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narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dan-
gled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served
for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung
together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge
ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so
that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his
spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see
him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day,



with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one
might have mistaken him for the genius of famine
descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped
from a cornfield.

His school-house was a low building of one large
room, rudely constructed of logs ; the windows partly
glazed, and partly patched with leafs of copy-books. It
was most ingeniously secured at vacant hours, by a
withe twisted in the handle of the door, and stakes set
against the window-shutters ; so that though a thief
might get in with perfect ease, he would find some em-
barrassment in getting out : — an idea most probably
borrowed by the architect, Yost Van Houten, from the
mystery of an eelpot. The school-house stood in a
rather lonely but pleasant situation, just at the foot of
a woody hill, with a brook running close by, and a for-
midable birch-tree growing at one end of it. From
hence the low murmur of his pupils' voices, conning over
their lessons, might be heard of a drowsy summer's day,
like the hum of a beehive ; interrupted now and then by
the authoritative voice of the master, in the tone of
menace or command ; or, peradventure, by the appalling
sound of the birch, as he urged some tardy loiterer along
the flowery path of knowledge. Truth to say, he was a
conscientious man, that ever bore in mind the golden
maxim, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Ichabod
Crane's scholars certainly were not spoiled.

I would not have it imagined, however, that he was
one of those cruel potentates of the school, who joy
in the smart of their subjects; on the contrary, he ad-
ministered justice with discrimination rather than sever-
ity; taking the burden off the backs of the weak, and
laying it on those of the strong. Your mere puny
stripling, that winced at the least flourish of the rod,
was passed by with indulgence; but the claims of justice
were satisfied by inflicting a double portion on some




little, tough, wrong-headed, broad-skirted Dutch urchin,
v/ho sulked and swelled and grew dogged and sullen
beneath the birch. All this he called "doing his duty by
their parents" ; and he never inflicted a chastisement
without following it by the assurance so consolatory to
the smarting urchin, that "he would remember it and
thank him for it the longest day he had to live."

When school hours were over, he was even the com-
panion and playmate of the larger boys ; and on holiday
afternoons would convey some of the smaller ones home,
who happened to have pretty sisters or good housewives
for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard.
Indeed, it behooved him to keep on pretty good terms
with his pupils. The revenue arising from his school
was small, and would have been scarcely sufficient to
furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder,
and though lank, had the dilating powers of an ana-
conda ; but to help out his maintenance, he was, accord-
ing to country custom in those parts, boarded and lodged
at the houses of the farmers, whose children he in-
structed. With these he lived successively a week at a
time, thus going the rounds of the neighborhood, with
all his worldy effects tied up in a cotton handkerchief.

That all this might not be too onerous on the purses
of his rustic patrons who are apt to consider the costs
of schooling a grievous burden, and schoolmasters as
mere drones, he had various ways of rendering himself
both useful and agreeable. He assisted the farmers
occasionally in the lighter labors of their farms ; helped
to make hay ; mended the fences ; took the horses to
water ; drove the cows from pasture ; and cut wood for
the winter fire. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dig-
nity and absolute sway with which he lorded it in his
little empire, the school, and became wonderfully gentle
and ingratiating. He found favor in the eyes of the
mothers by petting the children, particularly the young-



est; and like the lion bold, which whilom so magnani-
mously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on
one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole
hours together.

In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing-
master of the neighborhood, and picked up many bright
shillings by instructing the young folks in psalmody. It
was a matter of no little vanity to him on Sundays, to
take his station in front of the church gallery, with a
band of chosen singers; where, in his own mind, he
completely carried away the palm from the parson.
Certain it is, his voice resounded far above all the rest
of the congregation, and there are peculiar quavers still
to be heard in that church, and which may even be
heard half a mile oflf, quite to the opposite side of the
mill-pond, on a still Sunday morning, which are said to
be legitimately descended from the nose of Ichabod
Crane. Thus, by divers little makeshifts, in that in-
genious way which is commonly denominated "by hook
and by crook," the worthy pedagogue got on tolerably
enough, and was thought, by all who understood nothing
of the labor of head-work, to have a wonderful easy life
of it.

The schoolmaster is generally a man of some impor-
tance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood;
being considered a kind of idle gentleman-like personage,
of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the
rough country swains, and, indeed, inferior in learning
only to the parson. His appearance, therefore, is apt to
occasion some little stir at the tea-table of a farm-
house, and the addition of a supernumerary dish of
cakes or sweetmeats, or peradventure. the parade of a
silver tea-pot. Our man of letters, therefore, was pe-
culiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels.
How he would figure among them in the churchyard,
between services on Sundays! gather grapes for them



from the wild vines that overrun the surrounding trees ;
reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the
tombstones; or sauntering with a whole bevy of them
along the banks of the adjacent mill-pond; while the
more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back,
envying his superior elegance and address.

From his half-itinerant life, also, he was a kind of
traveling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local
gossip from house to house ; so that his appearance was
always greeted with satisfaction. He was, moreover,
esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for
he had read several books through, and was a perfect
master of Cotton Mather's History of New England
Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and
potently believed.

He was, in fact, an odd mixture of small shrewdness
and simple credulity. His appetite for the marvelous and
his powers of digesting it were equally extraordinary ;
and both had been increased by his residence in this
spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous
for his capacious swallow. It was often his delight,
after his school was dismissed in the afternoon, to
stretch himself on the rich bed of clover, bordering the
little brook that whimpered by his school-house, and
there con over old Mather's direful tales, until the gath-
ering dusk of evening made the printed page a mere
mist before his eyes. Then, as he wended his way, by
swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farm-
house where he happened to be quartered, every sound
of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited
imagination : the moan of the whip-poor-will from the
hillside; the boding cry of the tree-toad, that harbinger
of storm ; the dreary hooting of the screech-owl ; or the
sudden rustling in the thicket of birds frightened from
their roost. The fire-flies, too, which sparkled most
vividly in the darkest places, now and then startled him,



as one of uncommon brightness would stream across
his path ; and if, by chance, a huge blockhead of a
beetle came winging his blundering flight against him,
the poor varlet was ready to give up the ghost, with the
idea that he was struck with a witch's token. His only
resource on such occasions, either to drown thought, or
drive away evil spirits, was to sing psalm tunes ; — and
the good people of Sleepy Hollow, as they sat by their
doors of an evening, were often filled with awe, at
hearing his nasal melody, "in linked sweetness long
drawn out," floating from the distant hill, or along the
dusky road.

Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was, to pass
long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives as they
sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting
and sputtering along the hearth, and listen to their
marvelous tales of ghosts, and goblins, and haunted
fields and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges and
haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horse-
man, or galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they some-
time called him. He would delight them equally by
his anecdotes of witchcraft, and of the direful omens
and portentious sights and sounds in the air, which
prevailed in the early times of Connecticut ; and would
frighten them wofully with speculations upon comets
and shooting stars, and with the alarming fact that the
world did absolutely turn round, and that they were
half the time topsy-turvy !

But if there was a pleasure in all this, while snugly
cuddling in the chimney corner of a chamber that was all
of a ruddy glow from the crackling wood fire, and where,
of course, no specter dared to show its face, it was
dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk
homewards. What fearful shapes and shadows beset
his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy
night ! — With what wistful look did he eye every trem-



bling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from
some distant window ! — How often was he appalled by
some shrub covered with snow, which like a sheeted
specter beset his very path ! — How often did he shrink
with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the
frosty crust beneath his feet ; and dread to look over
his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being
tramping close behind him ! — and how often was he
thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast,
howling among the trees, in the idea that it was the
galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings!

All these, however, were mere terrors of the night,
phantoms of the mind, that walk in darkness : and
though he had seen many specters in his time, and been
more than once beset by Satan in divers shapes, in his
lonely perambulations, yet daylight put an end to all
these evils ; and he would have passed a pleasant life of
it, in despite of the Devil and all his works, if his path
had not been crossed by a being that causes more per-
plexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the
whole race of witches put together; and that was — a

Among the musical disciples who assembled, one
evening in each week, to receive his instructions in
psalmody, was Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and
only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a
blooming lass of fresh eighteen ; plump as a partridge ;
ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father's
peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her
beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a
little of a coquette, as might be perceived even in her
dress, which was a mixture of ancient and modern fash-
ions, as most suited to set off her charms. She wore the
ornaments of pure yellow gold, which her great-great-
grandmother had brought over from Saardam ; the
tempting stomacher of the olden time, and withal a pro-



vokingly short petticoat, to display the prettiest foot
and ankle in the country round.

Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart towards
the sex ; and it is not to be wondered at, that so tempt-
ing a morsel soon found favor in his eyes, more espe-
cially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion.
Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of athriving,
contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true,
sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries
of his own farm ; but within these, everything was snug,
happy and well-conditioned. He was satisfied with his
wealth, but not proud of it; and piqued himself upon
the hearty abundance, rather than the style in which he
lived. His stronghold was situated on the banks of
the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile
nooks, in which the Dutch farmers are so fond of
nestling. A great elm-tree spread its broad branches
over it ; at the foot of which bubbled up a spring of the
softest and sweetest water, in a little well, formed of a
barrel ; and then stole sparkling away through the grass,
to a neighboring brook, that babbled along among alders
and dwarf willows. Hard by the farm-house was a vast
barn, that might have served for a church ; every win-
dow and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with
the treasures of the farm; the flail was busily resound-
ing within it from morning to night ; swallows and mar-
tins skimmed twittering about the eaves ; and rows of
pigeons, some with one eye turned up. as if watching
the weather, some with their heads under their wings,
or buried in their bosoms, and others swelling, and
cooing, and bowing about their dames, were enjoying
the sunshine on the roof. Sleek unwieldy porkers were
grunting in the repose of their pens, from whence sallied
forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to sniff
the air. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding
in an adjoining pond, conveying whole fleets of ducks;


regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farm-
yard, and guinea-fowls fretting about it like ill-tempered
housewives, with their peevish, discontented cry. Before
the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of
a husband, a warrior, and a fine gentleman; clapping his
burnished wings and crowing in the pride and gladness
of his heart — sometimes tearing up the earth with his
feet, and then generously calling his ever-hungry family
of wives and children to enjoy the rich morsel which
he had discovered.

The pedagogue's mouth watered, as he looked upon
this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In
his devouring mind's eye, he pictured to himself every
roasting pig running about, with a pudding in its belly,
and an apple in its mouth ; the pigeons were snugly put
to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a cover-
let of crust ; the geese were swimming in their own
gravy ; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug
married couples, with a decent competency of onion
sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future
sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a
turkey, but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its
gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of
savory sausages ; and even bright chanticleer himself lay
sprawling on his back, in a side dish, with uplifted claws,
as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit
disdained to ask while living.

As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he
rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands,
the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and
Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with ruddy fruit,
which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his
heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these
domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea,
how they might readily be turned into cash, and the
money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and



shingle palaces in the wilderness. Nay, his busy fancy
already realized his hopes, and presented to him the
blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children
mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household
trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and
he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt
at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee— or the
Lord knows where !

When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart
was complete. It was one of those spacious farm-
houses, with high-ridged, but low-sloping roofs, built
in the style handed down from the first Dutch settlers.
The low projecting eaves forming a piazza along the
front, capable of being closed up in bad weather. Under
this were hung flails, harness, various utensils of hus-
bandry, and nets for fishing in the neighboring river.
Benches were built along the sides for summer use;
and a great spinning-wheel at one end, and a churn at
the other, showed the various uses to which this impor-
tant porch might be devoted. From this piazza the
wonderful Ichabod entered the hall, which formed the
centre of the mansion, and the place of usual residence.
Here, rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long
dresser, dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a huge
bag of wool, ready to be spun ; in another, a quantity
of linsey-woolsey just from the loom; ears of Indian
corn, and strings of dried apples and peaches, hung in
gay festoons along the walls, mingled with the gaud of
red peppers; and a door left ajar, gave him a peep into
the best parlor, where the claw-footed chairs, and dark
mahogany tables, shone like mirrors ; andirons, with
their accompanying shovel and tongs, glistened from
their covert of asparagus tops ; mock-oranges and conch
shells decorated the mantelpiece ; strings of various
colored birds' eggs were suspended above it ; a great
ostrich egg was hung from the centre of the room, and




a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed im-
mense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.

From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these
regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an
end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of
the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enter-
prise, however, he had more real difficulties than gener-
ally fell to the lot of a knight-errant of yore, who
seldom had anything but giants, enchanters, fiery
dragons, and such like easily conquered adversaries,
to contend with, and had to make his way merely
through gates of iron and brass, and walls of adamant
to the castle-keep, where the lady of his heart was
confined ; all which he achieved as easily as a man
would carve his way to the ceniter of a Christmas pie,
and then the lady gave him her hand as a matter of
course. Ichabod, on the contrary, had to win his way
to the heart of a country coquette, beset with a labyrinth
of whims and caprices, which were forever presenting
new difficulties and impediments, and he had to en-
counter a host of fearful adversaries of real flesh and
blood, and numerous rustic admirers, who beset every
portion of her heart ; keeping a watchful and angry
eye upon each other, but ready to fly out in the common
cause against any new competitor.

Among these, the most formidable was a burly, roar-
ing, roystering blade, of the name of Abraham, or ac-
cording to the Dutch abbreviation, Brom Van Brunt, the
hero of the country round, which rung with his feats
of strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered
and double-jointed, with short, curly black hair, and a
bluff, but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled
air of fun and arrogance. From his Herculean frame
and great powers of limb, he had received the nickname
of Brom Bones, by which he was universally known.
He was famed for great knowledge and skill in horse-



manship, being as dexterous on horseback as a Tartar.
He was foremost at all races and cock-flghts, and with
the ascendancy which bodily strength always acquires
in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes, setting his
hat on one side, and giving his decisions with an air
and tone that admitted of no gainsay or appeal. He
was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; had
more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and
with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong
dash of waggish good-humor at bottom. He had three
or four boon companions of his own stamp, who re-
garded him as their model, and at the head of whom he
scoured the country, attending every scene of feud or
merriment for miles around. In cold weather, he was
distinguished by a fur cap, surmounted with a flaunting
fox's tail ; and when the folks at a country gathering
descried this well-known crest at a distance, whisking
about among a squad of hard riders, they always stood
by for a squall. Sometimes his crew would be heard
dashing along past the farm-houses at midnight, with
whoop and halloo, like a troop of Don Cossacks, and
the old dames, startled out of their sleep, would listen for
a moment till the hurry-scurry had clattered by, and then
exclaim, "Ay, there goes Brom Bones and his gang!"
The neighbors looked upon him with a mixture of awe,
admiration, and good will ; and when any madcap prank
or rustic brawl occurred in the vicinity, always shook
their heads, and warranted Brom Bones was at the
bottom of it.

This rantipole hero had for some time singled out
the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth gal-
lantries, and though his amorous toyings were some-
thing like the gentle caresses and endearments of a
bear, yet it was whispered that she did not altogether
discourage his hopes. Certain it is, his advances were
signals for rival candidates to retire, who felt no inclina-



tion to cross a lion in his amours ; insomuch, that when
his horse was seen tied to Van Tassel's palings, on a
Sunday night, a sure sign that his master was courting,
or, as it is termed, "sparking" within, all other suitors
passed by in despair, and carried the war into other

Such was the formidable rival with whom Ichabod
Crane had to contend, and considering all things, a
stouter man than he would have shrunk from the com-
petition, and a wiser man would have despaired. He
had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perse-
verance in his nature ; he was in form and spirit like a
supple-jack — yielding, but tough ; though he bent, he
never broke ; and though he bowed beneath the slight-
est pressure, yet, the moment it was away — jerk! — he
was as erect, and carried his head as high as ever.

To have taken the field openly against his rival would
have been madness ; for he was not a man to be thwart-
ed in his amours, any more than that stormy lover,
Achilles. Ichabod, therefore, made his advances in a
quiet and gently-insinuating manner. Under cover of
his character of singing-master, he made frequent visits
at the farm-house ; not that he had anything to appre-
hend from the meddlesome interference of parents, which
is so often a stumbling-block in the path of lovers. Bait
Van Tassel was an easy indulgent soul; he loved his
daughter better even than his pipe, and like a reasonable
man, and excellent father, let her have her way in every-
thing. His notable little wife, too, had enough to do to
attend to her housekeeping and manage the poultry ; for,
as she sagely observed, ducks and geese are foolish
things, and must be looked after, but girls can take care
of themselves. Thus, while the busy dame bustled about
the house, or plied her spinning-wheel at one end of
the piazza, honest Bait would sit smoking his evening
pipe at the other, watching the achievements of a little



wooden warrior, who, armed with a sword in each hand,
was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of
the barn. In the meantime, Ichabod would carry on his
suit with the daughter by the side of the spring under
the great elm, or sauntering along in the twilight, that
hour so favorable to the lover's eloquence.

I profess not to know how women's hearts are wooed
and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle
and admiration. Some seem to have but one vulnerable
point, or door of access ; while others have a thousand
avenues, and may be captured in a thousand different
ways. It is a great triumph of skill to gain the former,
but a still greater proof of generalship to maintain pos-
session of the latter, for a man must battle for his
fortress at every door and window. He that wins a

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Online LibraryUnknownClassic tales by famous authors (Volume 18) → online text (page 18 of 20)