Van Ness Tales - "The Unexpected Encounter" Short Story Is Available For Download
The Unexpected Encounter
The April dawn blushed red first then pink as the sun rose slowly above the cold and fog-shrouded North river. On the western bank, at Sneden’s landing where the ground sloped gently down to meet the river at the northernmost end of the tall cliffs of the Palisades, the trees were showing the first leaves of spring.
In calmer times, small sloops and three-masted schooners would sail the short distance up the North river from New York City to barter and trade with the local farmers here. Now, into the second year of open war, it was quiet and empty, with many of the families who had lived here on the slopes above the river having abandoned their homes, afraid the violence would soon come to them.
Standing on the riverbank a young boy from one of the families who had remained behind, fished contentedly, determined to catch the day’s first fish before his older, still sleeping brothers pushed out onto the river to do some fishing of their own.
At the home nearest the river, a fire was heating up on the hearth, its smoke rising from the chimney beckoning. The boy could smell his mother’s kitchen from here and realized it was time to return home.
He turned to hurry back and stopped, looking past his home at the four riders.
The lead rider, a young officer, judging by his uniform and the sword that hung at his side, scanned both sides of the dirt track that ran down to the water’s edge, looking cautiously at the abandoned homes he passed.
A larger rider followed behind, another officer also armed with a sword and pistol. Behind him two more riders followed, riding more clumsily than the lead riders but holding muskets and looking more capable and fierce, than their officers.
The riders dismounted outside his family’s home, stretching stiffly. The boy watched as his father came outside already dressed, as if he had expected the riders. Out of earshot, the boy couldn’t make out what his father was saying, but it was clear from the way he hurried the officers inside that he was likely nervous about what would happen next.
Colonel Peter Van Ness stepped through the door of John Sneden’s home eager for a cup of tea, a warm fire and a quiet visit with his mother. Captain Austin followed close behind, more cautiously than his commander, though still rubbing his hands at the thought of a warm fire and a cup of tea.
Both reached for their swords however, when a red coated officer from the British army stood to greet them.