Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete
LOVE AND TREASON
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 HEADLESS SKELETON OF SWAMPTOWN
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.
THE CROW AND CAT OF HOPKINSHILL
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.