Washington Irving (1783-1859)

A LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
I. THE SCHOOLMASTER.

In a remote period of American history, there lived in Sleepy Hollow a worthy man whose name was Ichabod Crane. He sojourned, or, as he expressed it, "tarried" in that quiet little valley for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity. He was a native of Connecticut. He was tall, but very lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled, a mile out of his sleeves, and feet that might have served' as shovels. His head was small, with huge ears, large glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose. To see him striding. along the crest of a hill on a windy day, with his. ill-fitting clothes fluttering about him, one might. have" mistaken him for some scarecrow escaped from a cornfield.

His schoolhouse was a low building of one large room, rudely built of logs.. It stood in a rather lonely but pleasant place, just at the foot of a woody; hill, with a brook running close by, and a birch tree growing near one end of it. From this place of learning the low murmur of children's voices, conning over their lessons, might be heard on a drowsy summer day like the hum of a beehive. Now and then this was interrupted by the stern voice of the master, or perhaps by the appalling sound of a birch twig, as some loiterer was urged along the flowery path of knowledge.

When school hours were over, the teacher forgot that he was the master, and was even the companion and-playmate of the older boys; and on holiday afternoons, he liked to go home with some of the smaller ones who happened to have pretty sisters, or mothers noted for their skill in cooking. Indeed, it was a wise thing for him to keep on good terms with his pupils. He earned so little by teaching school, that he would scarcely have had enough to eat, had he not, according to country custom, boarded at the houses of the children whom he instructed. With these he lived, by turns, a week at a time, thus going the rounds of the neighbor-hood, with all his worldly goods tied up in a cotton handkerchief

He had many ways of making himself both useful and agreeable. He helped the farmers in the lighter labors of their farms, raked the hay at harvest time, mended the fences, took the horses to water, drove the cows from pasture, and cut wood for the winter fire. He found favor in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest; and he would often sit with a child on one knee, and reek a cradle with his foot for whole hours together.

He was a man of some importance among the women of the neighborhood, being looked upon as a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage of finer tastes and better manners than the rough young men who had been brought up in the country. He was always welcome at the tea table of a farmhouse; and his presence was almost sure to bring out an extra dish of cakes or sweetmeats, or the parade of a silver teapot. He was happy, too, in the smiles of all the young ladies. He would walk with them in the "churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering , grapes for them from the wild vines that overrun the surrounding trees; or sauntering with a whole bevy of them along the banks of the adjacent mill pond; while the bashful country youngsters hung sheepishly back and hated him for his fine manners.

Another of his sources of pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the wives of the Dutch farmers, as they sat spinning by the fire with a long row of apples roasting and sputtering along the hearth. He listened to their wondrous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or 'Galloping Hessian of the Hollow," as they sometimes called him. And then he would entertain them with stories of witchcraft, and would frighten them with woeful speculations about comets and shooting stars, and by telling them that the world did really turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy.

There was pleasure in all this while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner of a room that was lighted by the ruddy glow from a crackling wood fire, and where no ghost dared show its face; but it was a pleasure dearly bought by the terrors which would beset him during his walk homewards. How fearful were the shapes and shadows that fell across his way in the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! 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!

II. THE INVITATION

On a fine autumnal afternoon, Ichabod, in pensive mood, sat enthroned on the lofty stool from whence he watched the doings of his little school. In his hand he held a ferule, .that scepter of despotic power; the birch of justice reposed on three nails behind the stool, a constant terror to evil doers ; while on the desk were sundry contraband articles taken. from idle urchins, such as half-eaten apples, popguns, whirligigs, and fly cages. His scholars were all busily intent upon their books, or slyly whispering behind them with one eye kept upon the master, and a kind of buzzing stillness reigned throughout the schoolroom.

This stillness was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a negro, in tow-cloth jacket and trowsers, who, mounted on the back of a ragged, wild, halfbroken colt, came clattering up to the
schoolhouse door. He brought an invitation to Ichabod to attend a merrymaking, or quilting frolic," to be held that evening at the house of Mynheer Van Tassel; and having delivered his message, he dashed over the brook, and was seen scampering away up the hollow, full of the importance and hurry of his mission.

All was now bustle and hubbub in the late quiet schoolroom. The scholars were hurried through their lessons. Those who were nimble skipped over half without being noticed; and those who were slow were hurried along by a smart application of the rod. Then books were flung aside without being put away on the shelves; inkstands were overturned, benches thrown down; and the whole school was turned loose an hour before the usual time, the children yelping and racketing. about the green, in joy at their early freedom.

The gallant Ichabod now spent at least an extra half hour at his toilet, brushing and furbishing his best and only suit of rusty black, and arranging his looks by a bit of broken looking-glass that hung up in the schoolhouse. That he might make his appearance at. the party in the true style of a cavalier, he borrowed a horse from the farmer with whom he was boarding, and, thus gallantly mounted, rode forth, like a knight-errant in quest of adventures.The animal he bestrode was a broken-down plow horse, that had outlived most everything but hisviciousness. He was gaunt and shagged, with a slender neck, and a head like a hammer. His mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burs. One eye had lost its pupil, and was glaring and spectral, but the other still gleamed with genuine wickedness. He must have had plenty of fire and mettle in his day, if we may judge from his name, which was Gunpowder.

Ichabod was a rider suited for such a steed. He rode with short stirrups, which brought his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle; his elbows stuck out like a grasshopper's; and as the horse jogged on, the motion of his arms was not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings. A small wool hat rested on the top of his nose, for so his scanty strip of forehead might be called; and the skirts of his black coat fluttered out almost to the horse's tail. Such was the appearance of Ichabod and his steed as they shambled along the highway; and it was altogether such an apparition as is seldom to be met with in broad daylight.

It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day. The sky was clear and serene. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while. some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frost into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air. The bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubblefields.

The small birds fluttered, chirping and frolicking from bush to bush, and tree to tree, gay and happy because of the plenty and variety around them. There were the twittering blackbirds, flying in sable clouds; and the golden-winged woodpecker, with his crimson crest and splendid plumage; and the cedar bird, with its red-tipped wings and yellow-tipped tail; and the blue jay, in his gay, light-blue coat and white underclothes, screaming and chattering, nodding and bowing, and pretending to be on good terms with every songster of the grove.

As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples,--some still hanging on the trees, some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market, others heaped up in rich piles for the cider press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding. There, too, were multitudes of yellow pumpkins turning up their yellow sides to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies. And anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the beehive; and as he beheld them, he dreamed of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina, the daughter of Mynheer Van Tassel.

Thus feeding his mind with many sweet thoughts and "sugared suppositions," he journeyed along the sides of a range of hills which look out upon some of the goodliest scenes of the mighty Hudson. The sun gradually wheeled his broad disk down into the west. A few amber clouds floated in the sky, without a breath of air to move them. The horizon was of a fine, golden tint, changing gradually into a pure apple-green, and from that into the deep-blue of the midheaven. A slanting ray lingered on the woody crests of the precipices that overhung some parts of the river, giving greater depth to the dark gray and purple of their rocky sides.

III THE "QUILTTING FROLIC."

It was toward evening when Ichabod arrived at the castle of the Herr Van Tassel. He found it
thronged with the pride and flower of the adjacent country,---old farmers, in homespun coats andbreeches, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles; their brisk little dames, in close-crimped caps, long-wasted gowns, homespun petticoats, with scissors and pincushions,and gay calico pockets hanging on the outside; buxom lasses, almost as antiquated as their mothers, excepting where a straw hat, a fine ribbon, or perhaps a white frock, showed signs of city innovations; the sons, in short, square-skirted coats with rows of huge brass buttons, and their hair generally queued in the fashion of the times, especially if an eel-skin could be had for that purpose, it being esteemed as a potent nourisher and strengthener of the hair.

What a world of charms burst upon the gaze of my hero, as he entered the state parlor of Van
Tassel's mansion- the ample charms of a Dutch country tea table, in the sumptuous time of autumn! Such heaped-up platters of cakes, of various and indescribable kinds, known only to experienced Dutch housewives! There was the doughty doughnut, and the crisp, crumbling cruller; sweet cakes and Short cakes, ginger cakes and honey cakes, and the whole family of cakes; and then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; and slices of ham and smoked beef; and dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens, together with bowls of milk and cream; all mingled, higgledy-piggledy, --with the motherly teapot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst! I want breath and time to describe this banquet as I ought, and am too eager to get on with my story. Happily, Ichabod Crane was not in so great a hurry, but did ample justice to every dainty.

And now, supper being ended, the sound of music from the common room summoned to the dance. The musician was an old, gray-headed negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than half a century. His instrument was as old and battered as himself. The greater part of the time he scraped away on two or three strings, moving his head with every movement of the bow, and stamping his foot whenever a fresh couple were to start.

Ichabod prided himself on his dancing. Not a limb, not a fiber about him was idle. How could the flogger of urchins be otherwise than animated and joyous ? And pretty Katrina Van Tassel, the lady of his heart, was his partner in the dance, stalling graciously in reply to all his gallant remarks. When the dance was over, Ichabod joined a circle of the older folks, who, with Mynheer Van Tassel, sat smoking at one end of the piazza, and told stories of the war and wild and wonderful legends of ghosts and other supernatural beings. Some mention was made of a woman in white that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to shriek on wintry nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite specter of Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country. One man told how he had once met the horseman returning from a foray into sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to get up behind him; how they galloped over bush and brake, over hill and swamp, until they reached the bridge by the church, when the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, threw him into the brook, and sprang away over the treetops with a clap of thunder. A wild, roystering young man, who was called Brom Bones, declared that the headless horseman was, after all, no rider compared with himself. He said that returning one night from the neighboring village of Sing Sing, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him for a bowl of punch, and would have won it, too, but just as they came to the church bridge,the specter bolted and vanished in a flash of fire.

The party now gradually broke up. The old farmers gathered together their families in their wagons, and were heard for some time rattling along the hollow roads, and over the distant hills.Same of the damsels mounted on pillions behind their favorite swains; and their light-hearted laughter, mingling with the clatter of hoofs, echoed along the silent woodlands, growing fainter and fainter till they gradually died away, and the late scene of noise and frolic was all silent and deserted. Ichabod alone lingered behind, to have a parting word with the pretty Katrina. What he Said to her, and what was her reply, I do not know. Something, however, must have gone wrong; for he sallied forth, after no great length of time, with an air quite desolate and chopfallen.

IV. THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN

It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod pursued his travel homewards. In the dead hush of midnight he could hear the barking of a dog on the opposite shore of the Hudson, but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of the distance between them. No signs of life occurred near, but now and then the chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bullfrog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably, and turning suddenly in his bed.

All the stories that Ichabod had heard about ghosts and goblins, now came crowding into his mind. The night grew darker and darker. The stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, more over, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the center of the road stood an enormous tulip tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large as the trunks of ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the ground, and rising again into the air.

As Ichabod approached this tree, he began to whistle. He thought his whistle was answered: it was but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches. Coming a little nearer, he thought he saw something white hanging in the midst of the tree. He paused, and ceased whistling, but, on looking more narrowly, perceived that it was a place where the tree had been struck by lightning, and the white wood laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan. His teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle. It was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the tree in safety, but new perils lay before him. About two hundred yards from the tree a small brook crossed the road, and ran into a marshy and thickly wooded glen. A few rough logs laid side by side served for a bridge over this stream. To pass this bridge was the severest trial; for it was here that the unfortunate Andre had been captured, and under covert of the thicket of chestnuts and vines by the side of the road, had the sturdy yeomen, who surprised him, lain concealed. The stream has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it alone after dark.

As Ichabod approached the stream his heart began to thump. He gave his horse half a score of kicks to in the ribs, and tried to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement, and ran broadside against the fence. Ichabod jerked the rein on the other side, and kicked lustily with the contrary foot. It was all in vain. His steed started, it is true, but it was only to plunge to the opposite side of the road into a thicket of brambles. The schoolmaster now bestowed both whip and heel upon the ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward but came to a stand just by the bridge with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the trees, he beheld something huge, black, and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveler.

The hair of the affrighted pedagogue rose upon his head with terror. What was to be done ?
Summoning up a show of courage, he called out in stammering accents, "Who are you?" He
received no reply. He repeated his demand in a still more agitated voice. Still there was no answer. Once more he cudgeled the sides of Gunpowder, and, shutting his eyes, broke forth into a psalm tune. Just then the shadowy object of alarm put itself in motion, and, with a scramble and a bound, stood at once in the middle of the road. Though the night was dark and dismal, yet the form of the unknown might now in some degree be ascertained. He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a horse of powerful frame. He made no offer of molestation or
sociability, but kept aloof on one side of the road, jogging along on the blind side of oldGunpowder who had now got over his fright and waywardness.

Ichabod, who had no relish for this strange midnight companion, and bethought himself of the adventure of Brom Bones and the headless horseman, now quickened his steed, in hopes of leaving him behind. The stranger, however, quickened his horse to an equal pace. Ichabod drew up, and fell into a walk, thinking to lag behind; the other did the same. His heart began to sink within him. There was something in the moody and dogged silence of his companion that was mysterious and appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for.

On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveler in relief against the sky, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless; but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle. His terror rose to desperation. He rained a Shower of kicks and blows upon Gunpowder, hoping, by-a sudden movement, to give his companion the slip; but the specter started full jump with him. Away then they dashed, through thick and thin; stones flying, and sparks flashing, at every bound. Ichabod's flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long, lank body away over his horse's head, in the eagerness of his flight.

They had now reached the road which turns off to Sleepy Hollow; but Gunpowder, who seemed possessed with a demon, instead of keeping up it, made an opposite turn, and plunged headlong down hill to the left. This road leads through a sandy hollow, shaded by trees for about a quarter of a mile, where it crosses the bridge famous in goblin story; and just beyond swells the green knoll on which stands the whitewashed church.

Just as he had got halfway through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and Ichabod felt it slipping from under him. He seized it by the pommel, and tried to hold it firm, but in vain. He had just time to save himself by clasping Gunpowder round the neck, when the saddle fell to the earth, and he heard it trampled under foot by his pursuer, For a moment the terror of its owner's wrath passed across his mind, for it was his Sunday saddle; but this was no time for petty fears. He had much ado to keep his seat, sometimes slipping on one side, sometimes on another, and sometimes jolted on the high ridge of his horse's backbone with a violence that was far from pleasant.

An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hope that the church bridge was at hand. "If I can but reach that bridge," thought Ichabod, "I am safe." Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him. He even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another kick in the ribs, and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod tried to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash. He was tumbled headlong into the dust; and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.

The next morning the old horse was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly cropping the grass at his master's gate. Ichabod did not make his appearance at breakfast. Dinner hour came, but no Ichabod. The boys assembled at the schoolhouse, and strolled idly about the banks of the brook; but no schoolmaster. An inquiry was set on foot, and after much investigation they came upon his traces. In one part of the road by the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt. The tracks of horses' hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, andclose beside it a shattered pumpkin. The brook was searched, but the body of the schoolmaster was not to be discovered.

As Ichabod was a bachelor, and in nobody's debt, nobody troubled his head any more about him. It is true, an old farmer, who went down to New York on a visit several years after, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood, partly through fear of the goblin and the farmer whose horse he had ridden, and partly for other reasons; that he had changed his quarters to a distant part of the country, had kept school and studied law at the same time, had written for the newspapers, and finally had been made a justice of the Ten Pound Court. Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after the schoolmaster's disappearance, had married the blooming Katrina Van Tassel, was observed to look very knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin, which led some to suppose that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

The End

Copyright 1897
American Book Company

BACK TO INDEX