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The Haunted Photograph






BY RUTH McENERY STUART


To the ordinary observer it was just a common photograph of a cheap
summer hotel. It hung sumptuously framed in plush, over the Widow
Morris's mantel, the one resplendent note in an otherwise modest home,
in a characteristic Queen Anne village.

One had only to see the rapt face of its owner as she sat in her weeds
before the picture, which she tearfully pronounced "a strikin'
likeness," to sympathize with the townsfolk who looked askance at the
bereaved woman, even while they bore with her delusion, feeling sure
that her sudden sorrow had set her mind agog.

When she had received the picture through the mail, some months before
the fire which consumed the hotel--a fire through which she had not
passed, but out of which she had come a widow--she proudly passed it
around among the friends waiting with her at the post-office, replying
to their questions as they admired it:

"Oh, yes! That's where he works--if you can call it work. He's the head
steward in it. All that row o' winders where you see the awnin's down,
they're his--an' them that ain't down, they're his, too--that is to say,
it's his jurisdiction.

"You see, he's got the whip hand over the cook an' the sto'eroom, an'
that key don't go out o' his belt unless he knows who's gettin'
what--an' he's firm. Morris always was. He's like the iron law of the
Ephesians."

"What key?"

It was an old lady who held the picture at arm's length, the more
closely to scan it, who asked the question. She asked it partly to know,
as neither man nor key appeared in the photograph, and partly to parry
the "historic allusion"--a disturbing sort of fire for which Mrs. Morris
was rather noted and which made some of her most loyal townsfolk a bit
shy of her.

"Oh, I ain't referrin' to the picture," she hastened to explain. "I mean
the keys thet he always carries in his belt. The reg'lar joke there is
to call him 'St. Peter,' an' he takes it in good part, for, he declares,
if there is such a thing as a similitude to the kingdom o' Heaven
in a hotel, why, it's in the providential supply department which, in
a manner, hangs to his belt. He always humors a joke--'specially on
himself."

No one will ever know through what painful periods of unrequited longing
the Widow Morris had sought solace in this, her only cherished "relic,"
after the "half hour of sky-works" which had made her, in her own
vernacular, "a lonely, conflagrated widow, with a heart full of ashes,"
before the glad moment when it was given her to discern in it an
unsuspected and novel value. First had come, as a faint gleam of
comfort, the reflection that although her dear lost one was not in
evidence in the picture, he had really been inside the building when the
photograph was taken, and so, of course, he must be in there yet!

At first she experienced a slight disappointment that her man was not
visible, at door or window. But it was only a passing regret. It was
really better to feel him surely and broadly within--at large in the
great house, free to pass at will from one room to another. To have had
him fixed, no matter how effectively, would have been a limitation. As
it was, she pressed the picture to her bosom as she wondered if,
perchance, he would not some day come out of his hiding to meet her.

It was a muffled pleasure and tremulously entertained at first, but the
very whimsicality of it was an appeal to her sensitized imagination, and
so, when finally the thing did really happen, it is small wonder that it
came somewhat as a shock.

It appears that one day, feeling particularly lonely and forlorn, and
having no other comfort, she was pressing her tear-stained face against
the row of window-shutters in the room without awnings, this being her
nearest approach to the alleged occupant's bosom, when she was suddenly

startled by a peculiar swishing sound, as of wind-blown rain, whereupon
she lifted her face to perceive that it was indeed raining, and then,
glancing back at the photograph, she distinctly saw her husband rushing
from one window to another, drawing down the sashes on the side of the
house that would have been exposed to the real shower whose music was in
her ears.

This was a great discovery, and, naturally enough, it set her weeping,
for, she sobbed, it made her feel, for a minute, that she had lost her
widowhood and that, after the shower, he'd be coming home.

It might well make any one cry to suddenly lose the pivot upon which his
emotions are swung. At any rate, Mrs. Morris cried. She said that she
cried all night, first because it seemed so spooky to see him whose
remains she had so recently buried on faith, waiving recognition in the
debris, dashing about now in so matter-of-fact a way.

And then she wept because, after all, he did not come.

This was the formal beginning of her sense of personal companionship in
the picture--companionship, yes, of delight in it, for there is even
delight in tears--in some situations in life. Especially is this true of
one whose emotions are her only guides, as seems to have been the case
with the Widow Morris.

After seeing him draw the window-sashes--and he had drawn them down,
ignoring her presence--she sat for hours, waiting for the rain to stop.
It seemed to have set in for a long spell, for when she finally fell
asleep, "from sheer disappointment, 'long towards morning," it was
still raining, but when she awoke the sun shone and all the windows in
the picture were up again.

This was a misleading experience, however, for she soon discovered that
she could not count upon any line of conduct by the man in the hotel, as
the fact that it had one time rained in the photograph at the same time
that it rained outside was but a coincidence and she was soon surprised
to perceive all quiet along the hotel piazza, not even an awning
flapping, while the earth, on her plane, was torn by storms.

On one memorable occasion when her husband had appeared, flapping the
window-panes from within with a towel, she had thought for one brief
moment that he was beckoning to her, and that she might have to go to
him, and she was beginning to experience terror, with shortness of
breath and other premonitions of sudden passing, when she discovered
that he was merely killing flies, and she flurriedly fanned herself with
the asbestos mat which she had seized from the stove beside her, and
staggered out to a seat under the mulberries, as she stammered:

"I do declare, Morris'll be the death of me yet. He's 'most as much care
to me dead as he was alive--I made sure--made sure he'd come after me!"

Then, feeling her own fidelity challenged, she hastened to add:

"Not that I hadn't rather go to him than to take any trip in the world,
but--but I never did fancy that hotel, and since I've got used to seein'
him there so constant, I feel sure that's where we'd put up. My belief
is, anyway, that if there's hereafters for some things, there's
hereafters for all. From what I can gather, I reckon I'm a kind of a
cross between a Swedenborgian and a Gates-ajar--that, of course,
engrafted on to a Methodist. Now, that hotel, when it was consumed by
fire, which to it was the same as mortal death, why, it either ascended
into Heaven, in smoke, or it fell, in ashes--to the other place. If it
died worthy, like as not it's undergoin' repairs now for a 'mansion,'
jasper cupalos, an'--but, of course, such as that could be run up in a
twinklin'.

"Still, from what I've heard, it's more likely gone down to its
deserts. It would seem hard for a hotel with so many awned-off corridors
an' palmed embrasures with teet-a-teet sofas, to live along without
sin."

She stood on her step-ladder, wiping the face of the picture as she
spoke, and as she began to back down she discovered the cat under her
elbow, glaring at the picture.

"Yes, Kitty! Spit away!" she exclaimed. "Like as not you see even more
than I do!"

And as she slipped the ladder back into the closet, she remarked--this
to herself, strictly:

"If it hadn't 'a' been for poor puss, I'd 'a' had a heap more pleasure
out o' this picture than what I have had--or will be likely to have
again. The way she's taken on, I've almost come to hate it!"

A serpent had entered her poor little Eden--even the green-eyed monster
constrictor, who, if given full swing, would not spare a bone of her
meager comfort.

A neighbor who chanced to come in at the time, unobserved overheard the
last remark, and Mrs. Morris, seeing that she was there, continued in an
unchanged tone, while she gave her a chair:

"Of course, Mis' Withers, you can easy guess who I refer to. I mean that
combly-featured wench that kep' the books an' answered the telephone at
the hotel--when she found the time from her meddlin'. Somehow, I never
thought about her bein' burned in with Morris till puss give her away.
Puss never did like the girl when she was alive, an' the first time I
see her scratch an' spit at the picture, just the way she used to do
whenever she come in sight, why, it just struck me like a clap o'
thunder out of a clear sky that puss knew who she was a-spittin' at--an'
I switched around sudden--an' glanced up sudden--an'----

"Well, what I seen, I seen! There was that beautied-up typewriter
settin' in the window-sill o' Morris's butler's pantry--an' if she
didn't wink at me malicious, then I don't know malice when I see it. An'
she used her fingers against her nose, too, most defiant and impolite.
So I says to puss I says, 'Puss,' I says, 'there's goin's on in that
hotel, sure as fate. Annabel Bender has got the better o' me, for
once!' An', tell the truth, it did spoil the photograph for me for a
while, for, of course, after that, if I didn't see him somewheres on the
watch for his faithful spouse, I'd say to myself, 'He's inside there
with that pink-featured hussy!'

"You know, a man's a man, Mis' Withers--'specially Morris, an' with his
lawful wife cut off an' indefinitely divorced by a longevitied
family--an' another burned in with him--well, his faithfulness is put to
a trial by fire, as you might say. So, as I say, it spoiled the picture
for me, for a while.

"An', to make matters worse, it wasn't any time before I recollected
that Campbellite preacher thet was burned in with them, an' with that my
imagination run riot, an' I'd think to myself, 'If they're inclined,
they cert'n'y have things handy!' Then I'd ketch myself an' say,
'Where's your faith in Scripture, Mary Marthy Matthews, named after two
Bible women an' born daughter to an apostle? What's the use?' I'd say,
an' so, first an' last, I'd get a sort o' alpha an' omega comfort out o'
the passage about no givin' in marriage. Still, there'd be times, pray
as I would, when them three would loom up, him an' her--an' the
Campbellite preacher. I know his license to marry would run out in
time, but for eternity, of course we don't know. Seem like everything
would last forever--an' then again, if I've got a widow's freedom,
Morris must be classed as a widower, if he's anything.

"Then I'd get some relief in thinkin' about his disposition. Good as he
was, Morris was fickle-tasted, not in the long run, but day in an' day
out, an' even if he'd be taken up with her he'd get a distaste the
minute he reelized she'd be there interminable. That's Morris. Why,
didn't he used to get nervous just seein' me around, an' me his own
selected? An' didn't I use to make some excuse to send him over to Mame
Maddern's ma's ma's--so's he'd be harmlessly diverted? She was full o'
talk, and she was ninety-odd an' asthmatic, but he'd come home from them
visits an' call me his child wife. I've had my happy moments!

"You know a man'll get tired of himself, even, if he's condemned to it
too continual, and think of that blondinetted typewriter for a steady
diet--to a man like Morris! Imagine her when her hair dye started to
give out--green streaks in that pompadour! So, knowin' my man, I'd take
courage an' I'd think, 'Seein' me cut off, he'll soon be wantin' me more
than ever'--an' so he does. It's got so now that, glance up at that
hotel any time I will, I can generally find him on the lookout, an'
many's the time I've stole in an' put on a favoryte apron o' his with
blue bows on it, when we'd be alone an' nobody to remark about me
breakin' my mournin'. Dear me, how full o' b'oyancy he was--a regular
boy at thirty-five, when he passed away!"

Was it any wonder that her friends exchanged glances while Mrs. Morris
entertained them in so droll a way? Still, as time passed and she not
only brightened in the light of her delusion, but proceeded to meet the
conditions of her own life by opening a small shop in her home, and when
she exhibited a wholesome sense of profit and loss, her neighbors were
quite ready to accept her on terms of mental responsibility.

With occupation and a modest success, emotional disturbance was surely
giving place to an even calm, when, one day, something happened.

Mrs. Morris sat behind her counter, sorting notions, puss asleep beside
her, when she heard the swish of thin silk, with a breath of familiar
perfume, and, looking up, whom did she see but the blond lady of her
troubled dreams striding bodily up to the counter, smiling as she
swished.

At the sight the good woman first rose to her feet, and then as suddenly
dropped--flopped--breathless and white--backward--and had to be revived,
so that for the space of some minutes things happened very fast--that
is, if we may believe the flurried testimony of the blonde, who, in
going over it, two hours later, had more than once to stop for breath.

"Well, say!" she panted. "Did you ever! Such a turn as took her! I
hadn't no more 'n stepped in the door when she succumbed, green as the
Ganges, into her own egg-basket--an' it full! An' she was on the eve o'
floppin' back into the prunin' scizzor points up, when I scrambled over
the counter, breakin' my straight-front in two, which she's welcome to,
poor thing! Then I loaned her my smellin'-salts, which she held her
breath against until it got to be a case of smell or die, an' she
smelt! Then it was a case of temporary spasms for a minute, the salts
spillin' out over her face, but when the accident evaporated, an' she
opened her eyes, rational, I thought to myself, 'Maybe she don't know
she's keeled an' would be humiliated if she did,' so I acted callous,
an' I says, offhand like, I says, pushin' her apron around behind her
over its vice versa, so's to cover up the eggs, which I thought had
better be broke to her gently, I says, 'I just called in, Mis' Morris,
to borry your recipe for angel-cake--or maybe get you to bake one for
us' (I knew she baked on orders). An' with that, what does she do but go
over again, limp as wet starch, down an' through every egg in that
basket, solid an' fluid!

"Well, by this time, a man who had seen her at her first worst an' run
for a doctor, he come in with three, an' whilst they were bowin' to each
other an' backin', I giv' 'er stimulus an' d'rectly she turned upon me
one rememberable gaze, an' she says, 'Doctors,' says she, 'would you
think they'd have the gall to try to get me to cook for 'em? They've
ordered angel-ca----' An' with that, over she toppled again, no pulse
nor nothin', same as the dead!"

While the blonde talked she busied herself with her loosely falling
locks, which she tried vainly to entrap.

"An' yet you say she ain't classed as crazy? I'd say it of her, sure!
An' so old Morris is dead--burned in that old hotel! Well, well! Poor
old fellow! Dear old place! What times I've had!"

She spoke through a mouthful of gilt hairpins and her voice was as an
AEolian harp.

"An' he burned in it--an' she's a widow yet! Yes, I did hear there'd
been a fire, but you never can tell. I thought the chimney might 'a'
burned out--an' I was in the thick of bein' engaged to the night clerk
at the Singin' Needles Hotel at Pineville at the time--an' there's no
regular mail there. I thought the story might be exaggerated. Oh no, I
didn't marry the night clerk. I'm a bride now, married to the head
steward, same rank as poor old Morris--an' we're just as happy! I used
to pleg Morris about her hair, but I'd have to let up on that now.
Mine's as red again as hers. No, not my hair--mine's hair. It's as red
as a flannen drawer, every bit an' grain!

"But, say," she added, presently, "when she gets better, just tell her
never mind about that reci-pe. I copied it out of her reci-pe book
whilst she was under the weather, an' dropped a dime in her cash-drawer.
I recollect how old Morris used to look forward to her angel-cakes
week-ends he'd be goin' home, an' you know there's nothin' like havin'
ammunition, in marriage, even if you never need it. Mine's in that frame
of mind now that transforms my gingerbread into angel-cake, but the time
may come when I'll have to beat my eggs to a fluff even for angel-cake,
so's not to have it taste like gingerbread to him.

"Oh no, he's not with me this trip. I just run down for a lark to show
my folks my ring an' things, an' let 'em see it's really so. He give me
considerable jewelry. His First's taste run that way, an' they ain't no
children.

"Yes, this amethyst is the weddin'-ring. I selected that on account of
him bein' a widower. It's the nearest I'd come to wearin' second
mournin' for a woman I can't exactly grieve after. The year not bein' up
is why he stayed home this trip. He didn't like to be seen traversin'
the same old haunts with Another till it was up. I wouldn't wait
because, tell the truth, I was afraid. He ain't like a married man with
me about money yet, an' it's liable to seize him any day. He might say
that he couldn't afford the trip, or that we couldn't, which would
amount to the same thing. I rather liked him bein' a little ticklish
about goin' around with me for a while. It's one thing to do a thing an'
another to be brazen about it--it----

"But if she don't get better"--the reversion was to the Widow
Morris--"if she don't get her mind poor thing! there's a fine insane
asylum just out of Pineville, an' I'd like the best in the world to look
out for her. It would make an excuse for me to go in. They say they have
high old times there. Some days they let the inmates do 'most any old
thing that's harmless. They even give 'em unpoisonous paints an' let 'em
paint each other up. One man insisted he was a barber-pole an' ringed
himself accordingly, an' then another chased him around for a stick of
peppermint candy. Think of all that inside a close fence, an' a town so
dull an' news-hungry----

"Yes, they say Thursdays is paint days, an', of course, Fridays, they
are scrub days. They pass around turpentine an' hide the matches. But,
of course, Mis' Morris may get the better of it. 'Tain' every woman that
can stand widowin', an' sometimes them that has got the least out of
marriage will seem the most deprived to lose it--so they say."

The blonde was a person of words.

* * * * *

When Mrs. Morris had fully revived and, after a restoring "night's
sleep" had got her bearings, and when she realized clearly that her
supposed rival had actually shown up in the flesh, she visibly braced
up. Her neighbors understood that it must have been a shock "to be
suddenly confronted with any souvenir of the hotel fire"--so one had
expressed it--and the incident soon passed out of the village mind.

It was not long after this incident that the widow confided to a friend
that she was coming to depend upon Morris for advice in her business.

"Standing as he does, in that hotel door--between two worlds, as you
might say--why, he sees both ways, and oftentimes he'll detect an event
on the way to happening, an' if it don't move too fast, why, I can
hustle an' get the better of things." It was as if she had a private
wire for advance information--and she declared herself happy.

Indeed, a certain ineffable light such as we sometimes see in the eyes
of those newly in love came to shine from the face of the widow, who did
not hesitate to affirm, looking into space as she said it:

"Takin' all things into consideration, I can truly say that I have never
been so truly and ideely married as since my widowhood." And she smiled
as she added:

"Marriage, the earthly way, is vicissitudinous, for everybody knows that
anything is liable to happen to a man at large."

There had been a time when she lamented that her picture was not
"life-sized" as it would seem so much more natural, but she immediately
reflected that that hotel would never have gotten into her little house,
and that, after all, the main thing was having "him" under her own roof.

As the months passed Mrs. Morris, albeit she seemed serene and of
peaceful mind, grew very white and still. Fire is white in its ultimate
intensity. The top, spinning its fastest, is said to "sleep"--and the
dancing dervish is "still." So, misleading signs sometimes mark the
danger-line.

"Under-eating and over-thinking" was what the doctor said while he felt
her translucent wrist and prescribed nails in her drinking-water. If he
secretly knew that kind nature was gently letting down the bars so that
a waiting spirit might easily pass--well, he was a doctor, not a
minister. His business was with the body, and he ordered repairs.

She was only thirty-seven and "well" when she passed painlessly out of
life. It seemed to be simply a case of going.

There were several friends at her bedside the night she went, and to
them she turned, feeling the time come:

"I just wanted to give out that the first thing I intend to do when I'm
relieved is to call by there for Morris"--she lifted her weary eyes to
the picture as she spoke--"for Morris--and I want it understood that
it'll be a vacant house from the minute I depart. So, if there's any
other woman that's calculatin' to have any carryin's-on from them
windows--why, she'll be disappointed--she or they. The one obnoxious
person I thought was in it wasn't. My imagination was tempted of Satan
an' I was misled. So it must be sold for just what it is--just a
photographer's photograph. If it's a picture with a past, why, everybody
knows what that past is, and will respect it. I have tried to conquer
myself enough to bequeath it to the young lady I suspicioned, but human
nature is frail, an' I can't quite do it, although doubtless she would
like it as a souvenir. Maybe she'd find it a little too souvenirish to
suit my wifely taste, and yet--if a person is going to die----

"I suppose I might legate it to her, partly to recompense her for her
discretion in leaving that hotel when she did--an' partly for undue
suspicion----

"There's a few debts to be paid, but there's eggs an' things that'll pay
them, an' there's no need to have the hen settin' in the window showcase
any longer. It was a good advertisement, but I've often thought it
might be embarrassin' to her." She was growing weaker, but she roused
herself to amend:

"Better raffle the picture for a dollar a chance an' let the proceeds go
to my funeral--an' I want to be buried in the hotel-fire general grave,
commingled with him--an' what's left over after the debts are paid, I
bequeath to her--to make amends--an' if she don't care to come for it,
let every widow in town draw for it. But she'll come. 'Most any woman'll
take any trip, if it's paid for--But look!" she raised her eyes
excitedly toward the mantel, "Look! What's that he's wavin'? It
looks--oh yes, it is--it's our wings--two pairs--mine a little smaller.
I s'pose it'll be the same old story--I'll never be able to keep up--to
keep up with him--an' I've been so hap----

"Yes, Morris--I'm comin'----"

And she was gone--into a peaceful sleep from which she easily passed
just before dawn.

When all was well over, the sitting women rose with one accord and went
to the mantel, where one even lighted an extra candle more clearly to
scan the mysterious picture.

Finally one said:

"You may think I'm queer, but it does look different to me already!"

"So it does," said another, taking the candle. "Like a house for rent. I
declare, it gives me the cold shivers."

"I'll pay my dollar gladly, and take a chance for it," whispered a
third, "but I wouldn't let such a thing as that enter my happy home----"

"Neither would I!"

"Nor me, neither. I've had trouble enough. My husband's first wife's
portrait has brought me discord enough--an' it was a straight likeness.
I don't want any more pictures to put in the hen-house loft."

So the feeling ran among the wives.

"Well," said she who was blowing out the candle, "I'll draw for it--an'
take it if I win it, an' consider it a sort of inheritance. I never
inherited anything but indigestion."

The last speaker was a maiden lady, and so was she who answered,
chuckling:

"That's what I say! Anything for a change. There'd be some excitement in
a picture where a man was liable to show up. It's more than I've got
now. I do declare it's just scandalous the way we're gigglin', an' the
poor soul hardly out o' hearin'. She had a kind heart, Mis' Morris had,
an' she made herself happy with a mighty slim chance----"

"Yes, she did--and I only wish there'd been a better man waitin' for her
in that hotel."





Next: The Ghost That Got The Button

Previous: The Ghost Of Miser Brimpson



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