The Heart of the White Mountains, Their Legend and Scenery - Samuel Adams Drake - ebook
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THE very flattering reception which the sumptuous holiday edition of “The Heart of the White Mountains” received on its début has decided the Messrs. Harper to re-issue it in a more convenient and less expensive form, with the addition of a Tourist’s Appendix, and an Index farther adapting it for the use of actual travellers. While all the original features remain intact, these additions serve to render the references in the text intelligible to the uninstructed reader, and at the same time help to make a practical working manual. One or two new maps contribute to the same end.

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The Heart of the White Mountains, Their

Legend and Scenery

By

Samuel Adams Drake

 

TRAVELLERS IN A STORM, MOUNT WASHINGTON.

PREFACE.

THE very flattering reception which the sumptuous holiday edition of “The Heart of the White Mountains” received on its début has decided the Messrs. Harper to re-issue it in a more convenient and less expensive form, with the addition of a Tourist’s Appendix, and an Index farther adapting it for the use of actual travellers. While all the original features remain intact, these additions serve to render the references in the text intelligible to the uninstructed reader, and at the same time help to make a practical working manual. One or two new maps contribute to the same end.

I take the opportunity thus afforded me to say that, when “The Heart of the White Mountains” was originally prepared, I hoped it might go into the hands of those who, making the journey for the first time, feel the need of something different from the conventional guide-book of the day, and for whom it would also be, during the hours of travel or of leisure among the mountains, to some extent an entertaining as well as a useful companion. So far as author and publisher are concerned, that purpose is now realized.

Finally, I wrote the book because I could not help it.

Samuel Adams Drake.

Melrose, January, 1882.

FIRST JOURNEY.

I.MY TRAVELLING COMPANIONS.

“Si jeunesse savait! Si viellesse pouvait!”

ONE morning in September I was sauntering up and down the railway-station waiting for the slow hands of the clock to reach the hour fixed for the departure of the train. The fact that these hands never move backward did not in the least seem to restrain the impatience of the travellers thronging into the station, some with happy, some with anxious faces, some without trace of either emotion, yet all betraying the same eagerness and haste of manner. All at once I heard my name pronounced, and felt a heavy hand upon my shoulder.

“What!” I exclaimed, in genuine surprise, “is it you, colonel?”

“Myself,” affirmed the speaker, offering his cigar-case.

“And where did you drop from”accepting an Havana; “the Blue Grass?”

“I reckon.”

“But what are you doing in New England, when you should be in Kentucky?”

“Doing, I? Oh, well,” said my friend, with a shade of constraint; then with a quizzical smile, “You are a Yankee; guess.”

“Take care.”

“Guess.”

“Running away from your creditors?”

The colonel’s chin cut the air contemptuously.

“Running after a woman, perhaps?”

My companion quickly took the cigar from his lips, looked at me with mouth half opened, then stammered, “What in blue brimstone put that into your head?”

“Evidently you are going on a journey, but are dressed for an evening party,” I replied, comprising with a glance the colonel’s black suit, lavender gloves, and white cravat.

“Why,” said the colonel, glancing rather complacently at himself“why we Kentuckians always travel so at home. But it’s now your turn; where are you going yourself?”

“To the mountains.”

“Good; so am I: White Mountains, Green Mountains, Rocky Mountains, or Mountains of the Moon, I care not.”

“What is your route?”

“I’m not at all familiar with the topography of your mountains. What is yours?”

“By the Eastern to Lake Winnipiseogee, thence to Centre Harbor, thence by stage and rail to North Conway and the White Mountain Notch.”

My friend purchased his ticket by the indicated route, and the train was soon rumbling over the bridges which span the Charles and Mystic. Farewell, Boston, city where, like thy railways, all extremes meet, but where I would still rather live on a crust moistened with east wind than cast my lot elsewhere.

When we had fairly emerged into the light and sunshine of the open country, I recognized my old acquaintance George Brentwood. At a gesture from me he came and sat opposite to us.

George Brentwood was a blond young man of thirty-four or thirty-five, with brown hair, full reddish beard, shrewdish blue eyes, a robust frame, and a general air of negligent repose. In a word, he was the antipodes of my companion, whose hair, eyebrows, and mustache were coal-black, eyes dark and sparkling, manner nervous, and his attitudes careless and unconstrained, though not destitute of a certain natural grace. Both were men to be remarked in a crowd.

“George,” said I, “permit me to introduce my friend Colonel Swords.”

After a few civil questions and answers, George declared his destination to be ours, and was cordially welcomed to join us. By way of breaking the ice, he observed,

“Apropos of your title, colonel, I presume you served in the Rebellion?”

The colonel hitched a little on his seat before replying. Knowing him to be a very modest man, I came to his assistance. “Yes,” said I, “the colonel fought hard and bled freely. Let me see, where were you wounded?”

“Through the chest.”

“No, I mean in what battle?”

“Spottsylvania.”

“Left on the field for dead, and taken prisoner,” I finished.

George is a fellow of very generous impulses. “My dear sir,” said he, effusively, grasping the colonel’s hand, “after what you have suffered for the old flag, you can need no other passport to the gratitude and friendship of a New-Englander. Count me as one of your debtors. During the war it was my fortune my misfortune, I should say to be in a distant country; otherwise we should have been found fighting shoulder to shoulder under Grant, or Sherman, or Sheridan, or Thomas.

The colonel’s color rose. He drew himself proudly up, cleared his throat, and said, laconically, “Hardly, stranger, seeing that I had the honor to fight under the Confederate flag.”

You have seen a tortoise suddenly draw back into his shell. Well, George as suddenly retreated into his. For an instant he looked at the Southron as one might at a confessed murderer; then stammered out a few random and unmeaning words about mistaken sense of dutygallant but useless struggle, you knowdrew a newspaper from his pocket, and hid his confusion behind it.

Fearing my fiery Kentuckian might let fall some unlucky word that would act like a live coal dropped on the tortoise’s back, I hastened to interpose. “But really, colonel,” I urged, returning to the charge, “with the Blue Ridge always at your back, I wager you did not come a thousand miles merely to see our mountains. Come, what takes you from Lexington?”

“A truant disposition.”

“Nothing else?”

His dark face grew swarthy, then pale. He looked at me doubtfully a moment, and then leaned close to my ear. “You guessed it,” he whispered.

“A woman?”

“Yes; you know that I was taken prisoner and sent North. Through the influence of a friend who had known my family before the war, I was allowed to pass my first days of convalescence in a beautiful little village in Berkshire. There I was cured of the bullet, but received a more mortal wound.”

“What a misfortune!”

“Yes; no; confound you, let me finish.”

“Helen, the daughter of the gentleman who procured my transfer from the hospital to his pleasant home” (the proud Southerner would not say his benefactor), “was a beautiful creature. Let me describe her to you.”

“Oh,” I hastened to say, “I know her.” Like all lovers, that subject might have a beginning but no ending.

“You?”

“Of course. Listen. Yellow hair, rippling ravishingly from an alabaster forehead, pink cheeks, pouting lips, dimpled chin, snowy throat”

The colonel made a gesture of impatience. “Pshaw, that’s a type, not a portrait. Well, the upshot of it was that I was exchanged, and ordered to report at Baltimore for transportation to our lines. Imagine my dismay. No, you can’t, for I was beginning to think she cared for me, and I was every day getting deeper and deeper in love. But to tell her! That posed me. When alone with her, my cowardly tongue clove to the roof of my mouth. Once or twice I came very near bawling out, ‘I love you!’ just as I would have given an order to a squadron to charge a battery.”

“Well; but you did propose at last?”

“Oh yes.”

“And was accepted.”

The colonel lowered his head, and his face grew pinched.

“Refused gently, but positively refused.”

“Come,” I hazarded, thinking the story ended, “I do not like your Helen.”

“Why?”

“Because either you are mistaken, or she seems just a little of a coquette.”

“Oh, you don’t know her,” said the colonel, warmly; “when we parted she betrayed unusual agitationfor her; but I was cut to the quick by her refusal, and determined not to let her see how deeply I felt it. After the Delugeyou know what I meanafter the tragedy at Appomattox, I went back to the old home. Couldn’t stay there. I tried New Orleans, Cuba. No use.”

Something rose in the colonel’s throat, but he gulped it down and went on:

“The image of that girl pursues me. Did you ever try running away from yourself? Well, after fighting it out with myself until I could endure it no longer, I put pride in my pocket, came straight to Berkshire, only to find Helen gone.”

“That was unlucky; where?”

“To the mountains, of course. Everybody seems to be going there; but I shall find her.”

“Don’t be too sanguine. It will be like looking for a needle in a hay-stack. The mountains are a perfect Dædalian labyrinth,” I could not help saying, in my vexation. Instead of an ardent lover of nature, I had picked up the “baby of a girl.” But there was George Brentwood. I went over and sat by George.

It was generally understood that George was deeply enamored of a young and beautiful widow who had long ceased to count her love affairs, who all the world, except George, knew loved only herself, and who had therefore nothing left worth mentioning to bestow upon another. By nature a coquette, passionately fond of admiration, her self-love was flattered by the attentions of such a man as George, and he, poor fellow, driven one day to the verge of despair, the next intoxicated with the crumbs she threw him, was the victim of a species of slavery which was fast undermining his buoyant and generous disposition. The colonel was in hot pursuit of his adored Helen. Two words sufficed to acquaint me that George was escaping from his beautiful tormentor. At all events, I was sure of him.

“How charming the country is! What a delightful sense of freedom!” George drew a deep breath, and stretched his limbs luxuriously. “Shall we have an old-fashioned tramp together?” He continued, with assumed vivacity, “The deuce take me if I go back to town for a twelve-month. How we creep along! I feel exultation in putting the long miles between me and the accursed city,” said George, at last.

“You experience no regret, then, at leaving the city?”

George merely looked at me; but he could not have spoken more eloquently.

The train had just left Portsmouth, when the conductor entered the car holding aloft a yellow envelope. Every eye was instantly riveted upon it. Conversation ceased. For whom of the fifty or sixty occupants of the car had this flash overtaken the express train? In that moment the criminal realized the futility of flight, the merchant the uncertainty of his investments, the man of leisure all the ordinary contingencies of life. The conductor put an end to the suspense by demanding,

“Is Mr. George Brentwood in this car?”

In spite of an heroic effort at self-control, George’s hand trembled as he tore open the envelope; but as he read his face became radiant. Had he been alone I believe he would have kissed the paper.

“Your news is not bad?” I ventured to ask, seeing him relapse into a fit of musing, and noting the smile that came and went like a ripple on still water.

“Thank you, quite the contrary; but it is important that I should immediately return to Boston.”

“How unfortunate!”

George turned on me a fixed and questioning look, but made no reply.

“And the mountains?” I persisted.

“Oh, sink the mountains!”

I last saw George striding impatiently up and down the platform of the Rochester station, watch in hand. Without doubt he had received his recall. However, there was still the lovelorn colonel.

Never have I seen a man more thoroughly enraptured with the growing beauty of the scenery. I promised myself much enjoyment in his society, for his comments were both original and picturesque; so that by the time we arrived at Wolfborough I had already forgotten George and his widow.

There was the usual throng of idlers lounging about the pier with their noses in the air, and their hands in their pockets; perhaps more than the usual confusion, for the steamer merely touched to take and leave passengers. We went on board. As the bell tolled the colonel uttered an exclamation. He became all on a sudden transformed from a passive spectator into an excited and prominent actor in the scene. He gesticulated wildly, swung his hat, and shouted in a frantic way, apparently to attract the attention of some one in the crowd; failing in which he seized his luggage, took the stairs in two steps, and darting like a rocket among the astonished spectators, who divided to the right and left before his impetuous onset, was in the act of vigorously shaking hands with a hale old gentleman of fifty odd when the boat swung clear. He waved his unoccupied hand, and I saw his face wreathed in smiles. I could not fail to interpret the gesture as an adieu.

“Halloo!” I shouted, “what of the mountains?”

“Burn the mountains!” was his reply. The steamer glided swiftly down the little bay, and I was left to continue my journey alone.

II.INCOMPARABLE WINNIPISEOGEE.

First a lakeTinted with sunset, next the wavy linesOf far receding hills.Whittier.

WHEN the steamer glides out of the land-locked inlet at the bottom of which Wolfborough is situated, one of those pictures, forever ineffaceable, presents itself. In effect, all the conditions of a picture are realized. Here is the shining expanse of the lake stretching away in the distance, and finally lost among tufted inlets and foliage-rounded promontories. To the right are the Ossipee mountains, dark, vigorously outlined, and wooded to their summits. To the left, more distant, rise the twin domes of the Belknap peaks. In front, and closing the view, the imposing Sandwich summits dominate the scene.

All these mountains seem advancing into the lake. They possess a special character of color, outline, or physiognomy which fixes them in the memory, not confusedly, but in the place appropriate to this beautiful picture, to its fine proportions, exquisite harmony, and general effectiveness. Even M. Chateaubriand, who maintains that mountains should only be seen from a distanceeven he would have found in Winnipiseogee the perfection of his ideal mise en scène; for here they stand well back from the lake, so as to give the best effect of perspective.

Lovely as the lake is, the eye will rove among the mountains that we have come to see. They, and they alone, are the objects which have enticed usentice us even now with a charm and mystery that we cannot pretend to explain. We do not wish it explained. We know that we are as free, as light of heart, as the birds that skim the placid surface of the lake, and coquet with their own shadows. The memory of those mountains is like snatches of music that come unbidden and haunt you perpetually.

Having taken in the grander features, the eye is occupied with its details. We see the lake quivering in sunshine. From bold summit to beautiful water the shores are clothed in most vivid green. The islands, which we believe to be floating gardens, are almost tropical in the luxuriance and richness of their vegetation. The deep shadows they fling down image each islet so faithfully that it seems, like Narcissus, gloating over its own beauty. Here and there a glimmer of water through the trees denotes secluded little havens. Boats float idly on the calm surface. Water-fowl rise and beat the glossy, dark water with startled wings. White tents appear, and handkerchiefs flutter from jutting points or headlands. Over all tower the mountains.

The steamer glided swiftly and noiselessly on, attended by the echo of her paddles from the shores. Dimpled waves, parting from her prow, rolled indolently in, and broke on the foam-fretted rocks. There was a warmth of color about these rocks, a pure transparency to the water, a brightness to the foliage, an invigorating strength in the mountains that exerted a cheerful influence upon our spirits.

As we advanced up the lake new and rare vistas rapidly succeeded. After leaving Long Island behind, the near ranges drew apart, holding us admiring and absorbed spectators of a moving panorama of distant summits. An opening appeared, through which Mount Washington burst upon us blue as lapis-lazuli, a chaplet of clouds crowning his imperial front. Slowly, majestically, he marches by, and now Chocorua scowls upon us. A murmur of admiration ran from group to group as these monumental figures were successively unveiled. Men kept silence, but women could not repress the exclamation, “How beautiful!” The two grandest types which these mountains enclose were thus displayed in the full splendor of noonday.

I should add that those who now saw Mount Washington for the first time, and whose curiosity was whetted by the knowledge that it was the highest peak of the whole family of mountains, openly manifested their disappointment. That Mount Washington! It was in vain to remind them that the eye traversed forty miles in its flight from lake to summit. Fault of perspective or not, the mountain was not nearly so high as they imagined. Chocorua, on the contrary, with its ashen spire and olive-green flanks, realized more fully their idea of a high mountain. One was near, the other far. Imagination fails to make a mountain higher than it looks. The mind takes its measure after the eye.

Our boat was now rapidly nearing Centre Harbor. On the right its progress gradually unmasking the western slopes of the Ossipee range, more fully opened the view of Chocorua and his dependent peaks. We were looking in the direction of Tamworth. Ossipee, and Conway. Red Hill, a detached mountain at the head of the lake, now moved into the gap, excluding further views of distant summits. Moosehillock, lofty but unimpressive, has for some time showed its flattened heights over the Sandwich Mountains, but is now sinking behind them. To the west, thronged with islands, is the long reach of water toward the outlet of the lake at Weirs.[1]

This lake was the highway over which Indian war-parties advanced or retreated during their predatory incursions from Canada. Many captives must have crossed it whom its mountain walls seemed forever destined to separate from friends and kindred. The Indians who inhabited villages at Winnipiseogee (Weirs), Ossipee, and Pigwacket (Fryeburg), were hostile; and from time to time during the old wars troops were marched from the English settlements to subdue them. These scouting-parties found the woods well stocked with bear, moose, and deer, and the lake with salmon-trout, some of which, according to the narrative before me, were three feet long, and weighed twelve pounds each.

Traces of Indian occupation remained up to the present century. Fishing-weirs and woodland paths were frequently discovered by the whites; but a greater curiosity than either is mentioned by Dr. Belknap, in his “History of New Hampshire,” who there tells of a pine-tree, standing on the shore of Winnipiseogee River, on which was carved a canoe with two men in it, supposed to have been a mark of direction to those who were expected to follow. Another was a tree in Moultonborough, standing near a carrying-place between two ponds. On this tree was a representation of one of their expeditions. The number of killed and the prisoners were shown by rude drawings of human beings, the former being distinguished by the mark of a knife across the throat. Even the distinction of sex was preserved in the drawing.

Centre Harbor is advantageously situated for a sojourn more or less prolonged. Although settled as early as 1755, it is, in common with the other lake towns, barren of history or tradition. Its greatest impulse is, beyond question, the tide of tourists which annually ebbs and flows among the most sequestered nooks, enriching this charming region like an inundation of the Nile. An anecdote will, however, serve to illustrate the character of the men who first subdued this wilderness. Our anecdote represents its hero a man of resources. His career proves him a man of courage. Although a veritable personage, let us call him General Hampton.

The fact that General Hampton lived in that only half-cleared atmosphere following the age of credulity and superstition, naturally accounts for the extraordinary legend concerning him which, for the rest, had its origin among his own friends and neighbors, who merely shared the general belief in the practice of diabolic arts, through compacts with the arch-enemy of mankind himself, universally prevailing in that dayyes, prevailing all over Christendom. By a mere legend, we are thus able to lay hold of the thread which conducts us back through the dark era of superstition and delusion, and which is now so amazing.

The general, says the legend, encountered a far more notable adversary than Abenaki warriors or conjurers, among whom he had lived, and whom it was the passion of his life to exterminate.

In an evil hour his yearning to amass wealth suddenly led him to declare that he would sell his soul for the possession of unbounded riches. Think of the devil, and he is at your elbow. The fatal declaration was no sooner madethe general was sitting alone by his firesidethan a shower of sparks came down the chimney, out of which stepped a man dressed from top to toe in black velvet. The astonished Hampton noticed that the stranger’s ruffles were not even smutted.

“Your servant, general,” quoth the stranger, suavely, “but let us make haste, if you please, for I am expected at the governor’s in a quarter of an hour,” he added, picking up a live coal with his thumb and forefinger and consulting his watch with it.

The general’s wits began to desert him. Portsmouth was five leagues, long ones at that, from Hampton House, and his strange visitor talked, with the utmost unconcern, of getting there in fifteen minutes. His astonishment caused him to stammer out,

“Then you must be the”

“Tush! What signifies a name?” interrupted the stranger, with a deprecating wave of the hand. “Come, do we understand each other? Is it a bargain or not?”

At the talismanic word “bargain” the general pricked up his ears. He had often been heard to say that neither man nor devil could get the better of him in a trade. He took out his jack-knife and began to whittle. The devil took out his, and began to pare his nails.

“But what proof have I that you can perform what you promise?” demanded Hampton, pursing up his mouth, and contracting his bushy eyebrows.

The fiend ran his fingers carelessly through his peruke; a shower of golden guineas fell to the floor, and rolled to the four corners of the room. The general quickly stooped to pick up one; but no sooner had his fingers closed upon it than he uttered a yell. It was red-hot.

The devil chuckled. “Try again,” he said.

But Hampton shook his head, and retreated a step.

“Don’t be afraid.”

Hampton cautiously touched a coin. It was cool. He weighed it in his hand, and rung it on the table. It was full weight and true ring. Then he went down on his hands and knees, and began to gather up the guineas with feverish haste.

“Are you satisfied?” demanded Satan.

“Completely, your majesty.”

“Then to business. By-the-way, have you anything to drink in the house?”

“There is some Old Jamaica in the cupboard.”

“Excellent. I am as thirsty as a Puritan on election-day,” said the devil, seating himself at the table and negligently flinging his mantle back over his shoulder.

Hampton brought a decanter and a couple of glasses from the cupboard, filled one and passed it to his infernal guest, who tasted it, and smacked his lips with the air of a connoisseur. Hampton watched every gesture. “Does your excellency not find it to his taste?” he ventured to ask.

“H’m, I have drunk worse; but let me show you how to make a salamander,” replied Satan, touching the lighted end of the taper to the liquor, which instantly burst into a spectral blue flame. The fiend then raised the tankard, glanced approvingly at the blazewhich to Hampton’s disordered intellect resembled an adder’s forked and agile tonguenodded, and said, patronizingly, “To our better acquaintance.” He then quaffed the contents at a single gulp.

Hampton shuddered. This was not the way he had been used to seeing healths drunk. He pretended, however, to drink, for fear of giving offence, but somehow the liquor choked him. The demon set down the tankard, and observed, in a matter-of-fact way that put his listener in a cold sweat,

“Now that you are convinced I am able to make you the richest man in all the province, listen. In consideration of your agreement, duly signed and sealed, to deliver your soul”here he drew a parchment from his breast“I engage, on my part, on the first day of every month, to fill your boots with golden elephants like these before you. But mark me well,” said Satan, holding up a forefinger glittering with diamonds; “if you try to play me any trick you will repent it. I know you, Jonathan Hampton, and shall keep my eye upon you. So beware!”

Hampton flinched a little at this plain speech; but a thought seemed to strike him, and he brightened up. Satan opened the scroll, smoothed out the creases, dipped a pen in the inkhorn at his girdle, and pointing to a blank space said, laconically, “Sign!”

Hampton hesitated.

“If you are afraid,” sneered Satan, “why put me to all this trouble?” And he began to put the gold in his pocket.

His victim seized the pen, but his hand shook so he could not write. He gulped down a swallow of rum, stole a look at his infernal guest, who nodded his head by way of encouragement, and a second time approached his pen to the paper. The struggle was soon over. The unhappy Hampton wrote his name at the bottom of the fatal list, which he was astonished to see numbered some of the highest personages in the province. “I shall at least be in good company,” he muttered.

“Good!” said Satan, rising and putting the scroll carefully within his breast. “Rely on me, general, and be sure you keep faith. Remember!” So saying, the demon waved his hand, wrapped his mantle about him, and vanished up the chimney.

Satan performed his part of the contract to the letter. On the first day of every month the boots, which were hung on the crane in the fireplace the night before, were found in the morning stuffed full of guineas. It is true that Hampton had ransacked the village for the largest pair to be found, and had finally secured a brace of trooper’s boots, which came up to the wearer’s thigh; but the contract merely expressed boots, and the devil does not stand upon trifles.

Hampton rolled in wealth. Everything prospered. His neighbors regarded him first with envy, then with aversion, at last with fear. Not a few affirmed he had entered into a league with the Evil One. Others shook their heads, saying, “What does it signify? That man would outwit the devil himself.”

But one morning, when the fiend came as usual to fill the boots, what was his astonishment to find that he could not fill them. He poured in the guineas, but it was like pouring water into a rat-hole. The more he put in, the more the quantity seemed to diminish. In vain he persisted: the boots could not be filled.

The devil scratched his ear. “I must look into this,” he reflected. No sooner said than he attempted to descend, but found his progress suddenly arrested. The chimney was choked up with guineas. Foaming with rage, the demon tore the boots from the crane. The crafty general had cut off the soles, leaving only the legs for the devil to fill. The chamber was knee-deep with gold.

The devil gave a horrible grin, and disappeared. The same night Hampton House was burnt to the ground, the general only escaping in his shirt. He had been dreaming he was dead and in hell. His precious guineas were secreted in the wainscot, the ceiling, and other hiding-places known only to himself. He blasphemed, wept, and tore his hair. Suddenly he grew calm. After all, the loss was not irreparable, he reflected. Gold would melt, it is true; but he would find it all, of course he would, at daybreak, run into a solid lump in the cellarevery guinea. That is true of ordinary gold.

The general worked with the energy of despair clearing away the rubbish. He refused all offers of assistance: he dared not accept them. But the gold had vanished. Whether it was really consumed, or had passed again into the massy entrails of the earth, will never be known. It is certain that every vestige of it had disappeared.

When the general died and was buried, strange rumors began to circulate. To quiet them, the grave was opened; but when the lid was removed from the coffin, it was found to be empty.

Having reached Centre Harbor at two in the afternoon, there was still time to ascend Red Hill before sunset. This eminence would be called a mountain anywhere else. Its altitude is inconsiderable, but its situation at the head of the lake, on its very borders, is highly favorable to a commanding prospect of the surrounding lake region. There are two summits, the northern and highest being only a little more than two thousand feet.

WINNIPISEOGEE FROM RED HILL.

For such an excursion little preparation is necessary. In fact a carriage-road ascends within a mile of the superior summit; and from this point the path is one of the easiest I have ever traversed. The value of a pure atmosphere is so well understood by every mountain tourist that he will neglect no opportunity which this thrice-fickle element offers him. This was a day of days.

After a little promenade of two hours, or two hours and a half, I reached the cairn on the summit, from which a tattered signal flag fluttered in the breeze. Without extravagance, the view is one of the most engaging that the eye ever looked upon. I had before me that beautiful valley extending between the Sandwich chain on the left and the Ossipee range on the right, the distance filled by a background of mountains. It was across this valley that we saw Mount Washington, while coming up the lake. But that noble peak was now hid.

The first chain trending to the west threw one gigantic arm around the beautiful little Squam Lake, which like a magnificent gem sparkled at my feet. The second stretched its huge rampart along the eastern shores of Winnipiseogee.

The surface of this valley is tumbled about in most charming disorder. Three villages crowned as many eminences in the foreground; three little lakes, half hid in the middle distance, blue as turquoise, lighted the fading hues of field and forest. Hamlets and farms, groves and forests innumerable, were scattered broadcast over this inviting landscape. The harvests were gathered, and the mellowed tints of green, orange, and gold resembled rich old tapestry. Men and animals looked like insects creeping along the roads.

From this point of view the Sandwich Mountains took far greater interest and character, and I remarked that no two summits were precisely alike in form or outline. Higher and more distant peaks peered curiously over their brawny shoulders from their lairs in the valley of the Pemigewasset; but more remarkable, more weird than all, was the gigantic monolith which tops the rock-ribbed pile of Chocorua. The more I looked, the more this monstrous freak of nature fascinated. As the sun glided down the west, a ruddy glow tinged its pinnacle; while the shadows lurking in the ravines stole up the mountain side and crouched for a final spring upon the summit. Little by little, twilight flowed over the valley, and a thin haze rose from its surface.

I had waited for this moment, and now turned to the lakes. Winnipiseogee was visible throughout its whole length, the multitude of islands peeping above it giving the idea of an inundation rather than an inland sea. On the farthest shores mere specks of white denoted houses; and traced in faint relief on the southern sky, so unsubstantial, indeed, as to render it doubtful if it were sky or mountain, was the Grand Monadnock, the fixed sentinel of all this august assemblage of mountains.

Glowing in sunset splendor, streaked with all the hues of the rainbow, the lake was indeed magnificent.

In vain the eve roved hither and thither seeking some foil to this peerless beauty. Everywhere the same unrivalled picture led it captive over thirty miles of gleaming water, up the graceful curves of the mountains, to rest at last among crimson clouds floating in rosy vapor over their notched summits.

Imagination must assist the reader to reproduce this ravishing spectacle. To attempt to describe it is like a profanation. Paradise seemed to have opened wide its gates to my enraptured gaze; or had I surprised the secrets of the unknown world? I stood silent and spellbound, with a strange, exquisite feeling at the heart. I felt a thrill of pain when a voice from the forest broke the solemn stillness which alone befitted this almost supernatural vision. Now I understood the pagan’s adoration of the sun. My mind ran over the most striking or touching incidents of Scripture, where the sublimity of the scene is always in harmony with the grandeur of the eventthe Temptation, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfigurationand memory brought to my aid these words, so simple, so tender, yet so expressive, “And he went up into the mountain to pray, himself, alone.”

III.CHOCORUA.

“There I saw above me mountains,And I asked of them what centuryMet them in their youth.”

AFTER a stay at Centre Harbor long enough to gain a knowledge of its charming environs, but which seemed all too brief, I took the stage at two o’clock one sunny afternoon for Tamworth. I had resolved, if the following morning should be clear, to ascend Chocorua, which from the summit of Red Hill seemed to fling his defiance from afar.

Following my custom, I took an outside seat with the driver. There being only three or four passengers, what is frequently a bone of contention was settled without that display of impudent selfishness which is seen when a dozen or more travellers are all struggling for precedence. But at the steamboat landing the case was different. I remained a quiet looker-on of the scene that ensued. It was sufficiently ridiculous.

At the moment the steamboat touched her pier the passengers prepared to spring to the shore, and force had to be used to keep them back until she could be secured. An instant after the crowd rushed pell-mell up the wharf, surrounded the stage, and began, women as well as men, a promiscuous scramble for the two or three unoccupied seats at the top.

Two men and one woman succeeded in obtaining the prizes. The woman interested me by the intense triumph that sparkled in her black eyes and glowed on her cheeks at having distanced several competitors of her own sex, to say nothing of the men. She beamed! As I made room for her, she said, with a toss of the head, “I guess I haven’t been through Lake George for nothing.”

Crack! We were jolting along the road, around the base of Red Hill, the horses stepping briskly out at the driver’s chirrup, the coach pitching and lurching like a gondola in a sea. What a sense of exhilaration, of lightness! The air so pure and elastic, the odor of the pines so fragrant, so invigorating, which we breathe with all the avidity of a convalescent who for the first time crosses the threshold of his chamber. Each moment I felt my body growing lighter. A delicious sense of self-ownership breaks the chain binding us to the toiling, struggling, worrying life we have left behind. We carry our world with us. Life begins anew, or rather it has only just begun.

The view of the ranges which on either side elevate two immense walls of green is kept for nearly the whole distance. As we climb the hill into Sandwich, Mount Israel is the prominent object; then brawny Whiteface, Passaconnaway’s pyramid, Chocorua’s mutilated spire advance, in their turn, into line. Sometimes we were in a thick forest, sometimes on a broad, sunny glade; now threading our way through groves of pitch-pine, now winding along the banks of the Bear-Camp River.

The views of the mountains, as the afternoon wore away, grew more and more interesting. The ravines darkened, the summits brightened. Cloud-shadows chased each other up and down the steeps, or, flitting slowly across the valley, spread thick mantles of black that seemed to deaden the sound of our wheels as we passed over them. On one side all was light, on the other all gloom. But the landscape is not all that may be seen to advantage from the top of a stage-coach.

From time to time, as something provoked an exclamation of surprise or pleasure, certain of the inside occupants manifested open discontent. They were losing something where they had expected to see everything.

While the horses were being changed, one of the insides, I need not say it was a woman, thrust her head out of the window, and addressed the young person perched like a bird upon the highest seat. Her voice was soft and persuasive:

“Miss!”

“Madam!”

“I’m so afraid you find it too cold up there. Sha’n’t I change places with you?”

The little one gave her voice a droll inflection as she briskly replied, “Oh dear no, thank you; I’m very comfortable indeed.”

“But,” urged the other, “you don’t look strong; indeed, dear, you don’t. Aren’t you very, very tired, sitting so long without any support to your back?”

“Thanks, no; my spine is the strongest part of me.”

“But,” still persisted the inside, changing her voice to a loud whisper, “to be sitting alone with all those men!”

“ALONE WITH ALL THOSE MEN!”

 

“They mind their business, and I mind mine,” said the little one, reddening; “besides,” she quickly added, “you proposed changing places, I believe!”

“Oh!” returned the other, with an accent impossible to convey in words, “if you like it.”

“I tell you what, ma’am,” snapped the one in possession, “I’ve been all over Europe alone, and was never once insulted except by persons of my own sex.”

This home-thrust ended the colloquy. The first speaker quickly drew in her head, and I remarked a general twitching of muscles on the faces around me. The driver shook his head in silent glee. The little woman’s eyes emitted sparks.

From West Ossipee I drove over to Tamworth Iron Works, where I passed the night, and where I had, so to speak, Chocorua under my thumb.

This mountain being the most proper for a legend, it accordingly has one. Here it is in all its purity:

After the terrible battle in which the Sokokis were nearly destroyed, a remnant of the tribe, with their chief, Chocorua, fled into the fastnesses of these mountains, where the foot of a white man had never intruded. Here they trapped the beaver, speared the salmon, and hunted the moose.

The survivors of Lovewell’s band brought the first news of their disaster to the settlements. More like spectres than living men, their haggard looks, bloodshot eyes, and shaking limbs, their clothing hanging about them in shreds, announced the hardships of that long and terrible march but too plainly.

Among those who had set out with the expedition were three brothersone a mere stripling, the others famous hunters. The eldest of the three, having fallen lame on the second day, was left behind. His brethren would have conducted him back to the nearest village, but he promptly refused their proffered aid, saying,

“’ Tis enough to lose one man; three are too many. Go; do my part as well as your own.”

The two had gone but a few steps when the disabled ranger called the second brother back.

“Tom,” said the elder, “take care of our brother.”

“Surely,” replied the other, in some surprise. “Surely,” he repeated.

“I charge you,” continued the first speaker, “watch over the boy as I would myself.”

“Never fear, Lance; whatever befalls Hugh happens to me.”

“Not so,” said the other, with energy; “you must die for him, if need be.”

“They shall chop me as fine as sausage-meat before a hair of the lad’s head is harmed.”

“God bless you, Tom!” The brothers then embraced and separated.

“What was our brother saying to you?” demanded the younger, when Tom rejoined him.

“He begged me, seeing he could not go with us, to shoot two or three redskins for him; and I promised.” The two then quickened their pace in order to overtake their comrades.

Among those who succeeded in regaining the settlements was a man who had been wounded in twenty places. He was at once a ghastly and a pitiful object. Faint with hunger, fatigue, and loss of blood, he reeled, fell, slowly rose to his feet, and sunk lifeless at the entrance to the village. This time he did not rise again.

A crowd ran up. When they had wiped the blood and dirt from the dead man’s face, a by-stander threw himself upon the body with the cry, “My God, it is Tom!”

The following day the surviving brother joined a strong party despatched by the colonial authorities to the scene of Lovewell’s encounter, where they arrived after a forced march. Here, among the trampled thickets, they found the festering corpses of the slain. Among them was Hugh, the younger brother. He was riddled with bullets and shockingly mangled. Up to this moment, Lance had hoped against hope; now the dread reality stared him in the face. The stout ranger grew white, his fingers convulsively clutched the barrel of his gun, and something like a curse escaped through his clinched teeth; then, kneeling beside the body, he buried his face in his hands. Hugh’s blood cried aloud for vengeance.

Thorough but unavailing search was made for the savages. They had disappeared, after applying the torch to their village. Silently and sadly the rangers performed the last service for their fallen comrades, and then, turning their backs upon the mountains, commenced their march homeward.

The next day the absence of Lance was remarked; but, as he was their best hunter, the rangers made no doubt he would rejoin them at the next halt.

Chocorua was not ignorant that the English were near. Like the vulture, he scented danger from afar. From the summit of the mountain he had watched the smoke of the hostile camp-fires stealing above the forest. The remainder of the tribe had buried themselves still deeper in the wilderness. They were too few for attack, too weak for defence.

One morning the chief ascended the pinnacle, and swept the horizon with his piercing eye. Far in the south a faint smoke told where the foe had pitched his last encampment. Chocorua’s dark eye lighted with exultation. The accursed pale-faces were gone.

He turned to descend the mountain, but had not taken ten steps when a white hunter, armed to the teeth, started from behind the crags and barred his passage. The chief recoiled, but not with fear, as the muzzle of his adversary’s weapon touched his naked breast. The white man’s eyes shone with deadly purpose, as he forced the chieftain, step by step, back to the highest point of the mountain. Chocorua could not pass except over the hunter’s dead body.

Glaring into each other’s eyes with mortal hate, the two men reached the summit.

“Chocorua will go no farther,” said the chief, haughtily.

The white man trembled with excitement. For a moment he could not speak. Then, in a voice husky with suppressed emotion, he exclaimed,

“Die, then, like a dog, thou destroyer of my family, thou incarnate devil! The white man has been in Chocorua’s wigwam; has counted their scalpsfather, mother, sister, brother. He has tracked him to the mountain-top. Now, demon or devil, Chocorua dies by my hand.”

The chief saw no escape. He comprehended that his last moment was come. As if all the savage heroism of his race had come to his aid, he drew himself up to his full height, and stood erect and motionless as a statue of bronze upon the enormous pedestal of the mountain. His dark eye blazed, his nostrils dilated, the muscles of his bronzed forehead stood out like whip-cord. The black eagle’s feather in his scalplock fluttered proudly in the cool morning breeze. He stood thus for a moment looking death sternly in the face, then, raising his bared arm with a gesture of superb disdain, he spoke with energy:

“Chocorua is unarmed; Chocorua will die. His heart is big and strong with the blood of the accursed pale-face. He laughs at death. He spits in the white man’s face. Go; tell your warriors Chocorua died like a chief!”

With this defiance on his lips the chief sprung from the brink into the unfathomable abyss below. An appalling crash was followed by a death-like silence. As soon as he recovered from his stupor the hunter ran to the verge of the precipice and looked over. A horrible fascination held him an instant. Then, shouldering his gun, he retraced his steps down the mountain, and the next day rejoined his comrades.

PASSACONNAWAY FROM THE BEAR-CAMP RIVER.

 

The general and front views of the Sandwich group, which may be had in perfection from the hill behind the Chocorua House, or from the opposite elevation, are very striking, embracing as they do the principal summits from Chocorua to the heavy mass of Black Mountain. There are more distinct traits, perhaps, embodied in this range than in any other among the White Hills, except that incomparable band of peaks constituting the northern half of the great chain itself. There seems, too, a special fitness in designating these mountains by their Indian titlesChocorua, Paugus, Passaconnaway, Wonnalanceta group of great sagamores, wild, grand, picturesque.[2]

The highway now skirted the margin of Chocorua Lake, a lovely little sheet of water voluptuously reposing at the foot of its overshadowing mountain. I cannot call Chocorua beautiful, yet of all the White Mountain peaks is it the most individual, the most aggressively suggestive. But the lake, fast locked in the embrace of encircling hills, bathed in all the affluence of the blessed sunlight, its bosom decorated with white lilies, its shores glassed in water which looks like a sheet of satinah, this was beautiful indeed! Its charming seclusion, its rare combination of laughing water and impassive old mountains; above all, the striking contrast between its chaste beauty and the huge-ribbed thing rising above, awakens a variety of sensations. It is passing strange. The mountain attracts, and at the same time repels you. Two sentiments struggle here for masteryopen admiration, energetic repulsion. For the first time, perhaps, in his life, the beholder feels an antipathy for a creation of inanimate nature. Chocorua suggests some fabled prodigy of the old mythologya headless Centaur, sprung from the foul womb of earth. The lake seems another Andromeda exposed to a monster.

A beautiful Indian legend ran to the effect that the stillness of the lake was sacred to the Great Spirit, and that if a human voice was heard upon its waters the offender’s canoe would instantly sink to the bottom.

Chocorua, as seen from Tamworth, shows a long, undulating ridge of white rising over one of green, both extending toward the east, and opening between a deep ravine, through which a path ascends to the summit. But this way affords no view until the summit is close at hand. Beyond the hump-backed ridge of Chocorua the tip of the southern peak of Moat Mountain peers over, like a mountain standing on tiptoe.

The mountain, with its formidable outworks, is constantly in view until the highway is left for a wood-road winding around its base into an interval where there is a farm-house. Here the road ends and the ascent begins.

Taking a guide here, who was strong, nimble, and sure-footed, but who proved to be lamentably ignorant of the topography of the country, we were in a few moments rapidly threading the path up the mountain. It ought to be said here that, with rare exceptions, the men who serve you in these ascensions should be regarded rather as porters than as guides.

In about an hour we reached the summit of the first mountain; for there are four subordinate ridges to cross before you stand under the single block of granite forming the pinnacle.

CHOCORUA.

 

When reconnoitring this pinnacle through your glass, at a distance of five miles, you will say to scale it would be difficult; when you have climbed close underneath you will say it is impossible. After surveying it from the bare ledges of Bald Mountain, where we stood letting the cool breeze blow upon us, I asked my guide where we could ascend. He pointed out a long crack, or crevice, toward the left, in which a few bushes were growing. It is narrow, almost perpendicular, and seemingly impracticable. I could not help exclaiming, “What, up there! Nothing but birds of the air can mount that sheer wall!” It is, however, there or nowhere you must ascend.

The whole upper zone of the mountain seems smitten with palsy. Except in the ravines between the inferior summits, nothing grew, nothing relieved the wide-spread desolation. Beyond us rose the enormous conical crag, scarred and riven by lightning, which gives to Chocorua its highly distinctive character. It is no longer ashen, but black with lichens. There was little of symmetry, nothing of grace; only the grandeur of power. You might as well pelt it with snow-balls as batter it with the mightiest artillery. For ages it has brushed the tempest aside, has seen the thunder-bolt shivered against its imperial battlements; for ages to come it will continue to defy the utmost power that can assail it. And what enemies it has withstood, overthrown, or put to rout! Not far from the base of the pinnacle evidence that the mountain was once densely wooded is on all sides. The rotted stumps of large trees still cling with a death-grip to the ledges, the shrivelled trunks lie bleaching where they were hurled by the hurricane. Many years ago this region was desolated by fire. In the night Old Chocorua, lighting his fiery torch, stood in the midst of his own funeral pyre. The burning mountain illuminated the sky and put out the stars. A brilliant circle of light, twenty miles in extent, surrounded the flaming peak like a halo; while underneath an immense tongue of forked flame licked the sides of the summit with devouring haste. The lakes, those bright jewels lying in the lap of the valleys, glowed like enormous carbuncles. Superstitious folk regarded the conflagration as a portent of war or pestilence. In the morning a few charred trunks, standing erect, were all that remained of the original forest. The rocks themselves bear witness to the intense heat which has either cracked them wide open, crumbled them in pieces, or divested them, like oysters, of their outer shell, all along the path of the conflagration.

The walk over the lower summits to the base of the peak occupied another hour, and is a most profitable feature of the ascent. On each side a superb panorama of mountains and lakes, of towns, villages, and hamlets, is being slowly unrolled; while every forward step develops the inaccessible character of the high summit more and more.

Having strayed from the path to gather blueberries, my companion set me again on the march by pointing out where a bear had been feeding not long before. Yet, while assuring me that Bruin was perfectly harmless at this season, I did not fail to remark that my guide made the most rapid strides of the day after this discovery. While feeling our way around the base of the pinnacle, in order to gain the ravine by which it is attacked, the path suddenly stopped. At the right, projecting rocks, affording a hold for neither hand nor foot, rose like a wall; before us, joined to the perpendicular rock, an unbroken ledge of bare granite, smoothly polished by ice, swept down by a sharp incline hundreds of feet, and then broke off abruptly into profounder depths. To advance upon this ledge, as steep as a roof, and where one false step would inevitably send the climber rolling to the bottom of the ravine, demands steady nerves. It invests the whole jaunt with just enough of the perilous to excite the apprehensions, or provoke the enthusiasm of the individual who stands there for the first time, looking askance at his guide, and revolving the chances of crossing it in safety. While debating with myself whether to take off my boots, or go down on my hands and knees and creep, the guide crossed this place with a steady step; and, upon reaching the opposite side, grasped a fragment of rock with one hand while extending his staff to me with the other. Rather than accept his assistance, I passed over with an assurance I was far from feeling; but when we came down the mountain I walked across with far more ease in my stockings.[3]

When he saw me safely over, my conductor moved on, with the remark,

“A skittish place.”

“Skittish,” indeed! We proceeded to drag ourselves up the ravine by the aid of bushes, or such protruding rocks as offered a hold. From the valley below we must have looked like flies creeping up a wall. After a breathless scramble, which put me in mind of the escalade of the Iron Castle of Porto Bello, where the English, having no scaling-ladders, mounted over each other’s shoulders, we came to a sort of plateau, on which was a ruined hut. The view here is varied and extensive; but after regaining our breath we hastened to complete the ascent, in order to enjoy, in all its perfection, the prospect awaiting us on the summit.

Like Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, it is among mountains that my knowledge of them has been obtained. I have little hesitation, then, in pronouncing the view from Chocorua one of the noblest that can reward the adventurous climber; for, notwithstanding it is not a high peak, and cannot, therefore, unfold the whole mountain system at a glance, it yet affords an unsurpassed view-point, from which one sees the surrounding mountains rising on all sides in all their majesty, and clothed in all their terrors.

Let me try to explain why Chocorua is such a remarkable and eligible post of observation.

One comprehends perfectly that the last high building on the skirts of a city embraces the largest unobstructed view of the surrounding country. This mountain is placed at the extremity of a range that abuts upon the lower Saco valley, and therefore overlooks all the hill-country on the east and south-east as far as the sea-coast. The arc of this circle of vision extends from the Camden Hills to Agamenticus, or from the Penobscot to the Piscataqua. The day being one of a thousand, I distinctly saw the ocean with the naked eye; not merely as a white blur on the horizon’s edge, but actual blue water, over which smoke was curling. This magnificent coup-d’œil embraces the scattered villages of Conway, Fryeburg, Madison, Eaton, Ossipee, with their numerous lakes and streams. I counted seventeen of the former flashing in the sun.

In the second place, Chocorua stands at the entrance to the valley opening between the Sandwich and Ossipee chains, and commands, therefore, to the south-west, between these natural walls, the northern limb of Winnipiseogee and of Squam, which are seen glittering on each side of Red Hill. In the foreground, at the foot of the mountain, Chocorua Lake is beyond question the most enticing object in a landscape wonderfully lighted and enriched by its profusion of brilliant waters, which resemble so many highly burnished reflectors multiplying the rays of the sun. I was now looking back to my first station on Red Hill, only the range of vision was much more extensive. It is unnecessary to recapitulate the names of the villages and summits seen in this direction. Over the lakes, Winnipiseogee and Squam, the humid peaks of Mount Belknap and of Mount Kearsarge, in Warner, last caught the eye. These two sections of the landscape first meet the eye of the climber while advancing toward the peak, whose rugged head and brawny shoulders intercept the view to the north, only to be enjoyed when the mountain is fully conquered.

Upon the cap-stone crowning the pinnacle, supporting myself by grasping the signal-staff planted on the highest point of this rock, from which the wind threatened to sweep us like chaff, I enjoyed the third and final act of this sublime tableau, in which the whole company of mountains is crowded upon the stage. Hundreds of dark and bristling shapes confronted us. Like a horde of barbarians, they seemed silently awaiting the signal to march upon the lowlands. As the wind swept through their ranks, an impatient murmur rose from the midst. Each mountain shook its myriad spears, and gave its voice to swell the sublime chorus. At first all was confusion; then I began to seek out the chiefs, whose rock-helmed heads, lifted high above their grisly battalions, invested each with a distinction and a sovereignty which yielded nothing except to that imperial peak over which attendant clouds hovered or floated swiftly away, as if bearing a message to those distant encampments pitched on the farthest verge of the horizon.

At my left hand extended all the summits, forming at their western extremity the valley of Mad River, and terminating in the immovable mass of Black Mountain. The peaks of Tripyramid, Tecumseh, and Osceola stretched along the northern course of this stream, and over them gleamed afar the massive plateau-ridge of Moosehillock. From my stand-point the great wall of the Sandwich chain, which from Tamworth presents an unbroken front to the south, now divided into ridges running north and south, separated by profound ravines. Paugus crouched at my feet; Passaconnaway elevated his fine crest next; Whiteface, his lowered and brilliant front; and then Black Mountain, the giant landmark of half a score of towns and villages.