“Oh, the cold,” Ichabod ached. “How choleric it is!”
Searching his trunk for his pipe tobacco, the newest schoolteacher to the little Dutch settlement of Sleepy Hollow sighed a secret, “’ Twould be better managed within the embrace of Katrina Van Tassel. Until such an improbable becomes probable, this Irish pipe and Carolina leaf must do.”
But no sooner than he’d stoked life into the pipe’s embers did there come a rapping upon his door, a thumping that caused such a fright that the thinly man nearly fell from his leaning chair.
“Which brigand so rudely disturbs my retiring this bitter autumn evening?” he called.
“Mr. Crane!” called a voice from outside. “A delivery from Miss Van Tassel!”
“Oh, my good sir,” Ichabod said, fumbling to open the door. “Please come in. I’m terribly sorry.”
“Right you are, Mr. Crane, and begging yer pardon, sir,” the messenger said, tipping his hat with one hand and reaching out with a bottle in the other he’d lifted from his satchel. “Miss Katrina dispatched me with this gift, offering her kindest regards and praying you’d be warm and well against the night chill, especially on a night such as this—that is, with the Hessian about collecting heads.” The messenger was a servant of the wealthy Balt Van Tassel, owner of much of the surrounding New York lands and Katrina’s father. The rosy-cheeked messenger was holding a bottle of The Balvenie 17 Islay Cask, a highly sought rarity in the Americas, nay, the world.
Giving no mind to his guest’s mention of the headless horseman, but instead stunned that Katrina would have noticed him, let alone honored him with a gift, Ichabod stuttered a somewhat surprised, “Th-th-thank you, sir.”
“I’ll be off, then.” The servant tipped his hat once more, mounted his horse, and said, “G’night, Mr. Crane.”
“And godspeed to you,” Ichabod responded, still eyeing his gift. Finally looking up just as the messenger’s trot became a gallop carrying him back into the Hollow’s blackness, Ichabod shouted, “Give my regards to Miss Katrina!”
“Aye, sir!” he heard faintly from the consuming void.
Ichabod closed the door. Making his way back to his chair, he noticed a kerchief on the floor, undoubtedly dropped by the messenger. He wrapped it on his hat hook near the door and then chased a suitable receptacle from his dusty cupboard, which was an unnecessary piece of furniture containing only a bachelor’s collection of three drinking glasses, a wooden porridge bowl and plate, and some random silverware pieces his grandmother gave him before he left New York City. Glass in hand, he sat down to enjoy his gift and to dream of the giver.
Nosing the contents of his first pour, The Balvenie Islay Cask edition carried a familiar smell—the wafting seaside air from his boyhood flat near the docks of New York Harbor. Almost immediately was Ichabod drawn to lift the dram and savor its lushness, smiling with delight as though Katrina’s apparition had appeared from the bottle and risen to kiss him—a honey-dipped peat with the gentle impression of distant smoke. The finish—a warm but refreshing reminder of the rarer citrus fruits found in the public markets of New York City but unaquirable in the hollows of these present upstate boroughs.
Another swig was in mind and hand when suddenly a second thumping came upon his door, this time much heavier.
“Ah, you left your kerchief, sir,” he said as he set the glass down and opened the door. It was not the messenger. It was the fiendish headless Hessian, black leather girding smelling fresh with grave dust, sword unsheathed and pitched to claim Ichabod.
Gasping and falling backward in great fear, Ichabod scrambled lankily across his floor on hands and feet. Like a clumsy mute spider, he scraped to the edge of the room, stopping against the wall and unable to scream. The headless ghoul moved slowly toward the pitiful and cowering man intending to claim his prize. But then he stopped.
Turning his headless body toward the table, it appeared that he was somehow aware of The Balvenie Islay Cask sitting there. He paused for a moment, turned back toward Ichabod, and then back to the bottle as if there were present within him a dueling spirit pleading a different course, swaying him toward a new purpose. And indeed, the spirit set to take a prized head was too weak against the engaging bottle’s allure. The Hessian seized Ichabod’s only chair and sat. Sword still in hand, he reached for the bottle, poured a fuller glass, held it to the opening of his neck as if to nose the edition, and then poured it into the empty space where his head should have been. The golden whisky disappeared into the air, followed by an unearthly sigh of delight. Shifting only slightly, he pointed to Ichabod, who remained frozen in fear. He then pointed to the cupboard, silently demanding that the shivering schoolteacher join him for a drink. Shaking his head with reluctance, he was met with an abrupt shake of a pointed fist. At this, he hopped to his feet and fetched a glass.
As the night waned, the bottle growing lighter with each tender sip from Katrina’s gift, Ichabod found himself at great peace drinking such a prized whisky, even though he knew and feared his life would likely be snatched away when the bottle was dry.
Eventually, the bottle was. And with that, the Hessian arose. He clenched his blade while looming over the saddened but content Ichabod. He sheathed his sword, reached out to pat the teacher’s shoulder as if to say, “Thank you, Mr. Crane,” and was off into the night.
The Balvenie 17 Islay Cask is indeed a fine drink, almost heavenly. Perhaps it was the only taste of heaven that the condemned hellion’s soul would ever know. For that, his gratitude was made known by allowing Ichabod’s neck to retain its cap.