Stories of the Supernatural
5. The Vacant Lot
When it became generally known in Townsend Centre that the Townsends were
going to move to the city, there was great excitement and dismay. For the
Townsends to move was about equivalent to the town's moving. The Townsend
ancestors had founded the village a hundred years ago. The first Townsend had
kept a wayside hostelry for man and beast, known as the "Sign of the Leopard."
The sign-board, on which the leopard was painted a bright blue, was still extant,
and prominently so, being nailed over the present Townsend's front door. This
Townsend, by name David, kept the village store. There had been no tavern
since the railroad was built through Townsend Centre in his father's day.
Therefore the family, being ousted by the march of progress from their chosen
employment, took up with a general country store as being the next thing to a
country tavern, the principal difference consisting in the fact that all the guests
were transients, never requiring bedchambers, securing their rest on the tops of
sugar and flour barrels and codfish boxes, and their refreshment from stray
nibblings at the stock in trade, to the profitless deplenishment of raisins and loaf
sugar and crackers and cheese.
The flitting of the Townsends from the home of their ancestors was due to a
sudden access of wealth from the death of a relative and the desire of Mrs.
Townsend to secure better advantages for her son George, sixteen years old, in
the way of education, and for her daughter Adrianna, ten years older, better
matrimonial opportunities. However, this last inducement for leaving Townsend
Centre was not openly stated, only ingeniously surmised by the neighbours.
"Sarah Townsend don't think there's anybody in Townsend Centre fit for her
Adrianna to marry, and so she's goin' to take her to Boston to see if she can't
pick up somebody there," they said. Then they wondered what Abel Lyons would
do. He had been a humble suitor for Adrianna for years, but her mother had not
approved, and Adrianna, who was dutiful, had repulsed him delicately and rather
sadly. He was the only lover whom she had ever had, and she felt sorry and
grateful; she was a plain, awkward girl, and had a patient recognition of the fact.
But her mother was ambitious, more so than her father, who was rather
pugnaciously satisfied with what he had, and not easily disposed to change.
However, he yielded to his wife and consented to sell out his business and
purchase a house in Boston and move there.
David Townsend was curiously unlike the line of ancestors from whom he had
come. He had either retrograded or advanced, as one might look at it. His moral
character was certainly better, but he had not the fiery spirit and eager grasp at
advantage which had distinguished them. Indeed, the old Townsends, though
prominent and respected as men of property and influence, had reputations not
above suspicions. There was more than one dark whisper regarding them
handed down from mother to son in the village, and especially was this true of
the first Townsend, he who built the tavern bearing the Sign of the Blue Leopard.
His portrait, a hideous effort of contemporary art, hung in the garret of David
Townsend's home. There was many a tale of wild roistering, if no worse, in that