Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 121


Four miles from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, among the Berkshire Hills, is a wild valley, noted for its echoes, that for a century and more has been called Wizard's Glen. Here the Indian priests performed their incantations, and on the red-stained Devil's Altar, it was said, they offered human sacrifice to Hobomocko and his demons of the wood. In Berkshire's early days a hunter, John Chamberlain, of Dalton, who had killed a deer and was carrying it home on his shoulders, was overtaken on the hills by a storm and took shelter from it in a cavernous recess in Wizard's Glen. In spite of his fatigue he was unable to sleep, and while lying on the earth with open eyes he was amazed to see the wood bend apart before him, disclosing a long aisle that was mysteriously lighted and that contained hundreds of capering forms. As his eyes grew accustomed to the faint light he made out tails and cloven feet on the dancing figures; and one tall form with wings, around whose head a wreath of lightning glittered, and who received the deference of the rest, he surmised to be the devil himself. It was such a night and such a place as Satan and his imps commonly chose for high festivals.

As he lay watching them through the sheeted rain a tall and painted Indian leaped on Devil's Altar, fresh scalps dangling round his body in festoons, and his eyes blazing with fierce command. In a brief incantation he summoned the shadow hordes around him. They came, with torches that burned blue, and went around and around the rock singing a harsh chant, until, at a sign, an Indian girl was dragged in and flung on the block of sacrifice. The figures rushed toward her with extended arms and weapons, and the terrified girl gave one cry that rang in the hunter's ears all his life after. The wizard raised his axe: the devils and vampires gathered to drink the blood and clutch the escaping soul, when in a lightning flash the girl's despairing glance fell on the face of Chamberlain. That look touched his manhood, and drawing forth his Bible he held it toward the rabble while he cried aloud the name of God. There was a crash of thunder. The light faded, the demons vanished, the storm swept past, and peace settled on the hills.


Balanced Rock, or Rolling Rock, near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is a mass of limestone that was deposited where it stands by the great continental glacier during the ice age, and it weighs four hundred and eighty tons (estimated) in spite of its centuries of weathering. Here one of the Atotarhos, kings of the Six Nations, had his camp. He was a fierce man, who ate and drank from bowls made of the skulls of enemies, and who, when he received messages and petitions, wreathed himself from head to foot with poison snakes. The son of this ferocious being inherited none of his war-like tendencies; indeed, the lad was almost feminine in appearance, and on succeeding to power he applied himself to the cultivation of peaceful arts. Later historians have uttered a suspicion that he was a natural son of Count Frontenac, but that does not suit with this legend.

The young Atotarho stood near Balanced Rock watching a number of big boys play duff. In this game one stone is placed upon another and the players, standing as far from it as they fancy they can throw, attempt to knock it out of place with other stones. The silence of Atotarho and his slender, girlish look called forth rude remarks from the boys, who did not know him, and who dared him to test his skill. The young chief came forward, and as he did so the jeers and laughter changed to cries of astonishment and fear, for at each step he grew in size until he towered above them, a giant. Then they knew him, and fell down in dread, but he took no revenge. Catching up great bowlders he tossed them around as easily as if they had been beechnuts, and at last, lifting the balanced rock, he placed it lightly where it stands to-day, gave them a caution against ill manners and hasty judgments, and resumed his slender form. For many years after, the old men of the tribe repeated this story and its lesson from the top of Atotarho's duff.


This is the Mohegan name of the pretty lake in the Berkshires now called Pontoosuc. Shonkeek was a boy, Moonkeek a girl, and they were cousins who grew up as children commonly do, whether in house or wigwam: they roamed the woods and hills together, filled their baskets with flowers and berries, and fell in love. But the marriage of cousins was forbidden in the Mohegan polity, and when they reached an age in which they found companionship most delightful their rambles were interdicted and they were even told to avoid each other. This had the usual effect, and they met on islands in the lake at frequent intervals, to the torment of one Nockawando, who wished to wed the girl himself, and who reported her conduct to her parents.

The lovers agreed, after this, to fly to an Eastern tribe into which they would ask to be adopted, but they were pledged, if aught interfered with their escape, to meet beneath the lake. Nockawando interfered. On the next night, as the unsuspecting Shonkeek was paddling over to the island where the maid awaited him, the jealous rival, rowing softly in his wake, sent an arrow into his back, and Shonkeek, without a cry, pitched headlong into the water. Yet, to the eyes of Nockawando, he appeared to keep his seat and urge his canoe forward. The girl saw the boat approach: it sped, now, like an eagle's flight. One look, as it passed the rock; one glance at the murderer, crouching in his birchen vessel, and with her lover's name on her lips she leaped into her own canoe and pushed out from shore. Nockawando heard her raise the death-song and rowed forward as rapidly as he could, but near the middle of the lake his arm fell palsied.