The place where we lived was called Kaaterskill, and no one in that community spoke anything but Dutch. I soon found ways to communicate without speaking; farm work involves very little speech, and the few needs I had beyond food, Grieta was able to anticipate quite nicely. Sometimes young people, having heard that there was an English speaker in their midst, would come by and ask for my help in learning that language. I did not mind helping, but for the most part, I was pleased that the lack of a common language freed me from the burden of conversation.
The church services we attended on Sundays were, of course, also conducted in Dutch. It was Christian; I recognized the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, and other familiar scriptures by the rhythm and meter of the words. But I felt like the Catholics at the Transfiguration Church, whose priest held the service in Latin, a language that none of them understood. After a time or two, I could appreciate the advantage in that as well.
The workdays were hard and long, but I have always enjoyed farm work. Herr Van der Voort was a hard worker as well, but I could see that he was beginning to feel the effects of age. He did not have the stamina he once had and was happy to have an extra set of hands.
Each day I worked up an enormous appetite which Grieta sated with wondrously sumptuous meals. We still went out after dinner to bring in the cows, but now wound up every time kissing behind the barn. That first kiss I stole had awakened such passion in Grieta that she could barely contain herself while attending the cows and as soon as the last was in its stall she would pull me behind the barn.
While still innocent, by the standards I was used to, each time was increasingly intimate—with me stroking her magnificent breasts through her dress, and she moving her hand over the crotch of my trousers— until I sometimes thought I would burst. As passionate as Grieta was, she was also deathly frightened of being caught by her father; at the slightest sound, she would pull away and look in all directions, making sure our embraces had not been witnessed. Her caution was not misplaced; while normally even-tempered, I knew that Herr Van der Voort could be very harsh towards his daughter and I had seen him strike her quite hard when she broke a plate while clearing the table. Catching Grieta in a compromising position with me would, no doubt incite him to violence. I wasn’t sure which one of us would get the brunt of it.
A short time after I arrived at Kaaterskill, the community gathered for a festive celebration which they called Pinkster. There was some religious significance to it—though I never knew what—because we all put on our best clothes that Sunday and found the church brightly decorated and attended by many more people than usual. Following the service, we went to a field where booths had been set up selling baked goods and candy; toys and trinkets for the children. A whole pig was roasting on a spit, and a wagon arrived bearing barrels and barrels of bock beer. A fiddler and an accordion player struck up a lively tune and couples rushed onto the field to dance.
Several families of African descent lived in the area, apparently former slaves or the children of former slaves. With slavey abandoned in the State of New York, they now worked as paid field hands or tradesmen in town. They all spoke Dutch as well and enjoyed the festival of Pinkster as much as anyone. Their tradition on this day was to dress up like their Dutch masters and imitate their behaviors. Instead of being insulted by this mockery, the Dutch found great delight in it, and each man was especially pleased if he could recognize himself in this game. The black men were also the most energetic and eccentric of dancers. The Dutch merchants selling wares at the festival would hire these men to dance in front of their booths and attract crowds.
The beer flowed all afternoon, and everyone there became happily intoxicated. After my time at Five Points, I found it nothing short of a miracle to see so many drunks and none looking for a fight. The sun was shining, and the air was warm, and a feeling of good fellowship engulfed everyone and showed no sign of abating.
Grieta came to my side, and I was afraid she would want me to dance. She tilted her head toward the dancers but not in invitation, just to point my attention towards her father exuberantly doing the polka, or whatever it is they do, with widow Cortlandt who owned a farm on the other side of the valley—a woman quite a few years younger than he. Herr Van der Voort was lavishing his attention on the widow, and she appeared to be reciprocating.
Still using just the simplest of gestures, Grieta suggested that we go back home, leaving her father here. There was a twinkle of mischief in her big blue eyes, and I realized it was now or never. I nodded and we hurried back to the farm.
Giggling the whole way, Grieta led me into the barn and up a wooden ladder to the hayloft where we would have a soft and relatively hidden bed of hay. We embraced then, and kissed, but Grieta was too anxious to linger long at that. She pulled her dress off over her head, revealing breasts even more magnificent than I had anticipated, soft and snowy white with nipples like wild strawberries. I put my hands upon them as Grieta went to work unbuttoning trousers.
But just as I had stepped out of my trousers, we heard the loud creak of the barn door opening. Grieta and I jumped back into the shadows, hoping whoever it was would not look upward. It was Herr Van der Voort and the widow Cortlandt, and they were too busy with their own lovemaking to look up at the loft. I did not want to watch, but Grieta stood there fascinated by the scene. Her father maneuvered the widow against a stable door and with one hand raised her skirts while with the other was trying to unbutton his breeches. He was having difficulty with the pants, and the widow attempted to help. The tangle of anxious fingers trying to undo Herr Van der Voorts breeches made quite an amusing show, and Grieta could not suppress a loud chuckle.
They both stopped their work, then, and looked up to the loft, seeing Grieta standing there with nothing on but her drawers, and me just the opposite—naked below the waist, with my manhood still at attention outside my shirt. The widow screamed and ran from the barn. Grieta’s father, red with anger started for the loft ladder. I grabbed my trousers and boots and jumped out of the open loft doors. The fall was about ten feet, but I knew there was a pile of hay below. The hay cushioned my landing, but I still twisted my ankle in the process.
I ran as fast as I could with a bad ankle. Looking back I saw no sign Herr Van der Voort; perhaps he had turned his wrath on his daughter and would let me be. But no, I soon saw him come from behind the barn carrying an ancient blunderbuss that he used to drive vermin from the vegetable garden. He kept it loaded with powder and gravel, and though the weapon was limited in range and accuracy, I knew that the spray of gravel it delivered covered a wide area and if he got close enough he could not help but hit me.
I redoubled my efforts then, but my ankle was slowing me down. The old man was soon within range and let loose with the blunderbuss. The sound of the explosion echoed through the valley as the gravel left the muzzle of the gun with tremendous force. I was fortunate that he hadn’t time to aim, and the full force of the shot went wide, but a good handful of gravel caught my buttocks and thighs, embedding in the skin and knocking me off my feet.
I prepared myself then to be murdered, but Herr Van der Voort was too exhausted to continue. Happy that he had felled me and driven me forever from his farm, he turned and walked away. I managed to get back on my feet, then slowly headed for the road, each agonizing step taking me farther away from Kaaterskill.