I t was the same performance every morning. 'Get moving, you lazy lump! The chickens need to be fed! And the horse needs two new shoes! Am I expected to do everything around here? You're useless! I don't know why I married you! You're just a waste of space! A complete waste of space!'
Rip Van Winkle spread more butter on his bread and cut himself another thick slice of cheese.
His wife's angry words went into one ear and immediately came out of the other.
Her furious yelling and threatening were all part of the morning's routine in the Van Winkle household.
What was that? Rip jumped with surprise as his wife's fat right hand hit the back of his head. A slap around the head wasn't usually part of the morning show. Ouch!
Mrs Van Winkle stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her. It almost fell off its hinges, and the walls of the small, wooden house shuddered in protest.
Now he was alone, a broad smile burst over Rip's face, and he wiped a dribble of butter from the end of his chin.
He had plans for this morning, and they didn't include feeding the chickens or shoeing the horse. All that could wait until later.
Like a thief, he crept out of the house, and, taking a deep breath of cool, fresh air, Rip sauntered out of the yard and into the spring meadows beyond.
On and on Rip walked, further and further away from home. He knew he would have to go back in a few hours and face the wrath of Mrs Van W, but at the moment that did not matter.
The spring flowers were scenting the air, and the grasses were waving in front of him like a gentle, pale-green sea.
Perhaps his wife would be glad he had gone and not come looking for him if he simply disappeared forever? No chance!
Up the hill, and down through the wood, Rip strolled happily. When he reached a stream, Rip stopped and sat down on a rock overhanging the running water. He had never ventured so far away from his home before, and for a moment, he wondered if he would be able to find his way back to the farm.
He looked upstream and saw a waterfall. There seemed to be a cave behind the curtain of falling water. Rip suddenly realised that he felt very, very sleepy. And the sound of the cascading water was making him feel a bit dizzy.
He clambered up the rocks at the side of the waterfall and crept into the cave. It was cool inside, and the air smelled of lavender and sweet thyme. In his imagination, he put on his new yellow nightshirt and matching nightcap.
Then Rip curled up on the floor of the cave and fell into a deep, heavy sleep.
When Rip woke up, he felt great. He had no idea what the hour was but knew it was time to be heading back home.
He scrambled under the waterfall, down the rocks and, picking up speed, ran through the wood and the meadows.
When he reached the picket fence around the yard in front of his house, Rip stopped short. A strange man was digging in his vegetable patch.
'Who are you?' Rip shouted. 'What are you doing in my yard?'
The man looked up from his work. 'Your yard? On your way, friend, before I get my gun.'
'I live here! Where's Mrs Van Winkle?'
'Six feet underground, friend. Died last year at the ripe old age of 95. She'd been a widow over 20 years. Well, kinda. Her husband just disappeared. Walked off one morning and never came back. Now, on your way. I've work to do.'
Rip staggered forward, steadying himself against the gate. His head was spinning, and he felt sick.
Then Rip turned around and walked back into the meadow. He didn't look back once as he strode on through the field and up the hill into the wood.
1. What effect did Mrs Van Winkle's scolding have on her husband?
2. Why did Mrs Van W shout at Rip every morning?
3. Why did Rip creep out of the house that particular morning?
4. What was his purpose for going for a walk that morning?
5. What happened when he went inside the cave?
6. What terrible shock did he get when he arrived home?
1 Rip never took any notice of his wife's scolding.
2 She thought her husband was lazy.
3 He didn't want his wife to see him leave the farm.
4 He just wanted to be alone in the beautiful countryside.
5 He fell asleep straightaway.
6 He discovered that he had been asleep for 20 years.