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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

The Old Lodger

Title:     The Old Lodger
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

In 1868 there died in Detroit a woman named Marie Louise Thebault, more usually called Kennette. She was advanced in years, and old residents remembered when she was one of the quaintest figures and most assertive spirits in the town, for until a few years before her death she was rude of speech, untidy in appearance, loved nothing or respected nothing unless it might be her violin and her money, and lived alone in a little old house on the river-road to Springwells. Though she made shoes for a living, she was of so miserly a nature that she accepted food from her neighbors, and in order to save the expense of light and fuel she spent her evenings out. Yet she read more or less, and was sufficiently acquainted with Volney, Voltaire, and other skeptics to shock her church acquaintances. Love of gain, not of company, induced her to lease one of her rooms to a pious old woman, from whom she got not only a little rent, but the incidental use of her fuel and light.

When the pious one tried to win her to the church it angered her, and then, too, she had a way of telling ghost stories that Kennette laughed at. One of these narratives that she would dwell on with especial self-conviction was that of Lieutenant Muir, who had left his mistress, when she said No to his pleadings, supposing that she spoke the truth, whereas she was merely trying to be coquettish.

He fell in an attack on the Americans that night, and came back, bleeding, to the girl who had made him throw his life away; he pressed her hand, leaving the mark of skeleton fingers there, so that she always kept it gloved afterward. Then there was the tale of the two men of Detroit who were crushed by a falling tree: the married one, who was not fatally hurt, begged his mate to call his wife, as soon as his soul was free, and the woman, hearing the mournful voice at her door, as the spirit passed on its way to space, ran out and rescued her husband from his plight. She told, too, of the feu follet, or will-o'-the-wisp, that led a girl on Grosse Isle to the swamp where her lover was engulfed in mire and enabled her to rescue him. There was Grand'mere Duchene, likewise, who worked at her spinning-wheel for many a night after death, striking fear to her son's heart, by its droning, because he had not bought the fifty masses for the repose of her soul, but when he had fulfilled the promise she came no more. Another yarn was about the ghost-boat of hunter Sebastian that ascends the straits once in seven years, celebrating his return, after death, in accordance with the promise made to Zoe, his betrothed, that--dead or alive--he would return to her from the hunt at a certain time.

To all this Kennette turned the ear of scorning. "Bah!" she cried. "I don't believe your stories. I don't believe in your hell and your purgatory. If you die first, come back. If I should, and I can, I will come. Then we may know whether there is another world."

The bargain was made to this effect, but the women did not get on well together, and soon Kennette had an open quarrel with her lodger that ended by her declaring that she never could forgive her, but that she would hold her to her after-death compact. The lodger died, and while talking of her death at the house of a neighbor a boy, who had arrived from town, casually asked Kennette--knowing her saving ways--why she had left the light burning in her house. Grasping a poker, she set off at once to punish the intruder who had dared to enter in her absence, but when she arrived there was no light. On several evenings the light was reported by others, but as she was gadding in the neighborhood she never saw it until, one night, resolved to see for herself, she returned early, softly entered at the back door, and went to bed. Hardly had she done so when she saw a light coming up-stairs. Sitting bolt upright in bed she waited. The light came up noiselessly and presently stood in the room--not a lantern or candle, but a white phosphorescence. It advanced toward her, changing its form until she saw a cloudy likeness to a human being. For the first time in her life she feared. "Come no nearer!" she cried. "I know you. I believe you, and I forgive."

The light vanished. From that night it was remarked that Kennette began to age fast--she began to change and become more like other women. She went to church and her face grew softer and kinder. It was the only time that she saw the spirit, but the effect of the visit was permanent.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Old Lodger