IN the early part of the century, the people were very fond of telling ghost stories of an evening about the kitchen fire, and some people of great general intelligence were very superstitious. As an instance, I speak of Squire H — , a man who was esteemed one of the pillars of the town. He said of his first wife that she saw her own apparition. One winter day she had been washing clothes in the kitchen. When she had finished she went to the glass, and combed her hair. While thus engaged she happened to look out of the window, and saw herself walking on the snow. The Squire had gone to the village, but when he returned he found his wife in tears. She told him what she had seen, and said she knew that such an appearance meant she was not to live long. She died within a year.
The Squire's second wife did not believe in witches, and never would accept this story; but the Squire explained her unbelief by stating that she was the first-born in her father's family, and that over such the witches had no power. All authorities agree that to see one's double is a very bad sign. Such affirm that Abraham Lincoln saw his double before he was assassinated, and that he told his friends he knew from that he would not live his term out.
The following is an example of an old-time witch story. It involves no less a personage than a clergyman. This clergyman's name was Hooker. He was travelling on horseback when, one evening, night overtook him at Springfield, Mass., and he sought an inn. Other travellers were before him; and the landlord informed Rev. Mr. Hooker that he had only a single vacant room left, and, unfortunately, that room was haunted. The clergyman said he did not mind that, and took the room.
He had retired, and everything was still when twelve o'clock came, and with it the witches. In they flocked through keyholes and cracks, until they filled the room. The visitors brought with them many shining dishes of gold and silver, and prepared for a feast.
When everything was ready they invited the clergyman to partake. Although he knew very well that if he ate with witches he would become one, he accepted the invitation.
"But," he said, "it is my habit to ask a blessing before eating;" and at once began it.
The witches couldn't stand blessings, and fled helter-skelter, leaving feast and plate in possession of the preacher. Whether he ate the whole feast himself or not is not related. At any rate, Rev. Mr. Hooker secured the gold and silver dishes; and the next morning, while continuing his journey, a crow flapping along overhead shouted to him, "You are Hooker by name, and Hooker by nature; and you've hooked it all."
THE DEVIL AND THE CARD-PLAYERS
In a Connecticut village four men were visiting together one evening. At length one of them proposed that they should have a game of cards. They were aware of the wickedness of card-playing, and knew very well how scandalous the proposal was. Nevertheless, after a little argument, they agreed to play for a short time. On a stand in the corner of the kitchen was a candle whose flame had eaten nearly down to the socket. Said one of the men, "We'll just play till the candle burns out. There can't be much harm in that, I'm sure."
"Very good," said the others; "we'll stop when the candle burns out."
They played one game, two games, three games, and still the candle burned. The candle burned, and game followed game until morning came, and the first rays of daylight startled the four players.
Then they knew that Satan himself had been their companion through the night. Who but the Devil would have kept that candle burning for so many hours for such a purpose?
Daniel Smith was churning. He looked into the churn now and then to see what progress he was making, but the butter was no nearer coming the last time he looked in than it was the first. The suspicion grew on Mr. Smith that there was something uncanny about this fact. The more he thought about it the more certain he became that there was a witch in the cream. To expel this evil spirit he dipped up a little of the cream, and. threw it into the fire. Immediately after that the butter came. That same day it was reported that Widow Brown had burned herself. Then Mr. Smith knew it was the Widow Brown who had bewitched his cream.
RAISING THE WIND
"My father," said the narrator, "worked for a man in Longmeadow, Mass. The man he worked for was the doctor there. One day the doctor says he guessed he'd send some rye to mill. But the wind didn't blow none so't they could winnow it. In them times they used to have to shake it outdoors somewhere so't the wind'd blow the chaff away. There warn't a mite of wind stirrin' that mornin'; and so the doctor, he and my father, sot there in the kitchen a-talkin,' and guessin' they'd have to let it go till next day. While they was a-doin' o' this in comes the doctor's wife, and says the wind was beginnin' to blow up a little. And sure enough! when they come to go out the wind was blowin' considerable, and my father went right to cleanin' up the rye. There might not be nothin' in it, but my father always thought that woman was a witch. 'Twarn't nateral the wind should come up sudden that way, without no help. That woman she wanted the flour, and so she just went out and made the wind blow up the way it did.
THE CAT WHICH LOST A CLAW
There was a man by the name of Jones had a sawmill. He was so driven with work that he frequently was obliged to run the saw evenings. One night he was going down to the milI to work; and his wife said she didn't want him to, but he went just the same. He got the saw running, and a log rolled on, when along came a black cat he'd never seen before.
She purred around very friendly, rubbing up against the man, and trotting along on the log he was sawing. Finally she got to fooling around the saw, and got a claw cut off. Then she ran away up the hill toward the man's house. When the man got through work, and went home, he found his wife had one of her fingers done up. He asked her what the matter was, and she wouldn't tell him. But he kept at her, and after a while she let him see her hand. One finger was cut clean off. Then the man knew his wife was a witch, and that she was that same black cat which got its claw sawed off at the mill.
HOW TO KILL A WITCH
It was a common trick in the olden time of such women as were witches to turn into cats, and go scooting along the top rails of fences. It was useless trying to shoot these witch cats with any ordinary load. Leaden bullets would not touch them. To kill them, the gun had to be loaded with a silver ball. It was needful for the person who went witch-killing to use great care about his ammunition; for they said about the ball, that, —
CHEATING THE DEVIL
A farmer who had no money wanted a barn. Indeed, he wanted the barn very badly. The man had just a shed or two back of his little house, and it did not seem to him he could get along without a barn much longer possibly. Now, the Devil knew very well how the man was feeling; and one day he went to the man, and said he'd build him a barn. So they fixed up a bargain between them.
For putting up the barn the Devil was to have the man's soul when he died; but the work must be done before the first rooster crew in the morning, or the bargain was off. All that night the man heard the Devil hammering and hammering away up the hill a little ways, where he was building the barn. A while before daylight the man got up, and went out the back door to where he had a slab shed he kept his hens in. He stopped before the door, and made an imitation of crowing, and the old rooster answered him. That knocked the bargain all to pieces, and the Devil got well cheated that time. The man got his barn free; but being of the Devil's building I don't suppose it was a very good one, or lasted very long.
THE WILBUR WITCHES
These witches made themselves famous about seventy-five years ago in the hill country of western Massachusetts.
Their pranks were played in a secluded hamlet known as Simpson Hollow, and they particularly afflicted the Wilbur family there. The Wilburs were a good, respectable, church-going family; but, by some mysterious dispensation of Providence, they were the ones who had to suffer. They would find their Sunday clothes snipped and gashed, for one thing. While this witch business was going on, the Wilburs made it a point to look over the clothes they had hung up in the closets and about the rooms each day. One morning, after Mrs. Wilbur had made the rounds, she is reported to have said, "Well, I believe there's nothin' this time." The words were no sooner out of her mouth than a skirt dropped down on the floor with half-yard slash in it.
Granny Bates, who was one of the family, one day missed her gold beads, and where should they be found but at the top of the well-sweep.
Again the beads were gone. They searched high and low; and finally the beads were found in a teacup, in the bottom of a tub of clothes that they had taken down by the brook to rinse, and spread on the grass.
Another strange thing was that the family were continually finding odd articles of one sort and another in the dye-tub by the kitchen fireplace. This could not be allowed to go on, and one of the boys was told to sit on the dye-tub and stay there; but nothing came of it.
These stories circulated through the neighborhood, and occasioned not a little excitement. Even the minister was a good deal exercised over it. He led in a number of prayer-meetings at the house; but the Devil continued, nevertheless, in apparent full possession.
Sometimes a watch was set, and this served to fasten suspicion on Granny Bates and an old cat owned in the family. When some one went to get meal to sift, they found this old cat in the bin. Then they noticed that the old cat had begun to look very strangely, and there were those who affirmed that its features bore a very close resemblance to those of Granny Bates.
last, on one of the nights when a party was trying to drive out the
witches, this old cat was seen to go through a closed garret window,
glass and all, without breaking a pane. People who saw it said that
this was no other than Granny Bates in the form of a black cat. But
it was never settled who the witch really was, and some had
suspicions of a servant-girl who was working in the family. It was a
good while before the excitement died out; and for a long time after,
when anything strange happened in the community, people would say,
"Well, that's the Wilbur witches."
A BURN CURED
"Once, when I was a young girl, there was a woman lived in our family who said she could cure burns by talkin' to 'em. I used to poke fun to her about it. But one day I tipped over a kittle of hot water, and got scalded all along down my arm. It hurt so it didn't seem as if I could stan' it, and I begged that woman to do something if she could. She wasn't goin' to, because she said I didn't believe she could do anything, and laughed at her. But I told her I wouldn't any more, and I'd believe anything if she'd only cure me. So she passed her hands kind o' light back and forth over the burns, and mumbled something, and the pain went away right off. I asked her afterwards what it was she said, but she wouldn't tell. She said she could only tell it to some man who wasn't any of my relation,"
DEALING WITH GHOSTS
"If a ghost was to appear to me I wouldn't be afraid of him," said Grandmother Brown; "and if some night some of you children see a ghost, you just tell me. I would know, if a ghost came to me, he either wanted help, or came to warn me; and I should just ask him what he wanted. Oh, there's no need of bein' scared of a ghost."
If a ghost appeared to a person, the proper words in which to address it were, "What, in the name of God, do you want?"
THE CANNIBAL FROGS
In the early part of the century there lived a boy in the town of Hadley who was terribly lazy. His name was Edward Good.
One spring evening he was sent on an errand that took him across a swampy meadow. When he came to this meadow, the night air was so laden with strange pipings and croakings that Master Good became frightened and uneasy in his mind. He hesitated, and listened fearfully to the uncanny noises; and the result was that the darkness and the weird voices so scared him that he turned and ran home.
His folks were astonished that so slow a boy should get home so soon, and asked him if he had done the errand.
He said, "No; I was goin' to do it; but I got down in the meadow, and all the frogs was hollerin', 'Ketch Eddy, ketch Eddy! Eat him up, eat him up!' and I didn't dast to go across."
A SEVERE PUNISHMENT
A stranger came one day to Lonetown Tavern long ago, and stayed day after day, and week after week. He did no work, and seemed to have no business; he did not even let his name be known. This was all very puzzling to the townsfolk, and they were entirely at sea in their conjectures as to why he was there.
At length the people of the village sent a delegation to the man to get some information as to who and what he was. He would give them no satisfaction then; but after some talk back and forth he consented to name a time when he would answer their various questions plainly and fully.
On the appointed night the delegation presented itself, and was thus enlightened: "Gentlemen," said the stranger, "I am a criminal. I had my choice at the bar of justice, to be hung or to spend six months in Lonetown. I chose to come here, but I wish now that I had chosen to be hung."
With that the stranger bade the company "Good-evening," and bowed himself out of the room.
THE RIVAL COOKS
In a green valley among the Berkshire hills in days gone by there lived two women in houses less than a quarter of a mile apart, who took great pride in their cooking. Each was sure she was the best cook of the two, and their rivalry at length grew so warm that they agreed to have a contest to see which could make the largest pudding. They stewed and brewed and baked with great labor and mystery. The test-day came, and a large company of old and young from all the region about gathered to see and taste the giant puddings. The crowd drew up around the festive board, and gazed and commented and ate. What the size of the puddings really was is not reported; but we get a hint of their magnitude from the fact that after slice after slice had been cut away from one side of the smallest one, the remainder fell over and killed one of the children at the table.
THE WARNING OF THE FROGS
The events chronicled in this narrative occurred in western Massachusetts, in the township of Northampton. Far from any present habitations, on a marshy meadow, under the eastern shadow of a rough mountain ridge, is a half-choked cellar-hole and a few bushy old apple-trees that show there once stood a farmhouse. If inquiry is pursued, it is ascertained that Moses Pomeroy, a hundred years since, owned this property, and lived there with a numerous family. Among other traditions of the place, is one having to do with a certain jug Moses carried to the village store with considerable regularity to be filled with rum. One dark night he returned laden with this jug, and came opposite the marsh, when he was startled by guttural voices from the pond crying out, "Pomeroy! Pomeroy! Jug o' rum! jug o' rum! Got drunk! got drunk Go home! go home!" These remarks so worked on the mind of Mr. Pomeroy that he said to himself, "If the very frogs have got to mocking me, and saying that I am drunk, I will stop drinking." Thereupon he swung his jug in air, and threw it far out into the pond.
TIM FELT'S GHOST
Connected with the Ireland Parish district of the city of Holyoke, Mass., is a famous ghost story, which runs as follows: In the old days there lived on "Back Street" a Mr. Felt, One fall he sowed a field of rye. The rye came up well, and in the spring was looking green and thrifty. He was therefore the more disturbed at the frequent visits of Neighbor Hummerston's geese to the said field.
Mr. Felt had a quick temper, and this sort of thing was too much for him. He caught the whole flock one day, killed them, and then wended his way to Deacon Hummerston to inform him what he had done, and where his geese were to be found.
This and other acts showed his hasty temper and savage disposition, and brought him into disrepute among his neighbors. He often cruelly beat his horses and cattle, and there were times when he served the members of his family in the same way.
He had a son, Timothy by name, a dull-witted fellow, who was slow of comprehension, and in his work made many mistakes. This was a frequent cause of anger to his father, who on such occasions would strike Tim to the earth with whatever implement he happened to have in hand, — a hoe, a rake, or a pitchfork, perchance. These attacks sometimes drove Tim from home; but, after a-few days' absence, necessity would bring him back again. At last, however, he disappeared, and was seen no more; and a little later the Felts moved West.
In building the New Haven and Northampton canal, a great deal of limestone was used. On Mr. Felt's farm was a ledge of this rock, and the company soon had a quarry there. The overseer was a rough, ill-tempered fellow; and it was not long before he had trouble with his workmen, and they all left him. That brought work to a standstill, and the overseer was at his wit's end to find some way out of his difficulty.
One night, shortly after the men left, the overseer, on his way home from the corner store, quite late, saw a dark figure standing on the limestone ledge, outlined against the sky. The overseer stood still, his frightened gaze riveted on the stranger. Presently he broke the silence by asking, "Who are you? and what is your business?"
The spectre replied, "My name is Timothy Felt, and my bones are under where I now stand. I was killed by my father four years ago, and if you will blast this rock you will find my bones."
This story ran through all the country round, and created great excitement. Every day, for some time afterwards, loads of people, not only from Ireland Parish, but from towns quite distant, wended their way thither, inquiring the way to the "ghost place;" and when night came on people would make a long detour rather than pass the spot, and run the risk of meeting Tim's uneasy spirit. Money was raised to continue the quarrying until Tim's skeleton should be brought to light, but no bones were found; and after the overseer had gotten out what stone he wanted, the work lagged and was discontinued.
this humbug or not? A certain old lady used to say: —
In this case there was wide belief that Tim was murdered, and that his ghost did really appear.
THE VILLAGE ROOSTERS AND WILLIAM SMITH
In one of the old New England towns there lived in days of yore a youth named William Smith. William lived at the lower end of the chief village street. Near the upper end of the same street lived a young woman with whose charms William was so smitten that his calls on her were not only frequent but protracted.
One night when he had made one of these calls, he sought his home at the magic hour When, in such towns as had steeple clocks, the bells tolled twelve. William had not gone down the street far when he was startled by the crow of a rooster. But the remarkable thing was that he clearly detected beneath its rough notes these words, "The woman rules here." There was no doubt about what the rooster said, for it immediately repeated the words, and even more clearly, "The woman rules here."
While William walked along pondering this strange statement, he heard the voice of a second rooster at the next house below. It said, "The man rules here. The man rules here."
It was plain to William that he was being let into some of the family secrets of the village. All through the street the roosters greeted him as he passed along. At some of the houses it was the man that was chief, at some the woman. William certainly had food for reflection, but it is not related that he ever made any use of this knowledge which came to him so strangely.
In this connection I may mention that some say if you listen to roosters calling back and forth you can hear this conversation.
Rooster at first house. "The women rule here."
Rooster at second house. "And so they do here."
Rooster at third house. "And so they do everywhere."
A grown person, when a rooster crows, will sometimes imitate its call, and work a child's name into the sound. Then he says to the child, "Didn't you hear the rooster calling you?"
A FORTUNE IN A STICK
There were once three girls who were anxious as to the kind of husbands they should have. At length the eldest said, "You know, sisters, there is a little wood back of the house. Let us all walk through it, and each pick a stick as we go along. The one that picks the handsomest stick will get the handsomest husband."
The others agreed, and off they all three went. They had not gone far when the youngest saw a stick that she thought would do well enough for her, and she forthwith picked it. Her sisters walked on and on until they came out of the wood on the other side, but not a stick did they find that was handsome enough to suit them. Then all three went home.
Not long after the youngest married; but the eldest two remained single all their lives.
The consequence of the general knowledge of this story was, that the old people used sometimes to say to a girl whom they thought over particular in her criticism of the marriageable young men, "You better look out, and not have to go through the woods to pick a stick."
If a woman married a man who was held in low esteem by the community, it was said, "Well, she went through the wood, and picked a crooked stick after all."
THE THREE MAIDS WHO WENT TO SEEK THEIR FORTUNES
One time there was three girls went off to seek their fortunes. They walked along until they come to a place where the road split, and went off in three different directions. The girls sat down there and talked things over, and then each one on 'em took one o' the roads.
The youngest one she walked along all day, and it got to be night, and she stopped at a little house she come to. There was an old witch woman lived at that house, but the girl didn't know nothin' about that. That night she was moanin' and moanin' because she hadn't made nothin' that day.
So the next mornin' the old Witch woman told her not to be so downhearted, and she gave her an egg. She said to the girl that when she got so sorrowful she couldn't stan' it any longer, to break the egg, and it would bring her good fortin.
The girl took the egg, and travelled all that mornin', and there never nothin' happened; and at noon she was so sorrowful she broke the egg. It warn't no common egg, and out of it come a little spinnin'-wheel as pretty as could be; and this little wheel would keep spinnin' silk all by itself, without a hand touchin' it.
Along in the afternoon the girl saw a bunch of ladies down by a spring, and she went down to see what they was doin'. They had a handkerchief with blood on it; and they was tryin' to wash it clean, and none of 'em could do it. Then the girl said she would try it; and when she took it, the handkerchief came clean right off.
Now, the one that could make that handkerchief clean was to have the king's son for a husband. So they took the girl up to the palace, and she was married to the king's son. But this prince was under an enchantment for seven years. In the daytime he was in the form of a bull, and it was only in the night that he was a man. For seven years the girl had to lead her husband every mornin' away to the stable. At sunset he would come back again a man. But when the seven years was up, then they were alI right.
Those other two girls that took the other two roads went along, I don't know how far; but they never come to nothin', and they never got married at all.
One spring day Mr. and Mrs. Robin were talking over plans for nest-building. An old apple-tree near a farmhouse had been their home for many years past.
"Better settle down in the same old tree," said Mr. Robin. "There isn't another in the neighborhood has crotches to equal it."
"I know it," replied Mrs. Robin; "but the man who lives in the farmhouse says he's going to build a barn right here, and our tree would have to come down."
"When did he say he was going to build it?" asked Mr. Robin.
"He didn't say just when," Mrs. Robin answered; "he said 'sometime."'
"Oh, well," remarked Mr. Robin, "we can have our nest here all right then;" and they began to build it in a crotch of the old apple-tree that very day.
MRS. STOWE'S ORANGES
It is said that the year after Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" came out, all the oranges that grew in her Florida grove were black skinned. There was a good deal of joking in consequence, and the fruit was spoken of as "abolition oranges."
STUMPING THE DEVIL
There was a place where my mother was livin' once, where the whoopin'-cough took and run through the family. It ketched 'em all, little and big, except the hired man, who might have been eighteen or twenty years old.
One day my mother says to him, "Ain't you goin' to have the whoopin'-cough, John?"
And he says, "No; I'll stump the Devil to give it to me."
The next thing they knew, John had the whooping-cough, and had it bad. It made him so cross-eyed that you might think he was lookin' all around the lots when he was lookin' straight at you. He never could talk straight after it, and he couldn't walk straight. He kind o' petered out every way. He was a smart, good-lookin' fellow before he had the whoopin'-cough, but that spoilt him. He said he never'd stump the Devil again. I know when he was an old man, eighty years old or so, he used to tell about it and say, "I think I stumped the Devil a little too hard that time."
THE STEERS THAT WOULDN'T DRAW
My mother's father was down in the woods one time, and he'd got his sled loaded up with a little jag o' logs. When he come to start, the steers wouldn't budge. 'Twa'n't much of a load, and he knew the steers could draw it well as not. Now, there was an old woman that lived in the neighborhood that he'd always thought was kind of a witch, and when the steers acted that way he was pretty sure that old woman had bewitched 'em. So he said to himself that he'd cut a stick, and he'd make those steers draw that load or he'd kill 'em. Well, you know if you drawed blood on a thing that was bewitched, you drawed blood on the witch too; and if you killed a thing that was bewitched, you killed the witch.
My mother's father was just goin' to give those steers a weltin', when there come a sort of a low laugh from down somewhere in the woods. It was that old witch woman, though she wa'n't really anywhere around there. As soon as the steers heard that ar laugh, they started right along.
THE POWER OF FANCY
It is told of a party of students at Harvard long ago, that they one day fell into a dispute as to whether a man could be made sick through his imagination. Some said he could, and others said he couldn't. To settle the dispute they agreed to try the experiment on a driver who was well known to all of them, and who made many trips each week between Cambridge and Boston. The students stationed themselves along the road at intervals, so that they might meet the driver on one of these trips.
Student number one presently sighted the man and said, "How do you do today?"
"Oh, I'm as well as usual," says the driver.
"You don't look as well," responded the student, and passed on.
Student number two greeted the driver in the same way, and this conversation was in substance repeated with every student in the plot. The result was that this stout, hearty man was overpowered by the weight of evidence. It broke him down, and ruined his health.
A GHOST STORY
should be told in as sepulchral tones as the teller is capable of,
and a doleful groan should be put in occasionally.
The final word of the story should be a sudden shout. Some say "Boo!" instead of "Yes," and others just screech without definite words.
give below a more elaborate version of the same tale. "Do you
want to hear a story?" says the teller. "Well" —