know mine."

"I know you not," said Hielder, sternly.

"Then you shall know me," said the stranger. "My name is Hieldover, the victim of your perfidy, and I am here to avenge my wrongs."

"This is a pretty tale, "said Hielder, "and you bear yourself bravely. Perhaps you are one of Robert Kidd's men, and have come here in search of gold; but you have mistaken your errand. I have but to ring the bell, and my servants will execute my will upon you."

"This bullying will not answer your purpose," said Hieldover; "nothing shall turn me from my purpose, which is to extort from you the fortune that you have obtained by the basest perfidy and fraud. You pretend not to know me; I will refresh your memory. Fifteen years since you were made my guardian at Amsterdam, by my father's will. You possessed yourself, by forgery, of my ample fortune. You departed from the country in secrecy, and I was left a beggar. I have since been a wanderer over the earth, and have known toil, and suffering, and sorrow, while you have been revelling in the wealth which was mine. I have traced you through the four quarters of the globe, and had sworn in my heart to follow upon your track like the bloodhound, till I could find you and bring you to justice."

During this speech, the pale countenance of Hielder was frequently flushed with anger. At last, he said, sneeringly, "You have spoken freely--have you done? If so, I will show you the door." Hieldover seemed to be on the point of giving vent to his rage; but he checked himself, and said, "You deny my claim, then? You refuse to do me justice?"

"I have no answer to make," said Hielder, "to an idle braggart."

"Beware, then, of my vengeance,"

p. 37

said the other, clenching his fist, and looking defiance in the eye of Hielder. He then took his leave.

This scene passed without the knowledge of any individual, except the parties concerned. Yet for several days the master of the house seemed even more gloomy than usual. He spoke little to any one, and remained almost wholly in the seclusion of his library. After a month, however, had passed away, he seemed to be restored to his former condition, and resumed his wonted occupations. He seemed more than ever devoted to his child, although he maintained his accustomed sternness. For a time he would hardly allow the child to be out of his presence, but at length the mother was permitted to resume her walks, attended by her daughter.

One day, she went out in the morning, but did not return at the usual hour. Some anxiety was excited, and the servants were sent forth in search of their mistress and the child. They returned without being able to find her. All was now alarm. Hielder himself went forth, and the people were directed to scour the woods in every direction. They soon brought tidings to their master that the lady was found, but the child was missing. When discovered, she was insensible; but when she came to herself, she stated that while she was walking in the woods, a stranger suddenly sprung upon the child, and bore it away. He fled toward the mountains, and she pursued till she swooned and fell to the ground. Here she remained, in a state of insensibility, till she was taken up by the people who were in search of her.

(To be continued.)


DIRK HELDRIVER (from Robert Merry's Museum, August 1844, pp. 69-72

The story of Dirk Heldriver, continued.

The stranger carrying off Katrina.

In a preceding number we have given an account of the manner in which Katrina was taken from her mother and borne away into the woods. We must now continue the story, as it was related by Bill to his companions.

Nothing could exceed the state of excitement produced upon M. Hielder by the news of the carrying off of his daughter; for a few moments, he seemed to be in a frenzy of rage, muttered the name of Hieldover between his teeth, clenched his fist, and uttered the most terrific imprecations. But in a short time, he conquered his passion, and, ordering six men to attend him, they all set out in pursuit of the offender. They had learned as well as they could from Madam Hielder the direction which the robber had taken, which appeared to be towards the mountains. They soon found the traces of footsteps which led along the bank of a small river that swept down from the heights. They followed these for about two miles, when the ground became rocky and broken, and they could no longer trace them. It seemed certain, however, that the stranger had ascended the mountain, directing his course to a deep and wild dell that lay between two rugged cliffs, that seemed to rear their naked heads to the clouds.

The party drew themselves out in a

p. 70

lengthened line, and proceeded to search the tangled valley that lay before them. The impatience of Hielder led him in front of the pursuers, and the excited state of his feelings made him almost forget his attendants. It was not long before he saw, or thought he saw, the object of his pursuit. He rushed forward, urging his way between the branches of the trees and the thick mass of underwood, regardless of the obstacles that lay in his path, his garments torn, and his hair streaming in the wind. He was soon separated from his companions, and entirely forgetting them, urged his way through the wilderness.

Again he fancied that he saw the figure of a man, at a considerable distance, bearing a child in his arms. He seemed to be straining up the sides of the mountains, and at a considerable distance. Hielder redoubled his efforts, and in his agony of mind, shouted aloud, filling the hollow of the mountain with his cries. For a long time he continued his pursuit, occasionally catching glimpses of the flying robber and his daughter, or objects that seemed to be such. At length he came to an open space, and on a rocky eminence before him, he imagined that he saw the form of Hieldover, holding out his child in triumphant mockery. Hielder was armed with pistols, and, snatching one of these from his belt, he aimed it at the form of Hieldover, and fired. This was instantly followed by a scream, which seemed to be that of the child. Smitten with horror at the idea that he had killed his daughter, the father sank down on the ground in a state of insensibility.

It was now evening, and M. Hielder, as we have stated, had been for a considerable time separated from his attendants. They had discovered his absence from their line, and for some hours had been in search of him. One of them heard the report of the pistol, and directed his steps towards the spot from which the sound seemed to proceed. In the darkness, however, he passed the body of his master, and continued to push forward. The pursuit was continued till morning, when the party collected together by means of signals, and began to deliberate upon what was to be done.

While they were thus occupied, they saw M. Hielder approaching. They were all struck with amazement at his strange appearance. His clothes were torn in fragments; his hat was gone, and there were traces of blood upon his face. His countenance was pale as ashes, and his eye had the startled and wild expression which belongs to a madman. He said not a word, and when the men addressed him he gave no answer. After a little deliberation, they concluded to return, and two of them, taking their master by the arms, led him homeward. He made no resistance, and, in the course of a few hours, they reached the house.

M. Hielder continued in a state of derangement for nearly two weeks. He was not violent, but his mind seemed constantly occupied with the vision of some object before him, which he earnestly sought to reach. Sometimes in his eagerness, he would spring out of his bed, and endeavor to pursue the phantom, which fled before him and eluded his grasp. At others, he would beckon to it, and again reach out his arms, beseeching it to come to him. He often uttered the

p. 71

name of Hieldover, and would frequently say, "Give me back my child; give me my daughter, and I will restore all. Be satisfied, Hieldover, with your revenge. Take the money, but give me my child. Is there such cruelty in the heart of man? will you wring the heart that is broken? will you grind in the dust the form that crouches at your foot? Do as you please--kill me, if you will, but restore to me once more my child."

The wife of the poor man was unceasing in her attentions. Day and night she was at his bedside, seeking to allay the fever of his mind, and administering to him such medicines as the physician prescribed. Nor were these kind and skilful ministrations without their due effect. By degrees the symptoms of the patient became alleviated, and, in the space of a few weeks, his reason seemed to be restored. Yet his form was wasted almost to a shadow, and his mind seemed to participate in the exhausted condition of his body. He however gradually rose from this state of depression, and at last seemed once more in the possession of health and vigor.

His countenance, however, was greatly changed. The stern, dark, moody expression which formerly brooded over his countenance, had given place to settled melancholy, tinged with a somewhat startled aspect. His firm nerves, too, had become shaken, and the sudden rustling of the wind, or the sound of an unwonted footstep, made him tremble from head to foot. There was still a haughty feeling in him, which taught him to conquer these humiliating symptoms; but in the struggle between pride and weakness, and effort often took place, which was manifested by the large cold drops standing upon his forehead.

The early history of M. Hielder was unknown to the people around him. They were ignorant of the visit paid him by the stranger, who called himself Hieldover, and which we have already described. They were at a loss, therefore, to account for the events which had recently transpired. Who could have carried off the child? What motive could any one have for such an act? Why was the master of the house wrought up into such a frenzy? Why was he cheated with illusions, and finally driven to a state of madness in the mountains? These were the questions discussed by the gossips around the house; and as no better answer to these inquiries could be found, they were all resolved by the conclusion that the dark and mysterious being who carried off the girl, was the devil himself.

I am sorry to have anything to say about this personage; but a century ago, when these things happened, it was very much the fashion to lay everything to him which could not be otherwise explained. Of course, whoever undertakes to tell a story of that day, is likely to have something to say about him. We need only add, that we shall have as little as possible to do with him on this, as on every other occasion.

The suggestion having been once made that the scenes we have described were the work of a being of the other world, it soon grew into the established opinion of the people attached to Hielder house. Nor were confirmations of this wanting. Several of the servants declared that they had seen, in the even-

p. 72

ing twilight, a dark figure, with a slouched hat and wrapped in a cloak, moving mysteriously along the avenues around the house. Others insisted that they had seen a strange light dancing in the hollow of the mountain, where M. Hielder had met the strange apparition.

These tales soon reached the ears of their master, and he readily concluded that they might be founded in truth. He determined, therefore, to investigate the subject for himself. In the course of a few evenings, he saw a dusky figure standing in the shadow of the trees at no great distance from the house. He approached it, but it glided from him, and was soon lost in the depths of the forest. He, however, pursued the retreating spectre. He soon saw it again, and it seemed now to pause. He approached it, and could distinctly recognize the tall and majestic figure of Hieldover. At this moment, the latter spoke--"Approach me not, as you value your life; but if you wish to know the fate of your child, visit me to-morrow at this hour. You will find me at home in the mountains." Saying this, the form departed, and was immediately buried in the mazes of the wood.

M. Hielder was thrilled with a kind of horror, but he determined to accept the fearful invitation. At the appointed time, he left the house alone, and set out for the mountains. It was now autumn, and the leaves were beginning to fall from the trees. The night was gloomy, and the wind swept in hollow gusts through the forest. The tops of the trees waved with an uneasy and troubled motion in the gale. There was no human voice to disturb the night, but many strange and ominous sounds came upon the ear of the adventurer, as he now began to ascend the shaggy sides of the highlands. The creaking of the trees, whose branches rubbed against each other, the shrill wailing of the owl, and the continued roar of the wind, served to increase his excitement, though not in any degree to shake his purpose.

Resolutely striding on through the mass of crumpled leaves that covered the ground, he reached, at last, a position that commanded a view of the spot where he had seen his child in the arms of Hieldover. This consisted of a mound of rocks, which rose in the form of a pyramid in the centre of a valley, scooped out of the side of a mountain. The whole scene was covered with trees, except a small space which encircled the mound. This consisted of a grassy belt, through which a small stream passed on either side of the pyramidal rock.

M. Hielder paused a moment to consider what course he should take, when a small flame gleamed upward from the very point where Hieldover was standing with his child, when he discharged the pistol, as we have related. Receiving this as a signal, he plunged down into the valley, crossed the stream, and, with an almost frenzied energy, began to climb the rocky mound. Seizing upon the branches of trees and shrubs, he clambered upward, and soon attained the point from which the light was still gleaming.

(To be continued.)


DIRK HELDRIVER (from Robert Merry's Museum, November 1844, pp. 132-134

The story of Dirk Heldriver, concluded.

M. Hielder having attained the summit of the pyramidal crag, to which he had been invited, now looked around for Hieldover. He saw a fire which had guided him to the spot, made of fagots burning upon the rocks, and at a little distance, he discovered the mouth of a cave. From this, Hieldover soon issued, and presented himself before his visiter. The strong light of the blazing brands, reflected upon the faces and forms of the two men, presented a striking picture. The emaciated form, the haggard features and the torn garments of Hielder, were strongly contrasted with the iron frame, the stern, flinty countenance, and homely sailor's dress of Hieldover.

The two men met, but no kindly greeting passed between them. They gazed at each other for a moment, and Hieldover then broke the silence. "You have come," said he, "at my bidding, and I will fulfil my promise. You shall see your daughter--but you must first listen to my story." Saying this, he pointed to a seat on the rock, and M. Hielder sat down. Hieldover did the same, and then he spoke as follows.

"It is now twelve years since we parted at Amsterdam. I need not go over the story of my father's death--of his intrusting my fortune and education to your care. I need not say how you discharged your trust, by bringing me up in every species of folly and dissipation; of your embezzlement of my property, and final retreat from the country to parts unknown. The latter event, as you well know, occurred in my absence from Amsterdam. When I returned to the city I found myself a beggar, and what was worse, my character was ruined. You had enjoyed a high reputation for integrity, and had taken advantage of this to denounce me as a graceless wretch, unworthy of protection or sympathy. You had also circulated the story that the vast estate bequeathed by my father had been squandered by my profligacy.

"I was just twenty-one when I returned to Amsterdam, intending to take possession of my estate, but instead of this, I found myself at once ruined in fortune and fame. It is impossible for me to describe the miseries that one after another overwhelmed me. I applied to friends; but they received me with coldness or aversion. I resorted to my companions, upon whom I had lavished favors; but they smiled and put their fingers sneeringly to the side of the nose. I applied to a lawyer; but he would not undertake my cause without a fee, and this I could not give. At length, I bent all the energies of my soul to one single purpose, and that was to pursue you, to traverse the four quarters of the globe, if necessary, to find you, and at last to inflict upon you some punishment adequate to your ingratitude and your crimes.

"Entering upon this design with a fierce and feverish desire, I shipped on board a vessel as a common sailor. I had reason to suppose that you had gone to Surinam, and the vessel I entered was bound to that port. I performed the duties of a sailor with alacrity. In the long and tedious calm, or the raging of the tempest, whether upon the quiet deck or

p. 133

aloft amid the shivering spars, I never for one moment forgot my purpose. I arrived at the destined port, and made inquiries for you, but without success. I engaged in the revels of my companions; but in my maddest moments I thought of you. I shipped for Java, for I had been led to conjecture that you might be there. We performed our long voyage of alternate tempest and tranquillity. To all around me I seemed the most thoughtless of the unthinking men with whom I was associated; yet it was the burning hope of revenge that sustained me.

"You were not at Java. I set out for the Japan Isles, and reached the rock of Nangasaki, to which the Dutch traders are confined. You had been there, but had departed, leaving no clew by which you could be traced. In a daring and reckless mood, I ventured with one of my companions to enter into one of the Japanese towns. We had dressed ourselves like the natives, and for a time were unsuspected. But at last we were seized, severely beaten, put into an open boat and driven out to sea. We were forced along the coast by winds and currents, and at last, were wrecked upon a rocky shore. In a starving condition we clambered up the cliffs, and made our way to a small village. Here we were seized and conducted from post to post, till we reached Meaco, the residence of the dairi or king. Having been examined, we were sentenced to perpetual slavery in the diamond mines. These belonged to the king, and were situated in the mountains. For three years I wrought in gloomy caverns, without once seeing the light of day. Even here I did not forget my revenge, and had still in my bosom a conviction that I should break the chains with which my body was bound, escape from my rocky prison, and fulfil my purpose. My companion wasted away under his toil and confinement, and expired before my eyes; but my body and soul fed upon the hope which had so long animated my bosom.

"I began to meditate an escape. I laid my plans with deliberation, and at the end of eleven months, they were completed. I effected my deliverance, and lived for two years with the wild goats amid the recesses of the mountains. I had learned the language and manners of the country, and leaving my retreat, made my way without difficulty; all suspicion having been lulled by the time which had elapsed since my escape. I had concealed a number of diamonds and other gems of great value, and carried them with me. I was now rich, but I regarded my wealth only as the means by which I might traverse the world in pursuit of you.

"I reached Nangasaki, and entered a vessel bound for Amsterdam. I returned to my native city, and for a time engaged in the pleasures of fashionable life. I was courted and flattered on every side; but I became weary of blandishments, and the thirst of revenge, which had been forgotten, again revived in my bosom. I came to New York, and spent a year in search of you. At last, I discovered your place of residence, and learned that you had exchanged the name of Brocken for Hielder. I learned that you were married--that you lived aloof from mankind, and that you were regarded as a strange and mysterious

p. 134

being. I visited your abode by night--I hung around your path--I frequently saw you, and was more than once on the point of thrusting my poniard into your bosom.

"It is strange, that, when you were in my power, my hand seemed withheld from striking the blow I had so long mediated. I hesitated--I wavered. At last my desire of revenge returned in its full vigor--I went, determined to fulfil my long meditated design. Concealed in the shrubbery, I saw you approach. I drew my dirk, and stood ready. You came near, but your lovely child was by your side. You paused--you sat down--you embraced that flaxen-haired girl, and gazed in her sunny face with the fond affection of a parent. I had only thought of you before as a demon; but I now saw that you were a father, and possessed a father's feeling. It was a strange revelation, and it opened a new view to my mind. I cast my poniard away with loathing, and another train of thoughts took possession of my soul.

"I lay in wait, and seizing a favorable opportunity, I carried your daughter away. She is here, and she is well. I have brought you hither; I have told you my story--I have fulfilled my purpose. I have no other revenge to bestow. Keep your ill-gotten wealth--for I know it cannot bless you. I only hope that your innocent child may not share in the misery which your crimes have inflicted upon me, and must continue to inflict upon yourself. I see a fate worse than that of Cain, written on your brow. There is a fire within your breast that consumes you. One solace only is afforded you--your daughter; and even that is mingled with a fear that is of itself torture. How mysterious are the ways of Providence! When there is no other tribunal to inflict punishment, the soul turns upon itself, and becomes an executioner. Dark and desolate as is my lot, I envy not yours."

Hieldover waited for no reply, but immediately brought out Katrina and placed her in her father's arms. After a short space, he led them down the cliff, and conducted them to one of the avenues of the mountain. He then spoke to Hielder as follows:

"Farewell--we part forever. You need not fear me--nay, forget me if you can. I forgive the injuries you have done me--the wreck of my existence which you have caused. I am unfit for the world, and I shall continue to occupy this abode. I have lived a life of evil thoughts and wicked passions. I will expiate my crimes by a life of penance in yonder cave. Beware of seeking me--of naming me to others. I seek only oblivion and repose. Adieu."

The strange man departed, and Hielder saw him no more. Years passed away, and a light was often seen on the mountains. Rumors were afloat that the giant form of a man was sometimes seen upon the cliffs, or gliding through the valley beneath. The light was at last extinguished, and the legend became current that the bones of a man were many years after found in the cave, and by their side a small sack of precious gems. The glen had long the reputation of being haunted, and was anciently known by the name of Heldriver's castle.

Copyright 1999-2006, Pat Pflieger
To "Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read"
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To "Voices from 19th-Century America"
Some works for adults, 1800-1872

To Titles at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date
Map of the site