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THE BROWN GHOST.
By the author of "Old Creole Days,'
AVING a marvelous tale to tell I
I've been in this country ever since
When I first landed I went to Canton, Massachusetts, having a friend there, and hoping he would help me to get work. And he said he wished he could, "Only," said he, like the true Irishman he was, all the vacant situations I know of are filled. There's but one exception; that's with a farmer near West Bridgewater. But you wouldn't stay with him; no man ever does." "Why?" said I.
I told him I'd take the job. So off we started. I remember it was a Sunday morning. The farmer's name was Pope. That didn't please For I'm a good enough Catholic to want to see such a name as that kept in its place. However, I let that pass, for I'm not so very superstitious; but when I found his first name was Luther" No wonder the house is haunted," thought I, for, after all, I'm an Irishman.
Mr. Pope told me I was a greenhorn. "What do you know about farming in this country?" said he.
“Well,” said I, "all I do know in the world is about farming. Besides," said I, "there's always a chance that a young man may learn more or less." "Are you afraid of ghosts?" he said. I told him I didn't know; I could tell better when I saw one.
Well," said he, "I'll do with you as I've done with all before you; I'll pay you twenty dollars a month if you work a year; but if you leave me before the year is up you'll get but eight dollars a month."
So I took the place and went to work the next morning.
I liked Mr. Pope better when at supper I saw his wife; she was SO pretty and winning—though no longer young—and in every way so much of a lady. She was a widow when he married her, and, as I soon learned, all the real valuables in the house were hers. I noticed, myself, that same evening, that the silver, which was heavy and old fashioned, was marked with her earlier initials, quite all of it.
After supper Mr. Pope said, "I'll show you where you're to sleep." So he took an oil lamp, went upstairs, I following, and showed me into a tolerably large room with a fireplace; no stove.
"Would you mind leaving the lamp?" said I, and he did so, smiling a little at me, thinking me timid. But timid or not, I was so tired with my new work that I fell asleep before he was fairly downstairs, and never woke till it was broad day.
Fact is, I didn't more than half believe in ghosts in those days, although open to conviction, as I think one ought to be in all things, however unproved in his earlier experiences. And so, one day my first month was up, and Mr. Pope handed me eight dollars.
"With twelve more to come," said I pleasantly, "if I stay out the year,' and he said "yes" quite as pleasantly. And it was much the same the second month. But before the third was done I saw the ghost.
I had long before stopped having the light left for me. But one night, I don't know what was in me to make me say it, but I asked leave to keep my lamp burning.
I woke exactly at midnight. My door was locked and barred. The bar was a great old-fashioned thing that
THE BROWN GHOST.
reached clean across the door, and this was the first time I had ever put it into use. I don't know how it was, but I woke with the feeling that the ghost was in the room. It was an awful sensation. I looked at the door; it was barred as I had left it. I gazed around the room, trying to believe I was the victim of a delusion, but still feeling the presence of the thing as plainly as if it were touching me, when suddenly my poor heart leaped and stuck in my throat, and my voice was utterly taken from me. For there, sitting in a chair by the fireplace, and looking steadily at me, was the appearance of a man, as plain to view as the lighted lamp itself.
We always fancy a ghost white. This one was brown. We think of them as transparent. But this one was only partially so; translucent, I think, would most truly describe it. It was a man, neither young nor old, about five feet, eight inches in stature, and dressed in just a common farmer's suit, though very neatly indeed and. in the fashion of earlier times. Horrorstruck as I was, I was just Irish enough, I suppose, not to overlook the one droll feature of the awful matter; which was that he had in his mouth an old-fashioned T. D. pipe, and seemed to be comfortably smoking.
How long I watched him I don't know. I didn't stir until he did, but at his first motion I threw the covers over my face and lay there sweating and shivering, the coldest I ever was in my life. And when I finally grew ashamed and ventured to look out of my hiding he was gone. Then all at once I knew, as well as if he had told me himself, he was Mrs. Pope's first husband, and I said to myself, "Either there's been a crime committed, or else there's danger of one near in the future!"
When I told Mr. Pope what had happened—but of course not what I'd said to myself—he simply asked, "Do you want to quit?"
the ghost means to harm or to accuse, be it anybody or be it nobody, it's not I. While anybody else can stay in the house I can."
The next night I didn't waken, but on the second after I did, and saw the ghost again. I didn't care half so much for him this time, though I felt uncomfortable enough. I could even endure to see his motions, which were gentle, and, as I may say, stately, even to the scratching of a match on the leg of his barn-door trousers and lighting his pipe, however it may provoke a smile to tell of it now. just saying to myself, much as if some mysterious power of the apparition had put it into my mind without speech, "It's sure he means no harm," when he gave me a solemn wave of the hand, that said as plainly as any signal ever said anything,—
"Go to sleep. Don't mind me.”
And to sleep forthwith I went, notwithstanding I could see it was he that was putting me to slumber.
So it went on, night after night, for months; not every night, but once or twice a week. "There's something wrong impending," I kept saying to myself. "It hasn't occurred, or he wouldn't look so comfortable and so kind; and neither is it sure to come to pass, for he has the air of believing he can prevent it. But who's to attempt the deed; and who is the intended victim?"
Now, see how the most baseless and nonsensical superstition may be of use; but at the same time remember, if you please, that I was a mere boy, not yet nineteen, and Irish into the bargain. Said I to myself one night by a sudden inspiration just as I was getting into bed :
"Who is he likely to be so concerned about as to leave his grave, if it isn't she that was once his beloved wife? And as to whose the crime is to be,— Luther Pope! By the name! why shouldn't it be he?”
The next time the ghost came my "Mr. Pope," said I, "no. Whoever mind was still of that conviction. But
once, and once again, he took his
A third time he did so. Then, slowly rising and putting the pipe into his pocket, he pointed his finger straight at me. Ah, it was anything but comic! I sat up in bed with every pore of my skin dripping cold water. What did he mean? The kindness of his look, as well as my own conscience, told me the crime, be it great or small, could never be mine. Was I, then, to be the victim?
As that question came into my thought he dropped his hand slowly as if to say yes, and went through the door. Through, I say, for the door remained locked and barred, while he silently melted-faded-through it and vanished.
"Stop!" said I to myself, "why should the ghost concern himself about me?" But then I reflected that she who'd been his wife would be sufferer enough if Luther Pope should bring disgrace upon himself. However, thought I, he'll try simple cheating first; nevertheless I was in a most uncomfortable suspense.
When I lacked but one day of finishing my year, with Luther Pope as sour and savage to me as any brute, I had the luck to meet some friends fresh from the old country, and that night, when of all nights I ought to have been most discreet, I went to bed-if I must confess it-the worse for liquor, and in all my clothes.
I was asleep soon enough, and dreaming. I dreamed that Luther Pope had run away to California with my wages and all his wife's valuables, and when I awoke there sat the ghost making his usual vain show of smoking, but with a new distress darkening his brown face, which, after my dream,
The next morning Mr. Pope, the minute he saw me, said, "You look ill." "I shouldn't wonder," said I, "it's seemed easy enough to understand. the ghost."
"You'll not quit us?" said he quickly and with a vain show of regret; but behind it I saw the hope that I would. And what more natural for as miserly a soul as I had found Luther Pope to be, in the ten months I had now been with him.
"No," said I, "it would cost me ten times twelve dollars of hard earned wages, and I can't afford it. Besides, I promised you I'd stay, just as plainly as you promised me the twenty dollars a month." I thought it no harm to give him that to ponder, for it jumped into my mind right there and then that most likely all the crime there was being meditated was the beating of me out of my hundred and fortyfour dollars at the end of the year. To be sure, that might be done by plain swindling, or it might be done in some darker or bloodier way; but that didn't occur to me then.
Once as I was thinking the whole matter over in the midst of my work
Beyond doubt it was the liquor that made me so whimsical, saucy, and foolhardy. I spoke right out.
“I'll have a smoke with you," said I, and got up and began to look all through my clothes for tobacco. But I found none. So I went close up to the ghost and said harshly, "You've smoked enough. I'm out of tobacco. Give me a draw out of that pipe!
He rose straight up out of the chair as if tempted to leave me, a picture of majestic amazement, and there we stood, I do believe, ten mortal minutes, looking each other full in the face. But then he took on a compassionating look, put a finger to his lip for silence, and backed away toward the door, beckoning at each step, and every motion as silent as a moonbeam. He melted through the solid wood. stealthily took away the bar, turned the key, and passed out, and there on the other side he stood, still waving to me to be wary and come on downstairs.
The house was of the old New England pattern, with the front door right at the bottom of the stairs. There he halted again, and as I stepped backward and aside from him in a kind of clammy horror, my foot touched something which the next instant I saw to be a tightly filled carpetsack. My dream was coming true!
I saw all! Luther Pope had laid that there while he'd go to the stable and get out his horse and buggy. He would be back for it in a moment. I knew in my very bones that my money and Mrs. Pope's silver were in that bag. At a sign from the ghost I took it up and followed him out in the moonlight shadows around behind the stable, and had but just halted there when Mr. Pope led the horse and buggy softly out of the place, left him standing unhitched, and started on foot to the house. My guess was as true as my dream.
For a moment I had forgotten the ghost, and the bag as well, and when they came to mind again they were both gone. But as I turned, aghast, I beheld both in the buggy, the ghost beckoning me to the seat beside him.
"No, no," I tried to cry, but could only shake my head, speechless with amazement and quaking with the chill of the night's small hours; for though my money was there, the bulk of the bag's contents was none of mine. With that he somehow made me understand that he would see that everything should find its rightful owner again, and, hardly knowing what I did, more dead than alive, I leaped into the buggy and away we went.
The ghost drove, and how it came about that by and by I was holding the reins and the ghost was gone I have never been able to explain. never seen him since, nor any of his phantom breed. There are those who have refused to believe that ever I saw that one. This is a cynical world. I've even known one man to say of me, that if I should tell the truth by accident I'd never give myself sleep till I'd corrected the mistake-and he a judge on the bench, charging the jury that sent me to the penitentiary
which is my present address; for this is my fifth term. And I'm hoping mayhap it's my last, who can tell? George W. Cable:
DOWN from her throne on some celestial height
The blossoms close, the winds forget to blow,
And velvet hands above our beds she bends.
* For the original suggestion of this story I am indebted to a narrative gathered many years ago from an honest and estimable workingman of his acquaintance by Mr. H. M. Coburn, of Togus, Me.-G. W. C.