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On the other hand, the Puritans affirmed, that, when a psalm was pealing from their place of worship, the echo which the forest sent them back seemed often like the chorus of a jolly catch, closing with a roar of laughter. Who but the fiend, and his bond-slaves, the crew of Merry Mount, had thus disturbed them? In due time, a feud arose, stern and bitter on one side, and as serious on the other as anything could be among such light spirits as had sworn allegiance to the Maypole. The future complexion of New England was involved in this important quarrel. Should the grizzly saints establish their jurisdiction over the gay sinners, then would their spirits darken all the clime, and make it a land of clouded visages, of hard toil, of sermon and psalm forever. But should the banner staff of Merry Mount be fortunate, sunshine would break upon the hills, and flowers would beautify the forest, and late posterity do homage to the Maypole.
After these authentic passages from history, we return to the nuptials of the Lord and Lady of the May. Alas! we have delayed too long, and must darken our tale too suddenly. As we glance again at the Maypole, a solitary sunbeam is fading from the summit, and leaves only a faint, golden tinge, blended with the hues of the rainbow banner. Even that dim light is now withdrawn, relinquishing the whole domain of Merry Mount to the evening gloom, which has rushed so instantaneously from the "black surrounding woods.
But some of these black shadows have rushed forth in human shape.
Yes, with the setting sun, the last day of mirth had passed from Merry Mount. The ring of gay maskers was disordered and broken; the stag lowered his antlers in dismay; the wolf grew weaker than a lamb; the bells of the morris dancers tinkled with tremulous affright. The Puritans had played a characteristic part in the Maypole mummeries.
Their darksome figures were intermixed with the wild shapes of their foes, and made the scene a picture of the moment, when waking thoughts start up amid the scattered fantasies of a dream. The leader of the hostile party stood in the centre of the circle, while the rout of monsters cowered around him, like evil spirits in the presence of a dread magician. No fantastic foolery could look him in the face. So stern was the energy of his aspect, that the whole man, visage, frame, and soul, seemed wrought of iron, gifted with life and thought, yet all of one substance with his headpiece and breastplate. It was the Puritan of Puritans; it was Endicott himself!
“ Stand off, priest of Baal !” said he, with a grim frown, and laying no reverent hand upon the surplice. “I know thee, Blackstone ! * Thou art the man who couldst not abide the rule even of thine own corrupted church, and hast come hither to preach iniquity, and to give example of it in thy life. But now shall it be seen that the Lord hath sanctified this wilderness for his peculiar people. Woe unto them that would defile it! And first, for this flower-decked abomination, the altar of thy worship!”
And with his keen sword, Endicott assaulted
* Did Governor Endicott speak legs positively, we should suspect a mistake here. The Rev. Mr. Blackstone, though an eccentric, is not known to have been an immoral man. We rather doubt his identity with the priest of Merry Mount.
the hallowed Maypole. Nor long did it resist his
It groaned with a dismal sound; it showered leaves and rosebuds upon the remorseless enthusiast; and finally, with all its green boughs, and ribbons, and flowers, symbolic of departed pleasures, down fell the banner staff of Merry Mount. As it sank, tradition says, the evening sky grew darker, and the woods threw forth a more sombre shadow.
“ There,” cried Endicott, looking triumphantly on his work, “ there lies the only Maypole in New England! The thought is strong within me, that by its fall is shadowed forth the fate of light and idle mirth-makers, amongst us and our posterity. Amen, saith John Endicott.”
“ Amen!” echoed his followers.
But the votaries of the Maypole gave one groan for their idol. At the sound, the Puritan leader glanced at the crew of Comus, each a figure of broad mirth, yet, at this moment, strangely expressive of sorrow and dismay.
“ Valiant captain," quoth Peter Palfrey, the Ancient of the band, “ what order shall be taken with the prisoners ?
I thought not to repent me of cutting down a Maypole,” replied Endicott,“ yet now I could find in my heart to plant it again, and give each of these bestial pagans one other dance round their idol. It would have served rarely for a whipping
“ But there are pine-trees enow,” suggested the lieutenant.
“True, good Ancient,” said the leader. “Wherefore, bind the heathen crew, and bestow on them a small matter of stripes apiece, as earnest of our
future justice. Set some of the rogues in the stocks to rest themselves, so soon as Providence shall bring us to one of our own well-ordered settlements, where such accommodations may be found. Further penalties, such as branding and cropping of cars, shall be thought of hereafter."
“ How many stripes for the priest ?” inquired Ancient Palfrey.
“ None as yet,” answered Endicott, bending his iron frown upon the culprit. “ It must be for the Great and General Court to determine, whether stripes and long imprisonment, and other grievous penalty, may atone for his transgressions. Let him look to himself! For such as violate our civil order, it may be permitted us to show mercy. But woe to the wretch that troubleth our religion !”
“ And this dancing bear,” resumed the officer. “ Must he share the stripes of his fellows ?”
“ Shoot him through the head !” said the energetic Puritan. “I suspect witchcraft in the beast."
“ Here be a couple of shining ones,” continued Peter Palfrey, pointing his weapon at the Lord and Lady of the May. They seem to be of high station among these misdoers. Methinks their dignity will not be fitted with less than a double share of stripes.”
Endicott rested on his sword, and closely surveyed the dress and aspect of the hapless pair. There they stood, pale, downcast, and apprehensive. Yet there was an air of mutual support, and of pure affection, seeking aid and giving it, that showed them to be man and wife, with the sanction of the priest upon their love. The youth, in
the peril of the moment, had dropped his gilded staff, and thrown his arm about the Lady of the May, who leaned against his breast, too lightly to burden him, but with weight enough to express that their destinies were linked together, for good or evil. They looked first at each other, and then into the grim captain's face. There they stood, in the first hour of wedlock, while the idle pleasures, of which their companions were the emblems, had given place to the sternest cares of life, personified by the dark Puritans. But never had their youthful beauty seemed so pure and high, as when its glow was chastened by adversity.
“ Youth,” said Endicott, “ye stand in an evil case, thou and thy maiden wife. Make ready presently ; for I am minded that ye shall both have a token to remember your wedding-day!”
“Stern man,” cried the May Lord, “ how can I move thee? Were the means at hand, I would resist to the death. Being powerless, I entreat! Do with me as thou wilt, but let Edith go untouched !' “ Not so," replied the immitigable zealot.
« We are not wont to show an idle courtesy to that sex, which requireth the stricter discipline. What sayest thou, maid? Shall thy silken bridegroom suffer thy share of the penalty besides his own ?'
“ Be it death,” said Edith, “and lay it all on
Truly, as Endicott had said, the poor lovers stood in a woful case. Their foes were triumphant, their friends captive and abased, their home desolate, the benighted wilderness around them, and a rigorous destiny, in the shape of the Puritan leader, their only guide. Yet the deepening twi