Box 13-078 THE LAYING OF PAW'S GHOST (WRITTEN BY [REV.] CALVIN MCQUESTEN)
Jan 26 1901
THE LAYING OF PAW'S GHOST
Specially Written for The News, [Toronto, Ontario]
By Nina Vivian
January 26, 1901
"Seems as ef them flaming red flowers was too flauntin' fer a berryin' ground. Seems sort o' desrepectful to your Paw, M'lissy!"
M'randa Shaver was looking down with disapproving eyes on the brilliant scarlet of the geraniums planted on the mound at her feet. The little plot was trim and tidy; no dead leaves, no weeds were permitted to desecrate its sacred precincts. At the head of the grave stood a prim grey stone, with the inevitable carved hand pointing upward. Underneath the hand in plain black letters were the words--
Sacred to the memory of
A loving husband
And kind parent.
M'randa Shaver's black bombazine was heavily trimmed with crape and redolent of respectable grief. Her "weeds" swept almost to the bottom of her skirt. The eyes looking out from under the grim widow's bonnet were red and strained as if from much weeping. There was a drooping "done-with-the-joys-of-this-world" expression about the whole figure that was a mixture of pathos and bathos.
Poor M'randa. Since Lemuel Shaver's death eight months ago she had spent her life tormenting herself and M'lissy--her only child--lest she was doing something that "Paw" would not have approved of. Her doubts of herself were perhaps justified as neither M'randy nor M'lissy could ever remember "Paw's" approving of anything that gave them pleasure. So that now that they were free, his faithful widow lived in continual self-condemnation because she found it possible to follow her own inclinations at last.
M'lissy on the contrary--although she had never openly rebelled at Lemuel's restrictions--openly rejoiced at her emancipation. Lemuel had held to the doctrine "thet ef the women-folks hed plenty o' clothes and plenty o' good plain eaten they hedn't no cause fer complaint." As the result of this temperate mode of existence quite a nice little sum had been left at the disposal of his "women-folks" on his sudden demise, the result of overwork in a shadeless harvest field.
Every morning the soul of M'lissy was vexed by this or a similar remark from the foot of the attic stairs:
"Come now, M'lissy--time you was up. Poor Paw always liked us up airly."
At which the girl would groan sleepily, but she would get up, knowing that if she did not her mother would drown their breakfast in floods of tears over this fresh desecration of "Paw's" memory.
"Either Paw must a thought a awful sight o'Maw or else her sperit ain't improved much. Seems as ef Paw's goin' to be almost as much bother dead as he was alive, en that's saying a good deal" grumbled M'lissy to herself as she hurriedly washed and dressed.
Somethin's got to be done to lay Paw's ghost, or Maw'll be a ghost herself. Seems as if she can't sleep nights fer fear Paw wouldn't like the way she'd got her hair crimpers on."
Certainly the attitude of knuckling under which some men demand from their wives had become such a fixed habit in M'randa Shaver's life that to break away from it seemed an impossibility.
"Maw!" said M'lissy as they sat down to their morning meal, her crisp freshness as much a contrast to her mother's lachrymose droop as one could imagine.
"Maw, Judson said as how he might come over to-night; we thought we might go for a drive."
The girl inwardly groaned as she saw the faded blue eyes again fill with tears and the tremble at the corners of the weak mouth, for she loved her mother and hated to see her miserable.
"O M'lissy, ef your Paw could hear you! You know he never could a-bear Judson Green."
This was evidently an old battle ground, for M'lissy's brown eyes, so like the departed Lemuel's, fairly emitted sparks as she said:
"Now, Maw, you know the only reason Paw didn't take to Judson was jest because Jud thought enough o'me to put on a clean shirt and bresh his hair decint before he came over here. Law! Sakes! I believe of Paw'd aseen an angel courtin' me, he'd of objected ef the angel hed his hair combed en his wings clean."
"M'lissy Shaver!" gasped the frightened M'randy with a horrified cluch on her tea cup; "ef your Paw could hear you!"
"I don't know es I'd care ef he did. P'raps Paw's found out by now that it ain't a crime to be tidy en thet a clean shirt ain't a cardinal sin."
"M'lissy, you'll call down a judgement on us with your wild talk. Ef your Paw could--"
But M'lissy was clattering among the milk-pans to get away from her mother's reproachful voice. Presently she came back and kissed her mother's tearful cheek affectionately as she said:
"Now you set right there an' I'll redd the dishes myself." Soon her voice came cheerily back from the summer kitchen--
"Maw, ef you thought Paw wouldn't mind would you objec' to me marryin' Judson?"
"Why I ain't got no grudge agen Judson. He's got a good farm, an' he's powerful fond o' you, but seein' as I know how set agen him your Paw was; seems as ef I could never know a happy minit ef you was to marry him."
"O well, don't you worry, Maw. It'll mebbe turn out for the best."
For a while nothing was heard but the clatter of dishes; then Mrs. Shaver said in a very deprecating voice:
"M'lissy, I've been thinkin' p'raps I'd go over en see them spiritualists thet came to town the other day. They've been doin' wonderful things, communicatin' with the sperits of the departed. Seems as ef it would be kinder nice to hear your Paw speakin' agen. Eh, M'lissy?"
Unfilial M'lissy was thinking just then that it was more of a boon not to hear that rasping voice, and of how much more peaceful things were now--or would be--ef she could only get Maw to stand on her own feet instead o' Paw's."
Like a flash an inspiration came to her, which indicated a way out of her difficulty. Being a particularly strong-minded girl she had no leaning to the occult science, but she knew that her mother placed implicit confidence in anything that smacked of the supernatural; so she answered--
"Why, yes, Maw, ef that would be any comfort to you, y'might jest as well go. Might jest as well spend Paw's money callin' up his sperit as any other way."
Mrs. Shaver sighed with relief. If M'lissy approved it must be all right. So as Judson drove up the lane a few hours later he met M'randy sallying forth clad in her black bombazine and weeds towards the sťance.
M'lissy and Judson were too busy concocting a scheme for the "laying of Paw's ghost" to take their drive that evening. The plan of campaign was finally arranged to their satisfaction: Judson heartily agreeing to everything which would enable them to obtain Mrs. Shaver's consent to their marriage.
It was decided that the next evening M'randy was to be persuaded to go and visit with a neighbour for an hour or so and in her absence Judson was to arrive and secrete himself in the case of the grandfather's clock standing behind the kitchen door. Then at ten o'clock--the hour when they always had prayers--Judson in a voice as closely resembling Lemuel's as he could assume was to deliver a message relative to the future relations of M'lissy and Judson Green. Jud was a little dubious of the right effect being produced, but M'lissy reassured him by saying that "any voice comin' from the depths of a clock case would be spooky enough en thet maw'd be so flustered eny way et wouldn't matter ef his voice wasn't jest like Paw's."
Hardly had they completed their plans when Mrs. Shaver came home, so Judson said good-night and departed. As soon as he had gone M'randy said excitedly:
"M'lissy, it's jest wonderful! I've spoke with yer Paw." The girl was busy winding the clock, so M'randy could not see the smile with which she greeted this statement. She realized that the spiritualists were playing right into her hands. So she said: "En what did Paw hev to say?"
"Well, M'lissy, I ast him ef he liked them scarlet geraniums, en ed said no, they was too gay; so I'm goin' right up there in the mornin' to dig 'em up. It makes me jest sick to think o' them red things worrin' your Paw's sperit. Seems as ef I ought to do it to-night!"
"O I guess they'll do in the mornin', but seein' as Paw don't like 'em. I guess you'd beter dig'em up.
They'll be nice in the front yard."
The next evening she sent her mother off on some little errand, and Judson was soon established with much laughter and some damage to his clothes in the clock case.
"Seems as ef you could stand it, Jud?" asked
M'lissy after she had almost closed the door on the perspiring but undaunted young farmer.
"Well, seein' it's fer you, M'lissy, I'll live through," he answered gallantly adding to himself, "Ef one o' them cussed weights don't take a notion to drop on my head." "Hush! Here's Maw! Now put it strong, Jud."
In half an hour they were on their knees, and the widow was petitioning that she might please the Lord--and do as Paw'd approve--when a sepulchral voice said slowly:
"M'randy's nervous little body sank into a limp heap on the floor; but M'lissy slid over and putting her arm around her mother, said:
"Hush, Maw, it must be Paw's ghost; ask what it wants!" In a quivering whisper came the words--
"M'randy, it's been revealed to me thet--thet young Judson Green ain't such a bad fellow after all, en ef he wants our M'lissy y' better let 'em get married. My sperit's goin' away from here, en it seems ef I'd like to see'em settled 'fore I go. En, M'randy, you better leave off some o' that crape en cut a few feet off your weeds; there ain't no sense in your mournin' so much fer me. I'm happy, en you might jest as well enjoy yourself--en ef there's eny other man--
Here M'lissy, thinking that Judson was getting to well worked up, coughed warnigly, and the voice abruptly ceased.
The girl lifted the trembling woman in her strong arms and laid her tenderly on M'randy's own bed, saying--
"There, there, Maw, you jest be still en I'll come en stay beside you till morning: you're all shook up." She slipped back to the kitchen and helped to extricate the almost exhausted Judson, who departed with M'lissy's kiss on his lips, and a broad grin on his face.
When M'lissy returned to her mother's room she found M'randy sitting on the bed holding in her hands the widow's bonnet, and as the girl came in she said:
"O M'lissy, ain't your Paw good? Lemuel allays was the thoughtfullest man. Them weeds was gettin' a little mite too hefty."