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It was in early summer of my eighteenth year that my destiny arrived, and despite my fancy for premonitions he took me quite by surprise.
“Katrina!” my mother’s voice called, summoning me from downstairs. “We’ve a guest! Do come down, dear!”
I rolled my eyes and put my book aside. We always had a guest, or nearly so. My father was the most prosperous farmer for miles around, making him Sleepy Hollow’s unofficial lead citizen, and as such we often entertained our fellow townsfolk, in addition to travelers passing through: our home was the largest for many miles, situated conveniently along the Albany Post Road, and therefore the first place they would stop to pay their respects, usually in hopes of a handout. Word had long since traveled far and wide that the esteemed Baltus Van Tassel could not turn anyone away.
I should not be so uncharitable, I knew; but it wearied me, a girl who preferred the company of her books and her dog and of nature, to have to entertain strangers so often. That these travelers and visitors were usually men who seemed to find it their right to openly ogle the heiress of so wealthy an estate only meant I had grown quite tired indeed of assisting my mother in playing hostess.
Perhaps, I mused, smoothing my hair before my mirror, I had better give some consideration to these bachelors, before I wake up someday soon to find myself betrothed to Brom Van Brunt.
But I would not think on that now.
Satisfied I looked as respectable as could reasonably be expected on such short notice, I left my bedroom and went down the stairs, my dog, Nox, uncurling from his nap on my bed and following after me. I stepped into the kitchen at the rear of the house, where my mother was issuing instructions to Cook. She nodded for me to pick up the tray that held two silver mugs, filled with the pale wheat beer made in the brewery my father owned, and take it out onto the portico. The large porch was situated at the back of the house and framed gorgeous, sweeping views of the Hudson. I took the tray without comment, Nox trotting at my side. It was a routine we had long since perfected.
“Ah, and here is my lovely daughter, Katrina,” my father’s booming, jovial voice said as I entered the parlor. He spoke English, I noticed, rather than the Dutch we used in casual company. I had grown up speaking both languages, as did most local families of wealth and property. Our guest must be from a different region of the country. “So nice of you to join us, my dear. Pray, set that down and meet our guest.”
I placed the tray on the low table between my father and the other man, then straightened to see that the stranger had risen on my entrance. “Miss Van Tassel,” he said, taking my hand and bending to kiss it. His speech was clear, crisp. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
I was taken aback by his courtly manner, and even more so by his appearance—but agreeably so.
He was young, that much was certain—likely only in his early twenties. He was tall and gangly, with long arms and legs; he nearly towered over me. Were my father to stand, his own considerable height would be no match for this man. His brown hair, which he had tied back at his nape with a simple black ribbon, was shot through with gold. Wide eyes stared back at me, a startling deep green, like the moss that grew at the banks of the stream in the woods. His ears, I noted, were unfortunately large, yet somehow made his already pleasant face even more endearing. He was handsome, but not too much so.
“The pleasure is mine, sir,” I said, not untruthfully.
“Katrina, my dove, this is Mr. Ichabod Crane, our new schoolmaster, just come from Connecticut,” my father said. “He has come to visit with us in the hopes that we may smooth his way as he joins our fair community.”
The schoolmaster turned to me. “I have heard tales of your father, miss, and his exceeding kindness and generosity. Therefore I had hoped I might prevail upon him on my arrival, seeing as I know no one here.”
“You have certainly made the best choice available to you, Mr. Crane,” I said, my words coming out in an unexpectedly low, throaty pitch. “My father is indeed a pillar of our community, worthy of all the praise you have heard, and more.”
“And who is this distinguished-looking gentleman?” Mr. Crane asked, his attention turning to Nox at my side. He extended a hand slowly, and Nox stepped forward, sniffing him thoroughly. His large, bushy tale began to wag, indicating his approval. Mr. Crane took it as such and reached out to scratch Nox behind his ears, something the big dog enjoyed immensely.
“This is my dog, Nox,” I said. “He was born into a litter of herding dogs my father raised, and I could not resist taking him into the house as a puppy and spoiling him.” He was also an excellent judge of character, and if he liked this Mr. Crane, my initial favorable reaction to the schoolmaster was justified.
“Nox,” Mr. Crane mused, as the dog shifted closer, giving him better access to the spot behind his ears. “Latin for night, is it not?”
I smiled, delighted. “Indeed. He was black as night when he was a puppy, though now that coloring remains only on his face and ears, as you see.” The rest of Nox’s coat was a magnificent gray and brown brindle.
“And do you speak Latin, Miss Van Tassel?”
“Just a bit. I expressed an interest, and so my tutor in my younger years taught me a little.”
My father chuckled, patting my hand. “Katrina is my delight, Mr. Crane,” he said. “She is the only child the Good Lord saw fit to send to my wife and me, and yet I hardly think any other daughter—or son, for that matter—could be her equal.”
“I am certain that is true,” Ichabod Crane said, smiling at me.
“Indeed, indeed,” my father said. He reached for his mug of beer. “And now, a toast.” At this, our guest hastily picked up his own mug. “To you, sir, and to your future endeavors in our fair town. May you succeed in amply educating our young ones.”
“Hear, hear,” I murmured as the two men clinked their mugs together. More education would hardly go amiss in this town, for the adults as well as the children; perhaps then the old Dutch farmwives would not look at me quite so askance whenever they saw me with a book, nor would the foolish young men—like Brom Van Brunt—tease me that my face was far too pretty to be hidden behind its pages. “At least my fair face conceals a far more beautiful mind, something I would not expect you to understand,” I had snapped at Brom not long ago in the churchyard. He had stormed away, brow furrowed, as he tried to work out how, precisely, he had been insulted.
“Do they speak much Dutch in Connecticut, Mr. Crane?” I inquired. “For you will find that most of your prospective students—especially from the farther-flung farms—have no more than a passing familiarity with English.”
“I know a bit, Miss Van Tassel, though not as much as I should like,” the schoolmaster confessed. “But as part of my duty here will be to teach my students English, I am sure between the two languages we shall get along well enough.”
“No doubt,” my father agreed. “We are fond of our Dutch language and Dutch food and Dutch ways here, Mr. Crane, as you will soon find, but English is the language of this new nation of ours, so we do not teach it to our children at our peril.”
“Very wise words, sir.”
“Even so, Mr. Crane, should you like to practice your Dutch, you may certainly seek me out,” I said, giving him a quick, coquettish smile. It did no harm to flirt with the handsome newcomer, after all.
“And, Katrina,” my father added, after the two men had drunk of their beer, “Mr. Crane also brings us some news which I think will be agreeable to you. He is a musician, and in addition to his duties at the schoolhouse, he will be taking on students for singing lessons. I took the liberty of engaging his services for you.”
I could feel my face brighten as I considered this Ichabod Crane anew. “This is most agreeable news indeed,” I said, and this time my smile had nothing of the coquette in it—it was only genuine. “As my father may have told you, Mr. Crane, outside of books nothing delights me so much as music.”
“Indeed?” Mr. Crane said, meeting my eyes. “We will have much to talk of, then.”
My father chuckled. “Katrina is wont to wander in the woods and sing to the birds,” he said. “I fancy her voice is even finer than theirs, but I am no musician, only a doting father. I shall entrust her to your expert tutelage, Mr. Crane.”
“I look forward to it,” he said, having never taken his eyes from mine.
“And when may I expect my first lesson?” I asked.
“My dear, the boy has been several days on the road,” my father said. “Perhaps we had best allow him time to rest first.”
“If I may be so bold as to contradict you, sir,” Mr. Crane said, “I find nothing so rejuvenates me as music.” He glanced over at me again. “Your father, Miss Van Tassel, has been kind enough to invite me to stay for a time, so I may get settled and determine which of my student’s families may host me next. As such, I am entirely at your disposal for the near future and can begin whenever you wish.”
I did not look away from his green eyes. “Tomorrow, then?”
His smile widened. “Tomorrow.”
Copyright © 2018 by Alyssa Palombo