Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 113


The people of Merrymount—unsanctified in the eyes of their Puritan neighbors, for were they not Episcopals, who had pancakes at Shrovetide and wassail at Christmas?—were dancing about their May-pole one summer evening, for they tried to make it May throughout the year. Some were masked like animals, and all were tricked with flowers and ribbons. Within their circle, sharing in song and jest, were the lord and lady of the revels, and an English clergyman waiting to join the pair in wedlock. Life, they sang, should be all jollity: away with care and duty; leave wisdom to the weak and old, and sanctity for fools. Watching the sport from a neighboring wood stood a band of frowning Puritans, and as the sun set they stalked forth and broke through the circle. All was dismay. The bells, the laughter, the song were silent, and some who had tasted Puritan wrath before shrewdly smelled the stocks. A Puritan of iron face—it was Endicott, who had cut the cross from the flag of England—warning aside the "priest of Baal," proceeded to hack the pole down with his sword. A few swinging blows, and down it sank, with its ribbons and flowers.

"So shall fall the pride of vain people; so shall come to grief the preachers of false religion," quoth he. "Truss those fellows to the trees and give them half a dozen of blows apiece as token that we brook no ungodly conduct and hostility to our liberties. And you, king and queen of the May, have you no better things to think about than fiddling and dancing? How if I punish you both?"

"Had I the power I'd punish you for saying it," answered the swain; "but, as I have not, I am compelled to ask that the girl go unharmed."

"Will you have it so, or will you share your lover's punishment?" asked Endicott.

"I will take all upon myself," said the woman.

The face of the governor softened. "Let the young fellow's hair be cut, in pumpkin-shell fashion," he commanded; "then bring them to me but gently."

He was obeyed, and as the couple came before him, hand in hand, he took a chain of roses from the fallen pole and cast it about their necks. And so they were married. Love had softened rigor and all were better for the assertion of a common humanity. But the May-pole of Merrymount was never set up again. There were no more games and plays and dances, nor singing of worldly music. The town went to ruin, the merrymakers were scattered, and the gray sobriety of religion and toil fell on Pilgrim land again.


When Charles River was lined with groves and marshes there lived in a cabin, near Brighton, Massachusetts, an ill-fed rascal named Tom Walker. There was but one in the commonwealth who was more penurious, and that was his wife. They squabbled over the spending of a penny and each grudged food to the other. One day as Tom walked through the pine wood near his place, by habit watching the ground—for even there a farthing might be discovered—he prodded his stick into a skull, cloven deep by an Indian tomahawk. He kicked it, to shake the dirt off, when a gruff voice spake: "What are you doing in my grounds?" A swarthy fellow, with the face of a charcoal burner, sat on a stump, and Tom wondered that he had not seen him as he approached.

He replied, "Your grounds! They belong to Deacon Peabody."

"Deacon Peabody be damned!" cried the black fellow; "as I think he will be, anyhow, if he does not look after his own sins a little sharper and a little less curiously after his neighbors'. Look, if you want to see how he is faring," and, pointing to a tree, he called Tom to notice that the deacon's name was written on the bark and that it was rotten at the core. To his surprise, Tom found that nearly every tree had the name of some prominent man cut upon it.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I go by different names in different places," replied the dark one. "In some countries I am the black miner; in some the wild huntsman; here I am the black woodman. I am the patron of slave dealers and master of Salem witches."

"I think you are the devil," blurted Tom.

"At your service," replied his majesty.

Now, Tom, having lived long with Mrs. Walker, had no fear of the devil, and he stopped to have a talk with him. The devil remarked, in a careless tone, that Captain Kidd had buried his treasure in that wood, under his majesty's charge, and that whoever wished could find and keep it by making the usual concession. This Tom declined. He told his wife about it, however, and she was angry with him for not having closed the bargain at once, declaring that if he had not courage enough to add this treasure to their possessions she would not hesitate to do it. Tom showed no disposition to check her. If she got the money he would try to get a share of it, and if the devil took away his helpmate—well, there were things that he had made his mind to endure, when he had to. True enough, the woman started for the wood before sundown, with her spoons in her apron. When Tom discovered that the spoons were gone he, too, set off, for he wanted those back, anyway; but he did not overtake his wife. An apron was found in a tree containing a dried liver and a withered heart, and near that place the earth had been trampled and strewn with handfuls of coarse hair that reminded Tom of the man that he had met in the woods. "Egad!" he muttered, "Old Nick must have had a tough time with her." Half in gratitude and half in curiosity, Tom waited to speak to the dark man, and was next day rewarded by seeing that personage come through the wood with an axe, whistling carelessly. Tom at once approached him on the subject of the buried treasure—not the vanished wife, for her he no longer regarded as a treasure.