Monday, March 19, 2012

Delusion, or The Witch of New England, by Eliza Buckminster Lee - Full Text



By Eliza Buckminster Lee

"There is in man a HIGHER than love of happiness: he can do without
happiness, and, instead thereof, find blessedness."—Sartor.
Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1839,
in the clerk's office of the district court of Massachusetts.


The scenes and characters of this little tale are wholly fictitious. It will be found that the tragic interest that belongs to the history of the year 1692 has been very much softened in the following pages.
The object of the author has not been to write a tale of witchcraft, but to show how circumstances may unfold the inward strength of a timid woman, so that she may at last be willing to die rather than yield to the delusion that would have preserved her life.
If it is objected that the young and lovely are seldom accused of any witchcraft except that of bewitching hearts, we answer, that of those who were actually accused, many were young; and those who maintained a firm integrity against the overwhelming power of the delusion of the period must have possessed an intellectual beauty which it would be vain to endeavor to portray.
This imperfect effort is submitted with much diffidence, to the indulgence of the courteous reader.



"Ay, call it holy ground,The soil where first they trod:They have left unstained what there they found,—Freedom to worship God."

New England scenery is said to be deficient in romantic and poetic associations. It is said that we have no ruins of ancient castles, frowning over our precipices; no time-worn abbeys and monasteries, mouldering away in neglected repose, in our valleys.
It is true that the grand and beautiful places in our natural scenery are not marred by the monuments of an age of violence and wrong; and our silent valleys retain no remnant of the abodes of self-indulgent and superstitious devotion; but the descendant of the Pilgrims finds, in many of the fairest scenes of New England, some memento to carry back the imagination to those heroic and self-sacrificing ancestors. His soul is warmed and elevated when he remembers that devoted company, who were sustained amid hardship and every privation, on the trackless ocean, and in the mysterious and appalling solitudes of the forest, by a firm devotion to duty, and an all-pervading sense of the immediate presence of God.
The faults of our ancestors were the faults of their age. It is not now understood—and how wide from it was the conviction then!—that eventoleration implies intoleration. Who is to judge what opinions are to be tolerated? He whom circumstance has invested at the moment with power?
The scene I wish to describe was on the borders of one of the interior villages of New England,—a mountain village, embosomed in high hills, from which the winter torrents, as they met in the plain, united to form one of those clear, sparkling rivers, in whose beautiful mirror the surrounding hills were reflected. The stream, "winding at its own sweet will," enclosed a smooth meadow. At the extremity of the meadow, and shadowed by the mountain, nestled one of the poorest farm-houses, or cottages, of the time.
It was black and old, apparently containing but two rooms and a garret. Attached to it were the common out-houses of the poorest farms: a shed for a cow, a covering for a cart, and a small barn were all. But the situation of this humble and lonely dwelling was one of surpassing beauty. The soft meadow in front was dotted with weeping elms and birches; the opposite and neighboring hills were covered to their summits with the richest wood, while openings here and there admitted glimpses of the distant country.
A traveller coming upon this solitary spot, and seeing the blue smoke curling against the mountain side, would have rejoiced. There is something in the lonely farmhouse, surrounded with its little garden, and its homely implements of labor, that instantly touches our sympathy. There, we say, human hearts have experienced all the changes of life; they have loved and rejoiced, perhaps suffered and died.
The interior consisted of only two rooms. In the ample chimney of that which served for the common room, was burning a bright flame of pine knots; for, although it was the middle of summer, the sun sank so early behind the hills, and the evenings were so chilly, that the warmth was necessary, and the light from the small window cheered the laborer returning late from his work.
An old man sat by the chimney, evidently resting from the labors of the day. He was bent by time, but his brilliant eye and his flowing gray locks gave a certain refinement to his appearance, beyond that which his homely garments would warrant.
A woman, apparently as aged as himself, sat by the little window, catching the last rays of evening, as they were reflected from her white cap and silvery hair. Before her was a table on which lay a large Bible. She had just placed her spectacles between the leaves, as she closed it and resumed her knitting.
These two formed a picture full of the quiet repose of old age. But there was another in the room,—a youth, apparently less than twenty, kneeling before the flaming pine, over the leaves of a worn volume that absorbed him wholly.
The ruddy flame imparted the glow of health to a countenance habitually pale. Over his dark, enthusiastic eye was spread a clear and noble brow, so smooth and polished that it seemed as if at seventy it would be as unwrinkled as at seventeen. His piercing eye had that depth of expression that indicates dark passions or religious melancholy. He was slender in form, and very tall; but a bend in the shoulders, produced by agricultural labor, or by weakness in the chest, impaired somewhat the symmetry of his form.
They had been silent some moments. The young man closed his worn volume, an imperfect copy of Virgil, and walked several times, with hurried steps, across the little room.
At length he stopped before the woman, and said, "Mother, let me see how much your frugal care has hoarded. Let me know all our wealth. Unless I can procure another book, I cannot be prepared for the approaching examination. If I cannot enter college the next term, I never can. I must give up all hope of ever being any thing but the drudge I am now, and of living and dying in this narrow nook of earth."
"No, no, my son," answered the woman; "if my prayers are heard, you will be a light and a blessing to the church, though I may not live to see it."
The young man sighed deeply, and, taking the key she gave him, he opened an old-fashioned chest, and, from a little cup of silver tied over with a piece of leather, he poured the contents into his hand. There were several crowns and shillings, and two or three pieces of gold.
Apparently the examination was unsatisfactory, for he threw himself into a chair, and covered his face with his hands.
The old woman rose after looking at him a few moments in silence, and laid her hand gently on his shoulder.
"My son," she said, "where is the faith that sustained your ancestors when they left all their luxuries and splendor, their noble homes for conscience' sake. Yes, my son, your fathers were among the distinguished of England's sons, and they left all for God."
"Mother," said he, "would that they had been hewers of wood and drawers of water. Then I should have been content with my lot. Mother, all your carefully hoarded treasure will not be enough to pay my first term in college. Without books, without friends, I must give up the hope of an education," and the large tears trickled between his fingers.
"You forget," she said, "your good friend at C. who has lent you so many books. Why not apply to him again?"
A deep blush flushed the young man's countenance, but he made no answer, and seemed to wish to change the subject.
"It is almost evening," he said; "shall we not have prayers?" and, placing himself near the window to catch the last rays of departing daylight, he read one of the chapters from the Old Testament.
The aged man, who had not spoken during the discussion, stood up and prayed with great fervency.
His prayer was made up, indeed, by quotations from the Old Testament, and he used altogether the phraseology of the Scriptures. He prayed for the church in the wilderness, "that it might be bright as the sun, fair as the moon, beautiful as Tirzah, and terrible as an army with banners;" "that our own exertions to serve the church and our strivings after the Holy Spirit might not be like arrows in the air, traces in the sea, oil upon the polished marble, and water spilt upon the ground."
He asked for no temporal blessing; all his petitions were in language highly figurative, and he closed with a prayer for his grandson, "that God would make him a polished shaft in the temple of the Lord, a bright and shining light in the candlestick of the church."
When he had finished his prayer,—"My son," he said, "do not be cast down; you forget that the great Luther begged his bread. The servants of the church, in every age, have been poor and despised; even the Son of God," and he looked reverently upwards, "knew not where to lay his head.You have only to labor. The peat at the bottom of the meadow is already dry; there is more than we shall need for winter fuel; take it, in the morning, to C——, and with the produce buy the book you need."
"No," said the young man, "there are many repairs necessary to make you and my grandmother comfortable for the winter. I cannot rob you of more. I can borrow the book."
He lighted his lamp, made from rushes dipped in the green wax of the bay bush, which affords a beautiful, but not brilliant flame, and went up a few steps to his chamber in the garret. The old woman gathered the ashes over the kindling coal, and, with her aged partner, retired to the bed-room opposite the narrow entrance.

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