Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete
SPOOKS OF THE HIAWASSEE
The hills about the head of the Hiawassee are filled with "harnts," among them many animal ghosts, that ravage about the country from sheer viciousness. The people of the region, illiterate and superstitious, have unquestioning faith in them. They tell you about the headless bull and black dog of the valley of the Chatata, the white stag of the Sequahatchie, and the bleeding horse of the Great Smoky Mountains—the last three being portents of illness, death, or misfortune to those who see them.
Other ghosts are those of men. Near the upper Hiawassee is a cave where a pile of human skulls was found by a man who had put up his cabin near the entrance. For some reason, which he says he never understood, this farmer gathered up the old, bleached bones and dumped them into his shed. Quite possibly he did not dare to confess that he wanted them for fertilizers or to burn them for his poultry.
Night fell dark and still, with a waning moon rising over the mountains—as calm a night as ever one slept through. Along toward the middle of it a sound like the coming of a cyclone brought the farmer out of his bed. He ran to the window to see if the house were to be uprooted, but the forest was still, with a strange, oppressive stillness—not a twig moving, not a cloud veiling the stars, not an insect chirping. Filled with a vague fear, he tried to waken his wife, but she was like one in a state of catalepsy.
Again the sound was heard, and now he saw, without, a shadowy band circling about his house like leaves whirled on the wind. It seemed to be made of human shapes, with tossing arms—this circling band—and the sound was that of many voices, each faint and hollow, by itself, but loud in aggregate. He who was watching realized then that the wraiths of the dead whose skulls he had purloined from their place of sepulture were out in lament and protest. He went on his knees at once and prayed with vigor until morning. As soon as it was light enough to see his way he replaced the skulls, and was not troubled by the "haunts" again. All the gold in America, said he, would not tempt him to remove any more bones from the cave-tombs of the unknown dead.
LAKE OF THE DISMAL SWAMP
Drummond's Pond, or the Lake of the Dismal Swamp, is a dark and lonely tarn that lies in the centre of this noted Virginia morass. It is, in a century-old tradition, the Styx of two unhappy ghosts that await the end of time to pass its confines and enjoy the sunshine of serener worlds. A young woman of a family that had settled near this marsh died of a fever caused by its malarial exhalations, and was buried near the swamp. The young man to whom she was betrothed felt her loss so keenly that for days he neither ate nor slept, and at last broke down in mind and body. He recovered a measure of physical health, after a time, but his reason was hopelessly lost.
It was his hallucination that the girl was not dead, but had been exiled to the lonely reaches of this watery wilderness. He was heard to mutter, "I'll find her, and when Death comes I'll hide her in the hollow of a cypress until he passes on." Evading restraint, he plunged into the fen, and for some days he wandered there, eating berries, sleeping on tussocks of grass, with water-snakes crawling over him and poisonous plants shedding their baneful dew on his flesh. He came to the lake at last. A will-o'the-wisp played along the surface. "'Tis she!" he cried. "I see her, standing in the light." Hastily fashioning a raft of cypress boughs he floated it and pushed toward the centre of the pond, but the eagerness of his efforts and the rising of a wind dismembered the frail platform, and he fell into the black water to rise no more. But often, in the night, is seen the wraith of a canoe, with a fire-fly lamp burning on its prow, restlessly urged to and fro by two figures that seem to be vainly searching for an exit from the place, and that are believed to be those of the maiden and her lover.
THE BARGE OF DEFEAT
Rappannock River, in Virginia, used to be vexed with shadowy craft that some of the populace affirmed to be no boats, but spirits in disguise. One of these apparitions was held in fear by the Democracy of Essex County, as it was believed to be a forerunner of Republican victory. The first recorded appearance of the vessel was shortly after the Civil War, on the night of a Democratic mass-meeting at Tappahannock. There were music, refreshments, and jollity, and it was in the middle of a rousing speech that a man in the crowd cried, "Look, fellows! What is that queer concern going down the river?"
The people moved to the shore, and by the light of their torches a hulk was seen drifting with the stream—a hulk of fantastic form unlike anything that sails there in the daytime. As it came opposite the throng, the torchlight showed gigantic negroes who danced on deck, showing horrible faces to the multitude. Not a sound came from the barge, the halloos of the spectators bringing no response, and some boatmen ventured into the stream, only to pull back in a hurry, for the craft had become so strangely enveloped in shadow that it seemed to melt into air.