Side notes: This story is an example of a framed narrative: a story within a story. It was written in the late 1800s. The narrator of the story is a boy. It takes place in the boy’s grandfather’s house. Sam speaks like an uneducated man, for example, “ye see, along back in them times, there used to be a fellow come round these ‘ere parts, a-peddlin’ goods” (101).
In the early days of Massachusetts, there were no magazines, daily papers, theatre, opera, parties or balls (with the exception of Thanksgiving festivals and election day) to occupy one’s time. The long dark hours of the night urgently needed to be filled with some entertainment; so people had to make their own entertainment, which came in the form of oral stories. The best story-teller in Oldtown was Sam Lawson.
Harry begged Sam to tell them a story that was strange and different from anything that they had ever heard before. Sam stared into the fire, and adjusted the coals. The boys had heard Sam’s stories so often that they knew every word before Sam said them, and still they begged him to tell the scary stories time and again. On this particular occasion the boys wished to hear the tale “Come down, come down!” Sam told the boys that when he was their age Cap’n Eb told him this story.
A long time ago, there was a travelling salesman. His name was Jehiel Lommedieu. He was a quiet and mysterious man, not much was known about him. All the women loved him, and would keep track of when he was going to be in town next. They would spoil him with their attention and baked goods. It was said that he was involved with Phebe Ann Parker. Suddenly, Lommedieu stopped coming. No one knew what had happened to him, and after awhile they all forgot about him. Phebe Ann married ‘Bijah Moss.
One year, on March 19th, Cap’n Eb Sawin team headed for Boston when the biggest snow-storm in years began. Cap’n Eb was one of the toughest men of these parts, but the wind and snow was too much for him. The snow was so thick that he couldn’t even see a foot before him. He accidently got off of the Boston road and ended up in Sherburn, which is where old Cack Sparrock’s mill was situated.
Cack Sparrock was a horrible drunk. He lived alone in the woods, tending his mill. He wasn’t always so dreadful; when his wife was alive he was very likeable, but after she died he quit going to church on Sunday. Now the moral of the story, which Sam so cleverly worked in, is that you need to go to church or you will lose your soul to the Devil.
Cap’n Eb rode up to Cack’s old mill, which was very spooky. He knocked on the door and went inside. He found Cack sitting beside a roaring fire with a jug of rum next to him. Cack was very obliging and welcomed Cap’n Eb inside and even invited him to stay the night. Cack put on a tea kettle and they drank hot toddies. They were having great fun telling each other stories when all of a sudden they heard a loud knock on the door. Hearing the knock made them a bit uneasy. They waited a minute, but didn’t hear anything; so Cack continued with his story, but was interrupted again by the knock. When he opened the door he saw Ketury standing there.
Ketury would come to church sometimes with her husband, who was one of the praying Indians. Ketury was wild, and refused to convert. Her father was one of the great Indians down at Martha’s Vineyard. It was rumored that Ketury was made the servant of the devil. Everyone was scared of her, some thought she was a witch, but one thing was certain, she knew more than she should. Cack was visibly scared when he opened the door to find Ketury standing there. Ketury had a tendency to come when it pleased her, to stay as long as she wanted, and left when she was ready. People obliged her, because they were scared of what she might do.
Cack invited her in. She sat down and began rocking back and forth. She sipped the hot toddy that Cack gave her, and muttered to herself while looking up the chimney. Cap’n Eb, who was starting to feel the effects of the hot toddies, asked Ketury what she saw. An evil grin spread across Ketury’s face, she looked up at the chimney and said ‘Come down, come down! let us see who you are.’ Two feet appeared coming down the chimney and stood on the fireplace. The toes of the feet were pointing outwards, and were clad in shoes with silver buckles. She put her stick up the chimney and shouted once again ‘Come down, come down! Let us see who you are.’ Down came a pair of legs, and they settled upon the pair of feet. Ketury called again, and down came the body of a man. She called out again, and down came a pair of arms, but no head. Finally, she called out and down came the man’s head. The minute that Cap’n Eb saw the man he knew that it was Jehiel Lommedieu. Cack fells to his knees and began to pray to God to save his soul. Cap’n Eb wanted to know more, so he asked Lommedieu what he wanted. Lommedieu couldn’t speak; instead he moaned and pointed to the chimney. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew open the door and extinguished the fire, spreading smoke throughout the room. When it finally cleared both Lommedieu and Ketury were gone.
Cap’n Eb rebuilt the fire and tried to comfort the distressed Cack. This spectacle had reminded Cack of his sin, and he told Cap’n Eb everything. Cack’s father murdered Lommedieu and took his money. Cack helped his father dispose of the body by building that chimney to conceal the body. This was the reason he stopped attending Sunday meetings. Cack only lived for a couple of days after that. Parson Carryl did his best to absolve Cack’s sin. Cack made the parson promise to have the old mill destroyed and bury the body in the chimney, which they did. Cap’n Eb was one of the ones to take down the mill.
There is no iniquity that won’t go unpunished. Aunt Lois says aloud that she never believed that story. She thinks that Cap’n Eb and Cack got drunk, fell asleep, and Cap’n Eb dreamed the whole thing. The boys went down into the cellar with Sam to fetch some cider. Sam told them to ask Lois about Ruth Sullivan.
“Stowe, Harriet Beecher. “The Ghost in the Mill.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 97-108.