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Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 240

While flying from the people whose declaration of independence had already been written in the blood of the king's troops at Concord, the royal governor—Wentworth—was embarrassed by a wife and a treasure-chest. He had left his mansion, at Smith's Pond, New Hampshire, and was making toward Portsmouth, where he was to enjoy the protection of the British fleet, but the country was up in arms, time was important, and as his wearied horses could not go on without a lightening of the burden, he was forced to leave behind either Lady Wentworth or his other riches. As the lady properly objected to any risk of her own safety, the chest was buried at an unknown spot in the forest, and for a century and more the whereabouts of the Wentworth plate and money-bags have been a matter of search and conjecture.

When the Hessian troops marched from Saratoga to Boston, to take ship after Burgoyne's surrender, they were in wretched condition-war-worn, ragged, and ill fed,—and having much with them in the form of plate and jewels that had been spared by their conquerors, together with some of the money sent from England for their hire, they were in constant fear of attack from the farmers, who, though they had been beaten, continued to regard them with an unfavorable eye. On reaching Dalton, Massachusetts, the Hessians agreed among themselves to put their valuables into a howitzer, which they buried in the woods, intending that some of their number should come back at the close of the war and recover it. An Indian had silently followed them for a long distance, to gather up any unconsidered trifles that might be left in their bivouacs, and he marked the route by blazes on the trees; but if he saw the burial of this novel treasury it meant nothing to him, and the knowledge of the hiding-place was lost. For years the populace kept watch of all strangers that came to town, and shadowed them if they went to the woods, but without result. In about the year 1800 the supposed hiding-place was examined closely and excavations were made, but, as before, nothing rewarded the search.

A tree of unknown age—the Old Elm—stood on Boston Common until within a few years. This veteran, torn and broken by many a gale and lightning-stroke, was a gallows in the last century, and Goody Glover had swung from it in witch-times. On tempestuous nights, when the boughs creaked together, it was said that dark shapes might be seen writhing on the branches and capering about the sward below in hellish glee. On a gusty autumn evening in 1776 a muffled form presented itself, unannounced, at the chamber of Mike Wild, and, after that notorious miser had enough recovered from the fear created by the presence to understand what it said to him, he realized that it was telling him of something that in life it had buried at the foot of the Old Elm. After much hesitancy Mike set forth with his ghostly guide, for he would have risked his soul for money, but on arriving at his destination he was startled to find himself alone. Nothing daunted, he set down his lantern and began to dig. Though he turned up many a rood of soil and sounded with his spade for bags and chests of gold, he found nothing. Strange noises overhead—for the wind was high and the twigs seemed to snicker eerily as they crossed each other-sent thrills along his back from time to time, and he was about to return, half in anger, half in fear, when his spirit visitor emerged from behind the tree and stood before him. The mien was threatening, the nose had reddened and extended, the hair was rumpled, and the brow was scowling. The frown of the gold monster grew more awful, the stare of his eye in the starlight more unbearable, and he was crouching and creeping as if for a spring. Mike could endure no more. He fainted, and awakened in the morning in his own chamber, where, to a neighbor who made an early call, he told—with embellishments—the story of the encounter; but before he had come to the end of the narrative the visitor burst into a roar of laughter and confessed that he had personated the supernatural visitant, having wagered a dozen bottles of wine with the landlord of the Boar's Head that he could get the better of Mike Wild. For all this the old tree bore, for many years, an evil reputation.


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