The Widow and the Ghost: 1911

The Lure, John Byam Liston Shaw. A young widow is distracted by Cupid.

The Lure, John Byam Liston Shaw. A young widow is distracted by Cupid.

SALTED GHOSTS

Lawrence Alfred Clay

Mrs. George Armstrong, relict of George Armstrong of the village of Brunswick, had passed her year of mourning and there were gossips in the village mean enough to say that she was in the market again. Of course they did her injustice. No widow is ever in the market. If it so happens that women contract a second marriage, it is a matter of surprise to them. They didn’t plan to and how they came to do it is a matter to puzzle them.

It was true that the widow Armstrong was looked upon with favour by several men. There was the piano tuner that came down from Cleveland every two or three months on his rounds of the villages. She had no piano, but he called and discussed grand opera with her. He had long hair and wild eyes and dandruff on his coat collar, and he had thrown out hints that his artistic soul longed for a mate.

Then there was the sewing machine man. He had short hair, tame eyes and no dandruff, but he had his good points. He had committed pages and pages of Shakespeare to memory and between the way he could spout them and repair a sewing machine was something to make a widow sit up and think.

And then there were the village butcher, the lightning rod man, the druggist over at Liverpool and the man who came twice a year to sell the farmers fertilizers and labor saving machinery.

For not being on the market, and for a woman who did not in the least encourage the flattery of men, the widow Armstrong was well provided for. The last, but not least, of her admirers was the village carpenter. His name was Phillips, and he was a bachelor. He was a coy man and a shy man. Of course he couldn’t always run away when he saw a woman coming, but he talked as little as he could and got away as soon as he could. He hadn’t married simply because he was shy.

It was when the widow Armstrong laid off her weeds that a great event happened in the life of Mr. Phillips. He found himself thinking of her—not thinking whether she wanted a summer kitchen built on to her house, or the picket fence repaired, but of her as a prospective wife. He thought and blushed. He thought and dodged. He thought and felt chills. It was no use to banish the thoughts! Once they got a foothold they stuck by him like a porous plaster. But what could the poor man do? There he was, born shy and coy, and the widow might marry 20 times over before he would dare to tell her of his love. He did brace himself to walk by her house and to bow to her, and to sit in the pew behind her at church, but at the same time he realized that widows are not won that way. He even went so far as to put a hinge on her gate and make her a press-board gratis, but was that courting and telling her that he could not live without her?

And all the while Mr. Phillips was loving and hoping and despairing, he was hearing from the gossips how this or that man was laying siege to the widow’s heart. He just groaned as he listened to the talk. Then the hour came to him when it must be either suicide or a bright idea. The bright idea came just as he was selecting a rope and a limb.

The widow Armstrong had had a pleasant day of it. The butcher, the piano tuner and the lightning rod man had all called the same afternoon and laid their hearts at her feet. She hadn’t refused and trampled on them—oh, no! She had simply said that she felt honoured, and if in the far-distant future—years and years in the future—should she desire to marry again—

They had to be content with this. No wise widow ever turns a man down so completely as to leave him without a hope to cling to. Mrs. Armstrong went to bed—happy and fearless, but at midnight she was awakened by sounds that made her sit up in bed and gasp for breath. Her bedroom window looked out on the garden and the sash was raised.

“Widow Armstrong,” said a voice that was certainly not human, “I am here to warn you!”

She looked out. Under the apple tree stood a ghost. It was none of the vapory ghosts that wave forward and backward over the ground, but a solid-looking ghost in white who stood firmly on his feet.

“Widow,” continued the voice, “beware of the piano tuner! He is doomed to go mad! Beware of the butcher! He will slay you as you sleep, if you marry him! Beware of the lightning rod mad. He will get your last dollar and then abandon you! Beware! Beware! Beware!”

And then Mr. Ghost retreated noiselessly and gave the frightened widow a chance to get her breath. All the rest of the night she lay with her head covered up and expecting the summons any moment, and she was a happy woman when the roosters began crowing for daylight.

Did she rush off to tell the neighbors as soon as she had eaten her breakfast? Not a bit of it. If she had told of the ghost she must have repeated the ghost’s words. She wasn’t going to tell of those three offers of marriage and set other tongues to wagging. And before noon came she began to doubt the ghost. She went out to the apple tree and she found tracks on the soil—tracks of boots, or she didn’t know tracks when she saw them. Some one had wrapped himself in a sheet, and some one had held a peach stone in his mouth while he talked.

When a man trifles with a widow he doesn’t know what he is going to get. When this widow had decided that she was being guyed by some one she went across the street and borrowed a shotgun to shoot cats with and paid a boy ten cents to load it with powder and salt and show her how to fire it.

 No ghost came that night or the next. On the third day the Liverpool druggist drove over and eased his palpitating heart by a confession and a proposal. His tracks were hardly cold when in came the sewing machine man. He must tell her of his love or perish. He was permitted to tell. The fertilizer man had meant to be first, but came in third, being unavoidably detained by  Deacon Robinson. He also loved and had to tell of it or run the risk of an explosion.

To each of the last three the widow returned the same answer as to the first three. Six proposals in a week and six men going away fairly happy when it is figured right down, any widow is a blessing to the land.

Midnight again. The widow Armstrong sleeps. The shogun leans against the wall. The ghost comes across the garden with noiseless feet. Cats take one brief glance and fly for their lives.

“Widow, I am here to warn you again! Do not marry the sewing machine man! “Do not marry the drug store man! “Do not marry the fertilizer man!”

 The widow slipped softly out of bed. There stood the ghost under the apple tree. He had the same white sheet around him—same peach stone in his mouth! She reached for the old gun, and as the ghost turned to be swallowed up in the night, she fired. There was a yell and a fall. The ghost had been salted. Boots and legs kicked the air—the sheet was thrown off, and the next minute the widow was out door and bending over a man assaying,:

“Why—why—it’s Mr. Phillips! Why—why—what on earth!”

“I—I didn’t want you to marry anybody but me!” he exclaimed as he struggled to his knees.

“But I didn’t know you cared for me!”

“But I do!”

“Well, come in and sit down, and we’ll see how badly you are hurt.”

“But I can’t—can’t sit down!”

“Then come over tomorrow and stand up and tell me you want me for a wife and maybe I’ll say yes!”

Muskogee [OK] County Republican 23 March  1911: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has heard Mr Thomas, the gamekeeper, speak of warning off poachers with rock-salt-filled shotgun shells. They cause painful injury, but are not lethal. One might say that the love-stricken Mr Phillips was the victim of a salt with a deadly weapon.

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