(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tom Beavers, a native of Richton, Mississippi, recently returned from World War II, lives in Jackson but frequently drives to Richton to check on the elderly aunt who reared him after his mother ran away with a salesperson. He is talking with the pharmacist in the local drugstore about a ghost that is a part of the mythology of the town. For years, people have reported seeing an elderly man waving at them from the Jackson road near Richton at twilight, the time of day referred to as “first dark.” A group of men on a chain gang once reported having had a conversation with the man, who asked them to move a bulldozer because he had a sick girl in his wagon and had to get her to the hospital.

During the discussion, Frances Harvey, a woman in her thirties who lives with her invalid mother, enters the store. Overhearing the conversation, she asks Tom why he is inquiring about the ghost. When he relates that he had seen the waving man the night before as he drove into town at first dark, Frances says that she saw the figure at about the same time. Although the two of them have never known each other well, the ghost story draws them into conversation, and the next Saturday at twilight, they are sitting in his car at the spot where the ghost had been sighted. Frances recalls that, as a child, she and her sister, Regina, were terrified by stories of the ghost related by her family’s servants.

The couple soon discovers that they are attracted to each other and begin meeting on a regular basis. Eventually Tom is invited up to Mrs. Harvey’s bedroom one afternoon for tea. Although she is an invalid, the old woman is still a powerful force, an often bitter and even cruel woman with an acid tongue, who rules the house and her daughter as imperiously as ever. Although Mrs. Harvey approves of Tom as a prospective husband for her daughter, Frances is afraid to marry him and bring him into the house, knowing that her mother will dominate both their lives. As she tells Tom, “She’d make demands, take all my time, laugh at you behind your back—she has to run everything. You’d hate me in a week.”

Their courtship...

(The entire section is 877 words.)