Who stands on that cliff, like a figure of stone,
Unmoving and tall in the light of the sky,
Where the spray of the cataract sparkles on high,
Lonely and sternly, save Mogg Megone?
Close to the verge of the rock is he,
While beneath him the Saco its work is doing,
Hurrying down to its grave, the sea,
And slow through the rock its pathway hewing!
Far down, through the mist of the falling river,
Which rises up like an incense ever,
The splintered points of the crags are seen,
With water howling and vexed between,
While the scooping whirl of the pool beneath
Seems an open throat, with its granite teeth!
But Mogg Megone never trembled yet
Wherever his eye or his foot was set.
He is watchful: each form in the moonlight dim,
Of rock or of tree, is seen of him:
He listens; each sound from afar is caught,
The faintest shiver of leaf and limb:
But he sees not the waters, which foam and fret,
Whose moonlit spray has his moccasin wet, —
And the roar of their rushing, he bears it not.
The moonlight, through the open bough
Of the gnarl’d beech, whose naked root
Coils like a serpent at his foot,
Falls, checkered, on the Indian’s brow.
His head is bare, save only where
Waves in the wind one lock of hair,
Reserved for him, whoe’er he be,
More mighty than Megone in strife,
When breast to breast and knee to knee,
Above the fallen warrior’s life
Gleams, quick and keen, the scalping-knife.
Megone hath his knife and hatchet and gun,
And his gaudy and tasselled blanket on:
His knife hath a handle with gold inlaid,
And magic words on its polished blade, —
‘Twas the gift of Castine to Mogg Megone,
For a scalp or twain from the Yengees torn:
His gun was the gift of the Tarrantine,
And Modocawando’s wives had strung
The brass and the beads, which tinkle and shine
On the polished breach, and broad bright line
Of beaded wampum around it hung.
What seeks Megone? His foes are near, —
Grey Jocelyn’s eye is never sleeping,
And the garrison lights are burning clear,
Where Phillips’ men their watch are keeping.
Let him hie him away through the dank river fog,
Never rustling the boughs nor displacing the rocks,
For the eyes and the ears which are watching for Mogg
Are keener than those of the wolf or the fox.
He starts, — there’s a rustle among the leaves:
Another, — the click of his gun in heard!
A footstep, — is it the step of Cleaves,
With Indian blood on his English sword?
Steals Harmon down from the sands of York,
With hand of iron and foot of cork?
Has Scamman, versed in Indian wile,
For vengeance left his vine-hung in isle?
Hark! at that whistle, soft and low,
How lights the eye of Mogg Megone!
A smile gleams o’er his dusky brow, —
“Boon welcome, Johnny Bonython!”
Out steps, with cautious foot and slow,
And quick, keen glances to and fro,
The hunted outlaw, Bonython!
A low, lean, swarthy man is he,
With blanket-garb and buskined knee,
And naught of English fashion on;
For he hates the race from whence he sprung,
And he couches his words in the Indian tongue.
“Hush, — let the Sachem’s voice be weak;
The water-rat shall hear him speak, —
The owl shall whoop in the white man’s ear,
That Mogg Megone, with his scalps, is here!”
He pauses, — dark, over cheek and brow,
A flush, as of shame, is stealing now:
“Sachem!” he says, “let me have the land,
Which stretches away upon either hand,
As far about as my feet can stray
In the half of a gentle summer’s day,
From the leaping brook to the Saco river, —
And the fair-hared girl, thou hast sought of me,
Shall sit in the Sachem’s wigwam, and be
The wife of Mogg Megone forever.”
There’s sudden light in the Indian’s glance,
A moment’s trace of powerful feeling,
Of love or triumph, or both perchance,
Over his proud, calm features stealing.
“The words of my father are very good;
He shall have the land, and water, and wood;
And he who harms the Sagamore John,
Shall feel the knife of Mogg Megone;
But the fawn of the Yengees shall sleep on my breast,
And the bird of the clearing shall sing in my nest.”
“But, father!” — and the Indian’s hand
Falls gently on the white man’s arm,
And with a smile as shrewdly bland
As the deep voice is slow and calm, —
“Where is my father’s singing-bird, —
The sunny eye, and sunset hair?
I know I have my father’s word,
And that his word is good and fair;
But will my father tell me where
Megone shall go and look for his bride? —
For he sees her not by her father’s side.”
The dark, stern eye of Bonython
Flashes over the features of Mogg Megone,
In one of those glances which search within ;
But the stolid calm of the Indian alone
Remains where the trace of emotion has been.
“Does the Sachem doubt? Let him go with me,
And the eyes of the Sachem his bride shall see.”
Cautious and slow, with pauses oft,
And watchful eyes and whispers soft,
The twain are stealing through the wood,
Leaving the downward-rushing flood,
Whose deep and solemn roar behind
Grows fainter on the evening wind.
Hark! — is that the angry howl
Of the wolf, the hills among? —
Or the hooting of the owl,
On his leafy cradle swung? —
Quickly glancing, to and fro,
Listening to each sound they go
Round the columns of the pine,
Indistinct, in shadow, seeming
Like some old and pillared shrine;
With the soft and white moonshine,
Round the foliage-tracery shed
Of each column’s branching head,
For its lamps of worship gleaming!
And the sounds awakened there,
In the pine-leaves fine and small,
Soft and sweetly musical,
By the fingers of the air,
For the anthem’s dying fall
Lingering round some temple’s wall!
Niche and cornice round and round
Wailing like the ghost of sound!
Is not Nature’s worship thus,
Ceaseless ever, going on?
Hath it not a voice for us
In the thunder, or the tone
Of the leaf-harp faint and small,
Speaking to the unsealed ear
Words of blended love and fear,
Of the mighty Soul of all?
Naught had the twain of thoughts like these
As they wound along through the crowded trees,
Where never had rung the axeman’s stroke
On the gnarled trunk of the rough-barked oak; —
Climbing the dead tree’s mossy log,
Breaking the mesh of the bramble fine,
Turning aside the wild grapevine,
And lightly crossing the quaking bog
Whose surface shakes at the leap of the frog,
And out of whose pools the ghostly fog
Creeps into the chill moonshine!
Yet, even that Indian’s ear had heard
The preaching of the Holy Word:
Sanchekantacket’s isle of sand
Was once his father’s hunting land,
Where zealous Hiacoomes stood, —
The wild apostle of the wood,
Shook from his soul the fear of harm,
And trampled on the Powwaw’s charm;
Until the wizard’s curses hung
Suspended on his palsying tongue,
And the fierce warrior, grim and tall,
Trembled before the forest Paul!
A cottage hidden in the wood, —
Red through its seams a light is glowing,
On rock and bough and tree-trunk rude,
A narrow lustre throwing.
“Who’s there?” a clear, firm voice demands;
“Hold, Ruth, — ’tis I, the Sage more!”
Quick, at the summons, hasty hands
Unclose the bolted door;
And on the outlaw’s daughter shine
The flashes of the kindled pine.
Tall and erect the maiden stands,
Like some young priestess of the wood,
The freeborn child of Solitude,
And bearing still the wild and rude,
Yet noble trace of Nature’s hands.
Her dark brown cheek has caught its stain
More from the sunshine than the rain;
Yet, where her long fair hair is parting,
A pure white brow into light is starting;
And, where the folds of her blanket sever,
Are a neck and bosom as white as ever
The foam-wreaths rise on the leaping river.
But in the convulsive quiver and grip
Of the muscles around her bloodless lip,
There is something painful and sad to see;
And her eye has a glance more sternly wild
Than even that of a forest child
In its fearless and untamed freedom should be.
Yet, seldom in hall or court are seen
So queenly a form and so noble a mien,
As freely and smiling she welcomes them there, —
Her outlawed sire and Mogg Megone:
“Pray, father, how does thy hunting fare?
And, Sachem, say, — does Scamman wear,
In spite of thy promise, a scalp of his own?”
Hurried and light is the maiden’s tone;
But a fearful meaning lurks within
Her glance, as it questions the eye of Megone, —
An awful meaning of guilt and sin! —
The Indian hath opened his blanket, and there
Hangs a human scalp by its long damp hair!
With hand upraised, with quick drawn breath,
She meets that ghastly sign of death.
In one long, glassy, spectral stare
The enlarging eye is fastened there,
As if that mesh of pale brown hair
Had power to change at sight alone,
Even as the fearful locks which wound
Medusa’s fatal forehead round,
The gazer into stone.
With such a look Herodias read
The features of the bleeding head,
So looked the mad Moor on his dead,
Or the young Cenci as she stood,
O’er-dabbled with a father’s blood!
Look! — feeling melts that frozen glance,
It moves that marble countenance,
As if at once within her strove
Pity with shame, and hate with love.
The Past recalls its joy and pain,
Old memories rise before her brain, —
The lips which love’s embraces met,
The hand her tears of parting wet,
The voice whose pleading tones beguiled
The pleased ear of the forest-child, —
And tears she may no more repress
Reveal her lingering tenderness.
O, woman wronged can cherish hate
More deep and dark than manhood may;
But when the mockery of Fate
Hath left Revenge its chosen way,
And the fell curse, which years have nursed,
Full on the spoiler’s head hath burst, —
When all her wrong, and shame, and pain,
Burns fiercely on his heart and brain, —
Still lingers something of the spell
Which bound her to the traitor’s bosom, —
Still, midst the vengeful fires of hell,
Some flowers of old affection blossom.
John Bonython’s eyebrows together are drawn
With a fierce expression of wrath and scorn, —
He hoarsely whispers, “Ruth, beware!
Is this the time to be playing the fool, —
Crying over a paltry lock of hair,
Like a love-sick girl at school? —
Curse on it! — an Indian can see and hear:
Away, — and prepare our evening cheer!”
How keenly the Indian is watching now
Her tearful eye and her varying brow, —
With a serpent eye, which kindles and burns,
Like a fiery star in the upper air:
On sire and daughter his fierce glance turns: —
“Has my old white father a scalp to spare?
For his young one loves the pale brown hair
Of the scalp of an English dog far more
Than Mogg Megone, or his wigwam floor;
Go, — Mogg is wise: he will keep his land, —
And Sagamore John, when he feels with his hand,
Shall miss his scalp where it grew before.
The moment’s gust of grief is gone, —
The lip is clenched, — the tears are still, —
God pity thee, Ruth Bonython!
With what a strength of will
Are nature’s feelings in thy breast,
As with an iron hand, repressed!
And how, upon that nameless woe,
Quick as the pulse can come and go,
While shakes the unsteadfast knee, and yet
The bosom heaves, — the eye is wet, —
Has thy dark spirit power to stay
The heart’s wild current on its way?
And whence that baleful strength of guile,
Which over that still working brow
And tearful eye and cheek can throw
The mockery of a smile?
Warned by her father’s blackening frown,
With one strong effort crushing down
Grief, hate, remorse, she meets again
The savage murderer’s sullen gaze,
And scarcely look or tone betrays
How the heart strives beneath its chain.
“Is the Sachem angry, — angry with Ruth,
Because she cries with an ache in her tooth,
Which would make a Sagamore jump and cry,
And look about with a woman’s eye?
No, — Ruth will sit in the Sachem’s door
And braid the mats for his wigwam floor,
And broil his fish and tender fawn,
And weave his wampum, and grind his corn, —
For she loves the brave and the wise, and none
Are braver and wiser than Mogg Megone!”
The Indian’s brow is clear once more:
With grave, calm face, and half-shut eye,
He sits upon the wigwam floor,
And watches Ruth go by,
Intent upon her household care;
And ever and anon, the while,
Or on the maiden, or her fare,
Which smokes in grateful promise there,
Bestows his quiet smile.
Ah, Mogg Megone! — what dreams are thine,
But those which love’s own fancies dress, —
The sum of Indian happiness! —
A wigwam, where the warm sunshine
Looks in among the groves of pine, —
A stream, where, round thy light canoe,
The trout and salmon dart in view,
And the fair girl, before thee now,
Or plying, in the dews of morn,
Her hoe amidst thy patch of corn,
Or offering up, at eve, to thee,
Thy birchen dish of hominy!
From the rude board of Bonython,
Venison and succotash have gone, —
For long these dwellers want of food.
But untasted of Ruth is the frugal cheer, —
With head averted, yet ready ear,
She stands by the side of her austere sire,
Feeding, at times, the unequal fire
With the yellow knots of the pitch-pine tree,
Whose flaring light, as they kindle, falls
On the cottage-roof, and its black log walls,
And over its inmates three.
From Sagamore Bonython’s hunting flask
The fire-water burns at the lip of Megone:
“Will the Sachem hear what his father shall ask?
Will he make his mark, that it may be known,
On the speaking-leaf, that he gives the land,
From the Sachem’s own, to his father’s hand?”
The fire-water shines in the Indian’s eyes,
As he rises, the white man’s bidding to do:
“Wuttamuttata — weekan! Mogg is wise, —
For the water he drinks is strong and new, —
Mogg’s heart is great! — will he shut his hand,
When his father asks for a little land?” —
With unsteady fingers, the Indian has drawn
On the parchment the shape of a hunter’s bow,
“Boon water, — boon water, — Sagamore John!
Wuttamuttata, — weekan! our hearts will grow!”
He drinks yet deeper, — he mutters low, —
He reels on his bear-skin to and fro, —
His head falls down on his naked breast, —
He struggles, and sinks to a drunken rest.
“Humph — drunk as a beast!” — and Bonython’s brow
Is darker than ever with evil thought —
“The fool has signed his warrant; but how
And when shall the deed be wrought?
Speak, Ruth! why, what the devil is there,
To fix thy gaze in that empty air? —
Speak, Ruth! by my soul, if I thought that tear,
Which shames thyself and our purpose here,
Were shed for that cursed and pale-faced dog,
Whose green scalp hangs from the belt of Mogg,
And whose beastly soul is in Satan’s keeping, —
This — this!” — he dashes his hand upon
The rattling stock of his loaded gun, —
“Should send thee with him to do thy weeping!”
“Father!” — the eye of Bonython
Sinks at that low, sepulchral tone,
Hollow and deep, as it were spoken
By the unmoving tongue of death, —
Or from some statue’s lips had broken, —
A sound without a breath!
“Father! — my life I value less
Than yonder fool his gaudy dress;
And how it ends it matters not,
By heart-break or by rifle-shot;
But spare awhile the scoff and threat, —
Our business is not finished yet.”
“True, true, my girl, — I only meant
To draw up again the bow unbent.
Harm thee, my Ruth! I only sought
To frighten off thy gloomy thought;
Come, — let’s be friends!” He seeks to clasp
His daughter’s cold, damp hand in his.
Ruth startles from her father’s grasp,
As if each nerve and muscle felt,
Instinctively, the touch of guilt,
Through all their subtle sympathies.
He points her to the sleeping Mogg:
“What shall be done with yonder dog?
Scamman is dead, and revenge is thine, —
The deed is signed and the land is mine;
And this drunken fool is of use no more,
Save as thy hopeful bridegroom, and sooth,
‘Twere Christian mercy to finish him, Ruth,
Now, while he lies like a beast on our floor, —
If not for thine, at least for his sake,
Rather than let the poor dog awake
To drain my flask, and claim as his bride
Such a forest devil to run by his side, —
Such a Wetuomanit as thou wouldst make!”
He laughs at his jest. Hush — what is there? —
The sleeping Indian is striving to rise,
With his knife in his hand, and glaring eyes! —
“Wagh! — Mogg will have the pale-face’s hair,
For his knife is sharp, and his fingers can help
The hair to pull and the skin to peel, —
Let him cry like a woman and twist like an eel,
The great Captain Scamman must lose his scalp!
And Ruth, when she sees it, shall dance with Mogg.”
His eyes are fixed, — but his lips draw in, —
With a low, hoarse chuckle, and fiendish grin, —
And he sinks again, like a senseless log.
Ruth does not speak, — she does not stir;
But she gazes down on the murderer,
Whose broken and dreamful slumbers tell
Too much for her ear of that deed of hell.
She sees the knife, with its slaughter red,
And the dark fingers clenching the bearskin bed!
What thoughts of horror and madness whirl
Through the burning brain of that fallen girl!
John Bonython lifts his gun to his eye,
Its muzzle is close to the Indian’s ear, —
But he drops it again. “Some one may be nigh,
And I would not that even the wolves should hear.”
He draws his knife from its deer-skin belt, —
Its edge with his fingers is slowly felt; —
Kneeling down on one knee, by the Indian’s side,
From his throat he opens the blanket wide;
And twice or thrice he feebly essays
A trembling hand with the knife to raise.
“I cannot,” — he mutters, — “did he not save
My life from a cold and wintry grave,
When the storm came down from Agioochook,
And the north-wind howled, and the tree-tops shook, —
And I strove, in the drifts of the rushing snow,
Till my knees grew weak and I could not go,
And I felt the cold to my vitals creep,
And my heart’s blood stiffen, and pulses sleep!
I cannot strike him — Ruth Bonython!
In the Devil’s name, tell me — what’s to be done?”
O, when the soul, once pure and high,
Is stricken down from Virtue’s sky,
As, with the downcast star of morn,
Some gems of light are with it drawn, —
And, through its night of darkness, play
Some tokens of its primal day, —
Some lofty feelings linger still, —
The strength to dare, the nerve to meet
Whatever threatens with defeat
Its all-indomitable will! —
But lacks the mean of mind and heart,
Though eager for the gains of crime,
Oft, at his chosen place and time,
The strength to bear his evil part;
And, shielded by his very Vice,
Escapes from Crime by Cowardice.
Ruth starts erect, — with bloodshot eye,
And lips drawn tight across her teeth,
Showing their locked embrace beneath,
In the red firelight: — “Mogg must die!
Give me the knife!” — The outlaw turns,
Shuddering in the heart and limb, away, —
But, fitfully there, the hearth-fire burns,
And he sees on the wall strange shadows play.
A lifted arm, a tremulous blade,
Are dimly pictured in light and shade,
Plunging down in the darkness. Hark, that cry
Again — and again — he sees it fall, —
That shadowy arm down the lighted wall!
He hears quick footsteps — a shape flits by —
The door on its rusted hinges creaks: —
“Ruth — daughter Ruth!” the outlaw shrieks.
But no sound comes back, — he is standing alone
By the mangled corse of Mogg Megone!
(John Greenleaf Whittier)
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Based on Keywords: phillips, enlarging, grapevine, hearth-fire, gnarl, pale-face, moccasin, clenching, bear-skin, tree-trunk, palsying