Page images
PDF
EPUB

A ROMANCE OF THE BORDER.

BY WILLIAM L. STONE.

"She had just arrived
" At life's best season ; when the world seems all
“One land of promise; when hope, like the lark,
“ Sings to the unrisen sun, and time's dread scythe
"Is polished to a bright and flattering mirror,
" Where youth and beauty view their growing image,
“And wanton with the edge.”

MORE than thirty years ago, there lived in the beautiful vale of one of the tributaries to the Susquehanna, whose waters wind their way among the hills of Otsego, a person of singular character and appearance. Without, as far as the writer knew, ever having lifted his finger against a human being, he was nevertheless a terror to children and youth of the border settlement: and those even who had arrived at the age of manhood shook their heads mysteriously, and looked grave, when he was the subject of conversation. His cottage, at that time ancient and mossgrown, was situated at the foot of a hill descending

with a gentle slope to the south, and fronting a beautiful meadow, skirted in part by the creek which murmured tranquilly by. On the opposite bank, the deep-tangled shrubs, which fringed the statelier forest, dipped their pendent branches in the clear stream. On three sides the clearing' was bounded by the dark primitive forest; but on the north-east there was a thick secondary growth of timber over the space of a goodly sized farm, among which were yet standing the apple-trees of what appeared to have been informer days a regularly planted orchard. There was a small open space in the midst of this younger forest, in the centre of which were the ruins of buildings; associated with these were tales of terror, Indian wars, murders, ghosts, tomahawks and blood. The passage through this little forest—for as no heirs appeared to claim the soil, it stood years and years after the clearings' had approached its borders on all sides--always reminded my associates and myself of Indians and scalping-knives, and of the possibility that unquiet spirits were hovering there. In the night time especially, if one of us had to pass alone the 'Buxton farm,' as it was called, he walked briskly and whistled to keep his courage up.' If a company of lads had occasion to go by after twilight, they would crowd closer together as they came near, hurry onward with a lighter tread, and speak scarce above their breath, while a shuddering sensation would creep over them at every rustling leaf. Having crossed the gloomy

ror.

place, when wending our steps from home, we next came upon the before described premises of Mr. Johnson--for that was the name of the singular man whom we have introduced to the reader above-but in no very* cheerful mood, as may be supposed; and perhaps that was in part the reason of our looking upon him with more alarm than a regiment of warlocks could infuse into the bosom of a Scotsman. Certain it is, however, he was a most singular man, and to us a man of ter

But why we knew not; only that there was always some mysterious association in the mind, between him and the tragic reminiscences and traditions of the Buxton farm. The causes of this association I was unacquainted with until years after the period of which I am writing. But such was the fact with respect to Mr. Johnson; and his looks and demeanour in our youthful eyes were exceedingly dubious, and inspired us with many dark suspicions and unpleasant apprehensions. He was a spare man, of an athletic middlesized frame, large boned, with dark shaggy eye-brows, grisly hair, and an austere, melancholy look.

Cruel to himself
They did report him: the cold earth his bed,
Water his drink, his food the shepherd's alms.'

Scarcely could any of us pass his residence, but to our regret we saw him; and if he were near, an involuntary shudder would run over us. He lived lone like a hermit; and when seen by me was always stand

N

ing still, either in the garden, the meadow, the field, or the lawn-always in the same antiquated attire, in the attitude of deep and heavy thoughtfulness. His furrowed features ever wore the same appearance of fixed imperturbable gravity—the same unapproachable and forbidding severity. I have seen him a hundred times, but never heard him speak, nor saw him smile. Every thing about his manners likewise looked strangely. At the easternmost end of the little lawn, in the centre of which stood his cottage, was a small oval enclosure, in the middle of which was a little knoll covered with green turf kept perfectly neat and clean. The ivy and wild honeysuckle intertwined their tendrils as they clung to the rude wicket fence, and the rose in its season bloomed at its head. This was said to be the tomb of his wife, whose burial took place before his solitude had been disturbed by other settlers. His orchard, instead of being planted in rows, like those of other people, grew in irregular clusters around his house and garden; and yet, without being separated, transplanted, or pruned, as was necessary with other people's apple trees, it seemed to grow more thriftily than any other. Even his. cattle, as they grazed among the cowslips in the meadow or the field, and the fowls of his barn-yard, as they flapped their wings in the sun, or pecked upon the dunghill, appeared singular and different from those of other people. And I am sure that his old sturdy bull-dog had ten times more terrors for me than any bull-dog I

ever saw.

Indeed every thing conspired to invest Mr. Johnson, and the clearing in which he lived, and all that he possessed, with a strange, mysterious, and forbidding character, for which no one in our juvenile circle could have accounted, had such a thing been required. Yet the little farm was cultivated with care, and was always in excellent order; no hedge-rows of briers and bushes were suffered to spring up by his fences; its location was delightful; and to the eye of a stranger it would have appeared one of the sweetest places of residence that heart could desire.

As we grew older our terrors of course decreased, in passing both Johnson's and the Buxton farm ; but the strange feelings and emotions never entirely left us; and I believe that, even to this day, were I to be set down in the dim hour of twilight in the once fearful spot, looking as it then did, a momentary shudder would come over me as in times past. But it must be borne in mind that I left that country soon after the first meeting-house was built, and before I had outgrown the fears and apprehensions of the days of my boyhood, when the mind, pliant as melted wax, is moulded at pleasure, and when, by the indiscretion of nurses and by old wives' tales, superstitious impressions are too often so deeply implanted, as to defy all the efforts of reason in future life to eradicate them. And it was not until years afterwards, when on a visit to the scenes of my boyhood, during which I spent a

« PreviousContinue »