A Gratifying Scream
The flickering orange flames outlined the round blackness of the iron kettle, as it simmered quietly on its hook in the brick hearth. The room was dim, and the faces of the people could be seen gleaming redly in the glow of the fire, and of the few candles on the mantle and wooden table. We were telling each other Halloween stories.
Among those assembled were two teenage girls. They were susceptible to being spooked; reluctant to listen to mystic tales, yet eager as well. It was my turn to relate a story, and the girls gripped each other nervously as I began. They grew progressively more tense as the story developed, at times giving each other uneasy looks in the firelight.
As I finished the story, right at the last word I was startled by a loud scream, piercing and drawn-out, coming from the two girls; they were hugging each other in fear, with their wide eyes fixed on me. I don't think I've ever had a more satisfactory response to a dramatic narrative.
I can't hope for such a reaction from everybody, but perhaps you, dear reader, will enjoy this tale as well, in your own way. It is a traditional New England folk tale, retold from memory in my own words.
Captain Goodwin and Goodwife Miller -
One night, very late, Goody Miller was making her way home through the foggy streets of her sleeping village. She had been sitting up with an ailing neighbor, and now the hour was nearing midnight as she returned to the comfort of her own dwelling.
Walking silently through the fog, she could dimly make out the shapes of the buildings on either side, and presently she came to the path that led across the open common. As she proceeded along the path, a thinning eddy in the fog revealed to her a figure in the moonlight, coming toward her on the path from the other side. The person had no doubt seen her as well, and she proceed uneasily forward.
As the two walkers met in the open common, Goody Miller recognized, with considerable relief, that the figure was Captain Goodwin, a familiar and prominent citizen of the village.
She stopped and made her curtsey. "Good evening, Captain Goodwin."
He raised his hat. "Good evening to you, Goodwife Miller. I trust all is well with you this night?"
"Yes sir, I thank you." He would have proceeded onward, but she hesitated for a moment, looking at him uncertainly, and so he paused. Then she said, "Begging your pardon, sir, but allow me to say that the entire village has been somewhat concerned on your behalf, these last several days. Your unexpected disappearance has made people fear that you had met with some accident. Forgive me if I seem impertinent."
"Not at all, not at all, goodwife. As you can see, I am quite well, and I thank you for your kind, but unnecessary, concern." He made as if to continue on his way, but paused once again, as she seemed to have something more to say.
"Forgive me again, Captain Goodwin, but, since you have been away, I feel I should tell you that a very dreadful thing has occurred in the village." He gazed at her without speaking, and she continued, "The body of a drowned man was discovered, just this very evening at sunset, washed up on the strand in the harbor. Everybody thought that... that the figure of the drowned man looked very much like you, sir."
"The figure looked like me, you say?" boomed the captain. "What of his clothing? Was he wearing a blue jacket with brass buttons, like this one that I wear?"
"Yes, sir, he was wearing a blue jacket, just exactly like the one you are wearing."
"Well, was he wearing brown britches, buckled at the knee, like these?"
"Yes sir, very much like those."
"Did he have on a red waistcoat under his jacket, like this one?"
"Yes sir, in fact, he did."
"Well, then, what about his boots? Was he wearing thigh-boots, turned down?"
"No sir, I believe not. I believe he was wearing half-boots."
"Not thigh-boots, turned down?"
"No sir, I believe not. They were half-boots."
"It couldn't have been me, then! Good evening to you, Goodwife Miller." The captain touched his hat, and moved on.
"Good evening... Captain Goodwin." The goodwife continued on her way, somewhat chilled and uneasy in her mind, until she reached the security of her own doorstep.
The next morning at sunrise, the people of the village assembled near the strand in the place where the body of the drowned man had been laid out overnight, and they prepared to conduct it to the burial ground for a proper funeral. Goodwife Miller was present, and upon observing the figure of the man lying there, she perceived that she had been mistaken.
The drowned man was wearing thigh-boots, turned down.
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Posted by Leonard Solomon