Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete
Mother Crewe was of evil repute in Plymouth in the last century. It was said that she had taken pay for luring a girl into her old farm-house, where a man lay dead of small-pox, with intent to harm her beauty; she was accused of blighting land and driving ships ashore with spells; in brief, she was called a witch, and people, even those who affected to ignore the craft of wizardry, were content to keep away from her. When the Revolution ended, Southward Howland demanded Dame Crewe's house and acre, claiming under law of entail, though primogeniture had been little enforced in America, where there was room and to spare for all. But Howland was stubborn and the woman's house had good situation, so one day he rode to her door and summoned her with a tap of his whip.
"What do you here on my land?" said he.
"I live on land that is my own. I cleared it, built my house here, and no other has claim to it."
"Then I lay claim. The place is mine. I shall tear your cabin down on Friday."
"On Friday they'll dig your grave on Burying Hill. I see the shadow closing round you. You draw it in with every breath. Quick! Home and make your peace!" The hag's withered face was touched with spots of red and her eyes glared in their sunken sockets.
"Bandy no witch words with me, woman. On Friday I will return." And he swung himself into his saddle. As he did so a black cat leaped on Mother Crewe's shoulder and stood there, squalling. The woman listened to its cries as if they were words. Her look of hate deepened. Raising her hand, she cried, "Your day is near its end. Repent!"
"Bah! You have heard what I have said. If on Friday you are not elsewhere, I'll tear the timbers down and bury you in the ruins."
"Enough!" cried the woman, her form straightening, her voice grown shrill. "My curse is on you here and hereafter. Die! Then go down to hell!"
As she said this the cat leaped from her shoulder to the flank of the horse, spitting and clawing, and the frightened steed set off at a furious pace. As he disappeared in the scrub oaks his master was seen vainly trying to stop him. The evening closed in with fog and chill, and before the light waned a man faring homeward came upon the corpse of Southward Howland stretched along the ground.
AUNT RACHEL'S CURSE
On a headland near Plymouth lived "Aunt Rachel," a reputed seer, who made a scant livelihood by forecasting the future for such seagoing people as had crossed her palm. The crew of a certain brig came to see her on the day before sailing, and she reproached one of the lads for keeping bad company. "Avast, there, granny," interrupted another, who took the chiding to himself. "None of your slack, or I'll put a stopper on your gab." The old woman sprang erect. Levelling her skinny finger at the man, she screamed, "Moon cursers! You have set false beacons and wrecked ships for plunder. It was your fathers and mothers who decoyed a brig to these sands and left me childless and a widow. He who rides the pale horse be your guide, and you be of the number who follow him!"
That night old Rachel's house was burned, and she barely escaped with her life, but when it was time for the brig to sail she took her place among the townfolk who were to see it off. The owner of the brig tried to console her for the loss of the house. "I need it no longer," she answered, "for the narrow house will soon be mine, and you wretches cannot burn that. But you! Who will console you for the loss of your brig?"
"My brig is stanch. She has already passed the worst shoal in the bay."
"But she carries a curse. She cannot swim long."
As each successive rock and bar was passed the old woman leaned forward, her hand shaking, her gray locks flying, her eyes starting, her lips mumbling maledictions, "like an evil spirit, chiding forth the storms as ministers of vengeance." The last shoal was passed, the merchant sighed with relief at seeing the vessel now safely on her course, when the woman uttered a harsh cry, and raised her hand as if to command silence until something happened that she evidently expected. For this the onlookers had not long to wait: the brig halted and trembled—her sails shook in the wind, her crew were seen trying to free the cutter—then she careened and sank until only her mast-heads stood out of the water. Most of the company ran for boats and lines, and few saw Rachel pitch forward on the earth-dead, with a fierce smile of exultation on her face. The rescuers came back with all the crew, save one—the man who had challenged the old woman and revengefully burned her cabin. Rachel's body was buried where her house had stood, and the rock—before unknown—where the brig had broken long bore the name of Rachel's Curse.
The black, pyramidal beacon, called Nix's Mate, is well known to yachtsmen, sailors, and excursionists in Boston harbor. It rises above a shoal,—all that is left of a fair, green island which long ago disappeared in the sea. In 1636 it had an extent of twelve acres, and on its highest point was a gallows where pirates were hanged in chains. One night cries were heard on board of a ship that lay at anchor a little way off shore, and when the watch put off, to see what might be amiss, the captain, named Nix, was found murdered in his bed. There was no direct evidence in the case, and no motive could be assigned for the deed, unless it was the expectancy of promotion on the part of the mate, in case of his commander's death.