« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
the best air in the world, and accosted them with gentlemanly familiarity. He staggered from the dinner-table to the play, entered the box like a tempest, stayed long enough to be bored to death, and to boré all those who had the misfortune to be near him. From thence he dashed off to a ball, time enough to flounder through a cotillion, tear half a dozen gowns, commit a number of other depredations, and make the whole company sensible of his infinite condescension in coming amongst them. The people of Gotham thought him a prodigious fine fellow; the young bucks cultivated his acquaintance with the most persevering assiduity, and his retainers were sometimes complimented with a seat in his curricle, or a ride on one of his fine. horses. The belles were delighted with the attentions of such a fashionable gentleman, and struck with astonishment at his learned distinctions between wrought scissors and those of cast steel; together with his profound dissertations on buttons and horse-flesh. The rich merchants courted his acquaintance because he was an Englishman, and their wives treated him with great deference because he had come from beyond seas. I cannot help here observing, that your salt water is a marvellous great sharpener of men's wits, and I intend to recommend it to some of my acquaintance in a particular essay.
Straddle continued his brilliant career for only a short time. His prosperous journey over the turnpike of fashion was checked by some of those stumbling-blocks in the way of aspiring youth called creditors—or duns:—a race of people who, as a cele- brated writer observes, “ are hated by the gods and men.” Consignments slackened, whispers of distant suspicion floated in the dark, and those pests of society, the tailors and shoemakers, rose in rebellion against Straddle. In vain were all his remonstrances; - in vain did he prove to them, that though he had given them no money, yet he had given them more custom, and as many promises as any young man in
the city. They were inflexible; and the signal of danger being given, a host of other prosecutors pounced upon his back. Straddle saw there was but one way for it; he determined to do the thing genteelly, to go to smash like a hero, and dashed into the limits in high style; being the fifteenth gentleman I have known to drive tandem to the-ne plus ultra -the d-1.
Unfortunate Straddle! may thy fate be a warning to all young gentlemen who come from Birmingham to astonish the natives!-I should never have taken the trouble to delineate his character, had he not been a genuine Cockney, and worthy to be the representative of his numerous tribe. Perhaps my simple countrymen may hereafter be able to distinguish between the real English gentleman and individuals of the cast I have heretofore spoken of, as mere mongrels, springing at one bound from contemptible obscurity at home to daylight and splendour in this good-natured land. The true-born and true-bred English gentleman is a character I hold in great respect; and I love to look back to the period when our forefathers flourished in the same generous soil, and hailed each other as brothers. But the Cockney!--when I contemplate him as springing too from the same source, I feel ashamed of the relationship, and am tempted to deny my origin. In the character of Straddle is traced the complete outline of a true Cockney of English growth, and a descendant of that individual facetious character mentioned by Shakspeare, “who, in pure kindness to his horse, buttered his hay."
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail, and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market-town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry T vn. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about three miles, there is a little valley, or rather lap of land, among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail, or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity.
I recollect that, when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel shooting was in a grove of tall walnut trees that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noon time, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the Sabbath stillness around, and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.
From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLow, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighbouring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his pow-wows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. "Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighbourhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the night-mare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favourite scene of her gambols.
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a
figure on horseback without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon ball, in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war;
and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk, hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church that is at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that, the body of the trooper having been buried in the church-yard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the church-yard before day-break.
Such is the general purport of this legendary suiperstition, which has furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and the spectre is known at all the country fire-sides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
It is remarkable that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative-to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud; for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there, imbosomed in the great state of New York, that population, manners, and customs, remain fixed; while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are like those little nooks of still water which border a rapid stream; where we may see the straw and bubble riding quietly at anchor, or slowly revolving in their mimic harbour, undisturbed by the rush of the passing current. Though many years have elapsed since I trod the drowsy shades of Sleepy Hollow, yet I question whether I should not still find the same trees and the same families vegetating in its sheltered bosom.
In this by-place of nature there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane; who sojourned, or, as he expressed it, “tarried,” in Sleepy Hollow, for the purpose of in