Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
Page  218

PENTUCKET.

The village of Haverhill, on the Merrimack, called by the Indians Pentucket, was for nearly seventy years a frontier town, and during thirty years endured all the horrors of savage warfare. In the year of 1708, a combined body of French and Indians, under the command of De Challions, and Hertel de Rouville, the infamous and bloody sacker of Deerfield, made an attack upon the village, which at that time contained only thirty houses. Sixteen of the villagers were massacred, and a still larger number made prisoners. About thirty of the enemy also fell, and among them Hertel de Rouville. The minister of the place, Benjamin Rolfe, was killed by a shot through his own door.
How sweetly on the wood-girt town
The mellow light of sunset shone!
Each small bright lake, whose waters still
Mirror the forest and the hill,
Reflected from its waveless breast
The beauty of a cloudless west,
Glorious as if a glimpse were given
Within the western gates of Heaven,
Left, by the spirit of the star
Of sunset's holy hour, ajar!
Beside the river's tranquil flood
The dark and low-wall'd dwellings stood,
Where many a rood of open land
Stretch'd up and down on either hand,
With corn-leaves waving freshly green
The thick and blacken'd stumps between;
Behind, unbroken, deep and dread,
The wild, untravell'd forest spread,
Back to those mountains, white and cold,
Of which the Indian trapper told,
Upon whose summits never yet
Was mortal foot in safety set.
Quiet and calm, without a fear
Of,danger darkly lurking near,
The weary labourer left his plough,
The milkmaid caroll'd by her cow;
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From cottage door and household hearth
Rose songs of praise or tones of mirth.
At length the murmur died away,
And silence on that village lay:
So slept Pompeii, tower and hall,
Ere the quick earthquake swallow'd all,
Undreaming of the fiery fate
Which made its dwellings desolate!
Hours pass'd away. By moonlight sped
The Merrimack along his bed.
Bathed in the pallid lustre stood
Dark cottage-wall, and rock, and wood,
Silent, beneath that tranquil beam,
As the hush'd grouping of a dream.
Yet on the still air crept a sound—
No bark of fox, no rabbit's bound,
No stir of wings, nor waters flowing,
Nor leaves in midnight breezes blowing.
Was that the tread of many feet,
Which downward from the hillside beat?
What forms were those which darkly stood
Just on the margin of the wood?
Charr'd tree-stumps in the moonlight dim,
Or paling rude, or leafless limb?
No: through the trees fierce eyeballs glow'd,
Dark human forms in moonshine show'd,
Wild from their native wilderness,
With painted limbs and battle-dress!
A. yell, the dead might wake to hear,
Swell'd on the night-air far and clear:
Then smote the Indian tomahawk
On crashing door and shattering lock;
Then rang the rifle-shot; and then
The shrill death-scream of stricken men;
Sunk the red axe in woman's brain,
And childhood's cry arose in vain;
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Bursting through roof and window came,
Red, fast and fierce, the kindled flame;
And blended fire and moonlight glared
Over dead corse and weapons bared.
The morning sun look'd brightly through
The river willows, wet with dew.
No sound of combat fill'd the air,
No shout was heard, nor gunshot there:
Yet still the thick and sullen smoke
From smouldering ruins slowly broke;
And on the greensward many a stain,
And, here and there, the mangled slain,
Told how that midnight bolt had sped,
Pentucket, on thy fated head!
Even now the villager can tell
Where Rolfe beside his hearthstone fell;
Still show the door of wasting oak,
Through which the fatal death-shot broke,
And point the curious stranger where
De Rouville's corse lay grim and bare;
Whose hideous head, in death still fear'd,
Bore not a trace of hair or beard;
And still, within the churchyard ground,
Heaves darkly up the ancient mound,
Beneath whose grass-grown surface lies
The victims of that sacrifice.