Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 165


A man was killed in Elliott Street, Atlanta, Georgia, by a cowardly stroke from a stiletto. The assassin escaped. Strange what a humming there was in the belfry of St. Michael's Church that night! Had the murderer taken refuge there? Was it a knell for his lost soul, chasing him through the empty streets and beginning already an eternal punishment of terror? Perhaps the guilty one did not dare to leave Atlanta, for the chimes sang in minor chords on several nights after. The old policeman who kept ward in an antiquated guardhouse that stood opposite the church—it was afterward shaken down by earthquake—said that he saw a human form, which he would avouch to be that of the murdered man, though it was wrapped in a cloak, stalk to the doors, enter without opening them, glide up the winding stair, albeit he bent neither arm nor knee, pass the ropes by which the chimes were rung, and mount to the belfry. He could see the shrouded figure standing beneath the gloomy mouths of metal. It extended its bony hands to the tongues of the bells and swung them from side to side, but while they appeared to strike vigorously they seemed as if muffled, and sent out only a low, musical roar, as if they were rung by the wind. Was the murderer abroad on those nights? Did he, too, see that black shadow of his victim in the belfry sounding an alarm to the sleeping town and appealing to be avenged? It may be. At all events, the apparition boded ill to others, for, whenever the chimes were rung by spectral hands, mourners gathered at some bedside within hearing of them and lamented that the friend they had loved would never know them more on earth.


The Indian village that in 1765 stood just below the site of Oxford, Alabama, was upset when the news was given out that two of the squaws had given simultaneous birth to a number of children that were spotted like leopards. Such an incident betokened the existence of some baneful spirit among them that had no doubt leagued itself with the women, who were at once tried on the charge of witchcraft, convicted, and sentenced to death at the stake, while a watch was to be set on the infants, so early orphaned, lest they, too, should show signs of malevolent possession. The whole tribe, seventeen hundred in number, assembled to see the execution, but hardly were the fires alight when a sound like thunder rolled beneath their feet, and with a hideous crack and groan the earth opened and nearly every soul was engulfed in a fathomless and smoking pit-all, indeed, save two, for a couple of young braves who were on the edge of the crowd flung themselves flat on the heaving ground and remained there until the earthquake wave had passed. The hollow afterward filled with water and was called Blue Pond. It is popularly supposed to be fathomless, but it was shown that a forest once spread across the bottom, when, but a few years ago, a great tree arose from the water, lifting first its branches, then turning so as to show its roots above the surface, and afterward disappeared.


The southern part of this country was once occupied by a people called the Biloxi, who had kept pace with the Aztecs in civilization and who cultivated especially the art of music. In lives of gentleness and peace they so soon forgot the use of arms that when the Choctaws descended on their fields they were powerless to prevent the onset. Town after town they evacuated before the savages, and at last the Biloxi, reduced to a few thousands, were driven to the mouth of the Pascagoula River, Mississippi, where they intrenched themselves, and for a few months withstood the invaders. But the time came when their supplies were exhausted, and every form was pinched with hunger. Flight was impossible. Surrender commonly meant slaughter and outrage. They resolved to die together.

On a fair spring morning the river-ward gates of their fort were opened and the survivors of that hapless tribe marched forth, their chief in advance, with resolution on his wasted face, then the soldiers and counsellors, the young men, the women and children, and the babes asleep on the empty breasts of their mothers. As they emerged from the walls with slow but steady step they broke into song, and their assailants, who had retired to their tents for their meal, listened with surprise to the chorus of defiance and rejoicing set up by the starving people. Without pause or swerving they entered the bay and kept their march. Now the waters closed over the chief, then the soldiers—at last only a few voices of women were heard in the chant, and in a few moments all was still. Not one shrank from the sacrifice. And for years after the echo of that death-song floated over he waves.

Another version of the legend sets forth that the Biloxi believed themselves the children of the sea, and that they worshipped the image of a lovely mermaid with wondrous music. After the Spaniards had come among this gay and gentle people, they compelled them, by tyranny and murder, to accept the religion of the white man, but of course it was only lip-service that they rendered at the altar. The Biloxi were awakened one night by the sound of wings and the rising of the river. Going forth they saw the waters of Pascagoula heaped in a quivering mound, and bright on its moonlit crest stood a mermaid that sang to them, "Come to me, children of the sea. Neither bell, book, nor cross shall win you from your queen." Entranced by her song and the potency of her glances, they moved forward until they encircled the hill of waters. Then, with hiss and roar, the river fell back to its level, submerging the whole tribe. The music that haunts the bay, rising through the water when the moon is out, is the sound of their revels in the caves below—dusky Tannhausers of a southern Venusberg. An old priest, who was among them at the time of this prodigy, feared that the want of result to his teachings was due to his not being in a perfect state of grace. On his death-bed he declared that if a priest would row to the spot where the music sounded, at midnight on Christmas, and drop a crucifix into the water, he would instantly be swallowed by the waves, but that every soul at the bottom would be redeemed. The souls have never been ransomed.


The Indians of the South, being in contact with the civilized races of Central America, were among the most progressive and honorable of the red men. They were ruled by intelligence rather than force, and something of the respect that Europeans feel for their kingly families made them submit to woman's rule. The valley of Nacooche, Georgia, indeed, perpetuates in its name one of these princesses of a royal house, for though she ruled a large tribe with wisdom she was not impervious to the passions of common mortals. The "Evening Star" died by her own hand, being disappointed in love affair. Her story is that of Juliet, and she and her lover—united in death, as they could not be in life—are buried beneath a mound in the centre of he valley.

The Indians of that region had towns built for permanency, and possessed some knowledge of the arts, while in religion their belief and rites were curiously like those of the Persian fire-worshippers. It was on the site of the present city in Mississippi which bears their name that the Natchez Indians built their Temple of the Sun. When it was finished a meteor fell from heaven and kindled the fire on their altar, and from that hour the priests guarded he flame continually, until one night when it was extinguished by mischance. This event was believed to be an omen, and the people so took it to heart that when the white men came, directly after, they had little courage to prosecute a war, and fell back before the conqueror, never to hold their ancient home again.


Senhor Vineiro, a Portuguese, having wedded Julia Regalea, a Spaniard, in South America, found it needful to his fortunes to leave Montevideo, for a revolution was breeding, and no less needful to his happiness to take his wife with him from that city, for he was old and she was young. But he chose the wrong ship to sail on, for Captain Dane, of the Nightingale, was also young, presentable, and well schooled, but heartless. On the voyage to New Orleans he not only won the affection of the wife, but slew the husband and flung his body overboard. Vainly the wife tried to repress the risings of remorse, and vainly, too, she urged Dane to seek absolution from her church. She had never loved her husband, and she had loved Dane from the first, but she was not at heart a bad woman and her peace was gone. The captain was disturbed and suspicious. His sailors glanced at him out of the corners of their eyes in a way that he did not like. Had the woman in some unintentional remark betrayed him? Could he conceal his crime, save with a larger one?

Pass Christian was a village then. On a winter night its people saw a glare in the sky, and hurrying to their doors found a ship burning in the gulf. Smacks and row-boats put off to the rescue, but hardly were they under way ere the ship disappeared as suddenly as if the sea had swallowed it. As the night was thick the boats returned, but next morning five men were encountered on the shore-all that were left of the crew of the Nightingale. Captain Dane was so hospitably received by the people of the district, and seemed to take so great a liking for the place, that he resolved to live there. He bought a plantation with a roomy old house upon it and took his fellow-survivors there to live, as he hoped, an easy life. That was not to be. Yellow fever struck down all the men but Dane, and one of them, in dying, raved to his negro nurse that Dane had taken all the treasure from the ship and put it into a boat, after serving grog enough to intoxicate all save the trusted ones of the crew; that he and his four associates fired the ship and rowed away, leaving an unhappy woman to a horrible fate. Senhora Vineiro was pale but composed when she saw the manner of death she was to die. She brought from her cabin a harp which had been a solace of her husband and herself and began to play and sing an air that some of the listeners remembered. It was an "Ave Maria," and the sound of it was so plaintive that even Dane stopped rowing; but he set his teeth when his shoe touched the box of gold at his feet and ordered the men to row on. There was an explosion and the vessel disappeared. On reaching shore the treasure was buried at the foot of a large oak.