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It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy
hearted and crest-fallen, pursued his travels homewards, along
the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and
which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was
as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spread its
dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the
tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land. In
the dead hush of midnight, he could even hear the barking of the
watchdog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so
vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this
faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn
crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far
off, from some farmhouse away among the hills--but it was like a
dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him,
but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps
the guttural twang of a bull-frog from a neighboring marsh, as if
sleeping uncomfortably and turning suddenly in his bed.

All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in
the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. 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, moreover,
approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost
stories had been laid. In the centre 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 enough to form trunks
for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising
again into the air. It was connected with the tragical story of
the unfortunate Andre, who had been taken prisoner hard by; and
was universally known by the name of Major Andre's tree. The
common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and
superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-
starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights,
and doleful lamentations, told concerning it.

As Ichabod approached this fearful tree, he began to
whistle; he thought his whistle was answered; it was but a blast
sweeping sharply through the dry branches. As he approached 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 scathed 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, known by
the name of Wiley's Swamp. A few rough logs, laid side by side,
served for a bridge over this stream. On that side of the road
where the brook entered the wood, a group of oaks and chestnuts,
matted thick with wild grape-vines, threw a cavernous gloom over
it. To pass this bridge was the severest trial. It was at this
identical spot that the unfortunate Andre was captured, and under
the covert of those chestnuts and vines were the sturdy yeomen
concealed who surprised him. This has ever since been considered
a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the school-boy
who has to pass it alone after dark.

As he approached the stream, his heart began to thump he
summoned up, however, all his resolution, gave his horse half a
score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted 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, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the
reins 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 and alder-bushes. The schoolmaster now
bestowed both whip and heel upon the starveling ribs of old
Gunpowder, who dashed forward, snuffling and snorting, 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 grove, on the margin of the
brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It
stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some
gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.

The hair of the affrighted pedagogue rose upon his head with
terror. What was to be done? To turn and fly was now too late;
and besides, what chance was there of escaping ghost or goblin,
if such it was, which could ride upon the wings of the wind?
Summoning up, therefore, a show of courage, he demanded 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 cudgelled the sides of the inflexible
Gunpowder, and, shutting his eyes, broke forth with involuntary
fervor 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 black 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 old Gunpowder, 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
with the Galloping Hessian, now quickened his steed in hopes of
leaving him behind. The stranger, however, quickened his horse to
an equal pace. Ichabod pulled up, and fell into a walk, thinking
to lag behind, --the other did the same. His heart began to sink
within him; he endeavored to resume his psalm tune, but his
parched tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, and he could not
utter a stave. There was something in the moody and dogged
silence of this pertinacious companion that was mysterious and
appalling. It was soon fearfully accounted for. On mounting a
rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller
in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a
cloak, 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 spectre 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.




The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Category:
General Fiction
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