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17 - The Boarding House Ghost



from The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories published, by Maple Leaf Mills Limited, in 1961

My Great-Aunt Sara kept a boarding house in St. John's for many years. It was a very popular boarding house, and Aunt Sara was very particular as to the type of boarder she accommodated. Respectability was her key-word, and one had to be well known - at least, well recommended - to occupy one of my aunt's clean beds or partake of her good home-cooked meals.

A lot of outport people came up to Aunt Sara's - the whole clientele was drawn from the Bays. There was always a full house, as one would tell the other of the good home away from home.

My father always stayed at Aunt Sara's when he came up to town to settle up, and bring back his provisions for the winter. We kids at home looked forward to his annual trip as one of the big events of the year.

When the freight arrived on one of the local boats and the boxes were opened, there was always a fine lot of good things for us youngsters. We'd get warm clothing, shoes and rubbers, but these did not take our fancy nearly so much as the bags of candy and the few toys and games which our good father was sure to have included on his buying trips. Once in a while, to our great delight, father would take one or the other of us children to the capital city with him, and this wonderful trip would last us a while year in anticipation and retrospection. We would be the envy of all the kids in the settlement for many months. But it was my oldest brother Jim who was lucky enough to be the smart one in the family, and thus was lucky enough to go to St. John's to college and, incidentally, live at Aunt Sara's boarding house.

Besides the transients who came mostly from the Bays in the fall of the years and early spring. Aunt Sara had a few permanent boarders who had lived with her for many years. The permanent boarders included several college students, a Salvation Army teacher, a customs officer and a spinster lady of uncertain age, who was one of my aunt's first boarders when she started the establishment many years before. Miss Minnie, as she was called, was a very prim and proper maiden lady, and was respected by all my aunt's family of paying guests. In fact, she had a restraining influence for good that helped to keep the boarding house on an even keel of respectability. No one would dare indulge in a risque joke or unseemly language in the austere presence of Miss Minnie. I suspect there were many times when some of the gathering wished the old lady anywhere but in the living room.

One winter, Miss Minnie decided to take a trip to visit her brother in Halifax. With great hustle and bustle and much confusion, Aunt Sara and all the boarders launched the good lady on the great journey. There was a great sigh of relief echoed by all when the telegram arrived that told of her safe and sound arrival. Maybe they could all relax a little now and have a little fun, thought the younger boarders. However, any foolishness was promptly nipped in the bud by my good Aunt Sara, who didn't approve of any frivolity or what she called carrying-on.

Every fall my aunt's place was full to overflowing. Often a sleeping place had to be improvised in a hurry from the kitchen couch or the dining room sofa, to accommodate the rush of boarders. It was the autumn of the year that Miss Minnie went on her visit that brother Jim came to go to college on a scholarship.

We were all very proud of Jim, the only one in the settlement who was going to St. John's to study to be a doctor. While we were all envious of Jim's good fortune, we were also proud of his achievements and proud that he was one of us. So mother got him ready and he went off on the boat with my father.

Jim had often been to St. John's before, so it did not take him long to adapt himself to city life. Several of the students boarders attended the same college, and all soon became good friends. One chap, however, from somewhere in White Bay, seemed to take a special liking to Jim, and they soon became inseparable. that winter Aunt Sara's boarding house was more crowded than ever, and consequently most of the boys had to double up. Miss Minnie's room was allotted to my brother and his chum. It was a very large bright room and the two lads spent most of their evenings studying and reading, away from the chatter of the others. My brother was particularly keen on chemistry, and that winter many odorous and noisy experiments were carried on in Miss Minnie's room, which if she had known would doubtless have caused her much palpitation and concern. However, "what she don't know won't hurt her," said Jim, and that applied to Aunt Sara as well.

Several times during the winter my aunt had letters from Miss Minnie saying that she hoped no one was using her room and be sure to keep the closet door at the foot of her bed locked as she didn't want anyone meddling with the things she left behind. So Aunt Sara kept the door of the clothes closet locked and the key in the dresser drawer and made my brother use a large old wardrobe to keep his clothes in.

The winter passed quickly enough for the boys. Days spent at the school and nights of study soon slipped into spring. Soon came the holidays, and home again. My brother and the rest of us children spent the happy carefree weeks of summer with all thoughts of school and study far behind us.

In the fall we were all proud and happy to know that Jim had won another scholarship and would be going to Canada this year to continue his studies. So my mother got Jim all packed and ready to go to St. John's with father where he would take the steamer for Canada. Father was gone nearly two weeks, and when he came back he sure had a story to tell us.

It seems that when my father and brother arrived at Aunt Sara's boarding house, things were in a state of turmult and confusion. The boarding house was filled to capacity and this was the day on which Miss Minnie was expected back from Canada. She had been away nearly a year, owing to illness which had extended her vacation longer than she had planned. My aunt had to get the other inmates out of her room, and cots had to be put up to accommodate them. My father was given a berth on a couch in the kitchen, but Jim had to got out to find sleeping quarters with a friend.

Miss Minnie arrived in a great flurry of hustle and excitement. All were glad to welcome back the little old lady and hear her accounts of the time she had spent in the big city on the mainland. First thing she had to make sure of was that her room and the things she had left behind were intact and in good condition. So after supper Miss Minnie went off to her room. The rest of the boarders sat around, as boarders do, talking and reading, to put in the long hours until bedtime.

The living room seemed unusually quiet and dull that night, and my father said he was more than half asleep behind his evening paper when suddenly an ear-splitting scream broke the stillness. They all jumped to their feet as the white figure of Miss Minnie literally fell into the room. She straightened out on the floor in a dead faint. Someone ran for a pan of water. Someone else laid the poor old lady on the sofa. After a few minutes her eyes opened. "Miss Minnie, whatever happened?" asked my aunt, but all Miss Minnie could say was "the ghost, the ghost". "She must have had a bad dream", said Aunt Sara. After about half an hour Miss Minnie rallied enough to tell the anxious crowd around her that she had indeed seen a ghost in her clothes closet at the foot of her bed.

"Why, that's nonsense, Miss Minnie. We are surprised at a sensible lady like you saying such a thing." But the tearful creature persisted in her belief in the ghost in the closet. All of the boarders went into the room, opened the door and saw nothing but a few boxes belonging to Miss Minnie on a high top shelf. Besides that there was absolutely nothing in the closet. However, poor frightened Miss Minnie could not be persuaded to occupy the room any more that night.

My good father, who stoutly declared that he never did believe in such nonsense, offered to give his couch in the kitchen to Miss Minnie and himself would sleep in her room.

Well after midnight saw the boarding house all bedded down and quiet once more. My father had gone off amid jokes about spooks and ghosts, and declared that it would be a big ghost that could keep him from going to sleep after so much excitement. However, it wasn't much more than an hour later when a loud and more ear-splitting yell came from Miss Minnie's room, and out ran my father. "The ghost! He's in there all right!" said my father. "After I had been in bed for a while I decided to get up and have a look at the closet, so I opened the door and there it was - an awful thing, a big white skeleton standing up in the cupboard. No wonder poor Miss Minnie passed out. I don't feel so good myself." All the boarders visited the room again, and as before saw no signs of an unearthly apparition. "We are not going to see a ghost with the lights on", said my father. Turn out the lights and see what happens." So with some trepidation and much apprehension, the little band of boarders crowded together in Miss Minnie's room. While one of the boys turned out the light, another opened the fateful door.

There in full view of the astonished men and women was a full sized skeleton with an unearthly bluish light. A gasp went through the room. But one young student boldly stepped into the closet. "Well,well, if that's not a joke, I never saw one", he laughed. "A joke", cried Aunt Sara, "this is a poor joke".

"This ghost is painted on the wall of the closet with luminous or phosphorescent paint", said the young student. "That's why it didn't show up when the lights were on. Ask Jim - I bet him and that White Bay fellow that had this room last winter can tell you all about this ghost."

Well to make a long story short, as the story books say, that was the end of the boarding house ghost. You may be sure that my brother Jim was in for a hard time when he arrived at Aunt Sara's the next morning. It was just as well that his train was leaving for Canada that afternoon as Aunt Sara was sure mad at him. But my father had a great laugh over it when he got back home, and when Doctor Jim arrives for a short vacation in the summer he is always reminded of the skeleton in the closet of Aunt Sara's boarding house.



Back to: The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories Menu

This page transcribed by James Butler, 2000
REVISED: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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