Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, November 1, 2023


 "A Haunted House" by John Greenleaf Whittier  (from Legends of New England, 1831)

Alice Knight was a witch -- at least, that's what most people thought about the ill-tempered, malignant, and evil-hearted old woman.  She even had the appearance of awitch:  "She had the long, blue and skinny finger -- the elvish locks of grya and straggling hair -- the hooked nose, and the long, upturned chin, which seemed perpetuallly to threaten its nasal neighbor --the blue lips drawn around a mouth, garnished with two or three unearthly-looking fangs -- and the limping gait, as if the invisible fetterer of the Evil One were actually clogging in the footseps of his servant.  Then, too, she was poor -- poor as the genius of poverty itself -- she had no relatives about her -- no friends -- her hand was against every man, and every m,an's hand was against her."

Actually, she did have one relative, a son -- Gilbert, whom she love with a a passionas "wild and ungovernable and strong as her hate itself.  Gilbert was sailor , recently returned to his home-town.  He had little truck with his mother and refused to live with her, but he remained strangely and indulgently respectful of her.  Gilber also remained aloof of his fellow townspeople.  But then fell under the spell of Mary McOrne, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Adam McOrne, a wealthy stranger who had come to twon and had built the grandest house in the communiy.  Mary was beautiful, arrogant, and hoghly educated in comparison with others her age in town; she thopught herself above the "ognorant and unletteed rustics, who sought her favor."  She did, however have a liking for Gilbert Knight, as did her father who liked Gilbert's frank and bold bearing.  But despite her feelings for Gilbert, she felt there was no future in a relationship with him because of his mother -- she flat-out refused to be to have such a disgusting person as a mother-in-law.

That did not settled well with the old witch, who put a curse on Adam until Mary would agree to wed Adam.  Strange and supernatural doings began to happen at the Orne mansion, which left Mary "shakin' wi' fear," although Adam McOrne was 'no the least afeared o' a' this clishmaclaver,o' evil spirits, or deils or with-hags."  Gilbert offered to stay at the mansion with the intent of laying the evil spirits that had come to infest the house.  McOrne readily agreed, and Mary welcomed the presence of her discarded lover.

It was around one in the morning, with the reat of the household asleep, when Gilber heard a maning and then the sound of footsteps on the stairs.  He rushed forward and saw a mysterious figure and grabbed it.  the figure turned and plunged a knife into the young man..  As Gibert sank to the floor, he saw that he had been wounded by his own mother.  

The rest of the story is prdictable:  Alice Knight fled.only to be found dead the next day at her home -- perhaps by terror, or perhaps by suicide.  Although his wounds were serious, Gilber recovered.  He married Alice and became a respected and successful citizen.  Adam McOrne lived to a ripe old age. laughing at some of the superstitious twaddle his fellow townspeople believed.

Despite the very real explanation of Old Alice being the very real cause of the haunting at the mansion, there is a hint --however faint -- that Alice was aided by supernatural means.  It is this hint that makes such legends continue through the years, fueling the imaginations of the young and the front-porch tales of their elders.

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