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When school hours were over, he was even the companion and
playmate of the larger boys; and on holiday afternoons would
convoy 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 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 anaconda; but to help out his maintenance,
he was, according to country custom in those parts, boarded and
lodged at the houses of the farmers whose children he instructed.
With these he lived successively a week at a time, thus going the
rounds of the neighborhood, with all his worldly 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 considered 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
dignity 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 youngest; and like
the lion bold, which whilom so magnanimously 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 off, 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
ingenious 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 headwork,
to have a wonderfully easy life of it.

The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in
the female circle of a rural neighborhood; being considered a
kind of idle, gentlemanlike 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 farmhouse, and the addition of a supernumerary dish of cakes
or sweetmeats, or, peradventure, the parade of a silver teapot.
Our man of letters, therefore, was peculiarly happy in the smiles
of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the
churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for
them from the wild vines that overran 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 quite 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 gathering 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 farmhouse 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, to the sudden rustling in the
thicket of birds frightened from their roost. The fireflies, 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.




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