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Folklore of Nova Scotia
Chapter VII. The Return of the Dead

It is a belief confirmed by many examples that the dead cannot rest easily if they have left debts unpaid, or wrongs done and not righted. Sometimes, too, they have come back in fulfilment of a promise, or to request almsgiving in their behalf. Stories of this sort are so numerous in Nova Scotia that it is impossible to include more than a few representative ones in a discussion of general folk-lore. All the following stories are from oral sources. The tellers knew the people concerned personally.

When fishermen go out to sea, they generally go in pairs. On one occasion, a number of boats were caught in a squall off the Cape Breton coast. One of them upset, and one of its two occupants was drowned. When the boats reached shore again, the other fishers were surprised to see the mam whose companion had been lost, standing alone on the shore looking into space. They called him, but he did not heed them. When at last he went to them, they asked him why he delayed. "Well,” he said, “I was talking to poor Bill (his companion). He was waiting for me when I drew up the boat on the shore.”

“And what did he want?” asked his friends.

“Not a very big thing. He asked me to go to his house and ask for $4.00 to pay a bill he owed down at the store.”

“And did he tell you anything about the other world whatever?”

“Well, I asked him if it was as hard as we were thinking, and he said: ‘No, not nearly; there is unlimited wisdom and limited justice!”

He got the money, went to the store indicated, and asked if Bill owed anything there. “Yes, $4.00.” was the answer.

Several young men were working in a forge at Skye Glen, Inverness Co., one of whom, named Mike, died suddenly. One night two years later a friend of his, named Pat, as he rode home, saw Mike standing at a little bridge waiting for him. He tried to pass, but Mike stopped the horse and pulled him off. “My God! are you going to kill me?” Pat said. ‘‘Why didn’t you speak and I wouldn’t hurt you. I couldn’t speak first,” said Mike. They sat down on the bank at the side of the road and talked until cock-crow.

The next day Pat arrived at the forge at Skye Glen. He went to an old chimney, took a brick from it, and from a little shelf inside he took four horse-shoes. He gave fifty cents to a workman in the forge, and carried the horse-shoes up the hill to the nearest house, and gave them, with an explanatory word, to the owner; then went off without another word. To the questioners at the forge the only information given was that these were debts of Mike’s. Pat was not permitted to disclose anything further.

During the Great War, a young man was driving from his home to Antigonish town. He did not notice the beauty of the young green of spring on the fields and wooded hillsides; nor did he cast a glance towards the white farm-houses and their clusters of barns and outhouses as he rode by. His. thoughts were absorbed by the news of the death of his brother on the battle-fields of France. He started from his absorption when he found himself almost face to face with a young man in uniform who was walking towards him. In a moment he recognized his brother. His first thought was that the report was false, and that his brother was really there in the flesh; so he Stopped and asked: “Are you coming home?” “Yes,” was the reply; “I am coming to give you a message. You remember the tree we chopped down and put across the road to prevent the neighbors from going through our farm? I want you to take it away as soon as possible.” His brother promised to do so, and then found himself alone. He returned home immediately, and set to work to chop up. the tree and remove it from the road.

Ewan Mor, a respectable old man, saved all his life and had a comfortable home, with money in the bank besides. But his sons were far from being thrifty, and were having a good time at his expense. The old man realized that all his hard earnings would go, and suspecting that his sons might even draw on him, he took from the bank all the money he had there and concealed it. Shortly after this he died. During his lifetime he had been a very hospitable man. Wayfarers were always well received at his house. But after his death people could not stay there on account of the noises and the tramping heard and the apparitions of the old man. Once a stranger slept in the house. In the middle of the night he saw the old man standing at his bedside. He asked him in God’s name what he wanted. The old man told him to go to the threshing floor of the barn, lift up a loose board, and find there a box with money and other valuables in it, which were to be distributed to the family. In the morning the stranger told the old man’s sons of this strange occurrence. They went together to the barn, discovered the loose board, and found the box. After this there were no more uncanny manifestations in the house.

A man was returning to his home in Mabou, Inverness Co., one Sunday night when he met a woman whom at first sight he thought was his sister, who had died a short time before. Although it was not she, nevertheless he thought it right to speak to her; so he said to her in Gaelic: “If you are from God, speak; if not, I’ll have nothing to do with you.” She replied in English: ‘‘For forty years I have been waiting here for someone to speak to me, but you are the first one who has done so.” He had some conversation with her, the content of which he could not reveal, except that she asked him to give alms in her behalf. Then she said: “The souls are just as numerous between us and your house as were to-day’s congregation at Mass.” He turned to look, but only the broad fields, the nearby hill-sides and the moon-flooded harbor met his gaze. When he turned back to her she had vanished. Pale and trembling, with beads of perspiration standing out on his forehead, he reached home and told his sister of his encounter.. That sister’s daughter told me.

At Mabou, again, there was a man named Ronald, who made a bargain with his friend named Donald, that whichever of them should die first would return to tell the other all about it. Ronald’s wife, who was present at the time, objected strongly to such a pact; but they did not listen to her. Shortly after this Donald died. Two years later Ronald’s son, Donald, went away to a town ten miles distant on business, and intended to return that night. As night advanced, his father grew uneasy and decided to go to meet him. He took his horse and went by a short cut through the fields. He had not gone far when he saw a man coming towards him. He shouted: “Is that you, Donald?” “Yes,” came the answer, “but not the Donald you are expecting.” The form of his old friend advanced through the darkness, passed his arm through the bridle rein, and stopped the horse. Ronald dismounted, and talked a long time with the spirit, who told him many things he was not allowed to speak about. (Story told by a cousin of both men).

A man belonging to Northeast Mabou was returning home from Mabou village one night, when he met, quite near the cemetery he had to pass, a man who he knew was dead. He spoke in God’s name, and asked what he could do to relieve him. The ghost said: ‘‘Come with me to my own place.” Now, his former home was at Black River, five miles away; yet the courageous man turned his steps thither and followed his ghostly guide up the tree-lined road, past the church and convent, through the quiet village, then out along the highway around the brow of the hill, from which he could discern the outlines of beautiful Hillsboro’ sleeping peacefully cradled amid hills. The calm beauty of the scene did not tempt the ghostly visitant. With never a halt, on he went along the road over the high banks, which re-echoed the voice of Glenora Falls; then down into the valley, where the sound of trickling water and the man’s solitary footsteps broke the uncanny stillness. After what must have seemed ages to the man, the ghost turned up a road leading to his former home. He did not invite the man into the house, but showed him several things that had to be done about the place, and pointed out articles that were to be returned to their owners. When the messages were all given, he disappeared. (Story told by a first neighbor of the courageous man).

The story that follows was told by a woman who taught school at Ohio, Antigonish Co. She was boarding at a house there, kept by two sisters and their brother. One day she remarked to one of the women how very pious and good her brother was. “Yes, indeed he is,” was the reply, “but he was not always so attentive to his religious duties. Would you like to hear what changed him?” On the teacher showing eagerness to hear the story, she began: “Well, when he was in his ’teens there was a big dance over at Jim Angus’s one night. Everybody was going, ourselves included. I believe the only ones not going were Mary John Archie — God rest her soul, she was on her last then — and her mother. A few days after the dance my brother went to see Mary — you see, she was a cousin of our own — and., of course, she wanted to know all about the dance, and, above all, she wanted to know what girl her beau took there. But although she coaxed very hard, my brother wouldn’t tell her. ‘Well, I’ll not rest in my grave till I’ll find out,’ she told him at last. Poor thing, she didn’t live long after that. She wasn’t long in her grave until I began seeing a kind of a shadow of a woman following my brother whenever he went out, even in the daytime. Well, mind you, didn’t Mary herself meet him one night when he was coming home through the fields. There was a big log there, and she motioned him to sit down on one end of it and she sat on the other. She told him that the words she said to him about not resting in her grave until she found out what girl her beau took to the dance were the dearest words she ever said. They were keeping her wandering about all the time, watching for a chance to ask him to tell her, although she didn’t care now whether she knew or not. Of course, he told her then. She told many other things besides that upset him so much that he set out early the next morning to see the priest. The priest would only let him tell one thing, that was what she said about the great value of the Mass. From that day to this he was a changed man, just as you see him now — and, indeed, it isn’t surprising after what he went through.”

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