Jack Welch's Death Light (North American Folk Tale)

Pond Cove, Maine, is haunted by a light that on a certain evening, every summer, rises a mile out at sea, drifts to a spot on shore, then whirls with a buzz and a glare to an old house, where it vanishes. Its first appearance was simultaneous with the departure of Jack Welch, a fisherman. He was seen one evening at work on his boat, but in the morning he was gone, nor has he since shown himself in the flesh.

On the tenth anniversary of this event three fishermen were hurrying up the bay, hoping to reach home before dark, for they dreaded that uncanny light, but a fog came in and it was late before they reached the wharf. As they were tying their boat a channel seemed to open through the mist, and along that path from the deep came a ball of pallid flame with the rush of a meteor. There was one of the men who cowered at the bottom of the boat with ashen face and shaking limbs, and did not watch the light, even though it shot above his head, played through the rigging, and after a wide sweep went shoreward and settled on his house. Next day one of his comrades called for him, but Tom Wright was gone, gone, his wife said, before the day broke. Like Jack Welch”s disappearance, this departure was unexplained, and in time he was given up for dead.

Twenty years had passed, when Wright”s presumptive widow was startled by the receipt of a letter in a weak, trembling hand, signed with her husband”s name. It was written on his death-bed, in a distant place, and held a confession. Before their marriage, Jack Welch had been a suitor for her hand, and had been the favored of the two. To remove his rival and prosper in his place, Wright stole upon the other at his work, killed him, took his body to sea, and threw it overboard. Since that time the dead man had pursued him, and he was glad that the end of his days was come. But, though Tom Wright is no more, his victim”s light comes yearly from the sea, above the spot where his body sank, floats to the scene of the murder on the shore, then flits to the house where the assassin lived and for years simulated the content that comes of wedded life. MOGG MEGONE

Hapless daughter of a renegade is Ruth Bonython. Her father is as unfair to his friends as to his enemies, but to neither of them so merciless as to Ruth. Although he knows that she loves Master Scammon–in spite of his desertion and would rather die than wed another, he has promised her to Mogg Megone, the chief who rules the Indians at the Saco mouth. He, blundering savage, fancies that he sees to the bottom of her grief, and one day, while urging his suit, he opens his blanket and shows the scalp of Scammon, to prove that he has avenged her. She looks in horror, but when he flings the bloody trophy at her feet she baptizes it with a forgiving tear. What villainy may this lead to? Ah, none for him, for Bonython now steps in and plies him with flattery and drink, gaining from the chief, at last, his signature–the bow totem–to a transfer of the land for which he is willing to sell his daughter. Ruth, maddened at her father”s meanness and the Indian”s brutality, rushes on the imbruted savage, grasps from his belt the knife that has slain her lover, cleaves his heart in twain, and flies into the wood, leaving Bonython stupid with amazement.

Father Rasles, in his chapel at Norridgewock, is affecting his Indian converts against the Puritans, who settled to the southward of him fifty years before. To him comes a woman with torn garments and frightened face. Her dead mother stood before her last night, she says, and looked at her reprovingly, for she had killed Mogg Megone. The priest starts back in wrath, for Mogg was a hopeful agent of the faith, and bids her go, for she can ask no pardon. Brooding within his chapel, then, he is startled by the sound of shot and hum of arrows. Harmon and Moulton are advancing with their men and crying, “Down with the beast of Rome! Death to the Babylonish dog!” Ruth, knowing not what this new misfortune may mean, runs from the church and disappears.

Some days later, old Baron Castine, going to Norridgewock to bury and revenge the dead, finds a woman seated on the earth and gazing over a field strewn with ashes and with human bones. He touches her. She is cold. There has been no life for days. It is Ruth.

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