IN TWO CHAPTERS
THE MORTALS IN THE HOUSE
Under none of the accredited ghostly circumstances, and environed
by none of the conventional ghostly surroundings, did I first make
acquaintance with the house which is the subject of this Christmas
piece. I saw it in the daylight, with the sun upon it. There was
no wind, no rain, no lightning, no thunder, no awful or unwonted
circumstance, of any kind, to heighten its effect. More than that:
I had come to it direct from a railway station: it was not more
than a mile distant from the railway station; and, as I stood
outside the house, looking back upon the way I had come, I could
see the goods train running smoothly along the embankment in the
valley. I will not say that everything was utterly commonplace,
because I doubt if anything can be that, except to utterly
commonplace people--and there my vanity steps in; but, I will take
it on myself to say that anybody might see the house as I saw it,
any fine autumn morning.
The manner of my lighting on it was this.
I was travelling towards London out of the North, intending to stop
by the way, to look at the house. My health required a temporary
residence in the country; and a friend of mine who knew that, and
who had happened to drive past the house, had written to me to
suggest it as a likely place. I had got into the train at
midnight, and had fallen asleep, and had woke up and had sat
looking out of window at the brilliant Northern Lights in the sky,
and had fallen asleep again, and had woke up again to find the
night gone, with the usual discontented conviction on me that I
hadn't been to sleep at all;--upon which question, in the first
imbecility of that condition, I am ashamed to believe that I would
have done wager by battle with the man who sat opposite me. That
opposite man had had, through the night--as that opposite man
always has--several legs too many, and all of them too long. In
addition to this unreasonable conduct (which was only to be
expected of him), he had had a pencil and a pocket-book, and had
been perpetually listening and taking notes. It had appeared to me
that these aggravating notes related to the jolts and bumps of the
carriage, and I should have resigned myself to his taking them,
under a general supposition that he was in the civil-engineering
way of life, if he had not sat staring straight over my head
whenever he listened. He was a goggle-eyed gentleman of a
perplexed aspect, and his demeanor became unbearable.
It was a cold, dead morning (the sun not being up yet), and when I
had out-watched the paling light of the fires of the iron country,
and the curtain of heavy smoke that hung at once between me and the
stars and between me and the day, I turned to my fellow-traveller
"I BEG your pardon, sir, but do you observe anything particular in
me?" For, really, he appeared to be taking down, either my
travelling-cap or my hair, with a minuteness that was a liberty.
The goggle-eyed gentleman withdrew his eyes from behind me, as if
the back of the carriage were a hundred miles off, and said, with a
lofty look of compassion for my insignificance:
"In you, sir?--B."
"B, sir?" said I, growing warm.
"I have nothing to do with you, sir," returned the gentleman; "pray
let me listen--O."
He enunciated this vowel after a pause, and noted it down.
At first I was alarmed, for an Express lunatic and no communication
with the guard, is a serious position. The thought came to my
relief that the gentleman might be what is popularly called a
Rapper: one of a sect for (some of) whom I have the highest
respect, but whom I don't believe in. I was going to ask him the
question, when he took the bread out of my mouth.
"You will excuse me," said the gentleman contemptuously, "if I am
too much in advance of common humanity to trouble myself at all
about it. I have passed the night--as indeed I pass the whole of
my time now--in spiritual intercourse."
"O!" said I, somewhat snappishly.
"The conferences of the night began," continued the gentleman,
turning several leaves of his note-book, "with this message: 'Evil
communications corrupt good manners.'"
"Sound," said I; "but, absolutely new?"
"New from spirits," returned the gentleman.
I could only repeat my rather snappish "O!" and ask if I might be
favored with the last communication.
"'A bird in the hand,'" said the gentleman, reading his last entry
with great solemnity, "'is worth two in the Bosh.'"
"Truly I am of the same opinion," said I; "but shouldn't it be
"It came to me, Bosh," returned the gentleman.
The gentleman then informed me that the spirit of Socrates had
delivered this special revelation in the course of the night. "My
friend, I hope you are pretty well. There are two in this railway
carriage. How do you do? There are seventeen thousand four
hundred and seventy-nine spirits here, but you cannot see them.
Pythagoras is here. He is not at liberty to mention it, but hopes
you like travelling." Galileo likewise had dropped in, with this
scientific intelligence. "I am glad to see you, amico. Come sta?
Water will freeze when it is cold enough. Addio!" In the course
of the night, also, the following phenomena had occurred. Bishop
Butler had insisted on spelling his name, "Bubler," for which
offence against orthography and good manners he had been dismissed
as out of temper. John Milton (suspected of wilful mystification)
had repudiated the authorship of Paradise Lost, and had introduced,
as joint authors of that poem, two Unknown gentlemen, respectively
named Grungers and Scadgingtone. And Prince Arthur, nephew of King
John of England, had described himself as tolerably comfortable in
the seventh circle, where he was learning to paint on velvet, under
the direction of Mrs. Trimmer and Mary Queen of Scots.
If this should meet the eye of the gentleman who favored me with
these disclosures, I trust he will excuse my confessing that the
sight of the rising sun, and the contemplation of the magnificent
Order of the vast Universe, made me impatient of them. In a word,
I was so impatient of them, that I was mightily glad to get out at
the next station, and to exchange these clouds and vapors for the
free air of Heaven.
By that time it was a beautiful morning. As I walked away among
such leaves as had already fallen from the golden, brown, and
russet trees; and as I looked around me on the wonders of Creation,
and thought of the steady, unchanging, and harmonious laws by which
they are sustained; the gentleman's spiritual intercourse seemed to
me as poor a piece of journey-work as ever this world saw. In
which heathen state of mind, I came within view of the house, and
stopped to examine it attentively.
It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a
pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the
time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as
bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer
of the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had,
within a year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable;
I say cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner,
and was already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the
colors were fresh. A lop-sided board drooped over the garden wall,
announcing that it was "to let on very reasonable terms, well
furnished." It was much too closely and heavily shadowed by trees,
and, in particular, there were six tall poplars before the front
windows, which were excessively melancholy, and the site of which
had been extremely ill chosen.
It was easy to see that it was an avoided house--a house that was
shunned by the village, to which my eye was guided by a church
spire some half a mile off--a house that nobody would take. And
the natural inference was, that it had the reputation of being a
No period within the four-and-twenty hours of day and night is so
solemn to me, as the early morning. In the summer-time, I often
rise very early, and repair to my room to do a day's work before
breakfast, and I am always on those occasions deeply impressed by
the stillness and solitude around me. Besides that there is
something awful in the being surrounded by familiar faces asleep--
in the knowledge that those who are dearest to us and to whom we
are dearest, are profoundly unconscious of us, in an impassive
state, anticipative of that mysterious condition to which we are
all tending--the stopped life, the broken threads of yesterday, the
deserted seat, the closed book, the unfinished but abandoned
occupation, all are images of Death. The tranquillity of the hour
is the tranquillity of Death. The color and the chill have the
same association. Even a certain air that familiar household
objects take upon them when they first emerge from the shadows of
the night into the morning, of being newer, and as they used to be
long ago, has its counterpart in the subsidence of the worn face of
maturity or age, in death, into the old youthful look. Moreover, I
once saw the apparition of my father, at this hour. He was alive
and well, and nothing ever came of it, but I saw him in the
daylight, sitting with his back towards me, on a seat that stood
beside my bed. His head was resting on his hand, and whether he
was slumbering or grieving, I could not discern. Amazed to see him
there, I sat up, moved my position, leaned out of bed, and watched
him. As he did not move, I spoke to him more than once. As he did
not move then, I became alarmed and laid my hand upon his shoulder,
as I thought--and there was no such thing.
For all these reasons, and for others less easily and briefly
statable, I find the early morning to be my most ghostly time. Any
house would be more or less haunted, to me, in the early morning;
and a haunted house could scarcely address me to greater advantage
I walked on into the village, with the desertion of this house upon
my mind, and I found the landlord of the little inn, sanding his
door-step. I bespoke breakfast, and broached the subject of the
"Is it haunted?" I asked.
The landlord looked at me, shook his head, and answered, "I say
"Then it IS haunted?"
"Well!" cried the landlord, in an outburst of frankness that had
the appearance of desperation--"I wouldn't sleep in it."
"If I wanted to have all the bells in a house ring, with nobody to
ring 'em; and all the doors in a house bang, with nobody to bang
'em; and all sorts of feet treading about, with no feet there; why,
then," said the landlord, "I'd sleep in that house."
"Is anything seen there?"
The landlord looked at me again, and then, with his former
appearance of desperation, called down his stable-yard for "Ikey!"
The call produced a high-shouldered young fellow, with a round red
face, a short crop of sandy hair, a very broad humorous mouth, a
turned-up nose, and a great sleeved waistcoat of purple bars, with
mother-of-pearl buttons, that seemed to be growing upon him, and to
be in a fair way--if it were not pruned--of covering his head and
overrunning his boots.
"This gentleman wants to know," said the landlord, "if anything's
seen at the Poplars."
"'Ooded woman with a howl," said Ikey, in a state of great
"Do you mean a cry?"
"I mean a bird, sir."
"A hooded woman with an owl. Dear me! Did you ever see her?"
"I seen the howl."
"Never the woman?"
"Not so plain as the howl, but they always keeps together."
"Has anybody ever seen the woman as plainly as the owl?"
"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."
"Lord bless you, sir! Lots."
"The general-dealer opposite, for instance, who is opening his
"Perkins? Bless you, Perkins wouldn't go a-nigh the place. No!"
observed the young man, with considerable feeling; "he an't
overwise, an't Perkins, but he an't such a fool as THAT."
(Here, the landlord murmured his confidence in Perkins's knowing
"Who is--or who was--the hooded woman with the owl? Do you know?"
"Well!" said Ikey, holding up his cap with one hand while he
scratched his head with the other, "they say, in general, that she
was murdered, and the howl he 'ooted the while."
This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn,
except that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I
see, had been took with fits and held down in 'em, after seeing the
hooded woman. Also, that a personage, dimly described as "a hold
chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby,
unless you challenged him as Greenwood, and then he said, 'Why not?
and even if so, mind your own business,'" had encountered the
hooded woman, a matter of five or six times. But, I was not
materially assisted by these witnesses: inasmuch as the first was
in California, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was confirmed
by the landlord), Anywheres.
Now, although I regard with a hushed and solemn fear, the
mysteries, between which and this state of existence is interposed
the barrier of the great trial and change that fall on all the
things that live; and although I have not the audacity to pretend
that I know anything of them; I can no more reconcile the mere
banging of doors, ringing of bells, creaking of boards, and such-
like insignificances, with the majestic beauty and pervading
analogy of all the Divine rules that I am permitted to understand,
than I had been able, a little while before, to yoke the spiritual
intercourse of my fellow- traveller to the chariot of the rising
sun. Moreover, I had lived in two haunted houses--both abroad. In
one of these, an old Italian palace, which bore the reputation of
being very badly haunted indeed, and which had recently been twice
abandoned on that account, I lived eight months, most tranquilly
and pleasantly: notwithstanding that the house had a score of
mysterious bedrooms, which were never used, and possessed, in one
large room in which I sat reading, times out of number at all
hours, and next to which I slept, a haunted chamber of the first
pretensions. I gently hinted these considerations to the landlord.
And as to this particular house having a bad name, I reasoned with
him, Why, how many things had bad names undeservedly, and how easy
it was to give bad names, and did he not think that if he and I
were persistently to whisper in the village that any weird-looking
old drunken tinker of the neighborhood had sold himself to the
Devil, he would come in time to be suspected of that commercial
venture! All this wise talk was perfectly ineffective with the
landlord, I am bound to confess, and was as dead a failure as ever
I made in my life.
To cut this part of the story short, I was piqued about the haunted
house, and was already half resolved to take it. So, after
breakfast, I got the keys from Perkins's brother-in-law (a whip and
harness maker, who keeps the Post Office, and is under submission
to a most rigorous wife of the Doubly Seceding Little Emmanuel
persuasion), and went up to the house, attended by my landlord and
Within, I found it, as I had expected, transcendently dismal. The
slowly changing shadows waved on it from the heavy trees, were
doleful in the last degree; the house was ill-placed, ill-built,
ill-planned, and ill-fitted. It was damp, it was not free from dry
rot, there was a flavor of rats in it, and it was the gloomy victim
of that indescribable decay which settles on all the work of man's
hands whenever it's not turned to man's account. The kitchens and
offices were too large, and too remote from each other. Above
stairs and below, waste tracts of passage intervened between
patches of fertility represented by rooms; and there was a mouldy
old well with a green growth upon it, hiding like a murderous trap,
near the bottom of the back-stairs, under the double row of bells.
One of these bells was labelled, on a black ground in faded white
letters, MASTER B. This, they told me, was the bell that rang the
"Who was Master B.?" I asked. "Is it known what he did while the
"Rang the bell," said Ikey.
I was rather struck by the prompt dexterity with which this young
man pitched his fur cap at the bell, and rang it himself. It was a
loud, unpleasant bell, and made a very disagreeable sound. The
other bells were inscribed according to the names of the rooms to
which their wires were conducted: as "Picture Room," "Double Room,"
"Clock Room," and the like. Following Master B.'s bell to its
source I found that young gentleman to have had but indifferent
third-class accommodation in a triangular cabin under the cock-
loft, with a corner fireplace which Master B. must have been
exceedingly small if he were ever able to warm himself at, and a
corner chimney-piece like a pyramidal staircase to the ceiling for
Tom Thumb. The papering of one side of the room had dropped down
bodily, with fragments of plaster adhering to it, and almost
blocked up the door. It appeared that Master B., in his spiritual
condition, always made a point of pulling the paper down. Neither
the landlord nor Ikey could suggest why he made such a fool of
Except that the house had an immensely large rambling loft at top,
I made no other discoveries. It was moderately well furnished, but
sparely. Some of the furniture--say, a third--was as old as the
house; the rest was of various periods within the last half-
century. I was referred to a corn-chandler in the market-place of
the county town to treat for the house. I went that day, and I
took it for six months.
It was just the middle of October when I moved in with my maiden
sister (I venture to call her eight-and-thirty, she is so very
handsome, sensible, and engaging). We took with us, a deaf stable-
man, my bloodhound Turk, two women servants, and a young person
called an Odd Girl. I have reason to record of the attendant last
enumerated, who was one of the Saint Lawrence's Union Female
Orphans, that she was a fatal mistake and a disastrous engagement.
The year was dying early, the leaves were falling fast, it was a
raw cold day when we took possession, and the gloom of the house
was most depressing. The cook (an amiable woman, but of a weak
turn of intellect) burst into tears on beholding the kitchen, and
requested that her silver watch might be delivered over to her
sister (2 Tuppintock's Gardens, Liggs's Walk, Clapham Rise), in the
event of anything happening to her from the damp. Streaker, the
housemaid, feigned cheerfulness, but was the greater martyr. The
Odd Girl, who had never been in the country, alone was pleased, and
made arrangements for sowing an acorn in the garden outside the
scullery window, and rearing an oak.
We went, before dark, through all the natural--as opposed to
supernatural--miseries incidental to our state. Dispiriting
reports ascended (like the smoke) from the basement in volumes, and
descended from the upper rooms. There was no rolling-pin, there
was no salamander (which failed to surprise me, for I don't know
what it is), there was nothing in the house; what there was, was
broken, the last people must have lived like pigs, what could the
meaning of the landlord be? Through these distresses, the Odd Girl
was cheerful and exemplary. But within four hours after dark we
had got into a supernatural groove, and the Odd Girl had seen
"Eyes," and was in hysterics.
My sister and I had agreed to keep the haunting strictly to
ourselves, and my impression was, and still is, that I had not left
Ikey, when he helped to unload the cart, alone with the women, or
any one of them, for one minute. Nevertheless, as I say, the Odd
Girl had "seen Eyes" (no other explanation could ever be drawn from
her), before nine, and by ten o'clock had had as much vinegar
applied to her as would pickle a handsome salmon.
I leave a discerning public to judge of my feelings, when, under
these untoward circumstances, at about half-past ten o'clock Master
B.'s bell began to ring in a most infuriated manner, and Turk
howled until the house resounded with his lamentations!
I hope I may never again be in a state of mind so unchristian as
the mental frame in which I lived for some weeks, respecting the
memory of Master B. Whether his bell was rung by rats, or mice, or
bats, or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by
one cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don't
know; but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three,
until I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.'s neck--in
other words, breaking his bell short off--and silencing that young
gentleman, as to my experience and belief, for ever.
But, by that time, the Odd Girl had developed such improving powers
of catalepsy, that she had become a shining example of that very
inconvenient disorder. She would stiffen, like a Guy Fawkes
endowed with unreason, on the most irrelevant occasions. I would
address the servants in a lucid manner, pointing out to them that I
had painted Master B.'s room and balked the paper, and taken Master
B.'s bell away and balked the ringing, and if they could suppose
that that confounded boy had lived and died, to clothe himself with
no better behavior than would most unquestionably have brought him
and the sharpest particles of a birch-broom into close acquaintance
in the present imperfect state of existence, could they also
suppose a mere poor human being, such as I was, capable by those
contemptible means of counteracting and limiting the powers of the
disembodied spirits of the dead, or of any spirits?--I say I would
become emphatic and cogent, not to say rather complacent, in such
an address, when it would all go for nothing by reason of the Odd
Girl's suddenly stiffening from the toes upward, and glaring among
us like a parochial petrifaction.
Streaker, the housemaid, too, had an attribute of a most
discomfiting nature. I am unable to say whether she was of an
usually lymphatic temperament, or what else was the matter with
her, but this young woman became a mere Distillery for the
production of the largest and most transparent tears I ever met
with. Combined with these characteristics, was a peculiar tenacity
of hold in those specimens, so that they didn't fall, but hung upon
her face and nose. In this condition, and mildly and deplorably
shaking her head, her silence would throw me more heavily than the
Admirable Crichton could have done in a verbal disputation for a
purse of money. Cook, likewise, always covered me with confusion
as with a garment, by neatly winding up the session with the
protest that the Ouse was wearing her out, and by meekly repeating
her last wishes regarding her silver watch.
As to our nightly life, the contagion of suspicion and fear was
among us, and there is no such contagion under the sky. Hooded
woman? According to the accounts, we were in a perfect Convent of
hooded women. Noises? With that contagion downstairs, I myself
have sat in the dismal parlor, listening, until I have heard so
many and such strange noises, that they would have chilled my blood
if I had not warmed it by dashing out to make discoveries. Try
this in bed, in the dead of the night: try this at your own
comfortable fire-side, in the life of the night. You can fill any
house with noises, if you will, until you have a noise for every
nerve in your nervous system.
I repeat; the contagion of suspicion and fear was among us, and
there is no such contagion under the sky. The women (their noses
in a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts) were always
primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-
triggers. The two elder detached the Odd Girl on all expeditions
that were considered doubly hazardous, and she always established
the reputation of such adventures by coming back cataleptic. If
Cook or Streaker went overhead after dark, we knew we should
presently hear a bump on the ceiling; and this took place so
constantly, that it was as if a fighting man were engaged to go
about the house, administering a touch of his art which I believe
is called The Auctioneer, to every domestic he met with.
It was in vain to do anything. It was in vain to be frightened,
for the moment in one's own person, by a real owl, and then to show
the owl. It was in vain to discover, by striking an accidental
discord on the piano, that Turk always howled at particular notes
and combinations. It was in vain to be a Rhadamanthus with the
bells, and if an unfortunate bell rang without leave, to have it
down inexorably and silence it. It was in vain to fire up
chimneys, let torches down the well, charge furiously into
suspected rooms and recesses. We changed servants, and it was no
better. The new set ran away, and a third set came, and it was no
better. At last, our comfortable housekeeping got to be so
disorganised and wretched, that I one night dejectedly said to my
sister: "Patty, I begin to despair of our getting people to go on
with us here, and I think we must give this up."
My sister, who is a woman of immense spirit, replied, "No, John,
don't give it up. Don't be beaten, John. There is another way."
"And what is that?" said I.
"John," returned my sister, "if we are not to be driven out of this
house, and that for no reason whatever, that is apparent to you or
me, we must help ourselves and take the house wholly and solely
into our own hands."
"But, the servants," said I.
"Have no servants," said my sister, boldly.
Like most people in my grade of life, I had never thought of the
possibility of going on without those faithful obstructions. The
notion was so new to me when suggested, that I looked very
"We know they come here to be frightened and infect one another,
and we know they are frightened and do infect one another," said my
"With the exception of Bottles," I observed, in a meditative tone.
(The deaf stable-man. I kept him in my service, and still keep
him, as a phenomenon of moroseness not to be matched in England.)
"To be sure, John," assented my sister; "except Bottles. And what
does that go to prove? Bottles talks to nobody, and hears nobody
unless he is absolutely roared at, and what alarm has Bottles ever
given, or taken? None."
This was perfectly true; the individual in question having retired,
every night at ten o'clock, to his bed over the coach-house, with
no other company than a pitchfork and a pail of water. That the
pail of water would have been over me, and the pitchfork through
me, if I had put myself without announcement in Bottles's way after
that minute, I had deposited in my own mind as a fact worth
remembering. Neither had Bottles ever taken the least notice of
any of our many uproars. An imperturbable and speechless man, he
had sat at his supper, with Streaker present in a swoon, and the
Odd Girl marble, and had only put another potato in his cheek, or
profited by the general misery to help himself to beefsteak pie.
"And so," continued my sister, "I exempt Bottles. And considering,
John, that the house is too large, and perhaps too lonely, to be
kept well in hand by Bottles, you, and me, I propose that we cast
about among our friends for a certain selected number of the most
reliable and willing--form a Society here for three months--wait
upon ourselves and one another--live cheerfully and socially--and
see what happens."
I was so charmed with my sister, that I embraced her on the spot,
and went into her plan with the greatest ardor.
We were then in the third week of November; but, we took our
measures so vigorously, and were so well seconded by the friends in
whom we confided, that there was still a week of the month
unexpired, when our party all came down together merrily, and
mustered in the haunted house.
I will mention, in this place, two small changes that I made while
my sister and I were yet alone. It occurring to me as not
improbable that Turk howled in the house at night, partly because
he wanted to get out of it, I stationed him in his kennel outside,
but unchained; and I seriously warned the village that any man who
came in his way must not expect to leave him without a rip in his
own throat. I then casually asked Ikey if he were a judge of a
gun? On his saying, "Yes, sir, I knows a good gun when I sees
her," I begged the favor of his stepping up to the house and
looking at mine.
"SHE'S a true one, sir," said Ikey, after inspecting a double-
barrelled rifle that I bought in New York a few years ago. "No
mistake about HER, sir."
"Ikey," said I, "don't mention it; I have seen something in this
"No, sir?" he whispered, greedily opening his eyes. "'Ooded lady,
"Don't be frightened," said I. "It was a figure rather like you."
"Ikey!" said I, shaking hands with him warmly, I may say
affectionately; "if there is any truth in these ghost-stories, the
greatest service I can do you, is, to fire at that figure. And I
promise you, by Heaven and earth, I will do it with this gun if I
see it again!"
The young man thanked me, and took his leave with some little
precipitation, after declining a glass of liquor. I imparted my
secret to him, because I had never quite forgotten his throwing his
cap at the bell; because I had, on another occasion, noticed
something very like a fur cap, lying not far from the bell, one
night when it had burst out ringing; and because I had remarked
that we were at our ghostliest whenever he came up in the evening
to comfort the servants. Let me do Ikey no injustice. He was
afraid of the house, and believed in its being haunted; and yet he
would play false on the haunting side, so surely as he got an
opportunity. The Odd Girl's case was exactly similar. She went
about the house in a state of real terror, and yet lied monstrously
and wilfully, and invented many of the alarms she spread, and made
many of the sounds we heard. I had had my eye on the two, and I
know it. It is not necessary for me, here, to account for this
preposterous state of mind; I content myself with remarking that it
is familiarly known to every intelligent man who has had fair
medical, legal, or other watchful experience; that it is as well
established and as common a state of mind as any with which
observers are acquainted; and that it is one of the first elements,
above all others, rationally to be suspected in, and strictly
looked for, and separated from, any question of this kind.
To return to our party. The first thing we did when we were all
assembled, was, to draw lots for bedrooms. That done, and every
bedroom, and, indeed, the whole house, having been minutely
examined by the whole body, we allotted the various household
duties, as if we had been on a gipsy party, or a yachting party, or
a hunting party, or were shipwrecked. I then recounted the
floating rumors concerning the hooded lady, the owl, and Master B.:
with others, still more filmy, which had floated about during our
occupation, relative to some ridiculous old ghost of the female
gender who went up and down, carrying the ghost of a round table;
and also to an impalpable Jackass, whom nobody was ever able to
catch. Some of these ideas I really believe our people below had
communicated to one another in some diseased way, without conveying
them in words. We then gravely called one another to witness, that
we were not there to be deceived, or to deceive--which we
considered pretty much the same thing--and that, with a serious
sense of responsibility, we would be strictly true to one another,
and would strictly follow out the truth. The understanding was
established, that any one who heard unusual noises in the night,
and who wished to trace them, should knock at my door; lastly, that
on Twelfth Night, the last night of holy Christmas, all our
individual experiences since that then present hour of our coming
together in the haunted house, should be brought to light for the
good of all; and that we would hold our peace on the subject till
then, unless on some remarkable provocation to break silence.
We were, in number and in character, as follows:
First--to get my sister and myself out of the way--there were we
two. In the drawing of lots, my sister drew her own room, and I
drew Master B.'s. Next, there was our first cousin John Herschel,
so called after the great astronomer: than whom I suppose a better
man at a telescope does not breathe. With him, was his wife: a
charming creature to whom he had been married in the previous
spring. I thought it (under the circumstances) rather imprudent to
bring her, because there is no knowing what even a false alarm may
do at such a time; but I suppose he knew his own business best, and
I must say that if she had been MY wife, I never could have left
her endearing and bright face behind. They drew the Clock Room.
Alfred Starling, an uncommonly agreeable young fellow of eight-and-
twenty for whom I have the greatest liking, was in the Double Room;
mine, usually, and designated by that name from having a dressing-
room within it, with two large and cumbersome windows, which no
wedges I was ever able to make, would keep from shaking, in any
weather, wind or no wind. Alfred is a young fellow who pretends to
be "fast" (another word for loose, as I understand the term), but
who is much too good and sensible for that nonsense, and who would
have distinguished himself before now, if his father had not
unfortunately left him a small independence of two hundred a year,
on the strength of which his only occupation in life has been to
spend six. I am in hopes, however, that his Banker may break, or
that he may enter into some speculation guaranteed to pay twenty
per cent.; for, I am convinced that if he could only be ruined, his
fortune is made. Belinda Bates, bosom friend of my sister, and a
most intellectual, amiable, and delightful girl, got the Picture
Room. She has a fine genius for poetry, combined with real
business earnestness, and "goes in"--to use an expression of
Alfred's--for Woman's mission, Woman's rights, Woman's wrongs, and
everything that is woman's with a capital W, or is not and ought to
be, or is and ought not to be. "Most praiseworthy, my dear, and
Heaven prosper you!" I whispered to her on the first night of my
taking leave of her at the Picture-Room door, "but don't overdo it.
And in respect of the great necessity there is, my darling, for
more employments being within the reach of Woman than our
civilisation has as yet assigned to her, don't fly at the
unfortunate men, even those men who are at first sight in your way,
as if they were the natural oppressors of your sex; for, trust me,
Belinda, they do sometimes spend their wages among wives and
daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers; and the play
is, really, not ALL Wolf and Red Riding-Hood, but has other parts
in it." However, I digress.
Belinda, as I have mentioned, occupied the Picture Room. We had
but three other chambers: the Corner Room, the Cupboard Room, and
the Garden Room. My old friend, Jack Governor, "slung his
hammock," as he called it, in the Corner Room. I have always
regarded Jack as the finest-looking sailor that ever sailed. He is
gray now, but as handsome as he was a quarter of a century ago--
nay, handsomer. A portly, cheery, well-built figure of a broad-
shouldered man, with a frank smile, a brilliant dark eye, and a
rich dark eyebrow. I remember those under darker hair, and they
look all the better for their silver setting. He has been wherever
his Union namesake flies, has Jack, and I have met old shipmates of
his, away in the Mediterranean and on the other side of the
Atlantic, who have beamed and brightened at the casual mention of
his name, and have cried, "You know Jack Governor? Then you know a
prince of men!" That he is! And so unmistakably a naval officer,
that if you were to meet him coming out of an Esquimaux snow-hut in
seal's skin, you would be vaguely persuaded he was in full naval
Jack once had that bright clear eye of his on my sister; but, it
fell out that he married another lady and took her to South
America, where she died. This was a dozen years ago or more. He
brought down with him to our haunted house a little cask of salt
beef; for, he is always convinced that all salt beef not of his own
pickling, is mere carrion, and invariably, when he goes to London,
packs a piece in his portmanteau. He had also volunteered to bring
with him one "Nat Beaver," an old comrade of his, captain of a
merchantman. Mr. Beaver, with a thick-set wooden face and figure,
and apparently as hard as a block all over, proved to be an
intelligent man, with a world of watery experiences in him, and
great practical knowledge. At times, there was a curious
nervousness about him, apparently the lingering result of some old
illness; but, it seldom lasted many minutes. He got the Cupboard
Room, and lay there next to Mr. Undery, my friend and solicitor:
who came down, in an amateur capacity, "to go through with it," as
he said, and who plays whist better than the whole Law List, from
the red cover at the beginning to the red cover at the end.
I never was happier in my life, and I believe it was the universal
feeling among us. Jack Governor, always a man of wonderful
resources, was Chief Cook, and made some of the best dishes I ever
ate, including unapproachable curries. My sister was pastry cook
and confectioner. Starling and I were Cook's Mate, turn and turn
about, and on special occasions the chief cook "pressed" Mr.
Beaver. We had a great deal of outdoor sport and exercise, but
nothing was neglected within, and there was no ill-humor or
misunderstanding among us, and our evenings were so delightful that
we had at least one good reason for being reluctant to go to bed.
We had a few night alarms in the beginning. On the first night, I
was knocked up by Jack with a most wonderful ship's lantern in his
hand, like the gills of some monster of the deep, who informed me
that he "was going aloft to the main truck," to have the
weathercock down. It was a stormy night and I remonstrated; but
Jack called my attention to its making a sound like a cry of
despair, and said somebody would be "hailing a ghost" presently, if
it wasn't done. So, up to the top of the house, where I could
hardly stand for the wind, we went, accompanied by Mr. Beaver; and
there Jack, lantern and all, with Mr. Beaver after him, swarmed up
to the top of a cupola, some two dozen feet above the chimneys, and
stood upon nothing particular, coolly knocking the weathercock off,
until they both got into such good spirits with the wind and the
height, that I thought they would never come down. Another night,
they turned out again, and had a chimney-cowl off. Another night,
they cut a sobbing and gulping water-pipe away. Another night,
they found out something else. On several occasions, they both, in
the coolest manner, simultaneously dropped out of their respective
bedroom windows, hand over hand by their counterpanes, to
"overhaul" something mysterious in the garden.
The engagement among us was faithfully kept, and nobody revealed
anything. All we knew was, if any one's room were haunted, no one
looked the worse for it.
The foregoing story is particularly interesting as illustrating the
leaning of Dickens's mind toward the spiritualistic and mystical
fancies current in his time, and the counterbalance of his common
sense and fun.
"He probably never made up his own mind," Mr. Andrew Lang declares
in a discussion of this Haunted House story. Mr. Lang says he once
took part in a similar quest, and "can recognize the accuracy of
most of Dickens's remarks. Indeed, even to persons not on the
level of the Odd Girl in education, the temptation to produce
'phenomena' for fun is all but overwhelming. That people
communicate hallucinations to each other 'in some diseased way
without words,' is a modern theory perhaps first formulated here by
"The Signal Man's Story," which follows, is likewise, Mr. Lang
believes, "probably based on some real story of the kind, some
anecdote of premonitions. There are scores in the records of the
Society for Psychical Research."--The Editor.
NO. 1 BRANCH LINE: THE SIGNAL-MAN
"Halloa! Below there!"
When he heard a voice thus calling to him, he was standing at the
door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled round its short
pole. One would have thought, considering the nature of the
ground, that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice
came; but instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the
steep cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself about, and
looked down the Line. There was something remarkable in his manner
of doing so, though I could not have said for my life what. But I
know it was remarkable enough to attract my notice, even though his
figure was foreshortened and shadowed, down in the deep trench, and
mine was high above him, so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset,
that I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all.
From looking down the Line, he turned himself about again, and,
raising his eyes, saw my figure high above him.
"Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?"
He looked up at me without replying, and I looked down at him
without pressing him too soon with a repetition of my idle
question. Just then there came a vague vibration in the earth and
air, quickly changing into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming
rush that caused me to start back, as though it had a force to draw
me down. When such vapor as rose to my height from this rapid
train had passed me, and was skimming away over the landscape, I
looked down again, and saw him refurling the flag he had shown
while the train went by.
I repeated my inquiry. After a pause, during which he seemed to
regard me with fixed attention, he motioned with his rolled-up flag
towards a point on my level, some two or three hundred yards
distant. I called down to him, "All right!" and made for that
point. There, by dint of looking closely about me, I found a rough
zigzag descending path notched out, which I followed.
The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitate. It was
made through a clammy stone, that became oozier and wetter as I
went down. For these reasons, I found the way long enough to give
me time to recall a singular air of reluctance or compulsion with
which he had pointed out the path.
When I came down low enough upon the zigzag descent to see him
again, I saw that he was standing between the rails on the way by
which the train had lately passed, in an attitude as if he were
waiting for me to appear. He had his left hand at his chin, and
that left elbow rested on his right hand, crossed over his breast.
His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness that I
stopped a moment, wondering at it.
I resumed my downward way, and stepping out upon the level of the
railroad, and drawing nearer to him, saw that he was a dark, sallow
man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows. His post was in
as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a
dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip
of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this
great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction
terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a
black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous,
depressing, and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its
way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much
cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I
had left the natural world.
Before he stirred, I was near enough to him to have touched him.
Not even then removing his eyes from mine, he stepped back one
step, and lifted his hand.
This was a lonesome post to occupy (I said), and it had riveted my
attention when I looked down from up yonder. A visitor was a
rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity, I hoped? In me,
he merely saw a man who had been shut up within narrow limits all
his life, and who, being at last set free, had a newly-awakened
interest in these great works. To such purpose I spoke to him; but
I am far from sure of the terms I used; for, besides that I am not
happy in opening any conversation, there was something in the man
that daunted me.
He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the
tunnel's mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were
missing from it, and then looked it me.
That light was part of his charge? Was it not?
He answered in a low voice,--"Don't you know it is?"
The monstrous thought came into my mind, as I perused the fixed
eyes and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man. I
have speculated since, whether there may have been infection in his
In my turn, I stepped back. But in making the action, I detected
in his eyes some latent fear of me. This put the monstrous thought
"You look at me," I said, forcing a smile, "as if you had a dread
"I was doubtful," he returned, "whether I had seen you before."
He pointed to the red light he had looked at.
"There?" I said.
Intently watchful of me, he replied (but without sound), "Yes."
"My good fellow, what should I do there? However, be that as it
may, I never was there, you may swear."
"I think I may," he rejoined. "Yes; I am sure I may."
His manner cleared, like my own. He replied to my remarks with
readiness, and in well-chosen words. Had he much to do there?
Yes; that was to say, he had enough responsibility to bear; but
exactness and watchfulness were what was required of him, and of
actual work--manual labor--he had next to none. To change that
signal, to trim those lights, and to turn this iron handle now and
then, was all he had to do under that head. Regarding those many
long and lonely hours of which I seemed to make so much, he could
only say that the routine of his life had shaped itself into that
form, and he had grown used to it. He had taught himself a
language down here,--if only to know it by sight, and to have
formed his own crude ideas of its pronunciation, could be called
learning it. He had also worked at fractions and decimals, and
tried a little algebra; but he was, and had been as a boy, a poor
hand at figures. Was it necessary for him when on duty always to
remain in that channel of damp air, and could he never rise into
the sunshine from between those high stone walls? Why, that
depended upon times and circumstances. Under some conditions there
would be less upon the Line than under others, and the same held
good as to certain hours of the day and night. In bright weather,
he did choose occasions for getting a little above these lower
shadows; but, being at all times liable to be called by his
electric bell, and at such times listening for it with redoubled
anxiety, the relief was less than I would suppose.
He took me into his box, where there was a fire, a desk for an
official book in which he had to make certain entries, a
telegraphic instrument with its dial, face, and needles, and the
little bell of which he had spoken. On my trusting that he would
excuse the remark that he had been well educated, and (I hoped I
might say without offence) perhaps educated above that station, he
observed that instances of slight incongruity in such wise would
rarely be found wanting among large bodies of men; that he had
heard it was so in workhouses, in the police force, even in that
last desperate resource, the army; and that he knew it was so, more
or less, in any great railway staff. He had been, when young (if I
could believe it, sitting in that hut,--he scarcely could), a
student of natural philosophy, and had attended lectures; but he
had run wild, misused his opportunities, gone down, and never risen
again. He had no complaint to offer about that. He had made his
bed, and he lay upon it. It was far too late to make another.
All that I have here condensed he said in a quiet manner, with his
grave dark regards divided between me and the fire. He threw in
the word, "Sir," from time to time, and especially when he referred
to his youth,--as though to request me to understand that he
claimed to be nothing but what I found him. He was several times
interrupted by the little bell, and had to read off messages, and
send replies. Once he had to stand without the door, and display a
flag as a train passed, and make some verbal communication to the
driver. In the discharge of his duties, I observed him to be
remarkably exact and vigilant, breaking off his discourse at a
syllable, and remaining silent until what he had to do was done.
In a word, I should have set this man down as one of the safest of
men to be employed in that capacity, but for the circumstance that
while he was speaking to me he twice broke off with a fallen color,
turned his face towards the little bell when it did NOT ring,
opened the door of the hut (which was kept shut to exclude the
unhealthy damp), and looked out towards the red light near the
mouth of the tunnel. On both of those occasions, he came back to
the fire with the inexplicable air upon him which I had remarked,
without being able to define, when we were so far asunder.
Said I, when I rose to leave him, "You almost make me think that I
have met with a contented man."
(I am afraid I must acknowledge that I said it to lead him on.)
"I believe I used to be so," he rejoined, in the low voice in which
he had first spoken; "but I am troubled, sir, I am troubled."
He would have recalled the words if he could. He had said them,
however, and I took them up quickly.
"With what? What is your trouble?"
"It is very difficult to impart, sir. It is very, very difficult
to speak of. If ever you make me another visit, I will try to tell
"But I expressly intend to make you another visit. Say, when shall
"I go off early in the morning, and I shall be on again at ten to-
morrow night, sir."
"I will come at eleven."
He thanked me, and went out at the door with me. "I'll show my
white light, sir," he said, in his peculiar low voice, "till you
have found the way up. When you have found it, don't call out!
And when you are at the top, don't call out!"
His manner seemed to make the place strike colder to me, but I said
no more than, "Very well."
"And when you come down to-morrow night, don't call out! Let me
ask you a parting question. What made you cry, 'Halloa! Below
"Heaven knows," said I. "I cried something to that effect--"
"Not to that effect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them
"Admit those were the very words. I said them, no doubt, because I
saw you below."
"For no other reason?"
"What other reason could I possibly have?"
"You had no feeling that they were conveyed to you in any
He wished me good-night, and held up his light. I walked by the
side of the down Line of rails (with a very disagreeable sensation
of a train coming behind me) until I found the path. It was easier
to mount than to descend, and I got back to my inn without any
Punctual to my appointment, I placed my foot on the first notch of
the zigzag next night, as the distant clocks were striking eleven.
He was waiting for me at the bottom, with his white light on. "I
have not called out," I said, when we came close together; "may I
speak now?" "By all means, sir." "Good-night, then, and here's my
hand." "Good-night, sir, and here's mine." With that we walked
side by side to his box, entered it, closed the door, and sat down
by the fire.
"I have made up my mind, sir," he began, bending forward as soon as
we were seated, and speaking in a tone but a little above a
whisper, "that you shall not have to ask me twice what troubles me.
I took you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me."
"No. That some one else."
"Who is it?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know. I never saw the face. The left arm is across the
face, and the right arm is waved,--violently waved. This way."
I followed his action with my eyes, and it was the action of an arm
gesticulating, with the utmost passion and vehemence, "For God's
sake, clear the way!"
"One moonlight night," said the man, "I was sitting here, when I
heard a voice cry, 'Halloa! Below there!' I started up, looked
from that door, and saw this Someone else standing by the red light
near the tunnel, waving as I just now showed you. The voice seemed
hoarse with shouting, and it cried, 'Look out! Look out!' And
then attain, 'Halloa! Below there! Look out!' I caught up my
lamp, turned it on red, and ran towards the figure, calling,
'What's wrong? What has happened? Where?' It stood just outside
the blackness of the tunnel. I advanced so close upon it that I
wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up
at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when
it was gone."
"Into the tunnel?" said I.
"No. I ran on into the tunnel, five hundred yards. I stopped, and
held my lamp above my head, and saw the figures of the measured
distance, and saw the wet stains stealing down the walls and
trickling through the arch. I ran out again faster than I had run
in (for I had a mortal abhorrence of the place upon me), and I
looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up
the iron ladder to the gallery atop of it, and I came down again,
and ran back here. I telegraphed both ways, 'An alarm has been
given. Is anything wrong?' The answer came back, both ways, 'All
Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine, I
showed him how that this figure must be a deception of his sense of
sight; and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate
nerves that minister to the functions of the eye, were known to
have often troubled patients, some of whom had become conscious of
the nature of their affliction, and had even proved it by
experiments upon themselves. "As to an imaginary cry," said I, "do
but listen for a moment to the wind in this unnatural valley while
we speak so low, and to the wild harp it makes of the telegraph
That was all very well, he returned, after we had sat listening for
a while, and he ought to know something of the wind and the wires,--
he who so often passed long winter nights there, alone and
watching. But he would beg to remark that he had not finished.
I asked his pardon, and he slowly added these words, touching my
"Within six hours after the Appearance, the memorable accident on
this Line happened, and within ten hours the dead and wounded were
brought along through the tunnel over the spot where the figure had
A disagreeable shudder crept over me, but I did my best against it.
It was not to be denied, I rejoined, that this was a remarkable
coincidence, calculated deeply to impress his mind. But it was
unquestionable that remarkable coincidences did continually occur,
and they must be taken into account in dealing with such a subject.
Though to be sure I must admit, I added (for I thought I saw that
he was going to bring the objection to bear upon me), men of common
sense did not allow much for coincidences in making the ordinary
calculations of life.
He again begged to remark that he had not finished.
I again begged his pardon for being betrayed into interruptions.
"This," he said, again laying his hand upon my arm, and glancing
over his shoulder with hollow eyes, "was just a year ago. Six or
seven months passed, and I had recovered from the surprise and
shock, when one morning, as the day was breaking, I, standing at
the door, looked towards the red light, and saw the spectre again."
He stopped, with a fixed look at me.
"Did it cry out?"
"No. It was silent."
"Did it wave its arm?"
"No. It leaned against the shaft of the light, with both hands
before the face. Like this."
Once more I followed his action with my eyes. It was an action of
mourning. I have seen such an attitude in stone figures on tombs.
"Did you go up to it?"
"I came in and sat down, partly to collect my thoughts, partly
because it had turned me faint. When I went to the door again,
daylight was above me, and the ghost was gone."
"But nothing followed? Nothing came of this?"
He touched me on the arm with his forefinger twice or thrice giving
a ghastly nod each time:-
"That very day, as a train came out of the tunnel, I noticed, at a
carriage window on my side, what looked like a confusion of hands
and heads, and something waved. I saw it just in time to signal
the driver, Stop! He shut off, and put his brake on, but the train
drifted past here a hundred and fifty yards or more. I ran after
it, and, as I went along, heard terrible screams and cries. A
beautiful young lady had died instantaneously in one of the
compartments, and was brought in here, and laid down on this floor
Involuntarily I pushed my chair back, as I looked from the boards
at which he pointed to himself.
"True, sir. True. Precisely as it happened, so I tell it you."
I could think of nothing to say, to any purpose, and my mouth was
very dry. The wind and the wires took up the story with a long
He resumed. "Now, sir, mark this, and judge how my mind is
troubled. The spectre came back a week ago. Ever since, it has
been there, now and again, by fits and starts."
"At the light?"
"At the Danger-light."
"What does it seem to do?"
He repeated, if possible with increased passion and vehemence, that
former gesticulation of, "For God's sake, clear the way!"
Then he went on. "I have no peace or rest for it. It calls to me,
for many minutes together, in an agonised manner, 'Below there!
Look out! Look out!' It stands waving to me. It rings my little
I caught at that. "Did it ring your bell yesterday evening when I
was here, and you went to the door?"
"Why, see," said I, "how your imagination misleads you. My eyes
were on the bell, and my ears were open to the bell, and if I am a
living man, it did NOT ring at those times. No, nor at any other
time, except when it was rung in the natural course of physical
things by the station communicating with you."
He shook his head. "I have never made a mistake as to that yet,
sir. I have never confused the spectre's ring with the man's. The
ghost's ring is a strange vibration in the bell that it derives
from nothing else, and I have not asserted that the bell stirs to
the eye. I don't wonder that you failed to hear it. But I heard
"And did the spectre seem to be there, when you looked out?"
"It WAS there."
He repeated firmly: "Both times."
"Will you come to the door with me, and look for it now?"
He bit his under lip as though he were somewhat unwilling, but
arose. I opened the door, and stood on the step, while he stood in
the doorway. There was the Danger-light. There was the dismal
mouth of the tunnel. There were the high, wet stone walls of the
cutting. There were the stars above them.
"Do you see it?" I asked him, taking particular note of his face.
His eyes were prominent and strained, but not very much more so,
perhaps, than my own had been when I had directed them earnestly
towards the same spot.
"No," he answered. "It is not there."
"Agreed," said I.
We went in again, shut the door, and resumed our seats. I was
thinking how best to improve this advantage, if it might be called
one, when he took up the conversation in such a matter-of-course
way, so assuming that there could be no serious question of fact
between us, that I felt myself placed in the weakest of positions.
"By this time you will fully understand, sir," he said, "that what
troubles me so dreadfully is the question, What does the spectre
I was not sure, I told him, that I did fully understand.
"What is its warning against?" he said, ruminating, with his eyes
on the fire, and only by times turning them on me. "What is the
danger? Where is the danger? There is danger overhanging
somewhere on the Line. Some dreadful calamity will happen. It is
not to be doubted this third time, after what has gone before. But
surely this is a cruel haunting of ME. What can I do?"
He pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped the drops from his heated
"If I telegraph Danger, on either side of me, or on both, I can
give no reason for it," he went on, wiping the palms of his hands.
"I should get into trouble, and do no good. They would think I was
mad. This is the way it would work,--Message: 'Danger! Take
care!' Answer: 'What Danger? Where?' Message: 'Don't know.
But, for God's sake, take care!' They would displace me. What
else could they do?"
His pain of mind was most pitiable to see. It was the mental
torture of a conscientious man, oppressed beyond endurance by an
unintelligible responsibility involving life.
"When it first stood under the Danger-light," he went on, putting
his dark hair back from his head, and drawing his hands outward
across and across his temples in an extremity of feverish distress,
"why not tell me where that accident was to happen,--if it must
happen? Why not tell me how it could be averted,--if it could have
been averted? When on its second coming it hid its face, why not
tell me, instead, 'She is going to die. Let them keep her at
home'? If it came, on those two occasions, only to show me that
its warnings were true, and so to prepare me for the third, why not
warn me plainly now? And I, Lord help me! A mere poor signal-man
on this solitary station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be
believed, and power to act?"
When I saw him in this state, I saw that for the poor man's sake,
as well as for the public safety, what I had to do for the time was
to compose his mind. Therefore, setting aside all question of
reality or unreality between us, I represented to him that whoever
thoroughly discharged his duty must do well, and that at least it
was his comfort that he understood his duty, though he did not
understand these confounding Appearances. In this effort I
succeeded far better than in the attempt to reason him out of his
conviction. He became calm; the occupations incidental to his post
as the night advanced began to make larger demands on his
attention: and I left him at two in the morning. I had offered to
stay through the night, but he would not hear of it.
That I more than once looked back at the red light as I ascended
the pathway, that I did not like the red light, and that I should
have slept but poorly if my bed had been under it, I see no reason
to conceal. Nor did I like the two sequences of the accident and
the dead girl. I see no reason to conceal that either.
But what ran most in my thoughts was the consideration how ought I
to act, having become the recipient of this disclosure? I had
proved the man to be intelligent, vigilant, painstaking, and exact;
but how long might he remain so, in his state of mind? Though in a
subordinate position, still he held a most important trust, and
would I (for instance) like to stake my own life on the chances of
his continuing to execute it with precision?
Unable to overcome a feeling that there would be something
treacherous in my communicating what he had told me to his
superiors in the Company, without first being plain with himself
and proposing a middle course to him, I ultimately resolved to
offer to accompany him (otherwise keeping his secret for the
present) to the wisest medical practitioner we could hear of in
those parts, and to take his opinion. A change in his time of duty
would come round next night, he had apprised me, and he would be
off an hour or two after sunrise, and on again soon after sunset.
I had appointed to return accordingly.
Next evening was a lovely evening, and I walked out early to enjoy
it. The sun was not yet quite down when I traversed the field-path
near the top of the deep cutting. I would extend my walk for an
hour, I said to myself, half an hour on and half an hour back, and
it would then be time to go to my signal-man's box.
Before pursuing my stroll, I stepped to the brink, and mechanically
looked down, from the point from which I had first seen him. I
cannot describe the thrill that seized upon me, when, close at the
mouth of the tunnel, I saw the appearance of a man, with his left
sleeve across his eyes, passionately waving his right arm.
The nameless horror that oppressed me passed in a moment, for in a
moment I saw that this appearance of a man was a man indeed, and
that there was a little group of other men, standing at a short
distance, to whom he seemed to be rehearsing the gesture he made.
The Danger-light was not yet lighted. Against its shaft, a little
low hut, entirely new to me, had been made of some wooden supports
and tarpaulin. It looked no bigger than a bed.
With an irresistible sense that something was wrong,--with a
flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my
leaving the man there, and causing no one to be sent to overlook or
correct what he did,--I descended the notched path with all the
speed I could make.
"What is the matter?" I asked the men.
"Signal-man killed this morning, sir."
"Not the man belonging to that box?"
"Not the man I know?"
"You will recognise him, sir, if you knew him," said the man who
spoke for the others, solemnly uncovering his own head, and raising
an end of the tarpaulin, "for his face is quite composed."
"Oh, how did this happen, how did this happen?" I asked, turning
from one to another as the hut closed in again.
"He was cut down by an engine, sir. No man in England knew his
work better. But somehow he was not clear of the outer rail. It
was just at broad day. He had struck the light, and had the lamp
in his hand. As the engine came out of the tunnel, his back was
towards her, and she cut him down. That man drove her, and was
showing how it happened. Show the gentleman, Tom."
The man, who wore a rough dark dress, stepped back to his former
place at the mouth of the tunnel.
"Coming round the curve in the tunnel, sir," he said, "I saw him at
the end, like as if I saw him down a perspective-glass. There was
no time to check speed, and I knew him to be very careful. As he
didn't seem to take heed of the whistle, I shut it off when we were
running down upon him, and called to him as loud as I could call."
"What did you say?"
"I said, 'Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake, clear
"Ah! it was a dreadful time, sir. I never left off calling to him.
I put this arm before my eyes not to see, and I waved this arm to
the last; but it was no use."
Without prolonging the narrative to dwell on any one of its curious
circumstances more than on any other, I may, in closing it, point
out the coincidence that the warning of the Engine-Driver included,
not only the words which the unfortunate Signal-man had repeated to
me as haunting him, but also the words which I myself--not he--had
attached, and that only in my own mind, to the gesticulation he had