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When the dance was at an end, Ichabod was attracted to a
knot of the sager folks, who, with Old V an Tassel, sat smoking
at one end of the piazza, gossiping over former times, and
drawing out long stories about the war.
This neighborhood, at the time of which I am speaking, was one of
those highly favored places which abound with chronicle and great
men. The British and American line had run near it during the
war; it had, therefore], been the scene of marauding and infested
with refugees, cow-boys, and all kinds of border chivalry. Just
sufficient time had elapsed to enable each story-teller to dress
up his tale with a little becoming fiction, and, in the
indistinctness of his recollection, to make himself the hero of
every exploit.

There was the story of Doffue Martling, a large blue-bearded
Dutchman, who had nearly taken a British frigate with an old iron
nine-pounder from a mud breastwork, only that his gun burst at
the sixth discharge. And there was an old gentleman who shall be
nameless, being too rich a mynheer to be lightly mentioned, who,
in the battle of White Plains, being an excellent master of
defence, parried a musket-ball with a small-sword, insomuch that
he absolutely felt it whiz round the blade, and glance off at the
hilt; in proof of which he was ready at any time to show the
sword, with the hilt a little bent. There were several more that
had been equally great in the field, not one of whom but was
persuaded that he had a considerable hand in bringing the war to
a happy termination.

But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and
apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich in legendary
treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best
in these sheltered, long settled retreats; but are trampled under
foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of
our country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts
in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to
finish their first nap and turn themselves in their graves,
before their surviving friends have travelled away from the
neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their
rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is
perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts except in our
long-established Dutch communities.

The immediate cause, however, of the prevalence of
supernatural stories in these parts, was doubtless owing to the
vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. There was a contagion in the very air
that blew from that haunted region; it breathed forth an
atmosphere of dreams and fancies infecting all the land. Several
of the Sleepy Hollow people were present at Van Tassel's, and, as
usual, were doling out their wild and wonderful legends. Many
dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries
and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the
unfortunate Major Andre was taken, and which stood in the
neighborhood. Some mention was made also of the woman in white,
that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to
shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in
the snow. The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the
favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had
been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it
was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the
churchyard.

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to
have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a
knoll, surrounded by locust, trees and lofty elms, from among
which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like
Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A
gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water,
bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the
blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard,
where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that
there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the
church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook
among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees. Over a deep black
part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown
a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself,
were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom
about it, even in the daytime; but occasioned a fearful darkness
at night. Such was one of the favorite haunts of the Headless
Horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.
The tale was told of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in
ghosts, how he met the Horseman returning from his 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; when the Horseman suddenly turned into a
skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over
the tree-tops with a clap of thunder.

This story was immediately matched by a thrice marvellous
adventure of Brom Bones, who made light of the Galloping Hessian
as an arrant jockey. He affirmed that on 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 should have won it too, for Daredevil beat the
goblin horse all hollow, but just as they came to the church
bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire.

All these tales, told in that drowsy undertone with which
men talk in the dark, the countenances of the listeners only now
and then receiving a casual gleam from the glare of a pipe, sank
deep in the mind of Ichabod. He repaid them in kind with large
extracts from his invaluable author, Cotton Mather, and added
many marvellous events that had taken place in his native State
of Connecticut, and fearful sights which he had seen in his
nightly walks about Sleepy Hollow.

The revel 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.
Some 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, sounding
fainter and fainter, until they gradually died away, --and the
late scene of noise and frolic was all silent and deserted.
Ichabod only lingered behind, according to the custom of country
lovers, to have a tete-a-tete with the heiress; fully convinced
that he was now on the high road to success. What passed at this
interview I will not pretend to say, for in fact I do not know.
Something, however, I fear me, must have gone wrong, for he
certainly sallied forth, after no very great interval, with an
air quite desolate and chapfallen. Oh, these women! these women!
Could that girl have been playing off any of her coquettish tricks?
Was her encouragement of the poor pedagogue all a mere sham to
secure her conquest of his rival? Heaven only knows, not I!
Let it suffice to say, Ichabod stole forth with the air of
one who had been sacking a henroost, rather than a fair lady's
heart. Without looking to the right or left to notice the scene
of rural wealth, on which he had so often gloated, he went
straight to the stable, and with several hearty cuffs and kicks
roused his steed most uncourteously from the comfortable quarters
in which he was soundly sleeping, dreaming of mountains of corn
and oats, and whole valleys of timothy and clover.




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