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Myths and Legends of Our Own Land
TALES OF PURITAN LAND
Ipswich had a very Old Harry in the person of Harry Main, a dark-souled being, who, after a career of piracy, smuggling, blasphemy, and dissipation, became a wrecker, and lured vessels to destruction with false lights. For his crimes he was sent, after death, to do penance on Ipswich bar, where he had sent many a ship ashore, his doom being to twine ropes of sand, though some believe it was to shovel back the sea. Whenever his rope broke he would roar with rage and anguish, so that he was heard for miles, whereon the children would run to their trembling mothers and men would look troubled and shake their heads. After a good bit of cable had been coiled, Harry had a short respite that he enjoyed on Plum Island, to the terror of the populace. When the tide and a gale are rising together people say, as they catch the sound of moaning from the bar, "Old Harry's grumbling again."
Now, Harry Main—to say nothing of Captain Kidd—was believed to have buried his ill-gotten wealth in Ipswich, and one man dreamed for three successive nights that it had been interred in a mill. Believing that a revelation had been made to him he set off with spade, lantern, and Bible, on the first murky night—for he wanted no partner in the discovery—and found a spot which he recognized as the one that had been pictured to his sleeping senses. He set to work with alacrity and a shovel, and soon he unearthed a flat stone and an iron bar. He was about to pry up the stone when an army of black cats encircled the pit and glared into it with eyes of fire.
The poor man, in an access both of alarm and courage, whirled the bar about his head and shouted "Scat!" The uncanny guards of the treasure disappeared instanter, and at the same moment the digger found himself up to his middle in icy water that had poured into the hole as he spoke.
The moral is that you should never talk when you are hunting for treasure. Wet, scared, and disheartened, the man crawled out and made homeward, carrying with him, as proof of his adventure, a case of influenza and the iron bar. The latter trophy he fashioned into a latch, in which shape it still does service on one of the doors of Ipswich.
Among the Puritans who settled in Wessaguscus, now Weymouth, Massachusetts, was a brash young fellow, of remarkable size and strength, who, roaming the woods one day, came on a store of corn concealed in the ground, in the fashion of the Indians. As anybody might have done, he filled his hat from the granary and went his way. When the red man who had dug the pit came back to it he saw that his cache had been levied on, and as the footprints showed the marauder to be an Englishman he went to the colonists and demanded justice. The matter could have been settled by giving a pennyworth of trinkets to the Indian, but, as the moral law had been broken, the Puritans deemed it right that the pilferer should suffer.
They held a court and a proposition was made and seriously considered that, as the culprit was young, hardy, and useful to the colony, his clothes should be stripped off and put on the body of a bedridden weaver, who would be hanged in his stead in sight of the offended savages. Still, it was feared that if they learned the truth about that execution the Indians would learn a harmful lesson in deceit, and it was, therefore, resolved to punish the true offender. He, thinking they were in jest, submitted to be bound, though before doing so he could have "cleaned out" the court-room, and ere he was really aware of the purpose of his judges he was kicking at vacancy.
Butler, in "Hudibras," quotes the story, but makes the offence more serious—
"This precious brother, having slain,
In time of peace, an Indian,
Not out of malice, but mere zeal,
Because he was an infidel,
The mighty Tottipotimoy
Sent to our elders an envoy
Complaining sorely of the breach Of league."
But the Puritans, having considered that the offender was a teacher and a cobbler,
"Resolved to spare him; yet, to do
The Indian Hoghan Moghan, too,
Impartial justice, in his stead did
Hang an old weaver that was bed-rid."
The whole circumstance is cloudy, and the reader may accept either version that touches his fancy.
There was that in the very air of the New World that made the Pilgrims revolt against priests and kings. The Revolution was long a-breeding before shots were fired at Lexington. Stout old Endicott, having conceived a dislike to the British flag because to his mind the cross was a relic of popery, paraded his soldiers and with his sword ripped out the offending emblem in their presence. There was a faint cry of "Treason!" but he answered, "I will avouch the deed before God and man. Beat a flourish, drummer. Shout for the ensign of New England. Pope nor tyrant hath part in it now." And a loud huzza of independence went forth.
With this sentiment confirmed among the people, it is not surprising that the judges who had condemned a papist king—Charles I.—to the block should find welcome in this land. For months at a time they lived in cellars and garrets in various parts of New England, their hiding-places kept secret from the royal sheriffs who were seeking them. For a time they had shelter in a cave in West Rock, New Haven, and once in that town they were crouching beneath the bridge that a pursuing party crossed in search of them. In Ipswich the house is pointed out where they were concealed in the cellar, and the superstitious believed that, as a penalty for their regicidal decision, they are doomed to stay there, crying vainly for deliverance.
Philip, the Narragansett chief, had declared war on the people of New England, and was waging it with a persistence and fury that spread terror through the country. It was a struggle against manifest destiny, such as must needs be repeated whenever civilization comes to dispute a place in new lands with savagery, and which has been continued, more and more feebly, to our own day. The war was bloody, and for a long time the issue hung in the balance. At last the Indian king was driven westward. The Nipmucks joined him in the Connecticut Valley, and he laid siege to the lonely settlements of Brookfield, Northfield, Deerfield, and Springfield, killing, scalping, and burning without mercy. On the 1st of September, 1675, he attacked Hadley while its people were at church, the war-yelp interrupting a prayer of the pastor. All the men of the congregation sallied out with pikes and guns and engaged the foe, but so closely were they pressed that a retreat was called, when suddenly there appeared among them a tall man, of venerable and commanding aspect, clad in leather, and armed with sword and gun.
His hair and beard were long and white, but his eye was dark and resolute, and his voice was strong. "Why sink your hearts?" he cried. "Fear ye that God will give you up to yonder heathen dogs? Follow me, and ye shall see that this day there is a champion in Israel."
Posting half the force at his command to sustain the fight, he led the others quickly by a detour to the rear of the Indians, on whom he fell with such energy that the savages, believing themselves overtaken by reinforcements newly come, fled in confusion. When the victors returned to the village the unknown champion signed to the company to fall to their knees while he offered thanks and prayer. Then he was silent for a little, and when they looked up he was gone.
They believed him to be an angel sent for their deliverance, nor, till he had gone to his account, did they know that their captain in that crisis was Colonel William Goffe, one of the regicide judges, who, with his associate Whalley, was hiding from the vengeance of the son of the king they had rebelled against. After leaving their cave in New Haven, being in peril from beasts and human hunters, they went up the Connecticut Valley to Hadley, where the clergyman of the place, Rev. John Russell, gave them shelter for fifteen years. Few were aware of their existence, and when Goffe, pale with seclusion from the light, appeared among the people near whom he had long been living, it is no wonder that they regarded him with awe.
Whalley died in the minister's house and was buried in a crypt outside of the cellar-wall, while Goffe kept much abroad, stopping in many places and under various disguises until his death, which occurred soon after that of his associate. He was buried in New Haven.
Goodwife Eunice Cole, of Hampton, Massachusetts, was so "vehemently suspected to be a witch" that in 1680 she was thrown into jail with a chain on her leg. She had a mumbling habit, which was bad, and a wild look, which was worse. The death of two calves had been charged to her sorceries, and she was believed to have raised the cyclone that sent a party of merrymakers to the sea-bottom off the Isles of Shoals, for insulting her that morning. Some said that she took the shapes of eagles, dogs, and cats, and that she had the aspect of an ape when she went through the mummeries that caused Goody Marston's child to die, yet while she was in Ipswich jail a likeness of her was stumping about the graveyard on the day when they buried the child. For such offences as that of making bread ferment and give forth evil odors, that housekeepers could only dispel by prayer, she was several times whipped and ducked by the constable.
At last she lay under sentence of death, for Anna Dalton declared that her child had been changed in its cradle and that she hated and feared the thing that had been left there. Her husband, Ezra, had pleaded with her in vain. "'Tis no child of mine," she cried. "'Tis an imp. Don't you see how old and shrewd it is? How wrinkled and ugly? It does not take my milk: it is sucking my blood and wearing me to skin and bone." Once, as she sat brooding by the fire, she turned to her husband and said, "Rake the coals out and put the child in them. Goody Cole will fly fast enough when she hears it screaming, and will come down chimney in the shape of an owl or a bat, and take the thing away. Then we shall have our little one back."
Goodman Dalton sighed as he looked into the worn, scowling face of his wife; then, laying his hands on her head, he prayed to God that she might be led out of the shadow and made to love her child again. As he prayed a gleam of sunset shone in at the window and made a halo around the face of the smiling babe. Mistress Dalton looked at the little thing in doubt; then a glow of recognition came into her eyes, and with a sob of joy she caught the child to her breast, while Dalton embraced them both, deeply happy, for his wife had recovered her reason. In the midst of tears and kisses the woman started with a faint cry: she remembered that a poor old creature was about to expiate on the gallows a crime that had never been committed. She urged her husband to ride with all speed to justice Sewall and demand that Goody Cole be freed. This the goodman did, arriving at Newbury at ten o'clock at night, when the town had long been abed and asleep. By dint of alarms at the justice's door he brought forth that worthy in gown and night-cap, and, after the case had been explained to him, he wrote an order for Mistress Cole's release.
With this paper in his hand Dalton rode at once to Ipswich, and when the cock crew in the dawning the victim of that horrible charge walked forth, without her manacles. Yet dark suspicion hung about the beldam to the last, and she died, as she had lived, alone in the little cabin that stood near the site of the academy. Even after her demise the villagers could with difficulty summon courage to enter her cot and give her burial. Her body was tumbled into a pit, hastily dug near her door, and a stake was driven through the heart to exorcise the powers of evil that possessed her in life.
Jonathan Moulton, of Hampton, was a general of consequence in the colonial wars, but a man not always trusted in other than military matters. It was even hinted that his first wife died before her time, for he quickly found consolation in his bereavement by marrying her companion. In the middle of the night the bride was awakened with a start, for she felt a cold hand plucking at the wedding-ring that had belonged to the buried Mrs. Moulton, and a voice whispered in her ear, "Give the dead her own." With a scream of terror she leaped out of bed, awaking her husband and causing candles to be brought. The ring was gone.
It was long after this occurrence that the general sat musing at his fireside on the hardness of life in new countries and the difficulty of getting wealth, for old Jonathan was fond of money, and the lack of it distressed him worse than a conscience. "If only I could have gold enough," he muttered, "I'd sell my soul for it." Whiz! came something down the chimney. The general was dazzled by a burst of sparks, from which stepped forth a lank personage in black velvet with clean ruffles and brave jewels. "Talk quick, general," said the unknown, "for in fifteen minutes I must be fifteen miles away, in Portsmouth." And picking up a live coal in his fingers he looked at his watch by its light. "Come. You know me. Is it a bargain?"
The general was a little slow to recover his wits, but the word "bargain" put him on his mettle, and he began to think of advantageous terms. "What proof may there be that you can do your part in the compact?" he inquired. The unknown ran his fingers through his hair and a shower of guineas jingled on the floor. They were pretty warm, but Moulton, in his eagerness, fell on hands and knees and gathered them to his breast.
"Give me some liquor," then demanded Satan, for of course he was no other, and filling a tankard with rum he lighted it with the candle, remarked, affably, "To our better acquaintance," and tossed off the blazing dram at a gulp. "I will make you," said he, "the richest man in the province. Sign this paper and on the first day of every month I will fill your boots with gold; but if you try any tricks with me you will repent it. For I know you, Jonathan. Sign."
Moulton hesitated. "Humph!" sneered his majesty. "You have put me to all this trouble for nothing." And he began to gather up the guineas that Moulton had placed on the table. This was more than the victim of his wiles could stand. He swallowed a mouthful of rum, seized a pen that was held out to him, and trembled violently as a paper was placed before him; but when he found that his name was to appear with some of the most distinguished in the province his nerves grew steadier and he placed his autograph among those of the eminent company, with a few crooked embellishments and all the t's crossed. "Good!" exclaimed the devil, and wrapping his cloak about him he stepped into the fire and was up the chimney in a twinkling.
Shrewd Jonathan went out the next day and bought the biggest pair of jack-boots he could find in Hampton. He hung them on the crane on the last night of that and all the succeeding months so long as he lived, and on the next morning they brimmed with coins. Moulton rolled in wealth. The neighbors regarded his sudden prosperity with amazement, then with envy, but afterward with suspicion. All the same, Jonathan was not getting rich fast enough to suit himself.
When the devil came to make a certain of his periodical payments he poured guineas down the chimney for half an hour without seeming to fill the boots. Bushel after bushel of gold he emptied into those spacious money-bags without causing an overflow, and he finally descended to the fireplace to see why. Moulton had cut the soles from the boots and the floor was knee-deep in money. With a grin at the general's smartness the devil disappeared, but in a few minutes a smell of sulphur pervaded the premises and the house burst into flames. Moulton escaped in his shirt, and tore his hair as he saw the fire crawl, serpent-like, over the beams, and fantastic smoke-forms dance in the windows. Then a thought crossed his mind and he grew calm: his gold, that was hidden in wainscot, cupboard, floor, and chest, would only melt and could be quarried out by the hundred weight, so that he could be well-to-do again. Before the ruins were cool he was delving amid the rubbish, but not an ounce of gold could he discover. Every bit of his wealth had disappeared. It was not long after that the general died, and to quiet some rumors of disturbance in the graveyard his coffin was dug up. It was empty.
The skeleton of a man wearing a breastplate of brass, a belt made of tubes of the same metal, and lying near some copper arrow-heads, was exhumed at Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1834. The body had been artificially embalmed or else preserved by salts in the soil. His arms and armor suggest Phoenician origin, but the skeleton is thought to be that of a Dane or Norwegian who spent the last winter of his life at Newport. He may have helped to carve the rock at West Newbury, or the better-known Dighton rock at Taunton River that is covered with inscriptions which the tides and frosts are fast effacing, and which have been construed into a record of Norse exploration and discovery, though some will have it that the inevitable Captain Kidd cut the figures there to tell of buried treasure. The Indians have a legend of the arrival of white men in a "bird," undoubtedly a ship, from which issued thunder and lightning. A battle ensued when the visitors landed, and the white men wrote the story of it on the rock. Certain scholars of the eighteenth century declared that the rock bore an account of the arrival of Phoenician sailors, blown across the Atlantic and unable or unwilling to return. A representation of the pillars of Hercules was thought to be included among the sculptures, showing that the castaways were familiar with the Mediterranean. Only this is known about Dighton Rock, however: that it stood where it does, and as it does, when the English settled in this neighborhood. The Indians said there were other rocks near it which bore similar markings until effaced by tides and drifting ice.
Longfellow makes the wraith of the long-buried exile of the armor appear and tell his story: He was a viking who loved the daughter of King Hildebrand, and as royal consent to their union was withheld he made off with the girl, hotly followed by the king and seventy horsemen. The viking reached his vessel first, and hoisting sail continued his flight over the sea, but the chase was soon upon him, and, having no alternative but to fight or be taken, he swung around before the wind and rammed the side of Hildebrand's galley, crushing in its timbers. The vessel tipped and sank, and every soul on board went with her, while the viking's boat kept on her course, and after a voyage of three weeks put in at Narragansett Bay. The round tower at Newport this impetuous lover built as a bower for his lady, and there he guarded her from the dangers that beset those who are first in savage countries. When the princess died she was buried in the tower, and the lonely viking, arraying himself in his armor, fell on his spear, like Brutus, and expired.
There is no such place as Martha's Vineyard, except in geography and common speech. It is Martin Wyngaard's Island, and so was named by Skipper Block, an Albany Dutchman. But they would English his name, even in his own town, for it lingers there in Vineyard Point. Bartholomew Gosnold was one of the first white visitors here, for he landed in 1602, and lived on the island for a time, collecting a cargo of sassafras and returning thence to England because he feared the savages.
This scarred and windy spot was the home of the Indian giant, Maushope, who could wade across the sound to the mainland without wetting his knees, though he once started to build a causeway from Gay Head to Cuttyhunk and had laid the rocks where you may now see them, when a crab bit his toe and he gave up the work in disgust. He lived on whales, mostly, and broiled his dinners on fires made at Devil's Den from trees that he tore up by the roots like weeds. In his tempers he raised mists to perplex sea-wanderers, and for sport he would show lights on Gay Head, though these may have been only the fires he made to cook his supper with, and of which some beds of lignite are to be found as remains. He clove No-Man's Land from Gay Head, turned his children into fish, and when his wife objected he flung her to Seconnet Point, where she preyed on all who passed before she hardened into a ledge.
It is reported that he found the island by following a bird that had been stealing children from Cape Cod, as they rolled in the warm sand or paddled on the edge of the sea. He waded after this winged robber until he reached Martha's Vineyard, where he found the bones of all the children that had been stolen. Tired with his hunt he sat down to fill his pipe; but as there was no tobacco he plucked some tons of poke that grew thickly and that Indians sometimes used as a substitute for the fragrant weed. His pipe being filled and lighted, its fumes rolled over the ocean like a mist—in fact, the Indians would say, when a fog was rising, "Here comes old Maushope's smoke"—and when he finished he emptied his pipe into the sea. Falling on a shallow, the ashes made the island of Nantucket. The first Indians to reach the latter place were the parents of a babe that had been stolen by an eagle. They followed the bird in their canoe, but arrived too late, for the little bones had been picked clean. The Norsemen rediscovered the island and called it Naukiton. Is Nantucket a corruption of that word, or was that word the result of a struggle to master the Indian name?
The tribes that inhabited Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard before the whites settled the country were constantly at war, and the people of the western island once resolved to surprise those of Nantucket and slay as many as possible before they could arm or organize for battle. The attack was to be made before daybreak, at an hour when their intended victims would be asleep in their wigwams, but on rowing softly to the hostile shore, while the stars were still lingering in the west, the warriors were surprised at finding the enemy alert and waiting their arrival with bows and spears in hand. To proceed would have been suicidal, and they returned to their villages, puzzled and disheartened. Not for some years did they learn how the camp had been apprised, but at the end of that time, the two tribes being at peace, one of their young men married a girl of Nantucket, with whom he had long been in love, and confessed that on the night preceding the attack he had stolen to the beach, crossed to Nantucket on a neck of sand that then joined the islands, and was uncovered only at low tide, sought his mistress, warned her of the attack, that she, at least, might not be killed; then, at a mad run, with waves of the rising tide lapping his feet, he returned to his people, who had not missed him. He set off with a grave and innocent face in the morning, and was as much surprised as any one when he found the enemy in arms.
The boggy portion of North Kingston, Rhode Island, known as Swamptown, is of queer repute in its neighborhood, for Hell Hollow, Pork Hill, Indian Corner, and Kettle Hole have their stories of Indian crimes and witch-meetings. Here the headless figure of a negro boy was seen by a belated traveller on a path that leads over the hills. It was a dark night and the figure was revealed in a blaze of blue light. It swayed to and fro for a time, then rose from the ground with a lurch and shot into space, leaving a trail of illumination behind it. Here, too, is Goose-Nest Spring, where the witches dance at night. It dries up every winter and flows through the summer, gushing forth on the same day of every year, except once, when a goose took possession of the empty bed and hatched her brood there. That time the water did not flow until she got away with her progeny.
But the most grewsome story of the place is that of the Indian whose skull was found by a roadmender. This unsuspecting person took it home, and, as the women would not allow him to carry it into the house, he hung it on a pole outside. Just as the people were starting for bed, there came a rattling at the door, and, looking out of the windows, they saw a skeleton stalking around in quick and angry strides, like those of a person looking for something. But how could that be when the skeleton had neither eyes nor a place to carry them? It thrashed its bony arms impatiently and its ribs rattled like a xylophone. The spectators were transfixed with fear, all except the culprit, who said, through the window, in a matter-of-fact way, "I left your head on the pole at the back door." The skeleton started in that direction, seized the skull, clapped it into the place where a head should have grown on its own shoulders, and, after shaking its fists in a threatening way at the house, disappeared in the darkness. It is said that he acts as a kind of guard in the neighborhood, to see that none of the other Indians buried there shall be disturbed, as he was. His principal lounging place is Indian Corner, where there is a rock from which blood flows when the moon shines—a memento, doubtless, of some tragedy that occurred there in times before the white men knew the place. There is iron in the soil, and visitors say that the red color is due to that, and that the spring would flow just as freely on dark nights as on bright ones, if any were there to see it, but the natives, who have given some thought to these matters, know better.
In a wood near Hopkins Hill, Rhode Island, is a bowlder, four feet in diameter, scored with a peculiar furrow. Witch Rock, as it is called, gained its name two centuries ago, when an old woman abode in a deserted cabin close by and made the forest dreaded. Figures were seen flitting through its shadows; articles left out o' nights in neighboring settlements were missing in the morning, though tramps were unknown; cattle were afflicted with diseases; stones were flung in at windows by unseen hands; crops were blighted by hail and frost; and in stormy weather the old woman was seen to rise out of the woods and stir and push the clouds before her with a broom. For a hundred yards around Witch Rock the ground is still accursed, and any attempt to break it up is unavailing. Nearly a century ago a scoffer named Reynolds declared that he would run his plough through the enchanted boundary, and the neighbors watched the attempt from a distance.
He started well, but on arriving at the magic circle the plough shied and the wooden landside—or chip, as it was called—came off. It was replaced and the team started again. In a moment the oxen stood unyoked, while the chip jumped off and whirled away out of sight. On this, most of the people edged away in the direction of home, and directly there came from the north a crow that perched on a dead tree and cawed. John Hopkins, owner of the land, cried to the bird, "Squawk, you damned old Pat Jenkins!" and the crow took flight, dropping the chip at Reynolds's feet, at the same moment turning into a beldam with a cocked hat, who descended upon the rock. Before the men could reach her she changed into a black cat and disappeared in the ground. Hunting and digging came to naught, though the pursuers were so earnest and excited that one of them made the furrow in the rock with a welt from his shovel. After that few people cared to go near the place, and it became overgrown with weeds and trees and bushes.
If the round tower at Newport was not Benedict Arnold's wind-mill, and any one or two of several other things, it is probably a relic of the occupancy of this country by Thorwald and his Norsemen. After coasting Wonderstrands (Cape Cod), in the year 1007, they built a town that is known to historians—if not in their histories—as Norumbega, the lost city of New England. It is now fancied that the city stood on the Charles River, near Waltham, Massachusetts, where a monument may be erected, but it is also believed that they reached the neighborhood of Newport, Rhode Island. After this tower—popularly called the old stone mill-was built, a seer among the Narragansetts had a vision in which he foresaw that when the last remnant of the structure had fallen, and not one stone had been left on another, the Indian race would vanish from this continent. The work of its extermination seems, indeed, to have begun with the possession of the coast by white men, and the fate of the aborigines is easily read.
The origin of many curious geographical names has become an object of mere surmise, and this is the more the pity because they suggest such picturesque possibilities. We would like to know, for instance, how Burnt Coat and Smutty Nose came by such titles. The conglomerate that strews the fields south of Boston is locally known as Roxbury pudding-stone, and, according to Dr. Holmes, the masses are fragments of a pudding, as big as the State-house dome, that the family of a giant flung about, in a fit of temper, and that petrified where it fell. But that would have been called pudding-stone, anyway, from its appearance. The circumstance that named the reef of Norman's Woe has passed out of record, though it is known that goodman Norman and his son settled there in the seventeenth century. It is Longfellow who has endowed the rock with this legend, for he depicts a wreck there in the fury of a winter storm in 1680—the wreck of the Hesperus, Richard Norman, master, from which went ashore next morning the body of an unknown and beautiful girl, clad in ice and lashed to a broken mast.
But one of the oddest preservations of an apposite in name is found in the legend of Point Judith, Rhode Island, an innocent double entendre. About two centuries ago a vessel was driving toward the coast in a gale, with rain and mist. The skipper's eyes were old and dim, so he got his daughter Judith to stand beside him at the helm, as he steered the vessel over the foaming surges. Presently she cried, "Land, father! I see land!" "Where away?" he asked. But he could not see what she described, and the roar of the wind drowned her voice, so he shouted, "Point, Judith! Point!" The girl pointed toward the quarter where she saw the breakers, and the old mariner changed his course and saved his ship from wreck. On reaching port he told the story of his daughter's readiness, and other captains, when they passed the cape in later days, gave to it the name of Point Judith.
In Western Florida they will show roses to you that drop red dew, like blood, and have been doing so these many years, for they sprang out of the graves of women and children who had been cruelly killed by Indians. But there is something queerer still about the Micah Rood—or "Mike"—apples of Franklin, Connecticut, which are sweet, red of skin, snowy of pulp, and have a red spot, like a blood-drop, near the core; hence they are sometimes known as bloody-hearts. Micah Rood was a farmer in Franklin in 1693. Though avaricious he was somewhat lazy, and was more prone to dream of wealth than to work for it. But people whispered that he did some hard and sharp work on the night after the peddler came to town—the slender man with a pack filled with jewelry and knickknacks—because on the morning after that visit the peddler was found, beneath an apple-tree on Rood farm, with his pack rifled and his skull split open.
Suspicion pointed at Rood, and, while nothing was proved against him, he became gloomy, solitary, and morose, keeping his own counsels more faithfully than ever—though he never was disposed to take counsel of other people. If he had expected to profit by the crime he was obviously disappointed, for he became poorer than ever, and his farm yielded less and less. To be sure, he did little work on it. When the apples ripened on the tree that had spread its branches above the peddler's body, the neighbors wagged their heads and whispered the more, for in the centre of each apple was a drop of the peddler's blood: a silent witness and judgment, they said, and the result of a curse that the dying man had invoked against his murderer. Micah Rood died soon after, without saying anything that his fellow-villagers might be waiting to hear, but his tree is still alive and its strange fruit has been grafted on hundreds of orchards.
The Nipmucks were populous at Thompson, Connecticut, where they skilfully tilled the fields, and where their earthworks, on Fort Hill, provided them with a refuge in case of invasion. Their chief, Quinatisset, had his lodge on the site of the Congregational church in Thompson. They believed that Chargoggagmanchogagog Pond was paradise—the home of the Great Spirit and departed souls—and that it would always yield fish to them, as the hills did game. They were fond of fish, and would barter deer-meat and corn for it, occasionally, with the Narragansetts.
Now, these last-named Indians were a waterloving people, and to this day their "fishing fire"—a column of pale flame—rises out of Quinebaug Lake once in seven years, as those say who have watched beside its waters through the night. Knowing their fondness for blue-fish and clams, the Narragansetts asked the Nipmucks to dine with them on one occasion, and this courtesy was eagerly accepted, the up-country people distinguishing themselves by valiant trencher deeds; but, alas, that it should be so! they disgraced themselves when, soon after, they invited the Narragansetts to a feast of venison at Killingly, and quarrelled with their guests over the dressing of the food. This rumpus grew into a battle in which all but two of the invites were slain. Their hosts buried them decently, but grass would never grow above their graves.
This treachery the Great Spirit avenged soon after, when the Nipmucks had assembled for a powwow, with accessory enjoyments, in the grassy vale where Mashapaug Lake now reflects the charming landscape, and where, until lately, the remains of a forest could be seen below the surface. In the height of the revel the god struck away the foundations of the hills, and as the earth sank, bearing the offending men and women, waters rushed in and filled the chasm, so that every person was drowned, save one good old woman beneath whose feet the ground held firm. Loon Island, where she stood, remains in sight to-day.
In 1647 the New Haven colonists, who even at that early day exhibited the enterprise that has been a distinguishing feature of the Yankee, sent a ship to Ireland to try to develop a commerce, their trading posts on the Delaware having been broken up by the Swedes. When their agent, Captain Lamberton, sailed—in January—the harbor was so beset with ice that a track had to be cut through the floes to open water, five miles distant. She had, moreover, to be dragged out stern foremost—an ill omen, the sailors thought—and as she swung before the wind a passing drift of fog concealed her, for a moment, from the gaze of those on shore, who, from this, foretold things of evil. Though large and new, the ship was so "walty"—inclined to roll—that the captain set off with misgiving, and as she moved away the crew heard this solemn and disheartening invocation from a clergyman on the wharf:—"Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these, our friends, in the bottom of the sea, take them; they are thine: save them."
Winter passed; so did spring; still the ship came not; but one afternoon in June, just as a rain had passed, some children cried, "There's a brave ship!" for, flying up the harbor, with all sail set and flaunting colors, was a vessel "the very mould of our ship," the clergyman said.
Strange to tell, she was going flat against the wind; no sailors were on her deck; she did not toss with the fling of the waves; there was no ripple at her bow. As she came close to land a single figure appeared on the quarter, pointing seaward with a cutlass; then suddenly her main-top fell, her masts toppled from their holdings, the dismantled hulk careened and went down. A cloud dropped from heaven and brooded for a time above the place where it had vanished, and when it lifted the surface of the sea was empty and still. The good folk of New Haven believed that the fate of the absent ship had been revealed, at last, for she never came back and Captain Lamberton was never heard from.
On a cloudy night in July, 1758, the people of Windham, Connecticut, were awakened by screams and shrill voices. Some sprang up and looked to the priming of their muskets, for they were sure that the Indians were coming; others vowed that the voices were those of witches or devils, flying overhead; a few ran into the streets with knives and fire-arms, while others fastened their windows and prayerfully shrank under the bedclothes. A notorious reprobate was heard blubbering for a Bible, and a lawyer offered half of all the money that he had made dishonestly to any charity if his neighbors would guarantee to preserve his life until morning.
All night the greatest alarm prevailed. At early dawn an armed party climbed the hill to the eastward, and seeing no sign of Indians, or other invaders, returned to give comfort to their friends. A contest for office was waging at that period between two lawyers, Colonel Dyer and Mr. Elderkin, and sundry of the people vowed that they had heard a challenging yell of "Colonel Dyer! Colonel Dyer!" answered by a guttural defiance of "Elderkin, too! Elderkin, too!" Next day the reason of it all came out: A pond having been emptied by drought, the frogs that had lived there emigrated by common consent to a ditch nearer the town, and on arriving there had apparently fought for its possession, for many lay dead on the bank. The night was still and the voices of the contestants sounded clearly into the village, the piping of the smaller being construed into "Colonel Dyer," and the grumble of the bull-frogs into "Elderkin, too." The "frog scare" was a subject of pleasantry directed against Windham for years afterward.
The Revolution was beginning, homes were empty, farms were deserted, industries were checked, and the levies of a foreign army had consumed the stores of the people. A messenger rode into the Connecticut Valley with tidings of the distress that was in the coast towns, and begged the farmer folk to spare some of their cattle and the millers some of their flour for the relief of Boston. On reaching Windham he was received with good will by Parson White, who summoned his flock by peal of bell, and from the steps of his church urged the needs of his brethren with such eloquence that by nightfall the messenger had in his charge a flock of sheep, a herd of cattle, and a load of grain, with which he was to set off in the morning. The parson's daughter, a shy maid of nine or ten, went to her father, with her pet lamb, and said to him, "I must give this, too, for there are little children who are crying for bread and meat."
"No, no," answered the pastor, patting her head and smiling upon her. "They do not ask help from babes. Run to bed and you shall play with your lamb to-morrow."
But in the red of the morning, as he drove his herd through the village street, the messenger turned at the hail of a childish voice, and looking over a stone wall he saw the little one with her snow-white lamb beside her.
"Wait," she cried, "for my lamb must go to the hungry children of Boston. It is so small, please to carry it for some of the way, and let it have fresh grass and water. It is all I have."
So saying, she kissed the innocent face of her pet, gave it into the arms of the young man, and ran away, her cheeks shining with tears. Folding the little creature to his breast, the messenger looked admiringly after the girl: he felt a glow of pride and hope for the country whose very children responded to the call of patriotism. "Now, God help me, I will carry this lamb to the city as a sacrifice." So saying, he set his face to the east and vigorously strode forward.
The village of Moodus, Connecticut, was troubled with noises. There is no question as to that. In fact, Machimoodus, the Indian name of the spot, means Place of Noises. As early as 1700, and for thirty years after, there were crackings and rumblings that were variously compared to fusillades, to thunder, to roaring in the air, to the breaking of rocks, to reports of cannon. A man who was on Mount Tom while the noises were violent describes the sound as that of rocks falling into immense caverns beneath his feet and striking against cliffs as they fell. Houses shook and people feared.
Rev. Mr. Hosmer, in a letter written to a friend in Boston in 1729, says that before white settlers appeared there was a large Indian population, that powwows were frequent, and that the natives "drove a prodigious trade at worshipping the devil." He adds:—"An old Indian was asked what was the reason of the noises in this place, to which he replied that the Indian's god was angry because Englishman's god was come here. Now, whether there be anything diabolical in these things I know not, but this I know, that God Almighty is to be seen and trembled at in what has been often heard among us. Whether it be fire or air distressed in the subterranean caverns of the earth cannot be known for there is no eruption, no explosion perceptible but by sounds and tremors which are sometimes very fearful and dreadful."
It was finally understood that Haddam witches, who practised black magic, met the Moodus witches, who used white magic, in a cave beneath Mount Tom, and fought them in the light of a great carbuncle that was fastened to the roof. The noises recurred in 1888, when houses rattled in witch-haunted Salem, eight miles away, and the bell on the village church "sung like a tuning-fork." The noises have occurred simultaneously with earthquakes in other parts of the country, and afterward rocks have been found moved from their bases and cracks have been discovered in the earth. One sapient editor said that the pearls in the mussels in Salmon and Connecticut Rivers caused the disturbance.
If the witch-fights were continued too long the king of Machimoddi, who sat on a throne of solid sapphire in the cave whence the noises came, raised his wand: then the light of the carbuncle went out, peals of thunder rolled through the rocky chambers, and the witches rushed into the air. Dr. Steele, a learned and aged man from England, built a crazy-looking house in a lonely spot on Mount Tom, and was soon as much a mystery as the noises, for it was known that he had come to this country to stop them by magic and to seize the great carbuncle in the cave—if he could find it. Every window, crack, and keyhole was closed, and nobody was admitted while he stayed there, but the clang of hammers was heard in his house all night, sparks shot from his chimney, and strange odors were diffused. When all was ready for his adventure he set forth, his path marked by a faint light that moved before him and stopped at the closed entrance to the cavern.
Loud were the Moodus noises that night. The mountain shook and groans and hisses were heard in the air as he pried up the stone that lay across the pit-mouth. When he had lifted it off a light poured from it and streamed into the heaven like a crimson comet or a spear of the northern aurora. It was the flash of the great carbuncle, and the stars seen through it were as if dyed in blood. In the morning Steele was gone. He had taken ship for England. The gem carried with it an evil fate, for the galley sank in mid-ocean; but, though buried beneath a thousand fathoms of water, the red ray of the carbuncle sometimes shoots up from the sea, and the glow of it strikes fear into the hearts of passing sailors. Long after, when the booming was heard, the Indians said that the hill was giving birth to another beautiful stone.
Such cases are not singular. A phenomenon similar to the Moodus noises, and locally known as "the shooting of Nashoba Hill," occurs at times in the eminence of that name near East Littleton, Massachusetts. The strange, deep rumbling was attributed by the Indians to whirlwinds trying to escape from caves.
Bald Mountain, North Carolina, was known as Shaking Mountain, for strange sounds and tremors were heard there, and every moonshiner who had his cabin on that hill joined the church and was diligent in worship until he learned that the trembling was due to the slow cracking and separation of a great ledge.
At the end of a hot day on Seneca Lake, New York, are sometimes heard the "lake guns," like exploding gas. Two hundred years ago Agayentah, a wise and honored member of the Seneca tribe, was killed here by a lightning-stroke. The same bolt that slew him wrenched a tree from the bank and hurled it into the water, where it was often seen afterward, going about the lake as if driven by unseen currents, and among the whites it got the name of the Wandering Jew. It is often missing for weeks together, and its reappearances are heralded by the low booming of—what? The Indians said that the sound was but the echo of Agayentah's voice, warning them of dangers and summoning them to battle, while the Wandering Jew became his messenger.
When witchcraft went rampant through New England the Connecticut town of Haddam owned its share of ugly old women, whom it tried to reform by lectures and ducking, instead of killing. It was averred that Goody So-and-So had a black cat for a familiar, that Dame Thus-and-Thus rode on a broomstick on stormy nights and screeched and gibbered down the farm-house chimneys, and there were dances of old crones at Devils' Hop Yard, Witch Woods, Witch Meadows, Giant's Chair, Devil's Footprint, and Dragon's Rock. Farmers were especially fearful of a bent old hag in a red hood, who seldom appeared before dusk, but who was apt to be found crouched on their door-steps if they reached home late, her mole-covered cheeks wrinkled with a grin, two yellow fangs projecting between her lips, and a light shining from her eyes that numbed all on whom she looked. On stormy nights she would drum and rattle at windows, and by firelight and candle-light her face was seen peering through the panes.
At Chapman Falls, where the attrition of a stream had worn pot-holes in the rocks, there were meetings of Haddam witches, to the number of a dozen. They brewed poisons in those holes, cast spells, and talked in harsh tongues with the arch fiend, who sat on the brink of the ravine with his tail laid against his shoulder, like a sceptre, and a red glow emanating from his body.
In Devils' Hop Yard was a massive oak that never bears leaves or acorns, for it has been enchanted since the time that one of the witches, in the form of a crow, perched on the topmost branch, looked to the four points of the compass, and flew away. That night the leaves fell off, the twigs shrivelled, sap ceased to run, and moss began to beard its skeleton limbs.
The appearance of witches in the guise of birds was no unusual thing, indeed, and a farmer named Blakesley shot one of them in that form. He was hunting in a meadow when a rush of wings was heard and he saw pass overhead a bird with long neck, blue feathers, and feet like scrawny hands. It uttered a cry so weird, so shrill, so like mocking laughter that it made him shudder. This bird alighted on a dead tree and he shot at it. With another laughing yell it circled around his head. Three times he fired with the same result. Then he resolved to see if it were uncanny, for nothing evil can withstand silver—except Congress. Having no bullets of that metal he cut two silver buttons from his shirt and rammed them home with a piece of cloth and a prayer. This time the bird screamed in terror, and tried, but vainly, to rise from the limb. He fired. The creature dropped, with a button in its body, and fell on its right side. At that moment an old woman living in a cabin five miles distant arose from her spinning-wheel, gasped, and fell on her right side-dead.
Block Island, or Manisees, is an uplift of clayey moorland between Montauk and Gay Head. It was for sailors an evil place and "bad medicine" for Indians, for men who had been wrecked there had been likewise robbed and ill treated—though the honest islanders of to-day deny it—while the Indians had been driven from their birthright after hundreds of their number had fallen in its defence. In the winter of 1750-51 the ship Palatine set forth over the seas with thrifty Dutch merchants and emigrants, bound for Philadelphia, with all their goods. A gale delayed them and kept them beating to and fro on the icy seas, unable to reach land. The captain died—it was thought that he was murdered—and the sailors, a brutal set even for those days, threw off all discipline, seized the stores and arms, and starved the passengers into giving up their money.
When those died of hunger whose money had given out—for twenty guilders were demanded for a cup of water and fifty rix dollars for a biscuit—their bodies were flung into the sea, and when the crew had secured all that excited their avarice they took to their boats, leaving ship and passengers to their fate. It is consoling to know that the sailors never reached a harbor. The unguided ship, in sight of land, yet tossed at the mercy of every wind and tenanted by walking skeletons, struck off Block Island one calm Sunday morning and the wreckers who lived along the shore set out for her. Their first work was to rescue the passengers; then they returned to strip everything from the hulk that the crew had left; but after getting her in tow a gale sprang up, and seeing that she was doomed to be blown off shore, where she might become a dangerous obstruction or a derelict, they set her on fire. From the rocks they watched her drift into misty darkness, but as the flames mounted to the trucks a scream rang across the whitening sea: a maniac woman had been left on board. The scream was often repeated, each time more faintly, and the ship passed into the fog and vanished.
A twelvemonth later, on the same evening of the year, the islanders were startled at the sight of a ship in the offing with flames lapping up her sides and rigging, and smoke clouds rolling off before the wind. It burned to the water's edge in sight of hundreds. In the winter following it came again, and was seen, in fact, for years thereafter at regular intervals, by those who would gladly have forgotten the sight of it (one of the community, an Indian, fell into madness whenever he saw the light), while those who listened caught the sound of a woman's voice raised in agony above the roar of fire and water.
Substantially the same story is told of a point on the North Carolina coast, save that in the latter case the passengers, who were from the Bavarian Palatinate, were put to the knife before their goods were taken. The captain and his crew filled their boats with treasure and pulled away for land, first firing the ship and committing its ghastly freight to the flames. The ship followed them almost to the beach, ere it fell to pieces, as if it were an animate form, bent on vengeance. The pirates landed, but none profited by the crime, all of them dying poor and forsaken.
Among the natives of Block Island was a man named Lee. Born in the last century among fishermen and wreckers, he has naturally taken to the sea for a livelihood, and, never having known the influences of education and refinement, he is rude and imperious in manner. His ship lies in a Spanish port fitting for sea, but not with freight, for, tired of peaceful trading, Lee is equipping his vessel as a privateer. A Spanish lady who has just been bereaved of her husband comes to him to ask a passage to America, for she has no suspicion of his intent. Her jewels and well-filled purse arouse Lee's cupidity, and with pretended sympathy he accedes to her request, even going so far as to allow Senora's favorite horse to be brought aboard.
Hardly is the ship in deep water before the lady's servants are stabbed in their sleep and Lee smashes in the door of her cabin. Realizing his purpose, and preferring to sacrifice life to honor, she eludes him, climbs the rail, and leaps into the sea, while the ship ploughs on. As a poor revenge for being thus balked of his prey the pirate has the beautiful white horse flung overboard, the animal shrilling a neigh that seems to reach to the horizon, and is like nothing ever heard before. But these things he affects to forget in dice and drinking. In a dispute over a division of plunder Lee stabs one of his men and tosses him overboard. Soon the rovers come to Block Island, where, under cover of night, they carry ashore their stealings to hide them in pits and caves, reserving enough gold to buy a welcome from the wreckers, and here they live for a year, gaming and carousing. Their ship has been reported as a pirate and to baffle search it is set adrift.
One night a ruddy star is seen on the sea-verge and the ruffians leave their revelling to look at it, for it is growing into sight fast. It speeds toward them and they can now see that it is a ship—their shipwrapped in flames. It stops off shore, and out of the ocean at its prow emerges something white that they say at first is a wave-crest rolling upon the sands; but it does not dissolve as breakers do: it rushes on; it scales the bluff it is a milk-white horse, that gallops to the men, who inly wonder if this is an alcoholic vision, and glares at Lee. A spell seems to be laid on him, and, unable to resist it, the buccaneer mounts the animal. It rushes away, snorting and plunging, to the highest bluff, whence Lee beholds, in the light of the burning ship, the bodies of all who have been done to death by him, staring into his eyes through the reddening waves.
At dawn the horse sinks under him and he stands there alone. From that hour even his companions desert him. They fear to share his curse. He wanders about the island, a broken, miserable man, unwilling to live, afraid to die, refused shelter and friendship, and unable to reach the mainland, for no boat will give him passage. After a year of this existence the ship returns, the spectre horse rises from the deep and claims Lee again for a rider. He mounts; the animal speeds away to the cliff, but does not pause at the brink this time: with a sickening jump and fall he goes into the sea. Spurning the wave-tops in his flight he makes a circuit of the burning ship, and in the hellish light, that fills the air and penetrates to the ocean bottom, the pirate sees again his victims looking up with smiles and arms spread to embrace him.
There is a cry of terror as the steed stops short; then a gurgle, and horse and rider have disappeared. The fire ship vanishes and the night is dark.
In the winter of 1779, General Putnam was stationed at Reading, Connecticut, with a band of ill-fed, unpaid troops. He was quartered at the Marvin house, and Mary, daughter of farmer Marvin, won her way to the heart of this rough soldier through the excellence of her dumplings and the invigorating quality of her flip. He even took her into his confidence, and, being in want of a spy in an emergency, he playfully asked her if she knew any brave fellow who could be trusted to take a false message into the British lines that would avert an impending attack. Yes, she knew such an one, and would guarantee that he would take the message if the fortunes of the colonial army would be helped thereby. Putnam assured her that it would aid the patriot cause, and, farther, that he would reward her; whereat, with a smile and a twinkling eye, the girl received the missive and left the room.
When daylight had left the sky, Mary slipped out of the house, crossed a pasture, entered a ravine, and in a field beyond reached a cattle shelter. On the instant a tall form stepped from the shadows and she sank into its embrace. There was a kiss, a moment of whispered talk, and the girl hurriedly asked her lover if he would carry a letter to the British headquarters, near Ridgefield. Of course he would. But he must not read it, and he must on no account say from whom he had it. The young man consented without a question—that she required it was sufficient; so, thrusting the tiny paper into his hand and bidding him God-speed, she gave him another kiss and they parted—he to go on his errand, she to pass the night with the clergyman's daughter at the parsonage. At about ten o'clock Putnam was disturbed by the tramping of feet and a tall, goodlooking fellow was thrust into his room by a couple of soldiers. The captive had been found inside the lines, they said, in consultation with some unknown person who had escaped the eye of the sentry in the darkness. When captured he had put a piece of paper into his mouth and swallowed it. He gave the name of Robert Lockwood, and when Putnam demanded to know what he had been doing near the camp without a permit he said that he was bound by a promise not to tell.
"Are you a patriot?" asked the general.
"I am a royalist. I do not sympathize with rebellion. I have been a man of peace in this war."
Putnam strode about the room, giving vent to his passion in language neither choice nor gentle, for he had been much troubled by spies and informers since he had been there. Then, stopping, he said:
"Some one was with you to-night-some of my men. Tell me that traitor's name and I'll spare your life and hang him before the whole army."
The prisoner turned pale and dropped his head. He would not violate his promise.
"You are a British spy, and I'll hang you at sunrise!" roared Putnam.
In vain the young man pleaded for time to appeal to Washington. He was not a spy, he insisted, and it would be found, perhaps too late, that a terrible mistake had been committed. His words were unheeded: he was led away and bound, and as the sun was rising on the next morning the sentence of courtmartial was executed upon him.
At noon Mary returned from the parsonage, her eyes dancing and her mouth dimpling with smiles. Going to Putnam, she said, with a dash of sauciness, "I have succeeded, general. I found a lad last night to take your message. I had to meet him alone, for he is a Tory; so he cannot enter this camp. The poor fellow had no idea that he was doing a service for the rebels, for he did not know what was in the letter, and I bound him not to tell who gave it to him. You see, I punished him for abiding by the king."
The general laughed and gazed at her admiringly.
"You're a brave girl," he said, "and I suppose you've come for your reward. Well, what is it to be?"
"I want a pass for Robert Lockwood. He is the royalist I spoke of, but he will not betray you, for he is not a soldier; and—his visits make me very happy."
"The spy you hanged this morning," whispered an aide in Putnam's ear. "Give her the pass and say nothing of what has happened."
The general started, changed color, and paused; then he signed the order with a dash, placed it in the girl's hand, gravely kissed her, watched her as she ran lightly from the house, and going to his bedroom closed the door and remained alone for an hour. From that time he never spoke of the affair, but when his troops were ordered away, soon after, he almost blenched as he gave good-by to Mary Marvin, and met her sad, reproachful look, though to his last day he never learned whether or no she had discovered Robert Lockwood's fate.
Back in the seventeenth century a number of Yankee traders arrived in Naugatuck to barter blankets, beads, buttons, Bibles, and brandy for skins, and there they met chief Toby and his daughter. Toby was not a pleasing person, but his daughter was well favored, and one of the traders told the chief that if he would allow the girl to go to Boston with him he would give to him—Toby—a quart of rum. Toby was willing enough. He would give a good deal for rum. But the daughter declined to be sold off in such a fashion unless—she coyly admitted—she could have half of the rum herself. Loth as he was to do so, Toby was brought to agree to this proposition, for he knew that rum was rare and good and girls were common and perverse, so the gentle forest lily took her mug of liquor and tossed it off. Now, it is not clear whether she wished to nerve herself for the deed that followed or whether the deed was a result of the tonic, but she made off from the paternal wigwam and was presently seen on the ledge of Squaw Rock, locally known also as High Rock, from which in another moment she had fallen. Toby had pursued her, and on finding her dead he vented a howl of grief and anger and flung the now empty rum-jug after her. A huge bowlder arose from the earth where it struck, and there it remains—a monument to the girl and a warning to Tobies.
Another version of the story is that the girl sprang from the rock to escape the pursuit of a lover who was hateful to her, and who had her almost in his grasp when she made the fatal leap. In the crevice half-way up the cliff her spirit has often been seen looking regretfully into the rich valley that was her home, and on the 20th of March and 20th of September, in every year, it is imposed on her to take the form of a seven-headed snake, the large centre head adorned with a splendid carbuncle. Many have tried to capture the snake and secure this precious stone, for an old prophecy promises wealth to whoever shall wrest it from the serpent. But thus far the people of Connecticut have found more wealth in clocks and tobacco than in snakes and carbuncles.