I first saw Brockway’s towards the close of a cold October day. Since early morning I had been tramping and sketching about the northern suburbs of New York, and it was late in the afternoon when I reached the edge of that high ground overlooking the two rivers. I could see through an opening in the woods the outline of the great aqueduct,—a huge stone centipede stepping across on its sturdy legs; the broad Hudson, with its sheer walls of rock, and the busy Harlem crowded with boats and braced with bridges. A raw wind was blowing, and a gray mist blurred the edges of the Palisades where they cut against the sky.
As the darkness fell the wind increased, and scattered drops of rain, piloting the coming storm, warned me to seek a shelter. Shouldering my trap and hurrying forward, I descended the hill, followed the road to the East River, and, finding no boat, walked along the shore hoping to hail a fisherman or some belated oarsman, and reach the station opposite.
My search led me around a secluded cove edged with white sand and yellow marsh grass, ending in a low, jutting point. Here I came upon a curious sort of dwelling,—half house, half boat. It might have passed for an abandoned barge, or wharf boat, too rotten to float and too worthless to break up,—the relic and record of some by-gone tide of phenomenal height. When I approached nearer it proved to be an old-fashioned canal-boat, sunk to the water line in the grass, its deck covered by a low-hipped roof. Midway its length was cut a small door, opening upon a short staging or portico which supported one end of a narrow, rambling bridge leading to the shore. This bridge was built of driftwood propped up on shad poles. Over the door itself flapped a scrap of a tattered sail which served as an awning. Some pots of belated flowers bloomed on the sills of the ill-shaped windows, and a wind-beaten vine, rooted in a fish basket, crowded into the door, as if to escape the coming winter. Nothing could have been more dilapidated or more picturesque.
The only outward sign of life about the dwelling was a curl of blue smoke. Without this signal of good cheer it had a menacing look, as it lay in its bed of mud glaring at me from under its eaves of eyebrows, shading eyes of windows a-glint in the fading light.
I crossed the small beach strewn with oyster shells, ascended the tottering bridge, and knocked. The door was opened by a gray-bearded old man in a rough jacket. He was bare-footed, his trousers rolled up above his ankles, like a boy’s.
“Can you help me across the river?” I asked.
“Yes, perhaps I can. Come into the Hulk,” he replied, holding the door against the gusts of wind.
The room was small and low, with doors leading into two others. In its centre, before a square stove, stood a young child cooking the evening meal. I saw no other inmates.