“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 and opened the door. “Please come in. I’m terribly sorry.”
“Right you are, Mr. Crane, and begging yer pardon,” the messenger said tipping his hat with one hand and reaching out with a bottle he’d lifted from his satchel in the other. “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 very wealthy Balt Van Tassel, the 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 Year Old 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 even noticed him let alone given him honor by such a gift, Ichabod stuttered a rather 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 that carried him back into the Hollow’s blackness, Ichabod shouted, “Give my regards to Miss Katrina!”
“Right away, sir!” he heard faintly from the consuming void.
Ichabod closed the door and was making his way back to his chair when 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 dram from his dusty cupboard, an unnecessary piece of furniture as it contained only a bachelor’s collection of three drinking glasses, a wooden porridge bowl and plate, and some random pieces of silverware that his grandmother gave to him before leaving 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 the 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 honeyed peat with the gentle suggestion of a distant smoke. The finish – a warm, but refreshing reminder of the rare citrus found in the public markets of New York City but a rarity in the hollows of these present upstate boroughs.
Another swig was in mind and hand when suddenly there was another thumping 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, with 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 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 and was followed by an unearthly sigh of delight. Shifting only slightly, he pointed to Ichabod who remained frozen in fear, and then pointed to the cupboard, silently but quite clearly 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 and the bottle grew 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 end when the bottle was dry.
Eventually it was. And with that, the Hessian arose, still clenching his blade and looming over the saddened, but nevertheless content, Ichabod. He sheathed his sword, reached out to pat his shoulder as if to say, “Thank you, Mr. Crane,” and was off into the night.
The Balvenie 17 Year Old Islay Cask is indeed a fine drink, in fact, almost heavenly. Perhaps it was the only taste of heaven that this condemned hellion’s soul would ever know, and for that, his gratitude was made known by allowing Ichabod’s neck to retain its cap.