The Ghosts of the Frenchman's Mill

The voice of the unseen Old Man rose up into my thoughts, faint at first but growing stronger.  "Andre Provonost emerged out the heavy spruce forest in the backroads portion of New Brunswick. An abandoned orphan who they say ventured from a one room cabin at the age of ten." So began the tale or the imagination - I really couldn't tell.   "He first rode the rails of the Ribbon of Steel, clear out to British Columbia, where he first learned the lumbering trade.  Married a girl of the Okanagan tribe, who had the curse of being bred with blue eyes- her people pushed her out, so Provonost took her in and took her away.  They slowly worked their way back, a year or two here, then a year or two there, finally they found these parts.  The early settlers here were killed off their land by a rash of typhoid.  Provonost wandered, threw together a shack, and no one ever came to take the land back."

As the tale rolled on, my eyes wandered in and through the overhead maze of big bolted timbers and endless belts, they wandered in and about the buckets of rusty machine parts and half-broken tools, scraps of wood and scraps of cloth, a forgotten lunch pail left by the last man breathing I presumed -long ot-of-date calendars dangling from nails on the splintered posts, lanterns dented, dried, and dead. 

"The Frenchman had just got the mill working when the typhoid came back to life in the well and snatched his wife away, leaving him barely surviving.  But he did survive, even thrived for many a year.  At his peak, Provonost had five French lads working for him, hauling in timber and then ripping it with the saw, stacking the fresh-cut lumber on heavy iron wagons that a team of two Clydesdales would take to the rail station at High Bridge  Crossing.  Folks around here used to say that at night, the Frenchmen and his boys would get to drinking Moose Head Ale too much, they'd start to singing and cursing and setting fires.  They say that they'd get so drunk that they would set the big rip saw to spinning and then take turns taking a ride over that angry saw, straddling a timber.  Then one night Provonost lost his mind in a drunken rage, killed them all.  A peddler happened by to sell them some gear, found the five lads dead and dismembered, but no Provonost."   

"This can't be true, no, it can't be true," I shouted within to the teller of this tale. 

But the voice went on, "...and they say on some nights, when the wintry wind begins to howl, this old mill comes back to life, and the saw begins to sing once more, ripping and ripping through the cold of the night, and the four French lads then dance once more on the saw before heading into the woods to find old Provonost."

I looked at the saw; I listened to the wind.

Then from the rafters an unseen owl took to flight, emerging  silently on the wing, then with the sound of rustling petticoats wisped by my ear, and took off across the snow and then upward toward the moon, uttering one last hoot before slipping beyond my sight.  My heart and my breath got away from me for awhile ... but then they settled.  Then the quiet returned followed by the return of the hiss of my lantern's burning.

Then from the hills and the woods upon them, I heard singing, I thought.  So faint, I could barely sense it there, but there was singing, like the howling of wolves on the prowl and the scream of prey on the run.  The flame in the lantern, flickered and dimmed, for a frightful second, was nearly gone, but then ...  the fire in my lantern roared back, returning to me, thankfully, once more.

The End

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