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Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 119





KNOCKING AT THE TOMB

Knock, knock, knock! The bell has just gone twelve, and there is the clang again upon the iron door of the tomb. The few people of Lanesboro who are paying the penance of misdeeds or late suppers, by lying awake at that dread hour, gather their blankets around their shoulders and mutter a word of prayer for deliverance against unwholesome visitors of the night. Why is the old Berkshire town so troubled? Who is it that lies buried in that tomb, with its ornament of Masonic symbols? Why was the heavy iron knocker placed on the door? The question is asked, but no one will answer it, nor will any say who the woman is that so often visits the cemetery at the stroke of midnight and sounds the call into the chamber of the dead. Starlight, moonlight, or storm—it makes no difference to the woman. There she goes, in her black cloak, seen dim in the night, except where there are snow and moon together, and there she waits, her hand on the knocker, for the bell to strike to set up her clangor. Some say that she is crazy, and it is her freak to do this thing. Is she calling on the corpses to rise and have a dance among the graves? or has she been asked to call the occupant of that house at a given hour? Perhaps, weary of life, she is asking for admittance to the rest and silence of the tomb. She has long been beneath the sod, this troubler of dreams. Who knows her secret?





THE WHITE DEER OF ONOTA

Beside quiet Onota, in the Berkshire Hills, dwelt a band of Indians, and while they lived here a white deer often came to drink. So rare was the appearance of an animal like this that its visits were held as good omens, and no hunter of the tribe ever tried to slay it. A prophet of the race had said, "So long as the white doe drinks at Onota, famine shall not blight the Indian's harvest, nor pestilence come nigh his lodge, nor foeman lay waste his country." And this prophecy held true. That summer when the deer came with a fawn as white and graceful as herself, it was a year of great abundance. On the outbreak of the French and Indian War a young officer named Montalbert was despatched to the Berkshire country to persuade the Housatonic Indians to declare hostility to the English, and it was as a guest in the village of Onota that he heard of the white deer. Sundry adventurers had made valuable friendships by returning to the French capital with riches and curiosities from the New World. Even Indians had been abducted as gifts for royalty, and this young ambassador resolved that when he returned to his own country the skin of the white deer should be one of the trophies that would win him a smile from Louis.

He offered a price for it—a price that would have bought all their possessions and miles of the country roundabout, but their deer was sacred, and their refusal to sacrifice it was couched in such indignant terms that he wisely said no more about it in the general hearing. There was in the village a drunken fellow, named Wondo, who had come to that pass when he would almost have sold his soul for liquor, and him the officer led away and plied with rum until he promised to bring the white doe to him. The pretty beast was so familiar with men that she suffered Wondo to catch her and lead her to Montalbert. Making sure that none was near, the officer plunged his sword into her side and the innocent creature fell. The snowy skin, now splashed with red, was quickly stripped off, concealed among the effects in Montalbert's outfit, and he set out for Canada; but he had not been many days on his road before Wondo, in an access of misery and repentance, confessed to his share of the crime that had been done and was slain on the moment.

With the death of the deer came an end to good fortune. Wars, blights, emigration followed, and in a few years not a wigwam was left standing beside Onota.

There is a pendant to this legend, incident to the survival of the deer's white fawn. An English hunter, visiting the lake with dog and gun, was surprised to see on its southern bank a white doe. The animal bent to drink and at the same moment the hunter put his gun to his shoulder. Suddenly a howl was heard, so loud, so long, that the woods echoed it, and the deer, taking alarm, fled like the wind. The howl came from the dog, and, as that animal usually showed sagacity in the presence of game, the hunter was seized with a fear that its form was occupied, for the time, by a hag who lived alone in the "north woods," and who was reputed to have appeared in many shapes—for this was not so long after witch times that their influence was forgotten.


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