Old Spookses’ Pass, Malcolm’s Katie and Other Poems

by Isabella Valancy Crawford




You’ve seen his place, I reckon, friend?
    ’Twas rather kind ov trying’.
The way he made the dollars fly,
    Such gimcrack things a-buyin’—
        He spent a big share ov a fortin’
        On pesky things that went a snortin’

And hollerin’ over all the fields,
    And ploughin’ ev’ry furrow;
We sort ov felt discouraged, for
    Spense wusn’t one to borrow;
        An’ wus—the old chap wouldn’t lend
        A cent’s wuth to his dearest friend!

Good land! the neighbours seed to wunst
    Them snortin’, screamin’ notions
Wus jest enough tew drown the yearth
    In wrath, like roarin’ oceans,
        “An’ guess’d the Lord would give old Spense
        Blue fits for fightin’ Pruvidence!”

Spense wus thet harden’d; when the yearth
    Wus like a bak’d pertater;
Instead ov prayin’ hard fur rain, [Page 87]
    He fetched an irrigator.
        “ The wicked flourish like green bays!”
        Sed folks for comfort in them days.

I will allow his place was grand,
    With not a stump upon it,
The loam wus jest as rich an’ black
    Es school ma’am’s velvet bunnit;
        But tho’ he flourish’d, folks all know’d
        What spiritooal ear-marks he show’d.

Spense had a notion in his mind,
    Ef some poor human grapples
With pesky worms thet eat his vines,
    An’ spile his summer apples,
        It don’t seem enny kind ov sense
        Tew call that “cheekin’ Pruvidence!”

An’ ef a chap on Sabbath sees
    A thunder cloud a-strayin’
Above his fresh cut clover an’
    Gets down tew steddy prayin’,
        An’ tries tew shew the Lord’s mistake,
        Instead ov tacklin’ tew his rake,

He ain’t got enny kind ov show
    Tew talk ov chast’ning trials;
When thet thar thunder cloud lets down
    It’s sixty billion vials;
        No! when it looks tew rain on hay,
        First take yer rake an’ then yer pray! [Page 88]

Old Spense was one ov them thar chaps
    Thet in this life of tussle,
An’ rough-an’-tumble, sort ov set
    A mighty store on muscle;
        B’liev’d in hustlin’ in the crop,
        An’ prayin’ on the last load top!

An’ yet he hed his p’ints—his heart
    Wus builded sort ov spacious;
An’ solid—ev’ry beam an’ plank,
    An’, Stranger, now, veracious.
        A wore-out hoss he never shot,
        But turn’d him in the clover lot!

I’ve seed up tew the meetin’ house,
    The winkin’ an’ the nudgin’,
When preacher sed, “No doubt that Dives
    Been drefful mean an’ grudgin’;
        Tew church work seal’d his awful fate
        Whar thar ain’t no foolin’ with the gate!”

I mind the preacher met old Spense,
    Beneath the maples laggin’,
The day was hot, an’ he’d a pile
    Ov ’cetrees in his waggin’;
        A sack of flour, a hansum hog,
        Sum butter and his terrier dog.

Preacher, he halted up his hoss,
    Ask’d for Miss Spense an’ Deely,
Tew limber up his tongue a mite, [Page 89]
    And sez right slick an’ mealy:
        “Brother, I really want tew know
        Hev you got religion? Samson, whoa!”

Old Spense, he bit a noble chaw,
    An’ sort ov meditated;
Samson he nibbl’d at the grass,
    An’ preacher smil’d and waited;
        Ye’d see it writ upon his face—
        “I’ve got Spense in a tightsome place!”

The old man curl’d his whip-lash round
    An alto-vic’d muskitter,
Preacher, sort ov triumphant, strok’d
    His ornary old critter.
        Spense p’ints tew flour, an’ hog, an’ jar,
        Sez he, “I’ve got religion thar!

“Them’s goin’ down tew Spinkses place,
    Whar old man Spinks is stayin’;
The bank he dealt at bust last month,
    An’ folks is mostly sayin’;
        Him bein’ ag’d, an’ poor, an’ sick,
        They’ll put him in the poor-house slick!

“But no, they don’t! Not while I own
    The name ov Jedediah;
Yer movin’? How’s yer gran’ma Green,
    An’ yer cousin, Ann Maria?
        Boss, air they? Yas, sirree, I dar
        Tew say, I’ve got religion thar!” [Page 90]

Preacher, he in his stirrups riz,
    His visage kind ov cheerin’;
An’ keerful look’d along the road,
    Over sugar bush an’ clearin’;
        Thar wa’n’t a deacon within sight;
        Sez he, “My brother, guess you’re right!

“You keep your waggon Zionward,
    With that religion on it;
I calculate we’ll meet” —jest here
    A caliker sun bonnet,
        On a sister’s head, cum round the Jog,
        An’ preacher dispars’d like mornin’ fog!

One day a kind ov judgment come,
    The lightnin’-rod conductor
Got broke—the fluid struck his aunt,
    An’ in the root-house chuck’d her.
        It laid her up for quite a while,
        An’ the judgment made the neighbors smile.

Old Spense he swore a mighty swar,
    He didn’t mince nor chew it;
For when he spoke, ’most usual,
    It had a backbone tew it.
        He sed he’d find a healthy plan
        Tew square things with the agent man,

Who’d sold him thet thar useless rod
    To put upon his roofin’;
An’ ef he found him round the place, [Page 91]
    He’d send the scamp a-hoofin’.
        “You sort ov understand my sense?”
        “Yes, pa,” said pooty Deely Spense.

“Yes, pa,” sez she, es mild es milk
    Tew thet thar strong oration
An’ when a woman acts like that
    It’s bin my observation—
        (An’ reckin that you’ll find it sound)
        She means tew turn creation round,

An’ fix the univarse the way
    She sort ov feels the notion.
So Deely let the old man rave,
    Nor kick’d up no commotion;
        Tho’ thet cute agent man an’ she
        Were know’d es steady company.

He’d chance around when Spense was out,
    A feller sort o’ airy;
An’ poke around free’s the wind,
    With Deely in the dairy.
        (Old Spense hed got a patent churn,
        Thet gev the church a drefful turn).

I am a married man myself,
    More sot on steddy plowin’,
An’ cuttin’ rails, than praisin’ gals,
    Yet honestly allowin’—
        A man must be main hard tew please
        Thet didn’t freeze tew Deely’s cheese. [Page 92]

I reckon tho’ old Spense hed sign’d
    With Satan queer law papers,
He’d fill’d that diary up chock-full
    Of them thar patent capers.
        Preacher once took fur sermon text—
        “Rebellious patent vats.—What next?”

I’ve kind of stray’d from thet thar scare
    That cum on Spense—tho’, reely,
I’ll allus hold it was a shine
    Of thet thar pooty Deely:
        Thar’s them es holds thro’ thin an’ thick,
        ’Twas a friendly visit from Old Nick.

Es time went on, old Spense he seem’d
    More sot on patent capers;
So he went right off tew fetch a thing
    He’d read ov in the papers.
        ’Twas a moony night in airly June,
        The Whip-poor wills wus all in tune;

The Katydids wus callin’ clar,
    The fire-bugs wus glowin’,
The smell ov clover fill’d the air.
    Thet day old Spense’d bin mowin’—
        With a mower yellin’ drefful screams,
        Like them skreeks we hear in nightmare dreams.

Miss Spense wus in the keepin’-room,
    O’erlookin’ last yar’s cherries;
The Help wus settin’ on the bench, [Page 93]
    A-hullin’ airly berries;
        The hir’d man sot on the step,
        An’ chaw’d, an’ watch’d the crickets lep.

Not one ov them thar folks thet thought
    Ov Deely in the dairy:
The Help thought on the hir’d man,
    An’ he ov Martin’s Mary;
        Miss Spense she ponder’d thet she’d found
        Crush’d sugar’d riz a cent a pound.

I guess hed you an’ I bin thar,
    A-peepin’ thro’ the shutter
Ov thet thar dairy, we’d a swore
    Old Spense’s cheese an’ butter
        Wus gilded, from the manner thet
        Deely she smil’d on pan an’ vat.

The Agent he had chanc’d around,
    In evenin’s peaceful shadder;
He’d glimps’d Spense an’ his tarrier go
    Across the new-mown medder—
        To’ard Crampville—so he shew’d his sense,
        By slidin’ o’er the garden fence,

An’ kind of unassumin’ glode,
    Beneath the bendin’ branches,
Tew the dairy door whar Deely watch’d—
    A-twitterin’ an’ anxious.
        It didn’t suit Miss Deely’s plan
        Her pa should catch that Agent man. [Page 94]

I kind ov mind them days I went
    With Betsy Ann a-sparking’
Time hed a drefful sneakin’ way
    Ov passin’ without markin’
        A single blaze upon a post,
        An’ walkin’ noiseless es a ghost!

I guess thet Adam found it thus,
    Afore he hed to grapple
With thet conundrum Satan rais’d
    About the blam’d old apple;
        He found Time sort ov smart tew pass
        Afore Eve took tew apple sass.

Thar ain’t no changes cum about
    Sence them old days in Eden,
Except thet lovers take a spell
    Of mighty hearty feedin’.
        Now Adam makes his Eve rejice
        By orderin’ up a lemon ice.

He ain’t got enny kind ov show
    To hear the merry pealins’
Of them thar weddin’ bells, unless
    He kind ov stirs her feelins’—
        By treatin’ her tew ginger pop,
        An’ pilin’ peanuts in a-top.

Thet Agent man know’d how to run
    The business real handy;
An’ him an’ Deely sot an’ laugh’d, [Page 95]
    An’ scrunch’d a pile o’ candy;
        An’ talk’d about the singin’ skule—
        An’ stars—an’ Spense’s kickin’ mule—

An’ other elevatin’ facts
    In Skyence an’ in Natur.
An’ Time, es I wus sayin’, glode
    Past, like a champion skater,—
        When—Thunder! round the orchard fence,
        Come thet thar tarrier dog an’ Spense,

An’ made straight for the dairy door.
    Thar’s times in most experrence,
We feel how trooly wise ’twould be
    To make a rapid clearance;
        Nor wait tew practice them thar rules
        We larn tew city dancin’ skules.

The Agent es a gen’ral plan
    Wus polish’d es the handles
Ov my old plough; an’ slick an’ smooth
    Es Betsey’s tallow candles
        But when he see’d old Spense—wal, neow,
        He acted homely es a ceow!

His manners wusn’t in the grain,
    His wool wus sorter shoddy;
His courage wus a poorish sort,
    It hadn’t got no body.
        An’ when he see’d old Spense, he shook
        Es ef he’d see’d his gran’ma’s spook. [Page 96]

Deely she wrung her pooty hands,
    She felt her heart a-turnin’
Es poor es milk when all the cream
    Is taken off fur churnin’.
        When all to once her eyes fell pat
        Upon old Spense’s patent vat!

The Agent took no sort ov stock
    Thet time in etiquettin;
It would hev made a punkin laugh
    Tew see his style of gettin’!
        In thet thar empty vat he slid,
        An’ Deely shet the hefty lid.

Old Spense wus smilin’ jest es clar
    Es stars in the big “Dipper”;
An’ Deely made believe tew hum
    “Old Hundred” gay an’ chipper,—
        But thinkin’ what a tightsome squeeze
        The vat wus fur the Agent’s knees.

Old Spense he sed, “I guess, my gal,
    “Ye’ve been a sort ov dreamin’;
“I see ye haven’t set the pans,
    “Nor turn’d the mornin’s cream in;
        “Now ain’t ye spry ? Now, darn my hat!
        “Ef the milk’s run inter thet thar vat.”

Thar’s times one’s feelin’s swell like bread
    In summer-time a-risin’,
An’ Deely’s heart swole in a way [Page 97]
    Wus mightily surprisin’.
        When Spense gripp’d one ov them thar pans
        Ov yaller cream in his big han’s!

The moon glode underneath a cloud,
    The breeze sigh’d loud an’ airy;
The pans they faintlike glimmer’d on
    The white walls ov the dairy.
        Deely she trembl’d like an ash,
        An’ lean’d agin the old churn dash.

“Tarnation darksome,” growl’d old Spense,
    An’ liftin’ up the cover—
He turn’d the pan ov cream quite spry
    On Deely’s Agent lover.
        Good sakes alive! a curdlin’ skreek
        From thet thar Agent man did break!

All drippin’ white he ros’d tew view,
    His curly locks a-flowin’
With clotted cream, an’ in the dusk,
    His eyes with terror glowin’.
        He made one spring—’tis certain, reely,
        He never sed “Good night” tew Deely.

Old Spense he riz up from the ground,
    An’ with a kind ov wonder,
He look’d inter thet patent vat,
    An’ simply sed, “By thunder”!
        Then look’d at Deely hard, and sed,
        “The milk will sop clar thro’ his hed”! [Page 98]

Folks look’d right solemn when they heard
    The hull ov thet thar story,
An’ sed, “It might be plainly seen
    ’Twas clar agin the glory
        Of Pruvidence to use a vat
        Thet Satan in had boldly sat”!

They shook their heads when Spense declar’d
    ’Twas Deely’s beau in hidin’;
They guess’d they know’d a thing or two,
    An’ wasn’t so confidin’:—
        ’Twas the “Devourin’ Lion” cum
        Tew ask old Spense tew step down hum”!

Old Spense he kinder spil’d the thing
    Fur thet thar congregation,
By holdin’ on tew life in spite
    Ov Satan’s invitation;
        An’ hurts thar feelin’s ev’ry Spring,
        Buyin’ some pesky patent thing.

The Agent man slid out next day,
    To peddle round young Hyson;
And Deely fur a fortnight thought
    Ov drinkin’ sum rat pison;
        Didn’t put no papers in her har;
        An’ din’d out ov the pickle jar.

Then at Aunt Hesby’s sewin’-bee
    She met a slick young feller,
With a city partin’ tew his har
    An’ a city umbereller.
        He see’d her hum thet night, an’ he
        Is now her steddy company! [Page 99]