Tag Archives: folklore

Dutchman’s Gold

Philomena Bucket wrapped her woolen shawl tightly around her shoulders; despite the chilly air she smiled quietly to herself. She had lived on Hopeless for almost a year and – somewhat uniquely – had fallen in love with the island. Certainly, compared to most places it was dangerous, inhospitable and lacking in the most basic of amenities. On the other hand, it was somewhere where she, an albino, attracted no second glances, no derision. Here she had a home, work, friends and the occasional company of a small, fun-loving dog. Admittedly the dog had been dead for some years and these days was no more than a skeleton but Drury had become as good a companion as anyone could wish to have. For Philomena, living on Hopeless was many times better than the life she had previously known.

 

One of Philomena’s greatest pleasures was to walk, as she was today, in the Gydynap hills. With their sudden fogs and air of mystery the Gydynaps reminded her of the Nargles Mountains, an area she knew well, a dozen or so miles west of the city of Cork, in her native Ireland. Somehow, she felt safer in the Gydynaps than anywhere else on the island. Whenever Philomena chose to go for a walk, Drury would invariably appear, as if by magic and rattle joyously along beside her, sniffing the air and making a great show of marking his territory (but – for obvious reasons – failing).

 

The inhabitants of Hopeless are not renowned for their love of walking. A healthy respect for the various dangers, mixed with no small measure of apathy, ensures that few wish to venture an inch further than necessary from their own front door. In view of this, it was a rare day, indeed, that Philomena met anyone else walking the hills. The day of this tale, however, was rare beyond her wildest imaginings.

 

Philomena was by no means timid but her heart missed a beat when Drury suddenly stopped in mid-gambol and growled. Had he been  in receipt of ears to push back and hackles to rise he could not have expressed his guarding instincts any more clearly. Someone, or more likely something, was around; Drury was giving every sign that all was not right and Philomena was uneasy.

For what seemed an age the skeletal dog stayed stock-still, growling ferociously at, what appeared to be, nothing in particular. All around them the mist began to thicken and swirl. Philomena blinked and rubbed her eyes. Her long-sight had never been particularly good but this poor visibility seemed to be playing tricks with her vision. As the mist thinned a little, she could just make out a figure emerging through a narrow cleft in the rocks that Philomena could have sworn had not been  there a moment earlier. Drury dropped down on to where his belly would have been and whimpered quietly.

“Howdy ma’am,” the stranger hailed her with a cheery wave.

He was a lanky, ginger-bearded individual, dressed in worn buckskins and a hat with an excessively floppy brim.

“Good afternoon to you sir,” replied Philomena primly.

” I sure didn’t figure on findin’ no ladies up here in the mountains,” drawled the stranger. “You must be a long way from home.”

“A mile or so, sir,” conceded Philomena, softening a little as Drury became visibly more relaxed. The bony dog was always an infallible judge of character and their new companion seemed to meet his approval.

“By the by, I ain’t nobody’s idea of a sir. I’m just plain old Hank.”

The man who called himself Hank squatted down on the ground and opened his knapsack, from which he produced a leather tobacco pouch and a stubby pipe.

“Share a pipe, ma’am?”

Philomena smiled and shook her head.

Hank eyed her, unsure of what to say next. Philomena’s presence was confusing him. He drew on his pipe and said, warily,

“Guess you’re looking for the Dutchman’s Gold Mine, same as me.”

It was Philomena’s turn to be confused.

“No… I’m just out for a walk with Drury, here.”

At the mention of his name Drury clambered to his feet with a series of osseous rattles. Hank involuntarily screamed as he witnessed a pile of bleached bones become suddenly animated.

“Jumpin’ Jehosohat,” he exclaimed. “What in tarnation is THAT?”

“That,” Philomena replied coldly, “is my good and faithful friend Drury – and I would be obliged if you referred to him with a little more respect in future.”

As if to show his utter disdain for Hank, Drury immediately flopped down and sank into a deep and snore-filled slumber.

Hank’s face dropped.

“Then what them Apaches say is true,” he wailed. “There really is a gateway to Hell in the Superstition Mountains.”

“Hell?” said Philomena in surprise. “You’re not in Hell, you’re in Hopeless, Maine.”

“Maine???” Hank’s face whitened noticeably beneath his tan. “Jumpin’ Jehosophat, that’s more than two thousand miles from Arizona.”

Philomena wondered to herself who Jehosophat might be and why he was so addicted to jumping.

“Believe me,” she ventured, “Hopeless is strange – but surely preferable to Hell. Nothing much surprises me about this place any more.”

Hank contemplated what she had said. He had had some strange adventures in his time but this was, by far, the strangest. Stoically, he finished his smoke and lay the pipe on the ground by his side. It did not take a great deal of persuasion on Philomena’s part for Hank to tell her his story.

“There’s a legend that this foreign guy discovered a gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix. They call it the Dutchman’s gold mine. Folks have been searchin’ for it for years and some of ’em seem to have disappeared into thin air. I rolled up there a day or two ago and thought I’d try my hand at gettin’ rich. Instead I end up in… where did you say?

“Hopeless,” said Philomena, helpfully. “But I don’t think that the others have come here. I’m sure someone would have mentioned it. Maybe you can go back the way you came.”

“Maybe, but I… jumpin’ Jehosophat, what in tarnation is that?”

While they were talking, a spoonwalker had sidled up beside them and picked up the pipe, studying it with curiosity.

“Dagnabbit! What is that thing?”

The sudden commotion had woken Drury. He instinctively leapt for the spoonwalker. who fled the scene with surprising speed and agility, racing along on its cutlery stilts and still clutching Hank’s pipe. It made a beeline for the cleft in the wall, with Drury in hot pursuit.

Philomena watched in horror as her beloved companion hurled himself at the fleeing spoonwalker, just as it disappeared into the opening.

With a crack that echoed around the hills, the cleft snapped shut. Half a second later Drury crashed into the rock face with a force that would have killed an ordinary dog. Happily for Drury, that particular ship had sailed long ago. Instead, he picked himself up from the stony ground, gave a shake and staggered unsteadily over to where Philomena and Hank were sitting.

“As I was saying,” said Philomena. “This is a strange place – and it looks as though you’re stuck with it.”

She took Hank gently by the arm and walked the bewildered newcomer down the hill. Drury, fully recovered by now, ran on in front, his bony tail wagging happily.

“And you’re sure this ain’t Hell?” asked Hank, casting a wary eye at the pale woman and her dead dog.

“Not for me,” said Philomena. “Not for me.”

 

Author’s note: In the mid nineteenth century, Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant claimed to have discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. He revealed the location of the mine on his death-bed to a boarding-house keeper, Julia Thomas, who, reportedly, later made a living by selling treasure maps for $7 each. Despite this, the mine was never discovered. This is just one of the several legends surrounding the ‘Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine’ (the words ‘Dutch’ and ‘Deutsch’ being commonly confused in the U.S. at that time).

What is not a legend is that many of those who have searched for the mine have disappeared without a trace.

Interestingly, the Apache Indians of the region have long believed that deep in the Superstition Mountains there exists a portal which gives access to the lower world, their version of hell.

By Martin Pearson-art by Tom and Nimue Brown
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The Raven-Feather Shroud

 

Hopeless has not always been fog-bound and desolate as it is today. Throughout its long history the island has enjoyed occasional but brief interludes of a much more pleasing climate. It was during the most recent of these verdant periods that the Danish settlers arrived.

 

The warriors came here first, in their long, fiercely elegant dragon-boats. They found the island to be a most agreeable place, with green pastures, bubbling streams and a sparse, timid population that was easily subjugated. It took little time for the invaders to realise that this would be a good island upon which to settle. Many were weary of having to fight. Maybe the Allfather would be kind and let them begin a peaceful existence in this new land.

They sent a longboat back with word of their discovery and over the next months and years a steady trickle of Danes found their way here, bringing with them everything that they needed to survive so many miles from home, including slaves from Britain.

 

It was high up in the hills, which are now known as the Gydynaps, that there lived a vǫlva – that is a seeress, a shaman, a wielder of the old magic. She was old and proud, only coming down to the village when summoned by the chieftain. In order to gain her favour and that of the gods, the settlers would ensure that she never went cold or hungry, regularly leaving food, furs and firewood at her door, especially on the occasions of the four great religious festivals, Eostre, Lithasblot, Winternights and Jul.

 

It was on the eve of Lithasblot, or Midsummer, that a slave (who, legend tells us, was one Cadman Negelsleag) was sent with a basket of food and wine to the vǫlva’s house. It was not a particularly arduous task and the day was pleasantly warm. The slave, knowing that his master did not expect him back for some hours, sat down upon a grassy bank and before long drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

It was a terrible commotion of squawking and croaking that dragged Cadman rudely from his slumbers. While he had been sleeping, two ravens had come down to inspect the contents of the basket and were quarrelling noisily over its ownership. Some of the food had been strewn on the grass and one of the birds was perched precariously on the edge of the basket, intent on removing the remainder. Without a second thought Cadman picked up a stone and threw it at the raven, hitting it squarely on the back of the head. It instantly dropped to the ground in a tangle of blood and feathers.

An awful dread came over Cadman when he realised what he had done. These birds were sacred to Odin and although the one-eyed deity was not his god, he was well aware of the power that Odin exercised in the minds of the Danes. Suddenly the beautiful summer day disappeared. The sky darkened, filled with threatening clouds. A cold wind shook the trees. The songbirds stilled their voices and an icy hand gripped Cadman’s heart.

There, standing on a ridge, was the vǫlva, her long, grey hair and midnight-dark cloak billowing in the freshening wind. In her hand was a long, ash staff, tipped with brass. The vǫlva’s face was a mask of anger.

“Cursed is he who kills the raven, most beloved of the Allfather,” she screamed, pointing her staff at the hapless slave. The staff crackled and sparked, then sent a cold blue bolt of light that froze his body to the core.

The vǫlva’s eyes glittered and it seemed to Cadman that she grew in stature, towering over him, filling the skies. She pointed to the smitten raven, where it lay on the grass.

“You will pluck just one feather from the bird that you have so wantonly slain,” she commanded.

Like a man in a dream the slave removed a feather from the dead raven.

“It will be upon each Lithasblot-eve, for centuries to come, that you will return to this place and pluck one feather from the raven that you will find here. Not until you have enough feathers to fashion yourself a raven-feather shroud in which to wrap your corpse, may you die. And the oldest man of your line who lives when your task is done, then it will become his burden, and so on, until your descendants are wiped from the face of the earth. Until that distant day you will walk in the shadows, hidden from the sight of men.”

Cadman felt himself slipping away, dragged by unseen hands into an eerie half-life, a shadowy, liminal dimension beyond all mortal understanding.

The island seemed to tremble at its very roots as a cold fog rolled in from the sea. Deep in its darkest caverns, nameless creatures began to stir from their long slumbers.

 

This, of course is only a legend. There may be no truth in it at all. But how many feathers does it take to make a shroud? Five hundred? Eight hundred? A thousand? If these events occurred at all then almost nine hundred mid-summer eves have passed since the curse was placed upon Cadman Negelsleag. For centuries his descendants have wondered if the legend has any truth and if it has, when might the shroud be complete and the curse passed on? Two hundred years ago the Negelsleag family, along with others, updated their names to something more pronounceable for the newcomers to the island. A curse, however, cannot be cheated; although names may change, blood remains the same. Our current Night Soil Man, the last of his line, knows that Negelsleag became Nailsworthy. Nine hundred years and nine hundred feathers ago it is said that his ancestor killed a raven. Shenandoah is a frightened man; he  always stays at home on midsummer-eve and wonders if it will be his last in the mortal realm.

I really hope that this is just another tale, just another island myth – but who is to say? After all, anything can happen on Hopeless, Maine.

Art- Tom Brown