Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete
LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF THE SOUTH
THE SWIM AT INDIAN HEAD
At Indian Head, Maryland, are the government proving-grounds, where the racket of great guns and splintering of targets are a deterrent to the miscellaneous visitations of picnics. Trouble has been frequently associated with this neighborhood, as it is now suggested in the noisy symbolry of war. In prehistoric days it was the site of an aboriginal town, whose denizens were like other Indians in their love for fight and their willingness to shed blood. Great was the joy of all these citizens when a scouting party came in, one day, bringing with them the daughter of one of their toughest old hunters and a young buck, from another faction, who had come a-courting; her in the neighboring shades.
Capture meant death, usually, and he knew it, but he held himself proudly and refused to ask for mercy. It was resolved that he should die. The father's scorn for his daughter, that she should thus consort with an enemy, was so great that he was on the point of offering her as a joint sacrifice with her lover, when she fell on her knees before him and began a fervent appeal, not for herself, but for the prisoner. She would do anything to prove her strength, her duty, her obedience, if they would set him free. He had done injury to none. What justice lay in putting him to the torture?
Half in earnest, half in humor, the chief answered, "Suppose we were to set him on the farther shore of the Potomac, do you love him well enough to swim to him?"
"The river is wide and deep."
"I would drown in it rather than that harm should come to him."
The old chief ordered the captive, still bound, to be taken to a point on the Virginia shore, full two miles away, in one of their canoes, and when the boat was on the water he gave the word to the girl, who instantly plunged in and followed it. The chief and the father embarked in another birch—ostensibly to see that the task was honestly fulfilled; really, perhaps, to see that the damsel did not drown. It was a long course, but the maid was not as many of our city misses are, and she reached the bank, tired, but happy, for she had saved her lover and gained him for a husband.
THE MOANING SISTERS
Above Georgetown, on the Potomac River, are three rocks, known as the Three Sisters, not merely because of their resemblance to each other—for they are parts of a submerged reef—but because of a tradition that, more than a hundred years ago, a boat in which three sisters had gone out for a row was swung against one of these rocks. The day was gusty and the boat was upset. All three of the girls were drowned. Either the sisters remain about this perilous spot or the rocks have prescience; at least, those who live near them on the shore hold one view or the other, for they declare that before every death on the river the sisters moan, the sound being heard above the lapping of the waves. It is different from any other sound in nature. Besides, it is an unquestioned fact that more accidents happen here than at any other point on the river.
Many are the upsets that have occurred and many are the swimmers who have gone down, the dark forms of the sisters being the last shapes that their water-blurred eyes have seen. It is only before a human life is to be yielded that this low wailing comes from the rocks, and when, on a night in May, 1889, the sound floated shoreward, just as the clock in Georgetown struck twelve, good people who were awake sighed and uttered a prayer for the one whose doom was so near at hand. Twelve hours later, at noon, a shell came speeding down the Potomac, with a young athlete jauntily pulling at the oars. As he neared the Three Sisters his boat appeared to be caught in an eddy; it swerved suddenly, as if struck; then it upset and the rower sank to his death.
A RIDE FOR A BRIDE
When the story of bloodshed at Bunker Hill reached Bohemia Hall, in Cecil County, Maryland, Albert De Courcy left his brother Ernest to support the dignity of the house and make patriotic speeches, while he went to the front, conscious that Helen Carmichael, his affianced wife, was watching, in pride and sadness, the departure of his company. Letters came and went, as they always do, until rumor came of a sore defeat to the colonials at Long Island; then the letters ceased.
It was a year later when a ragged soldier, who had stopped at the hall for supper, told of Albert's heroism in covering the retreat of Washington. The gallant young officer had been shot, he said, as he attempted to swim the morasses of Gowanus. But this soldier was in error. Albert had been vexatiously bogged on the edge of the creek. While floundering in the mud a half dozen sturdy red-coats had lugged him out and he was packed off to the prison-ships anchored in the Wallabout. In these dread hulks, amid darkness and miasma, living on scant, unwholesome food, compelled to see his comrades die by dozens every day and their bodies flung ashore where the tide lapped away the sand thrown over them, De Courcy wished that death instead of capture had been his lot, for next to his love he prized his liberty.