Martin Mere, Burscough
In 2002 there were reports of a large underwater predator, probably a huge catfish living in the lake and eating the local swans. The following BBC report dates from 27 July 2002.
‘A giant fish which has attacked swans at a bird sanctuary has been spotted by wildlife experts.
At least two swans have been hurt by the underwater creature nicknamed the Monster of Martin Mere which hides in a lake in West Lancashire.
Now a four-man team says it has located the attacker which they think could be a Wels Catfish from eastern Europe.
Although the biggest ever caught was 16-feet long, Jonathan Downes, one of the team from the Centre for Fortean Zoology in Exeter, thinks this one is a tiddler by comparison – perhaps seven feet long and weighing 24 stone.
He said: “If it is a Wels, it is almost certainly a British record.”
The team is spending four days at the Wildfowl Trust at Martin Mere using infra-red cameras, military-style night lights and sonar equipment to find out more about the mystery beast.
The giant fish was first spotted on Thursday by team member Richard Freeman who is hoping to capture the creature on film.
He said: “I have seen something black and shiny snaking around in the water in almost the same place as the original sighting several months ago.
“It certainly looked like a Wels catfish.
“However we will be carrying out further investigations over the weekend in hope of obtaining photographic proof”.
Mr Freeman said the fish had no scales, had a “rubbery” appearance, was oily-black in colour and moved quickly through the water.
“I can’t say for sure that it was a Wels catfish. But if a pike had attacked the swans there would have been wounds.
“This thing seems to come up underneath and drag its prey down under the water.”
Reports of a larger-than-life creature living in the 17-acre lake were first voiced four years ago and the Martin Mere monster has since become a talking point among people living near the 380-acre reserve which regularly attracts Whooper and Bewick swans.
Unrelated to the above news article, there is a mermaid story associated with the lake. It was printed in Roby’s Traditions of Lancashire Volume II (1872).
Little needs to be said by way of introduction or explanation of the following tale. Martin Meer is now in process of cultivation; the plough and the harrow leave more enduring furrows on its bosom. It is a fact, curious enough in connection with our story, that some years ago, in digging and draining, a canoe was found here. How far this may confirm our tradition, we leave the reader to determine. It is scarcely two miles from Southport; and the botanist, as well as the entomologist, would find themselves amply repaid by a visit.
Martin Meer, the scene of the following story, we have described in our first series of Traditions, where Sir Tarquin, a carnivorous giant, is slain by Sir Lancelot of the Lake. These circumstances, and more of the like purport on this subject, we therefore omit, as being too trite and familiar to bear repetition. We do not suppose the reader to be quite so familiar with the[Pg 173] names and fortunes of Captain Harrington and Sir Ralph Molyneux, though they had the good fortune to be born eleven hundred years later, and to have seen the world, in consequence, eleven hundred years older—we wish we could say wiser and better tempered, less selfish and less disposed to return hard knocks, and to be corrupted with evil communications. But man is the same in all ages. The external habits and usages of society change his mode of action—clothe the person and passions in a different garb; but their form and substance, like the frame they inhabit, are unchanged, and will continue until this great mass of intelligence, this mischievous compound of good and evil, this round rolling earth, shall cease to swing through time and space—a mighty pendulum, whose last stroke shall announce the end of time, the beginning of eternity!
Our story gets on indifferently the while; but a willing steed is none the worse for halting. Harrington and his friend Sir Ralph were spruce and well-caparisoned cavaliers, living often about court towards the latter end of Charles the Second’s reign. What should now require their presence in these extreme regions of the earth, far from society and civilisation, it is not our business to inquire. It sufficeth for our story that they were here, mounted, and proceeding at a shuffling trot along the flat, bare, sandy region we have described.
“How sweetly and silently that round sun sinks into the water!” said Harrington.
“But doubtless,” returned his companion, “if he were fire, as thou sayest, the liquid would not bear his approach so meekly; why, it would boil if he were but chin-deep in yon great seething-pot.”
“Thou art quicker at a jest than a moral, Molyneux,” said the other and graver personage; “thou canst not even let the elements escape thy gibes. I marvel how far we are from our cousin Ireland’s at Lydiate. My fears mislead me, or we have missed our way. This flat bosom of desolation hath no vantage-ground whence we may discern our path; and we have been winding about this interminable lake these two hours.”
“Without so much as a blade of grass or a tree to say ‘Good neighbour’ to,” said Molyneux, interrupting his companion’s audible reverie. “Crows and horses must fare sumptuously in these parts.”
“This lake, I verily think, follows us; or we are stuck to its side like a lady’s bauble.”
“And no living thing to say ‘Good-bye,’ were it fish or woman.”
“Or mermaid, which is both.” Scarcely were the words uttered when Harrington pointed to the water.
“Something dark comes upon that burning track left on the surface by the sun’s chariot wheels.”
“A fishmonger’s skiff belike,” said Sir Ralph.
They plunged through the deep sandy drifts towards the brink, hastening to greet the first appearance of life which they had found in this region of solitude. At a distance they saw a female floating securely, and apparently without effort, upon the rippling current. Her form was raised half-way above the water, and her long hair hung far below her shoulders. This she threw back at times from her forehead, smoothing it down with great dexterity. She seemed to glide on slowly, and without support; yet the distance prevented any very minute observation.
“A bold swimmer, o’ my troth!” said Molyneux; “her body tapers to a fish’s tail, no doubt, or my senses have lost their use.”
Harrington was silent, looking thoughtful and mysterious.
“I’ll speak to yon sea-wench.”
“For mercy’s sake, hold thy tongue. If, as I suspect—and there be such things, ’tis said, in God’s creation—thou wilt”——
But the tongue of this errant knight would not be stayed; and his loud musical voice swept over the waters, evidently attracting her notice, and for the first time. She drew back her dark hair, gazing on them for a moment, when she suddenly disappeared. Harrington was sure she had sunk; but a jutting peninsula of sand was near enough to have deceived him, especially through the twilight, which now drew on rapidly.
“And thou hast spoken to her!” said he gravely; “then be the answer thine!”
“A woman’s answer were easier parried than a sword-thrust, methinks; and that I have hitherto escaped.”
“Let us be gone speedily. I like not yon angry star spying out our path through these wilds.”
“Thou didst use to laugh at my superstitions; but thine own, I guess, are too chary to be meddled with.”
“Laugh at me an’ thou wilt,” said Harrington: “when Master Lilly cast my horoscope he bade me ever to eschew travel when Mars comes to his southing, conjunct with the Pleiades, at midnight—the hour of my birth. Last night, as I looked out from where I lay at Preston, methought the red warrior shot his spear athwart their soft scintillating light; and as I gazed, his ray seemed to ride half-way across the heavens. Again he is rising yonder.”
“And his meridian will happen at midnight?”
“Even so,” replied Harrington.
“Then gallop on. I’d rather make my supper with the fair dames at Lydiate than in a mermaid’s hall.”
But their progress was a work of no slight difficulty, and even danger. Occasionally plunging to the knees in a deep bog, then wading to the girth in a hillock of sand and prickly bent grass (the Arundo arenaria, so plentiful on these coasts), the horses were scarcely able to keep their footing—yet were they still urged on. Every step was expected to bring them within sight of some habitation.
“What is yonder glimmer to the left?” said Molyneux. “If it be that hideous water again, it is verily pursuing us. I think I shall be afraid of water as long as I live.”
“As sure as Mahomet was a liar, and the Pope has excommunicated him from Paradise, ’tis the same still, torpid, dead-like sea we ought to have long since passed.”
“Then have our demonstrations been in a circle, in place of a right line, and we are fairly on our way back again.”
Sure enough there was the same broad, still surface of the Meer, though on the contrary side, mocking day’s last glimmer in the west. The bewildered travellers came to a full pause.
They took counsel together while they rested their beasts and their spur-rowels; but the result was by no means satisfactory. One by one came out the glorious throng above them, until the heavens grew light with living hosts, and the stars seemed to pierce the sight, so vivid was their brightness.
“Yonder is a light, thank Heaven!” cried Harrington.
“And it is approaching, thank your stars!” said his companion. “I durst not stir to meet it, through these perilous paths, if our night’s lodging depended on it.”
The bearer of this welcome discovery was a kind-hearted fisherman, who carried a blazing splinter of antediluvian firewood dug from the neighbouring bog; a useful substitute for more expensive materials.
It appeared they were at a considerable distance from the right path, or indeed from any path that could be travelled with safety, except by daylight. He invited them to a lodging in a lone hut on the borders of the lake, where he and his wife subsisted by eel-catching and other precarious pursuits. The simplicity and openness of his manner disarmed suspicion.
The offer was accepted, and the benighted heroes found themselves breathing fish-odours and turf-smoke for the night, under a shed of the humblest construction. His family consisted of a wife and one child only; but the strangers preferred a bed by the turf-embers to the couch that was kindly offered them.
The cabin was built of the most simple and homely materials. The walls were pebble-stones from the sea-beach, cemented with clay. The roof-tree was the wreck of some unfortunate vessel stranded on the coast. The whole was thatched with star-grass or sea-reed, blackened with smoke and moisture.
“You are but scantily peopled hereabouts,” said Harrington, for lack of other converse.
“Why, ay,” returned the peasant; “but it matters nought; our living is mostly on the water.”
“And it might be with more chance of company than on shore; we saw a woman swimming or diving there not long ago.”
“Have ye seen her?” inquired both man and dame with great alacrity.
“Seen whom?” returned the guest.
“The Meer-woman, as we call her.”
“We saw a being, but of what nature we are ignorant, float and disappear as suddenly as though she were an inhabitant of yon world of waters.”
“Thank mercy! Then she will be here anon.”
Curiosity was roused, though it failed in procuring the desired intelligence. She might be half-woman half-fish for aught they knew. She always came from the water, and was very kind to them and the babe. Such was the sum of the information; yet when they spoke of the child there was evidently a sort of mystery and alarm, calculated to awaken suspicion.
Harrington looked on the infant. It was on the woman’s lap asleep, smiling as it lay; and an image of more perfect loveliness and repose he had never beheld. It might be about a twelvemonth old; but its dress did not correspond with the squalid poverty by which it was surrounded.
“Surely this poor innocent has not been stolen,” thought he. The child threw its little hands towards him as it awoke; and he could have wept. Its short feeble wail had smitten him to the heart.
Suddenly they heard a low murmuring noise at the window.
“She is there,” said the woman; “but she likes not the presence of strangers. Get thee out to her, Martin, and persuade her to come in.”
The man was absent for a short time. When he entered, his face displayed as much astonishment as it was possible to cram into a countenance so vacant.
“She says our lives were just now in danger; and that the child’s enemies are again in search; but she has put them on the wrong scent. We must not tarry here any longer; we must remove, and that speedily. But she would fain be told what is your business in these parts, if ye are so disposed.”
“Why truly,” said Harrington, “our names and occupation need little secrecy. We are idlers at present, and having kindred in the neighbourhood, are on our way to the Irelands at Lydiate, as we before told thee. Verily, there is but little of either favour or profit to be had about court now-a-days. Nought better than to loiter in hall and bower, and fling our swords in a lady’s lap. But why does the woman ask? Hath she some warning to us? or is there already a spy upon our track?”
“I know not,” said Martin; “but she seems mightily afeard o’ the child.”
“If she will entrust the babe to our care,” said Harrington, after a long pause, “I will protect it. The shield of the Harringtons shall be its safeguard.”
The fisherman went out with this message; and on his return it was agreed that, as greater safety would be the result, the child should immediately be given to Harrington. A solemn pledge was required by the unseen visitant that the trust should be surrendered whenever, and by whomsoever, demanded; likewise a vow of inviolable secrecy was exacted from the parties that were present. Harrington drew a signet from his finger; whoever returned it was to receive back the child. He saw not the mysterious being to whom it was sent; but the idea of the Meer-woman, the lake, and the untold mysteries beneath its quiet bosom, came vividly and painfully on his recollection.
Long after she had departed, the strange events of the evening kept them awake. Inquiries were now answered without hesitation. Harrington learned that the “Meer-woman’s” first appearance was on a cold wintry day, a few months before. She did not crave protection from the dwellers in the hut, but seemed rather to command it. Leaving the infant with them, and promising to return shortly, she seemed to vanish upon the lake, or rather, she seemed to glide away on its surface so swiftly that she soon disappeared. Since then she had visited them thrice, supplying them with a little money and other necessaries; but they durst not question her, she looked so strange and forbidding.
In the morning they were conducted to Lydiate by the fisherman, who also carried the babe. Here they told a pitiable story of their having found the infant exposed, the evening before, by some unfeeling mother; and, strange to say, the truth was never divulged until the time arrived when Harrington should render up his trust.
Years passed on. Harrington saw the pretty foundling expand through every successive stage from infancy to childhood—lovelier as each year unfolded some hidden grace, and the bloom brightened as it grew. He had married in the interval, but was yet childless. His lady was passionately fond of her charge, and Grace Harrington was the pet and darling of the family. No wonder their love to the little stranger was growing deeper, and was gradually acquiring a stronger hold on their affections. But Harrington remembered his vow: it haunted him like a spectre. It seemed as though written with a sunbeam on his memory; but the finger of death pointed to its accomplishment. It will not be fulfilled without blood, was the foreboding that assailed him. His lady knew not of his grief, ignorant happily of its existence, and of its source.
Their mansion stood on a rising ground but a few miles distant from the lake. He thus seemed to hover instinctively on its precincts; though, in observance of his vow, he refrained from visiting that lonely hut, or inquiring about its inhabitants. Its broad smooth bosom was ever in his sight; and when the sun went down upon its wide brim his emotion was difficult to conceal.
One soft, clear evening, he sat enjoying the calm atmosphere, with his lady and their child. The sun was nigh setting, and the lake glowed like molten fire at his approach.
‘Tis said a mermaid haunts yon water,” said Mrs Harrington; “I have heard many marvellous tales of her, a few years ago. Strange enough, last night I dreamed she took away our little girl, and plunged with her into the water. But she never returned.”
“How I should like to see a mermaid!” said the playful girl. “Nurse says they are beautiful ladies with long hair and green eyes. But”—and she looked beseechingly towards them—”we are always forbidden to ramble towards the Meer.”
“Harrington, the night wind makes you shiver. You are ill!”
“No, my love. But—this cold air comes wondrous keen across my bosom,” said he, looking wistfully on the child, who, scarcely knowing why, threw her little arms about his neck, and wept.
“My dream, I fear, hath strange omens in it,” said the lady thoughtfully.
The same red star shot fiercely up from the dusky horizon; the same bright beam was on the wave; and the mysterious incidents of the fisherman’s hut came like a track of fire across Harrington’s memory.
“Yonder is that strange woman again that has troubled us about the house these three days,” said Mrs Harrington, looking out from the balcony; “we forbade her yesterday. She comes hither with no good intent.”
Harrington looked over the balustrade. A female stood beside a pillar, gazing intently towards him. Her eye caught his own; it was as if a basilisk had smitten him. Trembling, yet fascinated, he could not turn away his glance; a smile passed on her dark-red visage—a grin of joy at the discovery.
“Surely,” thought he, “’tis not the being who claims my child!” But the woman drew something from her hand, which, at that distance, Harrington recognised as his pledge. His lady saw not the signal; without speaking, he obeyed. Hastening down-stairs, a private audience confirmed her demand, which the miserable Harrington durst not refuse.
Two days he was mostly in private. Business with the steward was the ostensible motive. He had sent an urgent message to his friend Molyneux, who, on the third day, arrived at H——, where they spent many hours in close consultation. The following morning Grace came running in after breakfast. She flung her arms about his neck.
“Let me not leave you to-day,” she sobbed aloud.
“Why, my love?” said Harrington, strangely disturbed at the request.
“I do not know!” replied the child, pouting.
“To-day I ride out with Sir Ralph to the Meer, and as thou hast often wished—because it was forbidden, I guess—thou shalt ride with us a short distance; I will toss thee on before me, and away we’ll gallop—like the Prince of Trebizond on the fairy horse.”
“And shall we see the mermaid?” said the little maiden quickly, as though her mind had been running on the subject.
“I wish the old nurse would not put such foolery in the girl’s head,” said Mrs Harrington impatiently. “There be no mermaids now, my love.”
“What! not the mermaid of Martin Meer?” inquired the child, seemingly disappointed.
Harrington left the room, promising to return shortly.
The morning was dull, but the afternoon broke out calm and bright. Grace was all impatience for the ride; and Rosalind, the favourite mare, looked more beautiful than ever in her eyes. She bounded down the terrace at the first sound of the horses’ feet, leaving Mrs Harrington to follow.
The cavaliers were already mounted, but the child suddenly drew back.
“Come, my love,” said Harrington, stretching out his hand; “look how your pretty Rosalind bends her neck to receive you.”
Seeing her terror, Mrs Harrington soothed these apprehensions, and fear was soon forgotten amid the pleasures she anticipated.
“You are back by sunset, Harrington?”
“Fear not, I shall return,” replied he; and away sprang the pawing beasts down the avenue.
The lady lingered until[Pg 181] they were out of sight. Some unaccountable oppression weighed down her spirits; she sought her chamber, and a heavy sob threw open the channel which hitherto had restrained her tears.
They took the nearest path towards the Meer, losing sight of it as they advanced into the low flat sands, scarcely above its level. When again it opened into view its wide waveless surface lay before them, reposing in all the sublimity of loneliness and silence. The rapture of the child was excessive. She surveyed with delight its broad unruffled bosom, giving back the brightness and glory of that heaven to which it looked; to her it seemed another sky and another world, pure and spotless as the imagination that created it.
They entered the fisherman’s hut; but it was deserted. Years had probably elapsed since the last occupation. Half-burnt turf and bog-wood lay on the hearth; but the walls were crumbling down with damp and decay.
The two friends were evidently disappointed. At times they looked out anxiously, but in vain, as it might seem; for they again sat down, silent and depressed, upon a turf-heap by the window, while the child ran playing and gambolling towards the beach.
Harrington sat with his back to the window, when suddenly the low murmuring noise he had heard on his former visit was repeated. He turned pale.
“Thou art not alone; and where is the child?” or words to this purport were uttered in a whisper. He started aside; the sound, as he thought, was close to his ear. Molyneux heard it too.
“Shall I depart?” said he, cautiously; “I will take care to keep within call.”
“Nay,” said his friend, whispering in his ear, “thou must ride out of sight and sound too, I am afraid, or we shall not accomplish our plans for the child’s safety. Depart with the attendants; I fear not the woman. Say to my lady I will return anon.”
With some reluctance Sir Ralph went his way homewards, and Harrington was left to accomplish these designs without assistance.
Immediately he walked out towards the shore; but he saw nothing of the child, and his heart misgave him. He called her; but the sound died with its own echo upon the waters. The timid rabbit fled to its burrow, and the sea-gull rose from her gorge, screaming away heavily to her mate; but the voice of his child returned no more!
Almost driven to frenzy, he ran along the margin of the lake to a considerable distance, returning after a fruitless search to the hut, where he threw himself on the ground. In the agony of his spirit he lay with his face to the earth, as if to hide his anguish as he wept.
How long he remained was a matter of uncertainty. On a sudden, instantaneously with the rush that aroused him, he felt his arms pinioned, and that by no timid or feeble hand. At the same moment a bandage was thrown over his eyes, and he found himself borne away swiftly into a boat. He listened for some time to the rapid stroke of the oars. Not a word was spoken from which he could ascertain the meaning of this outrage. To his questions no reply was vouchsafed, and in the end he forbore inquiry—the mind wearied into apathy by excitement and its consequent exhaustion.
The boat again touched the shore, and he was carried out. The roar of the sea had for some time been rapidly growing louder as they neared the land. He was now borne along over hillocks of loose sand to the sea-beach, when he felt himself fairly launched upon the high seas. He heard the whistling of the cordage, the wide sail flap to the wind, with the groan of the blast as it rushed into the swelling canvas; then he felt the billows prancing under him, and the foam and spray from their huge necks as they swept by. It was not long ere he heard the sails lowered; and presently they were brought up alongside a vessel of no ordinary bulk. Harrington was conducted with little ceremony into the cabin; the bandage was removed from his eyes, and he found himself in the presence of a weather-beaten tar, who was sitting by a table, on which lay a cutlass and a pair of richly-embossed pistols.
“We have had a long tug to bring thee to,” said the captain; “but we always grapple with the enemy in the long run. If thou hast aught to say why sentence of death should not pass on thee, ay, and be executed straightway too—say on. What! not a shot in thy locker? Then may all such land-sharks perish, say I, as thus I signify thy doom.” He examined his pistols with great nicety as he spoke. Harrington was dumb with amazement, whilst his enemy surveyed him with a desperate and determined glance. At length he stammered forth—
“I am ignorant of thy meaning; much less can I shape my defence. Who art thou?”
The other replied, in a daring and reckless tone—
“I am the Free Rover, of whom thou hast doubtless heard. My good vessel and her gallant crew ne’er slackened a sky-raker in the chase, nor backed a mainsail astern of the enemy.
But pirate as I am—hunted and driven forth like the prowling wolf, without the common rights and usages of my fellow men—I have yet their feelings. I had a child! Thy fell, unpitying purpose, remorseless monster, hath made me childless! But thou hast robbed the lioness of her whelp, and thou art in her gripe!”
“As my hope is to escape thy fangs, I am innocent of the crime.”
“Maybe thou knowest not the mischief thou hast inflicted; but thy guilt and my bereavement are not the less. My child was ailing; we were off this coast, when we sent her ashore secretly until our return. A fisherman and his wife, to whom our messenger entrusted the babe, were driven forth by thee one bitter night without a shelter. The child perished; and its mother chides my tardy revenge.”
“‘Tis a falsehood!” cried Harrington, “told to cover some mischievous design. The child, if it be thine, was given to my care—by whom I know not. I have nurtured her kindly; not three hours ago, as I take it, she was in yonder hut; but she has been decoyed from me; and I am here thy prisoner, and without the means of clearing myself from this false and malicious charge.”
The captain smiled incredulously.
“Thou art lord of yonder soil, I own; but thou shouldest have listened to the cry of the helpless. I have here a witness who will prove thy story false—the messenger herself. Call hither Oneida,” said he, speaking to the attendants. But this personage could not be found.
“She has gone ashore in her canoe,” said the pirate; “and the men never question her. She will return ere mid-watch. Prepare: thou showedst no mercy, and I have sworn!”
Harrington was hurried to a little square apartment, which an iron grating sufficiently indicated to be the state prison. The vessel lay at anchor; the intricate soundings on that dangerous coast rendered her perfectly safe from attack, even if she had been discovered. He watched the stars rising out, calm and silently, from the deep: “Ere yon glorious orb is on the zenith,” thought he, “I may be—what?” He shrank from the conclusion.
“Surely the wretch will not dare to execute his audacious threat?” He again caught that red and angry star gleaming portentously on him. It seemed to be his evil genius; its malignant eye appeared to follow out his track, to haunt him, and to beset his path continually with suffering and danger. He stood by the narrow grating, feverish and apprehensive; again he heard that low murmuring voice which he too painfully recognised. The mysterious being of the lake stood before him.
“White man”—she spoke in a strange and uncouth accent;—”the tree bows to the wing of the tempest—the roots look upward—the wind sighs past its withered trunk—the song of the warbler is heard no more from its branches, and the place of its habitation is desolate.
Thine enemies have prevailed. I did it not to compass thine hurt: I knew not till now thou wert in their power; and I cannot prevent the sacrifice.”
“Restore the child, and I am safe,” said Harrington, trembling in his soul’s agony at every point; “or withdraw thy false, thine accursed accusations.”
“Thou knowest not my wrongs and my revenge! Thou seest the arrow, but not the poison that is upon it. The maiden, whose race numbers a thousand warriors, returns not to her father’s tribe ere she wring out the heart’s life-blood from her destroyer. Death were happiness to the torments I inflict on him and the woman who hath supplanted me. And yet they think Oneida loves them—bends like the bulrush when the wind blows upon her, and rises only when he departs. What! give back the child? She hath but taken my husband and my bed; as soon might ye tear the prey from the starved hunter. This night will I remove their child from them—to depart, when a few moons are gone—it may be to dwell again with my tribe in the wigwam and the forest.”
“But I have not wronged thee!”
“Thou art of their detested race. Yet would I not kill thee.”
“Help me to escape.”
“Escape!” said this untamed savage, with a laugh which went with a shudder to his heart.
“As soon might the deer dart from the hunter’s rifle as thou from the cruel pirate who has pronounced thy death! I could tell thee such deeds of him and these bloody men as would freeze thy bosom, though it were wide and deep as the lakes of my country. Yet I loved him once! He came a prisoner to my father’s hut. I have spilled my best blood for his escape. I have borne him where the white man’s feet never trod—through forests, where aught but the Indian or the wild beast would have perished. I left my country and my kin—the graves of my fathers—and how hath he requited me? He gave the ring of peace to the red woman; but when he saw another and a fairer one of thy race, she became his wife; and from that hour Oneida’s love was hate!—and I have waited and not complained, for my revenge was sure! And shall I now bind the healing leaf upon the wound?—draw the arrow from the flesh of mine enemies? Thou must die! for my revenge is sweet.”
“I will denounce thee to him, fiend! I will reveal”——
“He will not believe thee. His eye and ear are sealed. He would stake his life on my fidelity. He knows not of the change.”
“But he will discover it, monster, when thou art gone. He will track thee to the verge of this green earth and the salt sea, and thou shall not escape.”
With a yell of unutterable scorn she cried—
“He may track the wild bee to its nest, and the eagle to his eyrie, but he discerns not one footprint of Oneida’s path!”
The pangs of death seemed to be upon him. He read his doom in the kindling eye and almost demoniac looks of the being who addressed him. She seemed like some attendant demon waiting to receive his spirit. His brain grew dizzy. Death would have been welcome in comparison with the horrors of its anticipation. He would have caught her; but she glided from his grasp, and he was again left in that den of loneliness and misery. How long he knew not; his first returning recollection was the sound of bolts and the rude voices of his jailers.
In this extremity the remembrance of that Being in whom, and from whom, are all power and mercy, flashed on his brain like a burst of hope—like a sunbeam on the dark ocean of despair.
“God of my fathers, hear!” escaped from his lips in that appalling moment. His soul was calmed by the appeal. Vain was the help of man, but he felt as if supported and surrounded by the arm of Omnipotence, while silently, and with a firm step, he followed his conductors.
One dim light only was burning above. Some half-dozen of the crew stood armed on the quarter-deck behind their chief; their hard, forbidding faces looked without emotion upon this scene of unpitying, deliberate murder.
To some question from the pirate Harrington replied by accusing the Indian woman of treachery.
“As soon yonder star, which at midnight marks our meridian, would prove untrue in its course.”
Harrington shuddered at this ominous reference.
“I cannot prove mine innocence,” said he; “but I take yon orb to witness that I never wronged you or yours. The child is in her keeping.”
“Call her hither, if she be returned,” said the captain, “and see if he dare repeat this in her presence. He thinks to haul in our canvas until the enemy are under weigh, and then, Yoh ho, boys, for the rescue. But we shall be dancing over the bright Solway ere the morning watch, and thy carcase in the de’il’s locker.”
“If not for mine, for your own safety!”
“My safety! and what care I, though ten thousand teeth were grinning at me, through as many port-holes. My will alone bounds my power. Who shall question my sentence, which is death?”
He gnashed his teeth as he went on. “And your halls shall be too hot to hold your well-fed drones. Thy hearth, proud man, shall be desolate. I’ll lay waste thy domain. Thy race, root and branch, will I extinguish; for thou hast made me childless!”
The messenger returned with the intelligence that Oneida was not in the ship.
“On shore again, the ——! If I were to bind her with the main-chains, and an anchor at each leg, she would escape me to go ashore. No heed; we will just settle the affair without her, and he shall drop quietly into a grave ready made, and older than Adam. I would we had some more of his kin; they should swing from the bowsprit, like sharks and porpoises, who devour even when they have had enough, and waste what they can’t devour.”
“Thou wilt not murder me thus, defenceless, and in cold blood.”
“My child was more helpless, and had not injured thee! Ye give no quarter to the prowling beast, and yet, like me, he only robs and murders to preserve his life. How far is it from midnight?”
“Five minutes, and yon star comes to his southing,” said the person he addressed.
“Then prepare; that moment marks thy death!”
The men looked significantly towards their rifles.
“Nay,” cried this bloodthirsty freebooter, “my arm alone shall avenge my child.”
He drew a pistol from his belt.
“Yonder is Oneida,” sang out the man at the main-top; “she is within a cable’s length.”
“Heed her not. When the bell strikes, I have sworn thou shalt die!”
A pause ensued—a few brief moments in the lapse of time, but an age in the records of thought. Not a breath relieved the horror and intensity of that silence. The plash of a light oar was heard;—a boat touched the vessel. The bell struck.
“Once!” shouted the fierce mariner, and he raised his pistol with the sharp click of preparation.
The bell boomed again.
“Hold!” cried a female, rushing between the executioner and the condemned: But the warning was too late;—the ball had sped, though not to its mark. Oneida was the victim.
She fell, with a faint scream, bleeding on the deck. But Harrington was close locked in the arms of his little Grace. She had flown to him for protection, sobbing with joy.
The pirate seemed horror-struck at the deed. He raised Oneida, unloosing his neckcloth to staunch the wound.
“The Great Spirit calls me:” she spoke with great exertion: “the green woods, the streams, land of my forefathers. Oh! I come!” She raised herself suddenly with great energy, looking towards Harrington, who yet knelt, guarded and pinioned—the child still clinging to him.
“White man, I have wronged thee, and I am the sacrifice. Murderer, behold thy child!” She raised her eyes suddenly towards the pirate, who shook his head, supposing that her senses grew confused.
“It was for thy rescue!” again she addressed Harrington. “The Great Spirit appeared to me: he bade me restore what I had taken away, and I should be with the warriors and the chiefs who have died in battle. They hunt in forests from which the red-deer flies not, and fish in rivers that are never dry. But my bones shall not rest with my fathers!—I come. Lake of the woods, farewell!”
She threw one look of reproach on her destroyer, and the spirit of Oneida had departed.
The pirate stood speechless and bewildered. He looked on the child—a ray of recollection seemed to pass over his visage. Its expression was softened; and this man of outlawry and blood became gentle. The savage grew tame. The common sympathies of his nature, so long dried up, burst forth, and the wide deep flood of feeling and affection rolled on with it like a torrent, gathering strength by its own accumulation.
Years after, in a secluded cottage by the mansion of the Harringtons, dwelt an old man and his daughter. She soothed the declining hours of his sojourn. His errors and his crimes—and they were many and aggravated—were not unrepented of. She watched his last breath; and the richest lady of that land was “The Pirate’s Daughter.”