The Last Ghost In Harmony





BY NELSON LLOYD





From his perch on the blacksmith's anvil he spoke between the puffs of

his post-prandial pipe. The fire in the forge was out and the day was

going slowly, through the open door of the shop and the narrow windows,

westward to the mountains. In the advancing shadow, on the pile of

broken wheels on the work-bench, on keg and barrel, they sat puffing

their post-prandial pipes and listening.



* * * * *



For a partner in business I want a truthful man, but for a companion

give me one with imagination. To my mind imagination is the spice of

life. There is nothing so uninteresting as a fact, for when you know it

that is the end of it. When life becomes nothing but facts it won't be

worth living; yet in a few years the race will have no imagination left.

It is being educated out. Look at the children. When I was young the

bogey man was as real to me as pa and nearly as much to be feared of,

but just yesterday I was lectured for merely mentioning him to my neffy.

So with ghosts. We was taught to believe in ghosts the same as we was in

Adam or Noar. Nowadays nobody believes in them. It is unscientific, and

if you are superstitious you are considered ignorant and laughed at.

Ghosts are the product of the imagination, but if I imagine I see one he

is as real to me as if he actually exists, isn't he? Therefore he does

exist. That's logic. You fellows have become scientific and admits only

what you see and feel, and don't depend on your imagination for

anything. Such being the case, I myself admit that the sperrits no

longer ha'nt the burying-ground or play around your houses. I admit it

because the same condition exact existed in Harmony when I was there,

and because of what was told me by Robert J. Dinkle about two years

after he died, and because of what occurred between me and him and the

Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail.



Harmony was a highly intellectual town. About the last man there with

any imagination or interesting ideas, excepting me, of course, was

Robert J. Dinkle. Yet he had an awful reputation, and when he died it

was generally stated privately that the last landmark of ignorance and

superstition had been providentially removed. You know he had always

been seeing things, but we set it down to his fondness for hard cider or

his natural prepensity for joshing. With him gone there was no one left

to report the doings of the sperrit-world. In fact, so widespread was

the light of reason, as the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail called it, that the

burying-ground became a popular place for moonlight strolls. Even I

walked through it frequent on my way home from Miss Wheedle's, with

whom I was keeping company, and it never occurred to me to go any faster

there, or to look back over my shoulder, for I didn't believe in such

foolishness. But to the most intellectual there comes times of doubt

about things they know nothing of nor understand. Such a time come to

me, when the wind was more mournfuller than usual in the trees, and the

clouds scudded along overhead, casting peculiar shadders. My imagination

got the best of my intellect. I hurried. I looked back over my shoulder.

I shivered, kind of. Natural I see nothing in the burying-ground, yet at

the end of town I was still uneasy-like, though half laughing at myself.

It was so quiet; not a light burned anywhere, and the square seemed

lonelier than the cemetery, and the store was so deserted, so ghostly in

the moonlight, that I just couldn't keep from peering around at it.



Then, from the empty porch, from the empty bench--empty, I swear, for I

could see plain, so clear was the night--from absolute nothing come as

pleasant a voice as ever I hear.



"Hello!" it says.



My blood turned icy-like and the chills waved up and down all through

me. I couldn't move.



The voice came again, so natural, so familiar, that I warmed some, and

rubbed my eyes and stared.



There, sitting on the bench, in his favorite place, was the late Robert

J. Dinkle, gleaming in the moonlight, the front door showing right

through him.



"I must appear pretty distinct," he says in a proud-like way. "Can't you

see me very plain?"



See him plain! I should think so. Even the patches on his coat was

visible, and only for the building behind him, he never looked more

natural, and hearing him so pleasant, set me thinking. This, says I, is

the sperrit of the late Robert J. Dinkle. In life he never did me any

harm and in his present misty condition is likely to do less; if he is

looking for trouble I'm not afraid of a bit of fog. Such being the case,

I says, I shall address him as soon as I am able.



But Robert got tired waiting, and spoke again in an anxious tone, a

little louder, and ruther complaining, "Don't I show up good?" says he.



"I never see you looking better," I answered, for my voice had came

back, and the chills were quieter, and I was fairly ca'm and dared even

to move a little nearer.



A bright smile showed on his pale face. "It is a relief to be seen at

last," he cried, most cheerful. "For years I've been trying to do a

little ha'nting around here, and no one would notice me. I used to think

mebbe my material was too delicate and gauzy, but I've conceded that,

after all, the stuff is not to blame."



He heaved a sigh so natural that I forgot all about his being a ghost.

Indeed, taken all in all, I see that he had improved, was solemner, had

a sweeter expression and wasn't likely to give in to his old prepensity

for joshing.



"Set down and we will talk it over," he went on most winning. "Really, I

can't do any harm, but please be a little afraid and then I will show up

distincter. I must be getting dim now."



"You are," says I, for though I was on the porch edging nearer him most

bold, I could hardly see him.



Without any warning he gave an awful groan that brought the chills

waving back most violent. I jumped and stared, and as I stared he stood

out plainer and solider in the moonlight.



"That's better," he said with a jolly chuckle; "now you do believe in

me, don't you? Well, set there nervous-like, on the edge of the bench

and don't be too ca'm-like, or I'll disappear."



The ghost's orders were followed explicit. But with him setting there so

natural and pleasant it was hard to be frightened and more than once I

forgot. He, seeing me peering like my eyesight was bad, would give a

groan that made my blood curdle. Up he would flare again, gleaming in

the moonlight full and strong.



"Harmony's getting too scientific, too intellectual," he said, speaking

very melancholic. "What can't be explained by arithmetic or geography is

put down as impossible. Even the preachers encourage such idees and talk

about Adam and Eve being allegories. As a result, the graveyard has

become the slowest place in town. You simply can't ha'nt anything

around here. A man hears a groan in his room and he gets up and closes

the shutters tighter, or throws a shoe at a rat, or swears at the wind

in the chimney. A few sperrits were hanging around when I was first

dead, but they were complaining very bad about the hard times. There

used to be plenty of good society in the burying-ground, they said, but

one by one they had to quit. All the old Berrys had left. Mr. Whoople

retired when he was taken for a white mule. Mrs. Morris A. Klump, who

once oppyrated 'round the deserted house beyond the mill had gave up in

disgust just a week before my arrival. I tried to encourage the few

remaining, explained how the sperritualists were working down the valley

and would strike town any time, but they had lost all hope--kept fading

away till only me was left. If things don't turn for the better soon I

must go, too. It's awful discouraging. And lonely! Why folks ramble

around the graves like even I wasn't there. Just last night my boy Ossy

came strolling along with the lady he is keeping company with, and where

do you s'pose they set down to rest, and look at the moon and talk about

the silliest subjecks? Right on my headstone! I stood in front of them

and did the ghostliest things till I was clean tired out and

discouraged. They just would not pay the least attention."



The poor old ghost almost broke down and cried. Never in life had I

known him so much affected, and it went right to my heart to see him

wiping his eyes with his handkercher and snuffling.



"Mebbe you don't make enough noise when you ha'nt," says I most

sympathetic.



"I do all the regular acts," says he, a bit het up by my remark. "We

always were kind of limited. I float around and groan, and talk foolish,

and sometimes I pull off bedclothes or reveal the hiding-place of buried

treasure. But what good does it do in a town so intellectual as

Harmony?"



I have seen many folks who were down on their luck, but never one who so

appealed to me as the late Robert J. Dinkle. It was the way he spoke,

the way he looked, his general patheticness, his very helplessness, and

deservingness. In life I had known him well, and as he was now I liked

him better. So I did want to do something for him. We sat studying for a

long time, him smoking very violent, blowing clouds of fog outen his

pipe, me thinking up some way to help him. And idees allus comes to them

who sets and waits.



"The trouble is partly as you say, Robert," I allowed after a bit, "and

again partly because you can't make enough noise to awaken the

slumbering imagination of intellectual Harmony. With a little natural

help from me though, you might stir things up in this town."



You never saw a gladder smile or a more gratefuller look than that poor

sperrit gave me.



"Ah," he says, "with your help I could do wonders. Now who'll we begin

on?"



"The Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail," says I, "has about all the imagination left

in Harmony--of course excepting me."



Robert's face fell visible. "I have tried him repeated and often," he

says, kind of argumentative-like. "All the sign he made was to complain

that his wife talked in her sleep."



I wasn't going to argue--not me. I was all for action, and lost no time

in starting. Robert J., he followed me like a dog, up through town to

our house, where I went in, leaving him outside so as not to disturb



mother. There I got me a hammer and nails with the heavy lead sinker

offen my fishnet, and it wasn't long before the finest tick-tack you

ever saw was working against the Spiegelnails' parlor window, with me in

a lilac-bush operating the string that kept the weight a-swinging.

Before the house was an open spot where the moon shone full and clear,

where Robert J. walked up and down, about two feet off the ground,

waving his arms slow-like and making the melancholiest groans. Now I

have been to Uncle Tom's Cabin frequent, but in all my life I never

see such acting. Yet what was the consequences? Up went the window

above, and the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail showed out plain in the moonlight.



"Who is there?" he called very stern. You had otter see Robert then. It

was like tonic to him. He rose up higher and began to beat his arms most

violent and to gurgle tremendous. But the preacher never budged.



"You boys otter be ashamed of yourselves," he says in a severe voice.



"Louder, louder," I calls to Robert J., in answering which he began the

most awful contortions.



"You can hear me perfectly plain," says the dominie, now kind of

sad-like. "It fills my old heart with sorrow to see that yous all have

gone so far astray."



Hearing that, so calm, so distinct, so defiant, made Robert J. stop

short and stare. To remind him I gave the weight an extra thump, and it

was so loud as to bring forth Mrs. Spiegelnail, her head showing plain

as she peered out over the preacher's shoulder. The poor discouraged

ghost took heart, striking his tragicest attitude, one which he told me

afterwards was his pride and had been got out of a book. But what was

the result?



"Does you hear anyone in the bushes, dear?" inquires Mr. Spiegelnail,

cocking his ears and listening.



"It must be Ossy Dinkle and them bad friends of his," says she, in her

sour tone.



Poor Robert! Hearing that, he about gave up hope.



"Don't I show up good?" he asks in an anxious voice.



"I can see you distinct," says I, very sharp. "You never looked better."



Down went the window--so sudden, so unexpected that I did not know what

to make of it. Robert J. thought he did, and over me he came floating,

most delighted.



"I must have worked," he said, laughing like he'd die, a-doubling up and

holding his sides to keep from splitting. "At last I have showed up

distinct; at last I am of some use in the world. You don't realize what

a pleasure it is to know that you are fulfilling your mission and living

up to your reputation."



Poor old ghost! He was for talking it all over then and there and

settled down on a soft bunch of lilacs, and fell to smoking fog and

chattering. It did me good to see him so happy and I was inclined to

puff up a bit at my own success in the ha'nting line. But it was not for

long. The rattle of keys warned us. The front door flew open and out

bounded the Rev. Mr. Spiegelnail, clearing the steps with a jump, and

flying over the lawn. All thought of the late Robert J. Dinkle left me

then, for I had only a few feet start of my pastor. You see I shouldn't

a-hurried so only I sung bass in the choir and I doubt if I could have

convinced him that I was working in the interests of Science and Truth.

Fleeing was instinct. Gates didn't matter. They were took on the wing,

and down the street I went with the preacher's hot breath on my neck.

But I beat him. He tired after the first spurt and was soon left behind,

so I could double back home to bed.



Robert, he was for giving up entirely.



"I simply won't work," says he to me, when I met him on the store porch

that next night. "A hundred years ago such a bit of ha'nting would have

caused the town to be abandoned; to-day it is attributed to natural

causes."



"Because," says I, "we left behind such evidences of material

manifestations as strings and weights on the parlor window."



"S'pose we work right in the house?" says he, brightening up. "You can

hide in the closet and groan while I act."



Now did you ever hear anything innocenter than that? Yet he meant it so

well I did not even laugh.



"I'm too fond of my pastor," I says, "to let him catch me in his closet.

A far better spot for our work is the short cut he takes home from

church after Wednesday evening meeting. We won't be so loud, but more

dignified, melancholier, and tragic. You overacted last night, Robert,"

I says. "Next time pace up and down like you were deep in thought and

sigh gentle. Then if he should see you it would be nice to take his arm

and walk home with him."



I think I had the right idea of ha'nting, and had I been able to keep up

Robert J. Dinkle's sperrits and to train him regular I could have

aroused the slumbering imagination of Harmony, and brought life to the

burying-ground. But he was too easy discouraged. He lacked perseverance.

For if ever Mr. Spiegelnail was on the point of seeing things it was

that night as he stepped out of the woods. He had walked slow and

meditating till he come opposite where I was. Now I didn't howl or

groan or say anything particular. What I did was to make a noise that

wasn't animal, neither was it human, nor was it regulation ghostly. As I

had stated to the late Robert J. Dinkle, what was needed for ha'nting

was something new and original. And it certainly ketched Mr.

Spiegelnail's attention. I see him stop. I see his lantern shake. It

appeared like he was going to dive into the bushes for me, but he

changed his mind. On he went, quicker, kind as if he wasn't afraid, yet

was, on to the open, where the moon brought out Robert beautiful as he

paced slowly up and down, his head bowed like he was studying. Still the

preacher never saw him, stepped right through him, in fact. I give the

dreadful sound again. That stopped him. He turned, raised the lantern

before him, put his hand to his ear, and seemed to be looking intense

and listening. Hardly ten feet away stood Robert, all a-trembling with

excitement, but the light that showed through him was as steady as a

rock, as the dominie watched and listened, so quiet and ca'm. He lowered

the lantern, rubbed his hands across his eyes, stepped forward and

looked again. The ghost was perfect. As I have stated, he was excited

and his sigh shook a little, but he was full of dignity and sadity. He

shouldn't have lost heart so soon. I was sure then that he almost showed

up plain to the preacher and he would have grown on Mr. Spiegelnail had

he kept on ha'nting him instead of giving in because that one night the

pastor walked on to the house fairly cool. He did walk quicker, I know,

and he did peer over his shoulder twicet and I did hear the kitchen door

bang in a relieved way. But when we consider the stuff that ghosts are

made of we hadn't otter expect them to be heroes. They are too foggy and

gauzy to have much perseverance--judging at least from Robert J.



"I simply can't work any more," says he, when I came up to him, as he

sat there in the path, his elbows on his knees, his head on his hands,

his eyes studying the ground most mournful.



"But Robert----" I began, thinking to cheer him up.



He didn't hear; he wouldn't listen--just faded away.



Had he only held out there is no telling what he might have done in his

line. Often, since then, have I thought of him and figgered on his

tremendous possibilities. That he had possibilities I am sure. Had I

only realized it that last night we went out ha'nting, he never would

have got away from me. But the realization came too late. It came in

church the very next Sunday, with the usual announcements after the long

prayer, as Mr. Spiegelnail was leaning over the pulpit eying the

congregation through big smoked glasses.



Says he in a voice that was full of sadness: "I regret to announce that

for the first time in twenty years union services will be held in this

town next Sabbath." Setting in the choir, reading my music marks, I

heard the preacher's words and started, for I saw at once that something

unusual was happening, or had happened, or was about to happen.

"Unfortunately," said Mr. Spiegelnail, continuing, "I shall have to turn

my pulpit over to Brother Spiker of the Baptist Church, for my failing

eyesight renders it necessary that I go at once to Philadelphia, to

consult an oculist. Some of my dear brethren may think this an unusual

step, but I should not desert them without cause. They may think,

perhaps, that I am making much ado about nothing and could be treated

just as well in Harrisburg. To such let me explain that I am suffering

from astigmatism. It is not so much that I cannot see, but that I sees

things which I know are not there--a defect in sight which I feel needs

the most expert attention. Sunday-school at half-past nine; divine

service at eleven. I take for my text 'And the old men shall see

visions.'"



How I did wish the late Robert J. Dinkle could have been in church that

morning. It would have so gladdened his heart to hear that he had partly

worked, for if he worked partly, then surely, in time, he would have

worked complete. For me, I was just wild with excitement, and was so

busy thinking of him and how glad he would be, that I didn't hear the

sermon at all, and in planning new ways of ha'nting I forgot to sing in

the last anthem. You see, I figgered lively times ahead for Harmony--a

general return to the good old times when folks had imagination and had

something more in their heads than facts. I had only to get Robert

again, and with him working it would not be long till all the old Berrys

and Mrs. Klump showed up distinct and plain. But I wasn't well posted in

the weak characters of shades, for I thought, of course, I could find my

sperrit friend easy when night came. Yet I didn't. I set on the store

porch shivering till the moon was high up over the ridge. He just

wouldn't come. I called for him soft-like and got no answer. Down to the

burying-ground I went and set on his headstone. It was the quietest

place you ever see. The clouds was scudding overhead; the wind was

sighing among the leaves; and through the trees the moon was gleaming so

clear and distinct you could almost read the monnyments. It was just a

night when things should have been lively there--a perfect night for

ha'nting. I called for Robert. I listened. He never answered. I heard

only a bull-frog a-bellering in the pond, a whippoor-will whistling in

the grove, and a dog howling at the moon.





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