By Linda Stewart, 9 June 2019
I have not been able to discover the year the story was written, or if Patience Oriel was the author of “Polly Paschall’s Ghost”. The story seems to have first appeared in The Times (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Monday, December 2, 1889, Page 3, and was reprinted in newspapers throughout America for the next four years.
POLLY PASCHALL’S GHOST
by Patience Oriel
A ROMANTIC TALE OF THE OLD MANSION’S SECRET ROOM.
A SPIRIT AS CO-WORKER
How a Young Girl Discovered a Hidden Spring and What Befell Her there.
Pretty Polly Paschall sat bolt upright, her red-brown curls falling in rich confusion about her bare white throat, her brown eyes as wide as if she had not been in bed and asleep for hours. The lamp was turned low, as she had left it, and shone with a dim, soft radiance over all the richly furnished room.
Polly stared about her. The chairs, the tables, the little quaintly carved stand by the window, and which held her precious pilgrim bottle, were all just as she had left them. What could the noise have been? Suddenly her eyes fell upon the little square door in the wall high up above the book-case.
“My ghost at last!” said Polly, clasping her pretty little palms together. She waited a moment in breathless silence, but hearing no repetition of the noise which had awakened her, she sprang out of bed, put on her slippers and dressing gown, threw some bits of wood upon the still growing embers, and turning out the lamp she sat down before the fire to await the ghost, whose coming she had been expecting for lo these many days.
The Paschall’s, father, mother and daughter, had moved into their present abode to await the erection of their own house, and upon the very first day of their coming Polly had spied the little “secret door,” as she called it, and selected this for her room.
“Just think of the possibilities for a romance,” she said to her father, and he had gotten upon the house cleaner’s step-ladder and found the door fastened hard and fast.
“It is all safe,” he said. “O, I want it to be safe from mortal hands,” Polly said; “but ghosts stand not back for bolts and bars.”
“If it is a ghost you want,” said her father, “you may get it. This house belongs to one of the oldest, and at one time the wealthiest, families in the State. It has stood here for years, and has known many changes, and I presume could tell many stories and perhaps give up a good many ghosts. I rented it from a sweet-faced, grand-looking old lady, who lives somehow and somewhere in those dark apartments next door to us. I think she is the only surviving member of the noble family whose glory and wealth have departed. No, I believe she told me that there was a boy, her grandson, who is working at — she told me what he does, but I don’t remember.”
“How interesting!” exclaimed Polly. “I am sure I shall find a ghost.”
But so many uneventful months had passed since she ensconced herself in the rooms that she had almost forgotten to expect a ghost until tonight, when a noise as of slippered feet walking over a hard, bare floor had awakened her.
She sat for a long time, her eyes fixed upon the little door, expecting every moment that a ghostly hand would undo the hidden lock and a ghostly form would emerge from the darkness beyond. But — her maid found her still sitting and fast asleep the next morning when she came to awaken her.
“My pretty Polly will have a gloomy day of it, I fear,” said her father when he kissed her good-bye. “It is raining in torrents.”
“O, that is delightful,” said Polly; “I shall have a good, quiet, lazy dreamy day of it, just such a day as one should have after an episode with a ghost.”
“Yours was a very tame episode,” said her mother. “I should want something really exciting.”
“Never you fear,” said Polly; “last night’s experience was only the beginning — just the prelude, as it were; the excitement is yet to come.”
Though the rain pattered soothingly upon the widows, and the warmth and glow within were conductive to day dreaming, Polly soon found the hours of idleness growing long and tedious.
“I shall try for the hundredth time,” she said at last, “to see if I can open the little door which I am sure leads to my ghost.”
Polly was light and graceful and agile, so to scramble from the back of the big chair to the top of the book-case was but the work of a moment.
The little door which was sunken in the wall above was of black oak, richly covered. Polly searched it closely to see if she could find any possible way to open it. Suddenly almost by chance, her finger touched a little spot in the eye of one of the carved griffins, a spring clicked, the door flew open in her face.
Polly gave a scream and sank down upon the top of the book-case. She waited a moment; no sight, no sound resulted from her successful effort and she stood up and peered through the doorway.
Gradually, as her eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness, she began to distinguish the objects in the little room beyond. There was a little case of books, a large, square table and one chair, big and cozy and comfortable-looking.
Polly’s father had always called her a “plucky” girl, and now she hesitated only a moment, then stepped up through the opening into the room beyond.
It was a very small room, she found when she had gotten in, and the only door that led from it was locked. The books on the shelves were old and dusty looking.
“They belonged to a dead generation,” said Polly.
On the table were papers, sheet after sheet of manuscript, pencils, pens and ink. The chair was sitting before the table as if someone had just been writing, and upon the hearth were fresh embers.
“My ghost is certainly a sensible a sensible creature — humanly so,” said Polly, as she seated herself in the chair and began to look over the papers on the table.
There were many notes and scraps, meaningless and disjointed, but finally she came to a packet containing quite a lengthy manuscript, closely written, much folded and fingered.
“The ghost is an author,” said Polly, “and he manuscript has been rejected. ‘Proved unavailable to our columns.’ Poor fellow! Well, I shall read his story if it be one. The plot thickens. Think of being able to read a ghost’s story! One that the eye of mortal has never beheld!”
She began to read, turning the leaves over slowly at first, but gradually her eyes few over the closely-written pages, the words and thoughts were filling her with an interest that she had seldom felt in printed pages. The mystery of it all, the strangeness of her position impressed themselves upon her, wrapped themselves about the story she was reading and intensified her interest in it.
The rain beat upon the roof that was just above, the light shone but dimly through the small window that opened upon a long array of housetops. Hour after house passed, and still Polly sat reading. She finished at last with a sigh of regret.
“If only the woman had not been such a stick,” she said; “if she had not said such stiff, silly things, one could feel that the story was perfect.”
She sat a moment in deep thought. “I will do it,” she said, at last. “I believe I can do it; at all events I shall try; but not now.” She got up, arranged the papers and chair just as she had found them, and crept down through the little door into her own room.
The next day Miss Paschall surprised the fashionable stationer on the corner by ordering a whole ream of “foolscap.”
Richard Blount opened the door of his bare little “study,” put down the armful of wood he was carrying and knelt down upon the hearth to kindle a fire. He was what a casual observer would have called an ugly man, but had a good, well-knit figure, a fine head, and strong though irregular features.
There was a tired, troubled look on his face as he sat down at this writing table and bent his head upon his folded hands. He was weary in mind and body. His days had been always days of toil, his life had been one long struggle. With the heritage of a good name that had come to him from his forefathers, there had come from his father a legacy of debt which he had been striving for years to pay.
“My task is almost done,” he said to himself. “If I could only get my story accepted! If I only knew how to make it go! I feel sure there are good things in it, but if I only knew what to make the girl say. When a fellow’s acquaintances with women doesn’t extend beyond a knowledge of his own grandmother he can’t have a very clear idea of what a young girl’s conversation would be like. Well, I’ll try once more and see what I can do with it.”
He picked up the MS., which was folded carefully and still in the place where he had left it.
Slowly he turned over the first few pages, listlessly reading them.
Suddenly he held the paper up close to the lamp. The handwriting had changed! There was no break in the story, but as he read on he found whole pages which he had not written, and gradually it dawned upon him that their additions were giving his story a life, a sparkle that it had not had before.
“Who can have done it?” he said, when he had finished. “No one knows of this den but myself — not even grandmother.”
“Perhaps it is a ghost come back from out our past grandeur,” he said with a smile, “and a very witty ghost she is, too,” looking at the beautiful womanly writing that was mingled with his won, “and I feel deeply indebted to her for her interference.”
“Well, I shall send the story off again, and, if it is published, that will make my assistant show up if she be not a ghost in very truth,” he said, by-and-by.
“I have brought you the magazine containing the new story that is creating such a furor just now,” said Polly’s father to her one day.
“Nobody knows the author, but I am told he made the nit of the season,” said Mr. Paschall.
“O,” said Polly, significantly, when she had cut the leaves. That was all. She went up to her room, taking the magazine.
“I believe I shall pay another visit to my ghost’s apartment,” she said, when she had finished reading the story.
So saying she scrambled up the bookcase, opened the door and went into the room beyond. Her dress caught on the door as she passed through and pulled it to with a click. Before she had time to try to extricate herself she heard a key inserted into the lock on the other side of the room, the door opened and a man walked in. Polly leaned back against the wall, startled, frightened.
The young man stood holding the door in his hand and a startled expression in his big gray eyes.
“How — how did you get here?” he asked abruptly>
“Through the little door there,” said Polly, breathlessly. “It has shut to behind me. Oh, dear, I thought you were a ghost.”
“No, I think it is you who are the ghost,” said the young man, with a smile.
“Won’t you open the door for me?” said Polly, recovering herself. The young man came up to her.
“You are Miss Paschall,” he said. “I have heard my grandmother speak of you. My name is Richard Blount.”
Polly turned her beautiful eyes a moment up to his good, ugly face and held out her hand to him. He blushed as he took it and for a moment neither spoke.
“I fear I cannot open this little ‘trap’ door for you from this side,” he said at last. “There is a long hall which leads over your house to the one grandmother and I occupy now. Come, I will take you out that way. I come all the way over here so that my light may not disturb grandmother at night. If your own apartments are near this I fear I have disturbed you,” he added as he held the door open and she passed out into the narrow hallway.
“O, no” she answered; “I think I have only heard you once, and then I was so in hopes you were a ghost.”
“So you were caught by that little spring lock,” said old Mrs. Blount, when they had found her and Polly’s presence was explained.
“I remember being fastened in the little square room once,” said the old lady very gently. “It was when I was a young girl and here on a visit to your Aunt Ellen Richard. Your grandfather induced me to climb through the little door, and then he fastened it behind me. He called to me that he would not let me out until I had promised to marry him. I stayed in all night and half the next day before I would promise, though.
“But come, Richard, we will take Miss Paschall through the little side door of the library and she will be at home in a moment,” said the old lady.
“There was a time when I was in hops you were a ghost, too,” Richard said to Polly, as he held the door open for her to pass through. “Why?” asked the girl. “So that I might hope for further assistance in writing my stories,” he answered, with a smile.
Not many months had passed, however, before he was telling her that he could not write without her.
“Well, I suppose I must make the sacrifice and marry you, Richard, dear,” Polly answered, “if for nothing but to preserve you from manufacturing such heroines as your first was before I redeemed her.”