Legends of New England (1831) : a facsimile reproduction
John Greenleaf Whittier
Page Page 17Page 19Page 22Page 24Page 26
THE WEIRD GATHERING.
[THE fearful delusion of Witchcraft was principally confined to the county of Essex, in Massachusetts—although there were instances of it in other portions of New England. It was there that the evil had its most powerful work. It was like a heavy judgment from God—the visitation of an indescribable and unaccounted for curse—the passing over of a shadow upon the mental atmosphere like that of a thunder-cloud upon the physical. The following story is founded on a passage in the singular works of Cotton Mather, where that learned divine informs us that at the dead of night, the "witches and prestigious spirits and demons," who persecuted, by means of their spells and incantations, the good people of Massachusetts Bay, were assembled together by the sound of a great trumpet. The place of the evil gathering was somewhere near Naumkeag, now Salem.]
A trumpet in the darkness blown—
A peal upon the air—
The church-yard answers to its tone
With boding shriek and wail and groan—
The dead are gliding there!
It rose upon the still midnight,
A summons long and clear—
The wakeful shuddered with affright—
The dreaming sleeper sprang upright,
And pressed his, stunning ear.
The Indian, where his serpent eye
Beneath the green-wood shone,Page 16
Started, and tossed his arms on high,
And answered, with his own wild cry,
The sky's unearthly tone.
The wild birds rose in startled flocks,
As the long trumpet swelled;
And loudly from their old, grey rocks,
The gaunt, fierce wolf, and caverned fox
In mutual terror yelled.
There is a wild and haunted glen,
'Twixt Saugus and Naumkeag—
'Tis said of old that wizard-men
And demons to that spot have been
To consecrate their league.
A fitting place for such as these—
That small and sterile plain,
So girt about with tall, old trees
Which rock and groan in every breeze,
Like spirits cursed with pain.
It was the witch's trysting place—
The wizard's chosen ground,
Where the accursed of human race
With demons gathered, face to face,
By the midnight trumpet's sound.
And there that night the trumpet rang,
And rock and hill replied,
And down the glen strange shadows sprang.
Mortal and fiend—a wizard gang—
Seen dimly side by side.
They gathered there from every land
That sleepeth in the sun,—
They came with spell and charm in hand,
Waiting their Master's high command—
Slaves to the Evil One!
From islands of the far-off seas—
From Hecla's ice and flame—
From where the loud and savage breeze
Growls through the tall Norwegian trees,
Seer, witch and wizard came!
And, from the sunny land of palms,
The negro hag was there—
The Gree-gree, with his Obi charms—
The Indian, with his tattooed arms,
And wild and streaming hair!
The Gipsey with her fierce, dark eyes,
The worshipper of flame—
The searcher out of mysteries,Page 18
Above a human sacrifice—
* * * * * * *
Nay, look not down that lighted dell,
Thou startled traveller!—
Thy christian eye should never dwell
On gaunt, grey witch and fiend of hell
And evil Trumpeter!
But, the traveller turned him from his way,
For he heard the revelling—
And saw the red light's wizard ray
Among the dark leafed branches play,
Like an unholy thing.
He knelt him on the rocks, and cast,
A fearful glance beneath,—
Wizard and hag before him passed,
Each wilder, fiercer than the last,—
His heart grew cold as death!
He saw the dark-browed Trumpeter,
In human shape was he;
And witch and fiend and sorcerer,
With shriek and laugh and curses, were
Assembled at his knee.
And lo—beneath his straining glance,
A light form stole along—
Free, as if moving to the dance,
He saw her fairy steps advance
Towards the evil throng.
The light along her forehead played—
A wan, unearthly glare;
Her cheek was pale beneath the shade
The wildness of her tresses made,
Yet nought of fear was there!
Now God have mercy on thy brain,
Thou stricken traveller!—
Look on thy victim once again,
Bethink thee of her wrongs and pain—
Dost thou remember her?
The traveller smote his burning brow,
For he saw the wronged one there—
He knew her by her forehead's snow,
And by her large, blue eye below,
And by her wild, dark hair.
Slowly, yet firm she held her way,—
The wizard's song grew still—Page 20
The sorcerer left his elvish play.
And hideous imp and beldame grey
Waited the stranger's will.
A voice came up that place of fear—
The Trumpeter's hoarse tone—
"Speak—who art thou that comest here
With brow baptized and christian ear,
Unsummoned and alone?"
One moment—and a tremor shook
Her light and graceful frame,—
It passed—and then her features took
A fiercer and a haughtier look,
As thus her answer came:—
"Spirits of evil—
Workers of doom!—
Lo—to your revel,
For vengeance I come!
Vengeance on him
Who hath blighted my fame,—
Fill his cup to the brim
With a curse without name!
Let his false heart inherit
The madness of mine,Page 21
And I yield ye my spirit,
And bow at your shrine!"
A sound—a mingled laugh and yell,
Went howling fierce and far—
A redder light shone through the dell,
As if the very gates of hell
Swung suddenly ajar.
"Breathe then thy curse, thou daring one,"
A low, deep voice replied—
"Whate'er thou askest shall be done,
The burthen of thy doom upon
The false one shall abide."
The maiden stood erect—her brow
Grew dark as those around her,
As burned upon her lip that vow
Which christian ear may never know,—
And the dark fetter bound her!
Ay, there she stood—the holy Heaven
Was looking down on her—
An Angel from her bright home driven—
A spirit lost and doomed and given
To fiend and sorcerer!
And changed—how changed!—her aspect grew
Fearful and elvish there;
The warm tinge from her cheek withdrew,
And one dark spot of blood-red hue
Burned on her forehead fair.
Wild from her eye of madness shone
The baleful fire within,
As, with a shrill and lifted tone
She made her fearful purpose known,
Before the powers of Sin:
"Let my curse be upon him—
The faithless of heart!
Let the smiles that have won him
In frowning depart!—
Let his last, cherished blossom
Of sympathy die,
And the hopes of his bosom
In shadows go by!—
Ay, curse him—but keep
The poor boon of his breath.
'Till he sigh for the sleep,
And the quiet of death!
Let a viewless one haunt him
With whisper and jeer,Page 23
And an evil one daunt him
With phantoms of fear!—
Be the fiend unforgiving
That follows his tread;
Let him walk with the living—
Yet gaze on the dead!"
She ceased.—The doomed one felt the spell
Already on his brain;
He turned him from the wizard-dell;
He prayed to Heaven; he cursed at hell;—
He wept—and all in vain.
The night was one of mortal fear;
The morning rose to him,
Dark as the shroudings of a bier,
As if the blessed atmosphere,
Like his own soul, was dim.
He passed among his fellow men,
With wild and dreamy air,
For, whispering in his ear again
The horrors of the midnight glen,
The demon found him there.
And, when he would have knelt and prayed,
Amidst his household band,
An unseen power his spirit stayed.
And on his moving lip was laid
A hot and burning hand!
The lost one in the solitude,
Of dreams he gazed upon,
And, when the holy morning glowed,
Her dark eye shone—her wild hair flowed
Between him and the sun!
His brain grew wild,—and then he died:
Yet, ere his heart grew cold,
To the gray priest, who at his side
The strength of prayer and blessing tried.
His fearful tale was told.
* * * * * *
They've bound the witch with many a thong—
The holy priest is near her;
And ever as she moves along,
A murmur rises hoarse and strong
From those who hate and fear her.
She's standing up for sacrifice,
Beneath the gallows-tree;—*
The silent town beneath her lies,Page 25
Above her are the Summer skies—
Far off—the quiet sea.
So young—so frail—so very fair—
Why should the victim die?—
Look on her brow!—the red stain there
Burns underneath her tangled hair—
And mark her fiery eye!
A thousand eyes are looking up
In scorn and hate to her;—
A bony hand hath coiled the rope,
And yawns upon the green hill's slope
The witch's sepulchre!
Ha! she hath spurned both priest and book—
Her hand is tossed on high—
Her curse is loud,—she will not brook
The impatient crowd's abiding look—
Hark!—how she shrieks to die!
Up—up—one struggle—all is done!
One groan—the deed is wrought.
Wo—for the wronged and fallen one!—
Her corse is blackening in the sun—
Her spirit—trace it not!