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A Tragedy in Black and White and Other Stories

[My Ghost]

Before I begin my narrative, allow me to state that by “My Ghost” I do not mean the spirit of myself, Adolphus Rawson to wit; but simply that I look upon him, i.e, the ghost, as in some sort my property; partly by virtue of the great interest I take in him, the only apparition with which I have even a bowing acquaintance; and partly because the sceptics to whom I have hitherto narrated my moving tale, have flatly declined to believe that he is a ghost at all, and consequently impugn my honour as well as his. I am writing this in hopes that there may yet be in this world a few faithful minds, who do not scoff at everything outside their own, often very limited, experiences.

Perhaps I may be excused for giving a few particulars about myself, and the circumstances which led to my making friends with that affable spirit.

My name, as I incidentally mentioned before, is Adolphus Rawson, familiarly known as Dolly; indeed, at school I was called Miss Dolly, in tribute, I believe, to my almost girlish refinement of mind and manner. After leaving school, I was sent to one of our great Universities, where, eschewing the light and frivolous amusements of other young men, I passed a quiet and, as I fondly trust, a creditable existence for two years. I then returned to the paternal roof, and it was at this period of my life that two events happened which coloured my whole future: I learnt to believe in ghosts, and I fell in love. As to the ghosts, we Rawsons are a very old country family and have a ghost page 79 of our own, which, however, I have never seen, though I have sat up to all hours in hopes that the ancestral spectre would make its appearance. It never did, but I am convinced I heard it once or twice. It was autumn when I went home, and the days which were wasted by my father and elder brothers in shooting the poor little birds and in other cruel sports (?) were spent by me in poring over musty parchments and authentic records of ghostly doings, insomuch that I became, so to speak, saturated with spirits.

It was then, also, that I first saw Anna Maria and felt the smart of the blind god's arrow. Space fails me to tell of the agonies of doubt and uncertainty I suffered, or of the rapture with which I at length heard her coyly bid me “ask Pa.” I did so, and her respected progenitor, whose name, by-the-way, was Pettigrew, gave us his blessing. When, however, I requested the consent of my own parent, I regret to say that his refusal was very decided. Perhaps the moment was inauspicious. It was about the time of year when sportsmen pursue the playful fox, and my father had just returned from hunting, having lamed his favourite horse, and had what is, I believe, called a blank day (I am not quite sure about these technical terms). At dinner, the soup was smoked, the saddle of mutton burnt to a cinder, and the first bottle of wine corked; so, doubtiess, it would have been more judicious had I deferred the discussion of my matrimonial projects. But youthful love is ever ardent, and burning with impatience I plunged into my subject. It is painful to have to record such a thing of the author of one's being, but my father burst into a furious rage, and after storming for about ten minutes, ended by declaring that no son of his should marry a confounded confectioner's daughter. I could not bear to hear my Popsy thus spoken of, so I left the room.

Next day I endeavoured to combat his decision, told him that birth was a mere accident, and quoted the Laureate's beautiful lines, which indeed I had learnt for the purpose, to the effect that “kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.” I wept, I implored. I added that though Mr. Pettigrew certainly was engaged in the toothsome trade of making tarts, yet Anna Maria was, page 80 as she herself had once said, “Quite the lady.” It was all in vain. I was obliged to tell my charmer that there were at present, obstacles to our union. I obtained from her a promise of everlasting constancy and a photograph, and then, vowing to be true, I left her. When I reached home, papa informed me that he was going to send me to New Zealand, where a cousin of mine had a small sheep run. He said: “If you rough it under George for a year or two, you may get some of this nonsense knocked out of you.” I yielded perforce to this sentence of exile, but mentally vowed that no amount of roughing it should efface her image from my heart.

So, a week later, I found myself on the ocean. The other passengers were uncongenial, and I spent most of my time writing to Anna Maria. One letter I placed in a bottle carefully sealed, which was then dropped overboard. There was slight prospect of its ever reaching her for whom it was intended, but I pictured to myself my poppet's delight if my little waif should by chance meet her eye.

It was shortly after Christmas when I landed in New Zealand. Resisting all the gay attractions of the city where I first arrived, I hastened at once to my cousin's station, which was at some distance, situated among high hills. On presenting myself, George, though greatly surprised, gave me a hearty welcome, and as he was a genial fellow, I soon put him in possession of the facts of my case. When I spoke to him of Anna Maria, the tears filled my eyes, and George turned aside to hide his emotion. In his bluff way he endeavoured to console me, saying that he knew what it was like and that I should get over it, he had done so himself. Secretly I did not agree with him; his mind is of a coarser, harder fibre than mine; there are depths in my nature which such as he can never fathom, but he meant well, and I thanked him for his uncouth sympathy. On the whole, we get on very well together. There are one or two points in his conduct that I could wish altered; he will smoke strong tobacco, the fumes of which make me cough; he drinks cold whiskey and water, a loathsome beverage; and he does not believe in ghosts.

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The first time we spoke on the subject, I was in a very chatty, confidential mood. I had told George for the twentieth time about my love affairs, and described the charms of my enslaver; nay, I had even shown him her photograph. But he was in an unreceptive state of mind, sighed heavily and seemed so depressed, that, but for the unlikelihood of such a thing, I could almost have fancied he was bored. So gradually a deep silence fell between us, and I was idly watching him fill his glass, when some unaccountable influence forced me to say: “George, do you believe in ghosts?”

“No,” he answered shortly. “Do you?”

I solemnly replied in the affirmative. He stared at me through the clouds of tobacco smoke, and slowly said: “Well, of all the—— Did you ever see one?”

“No,” I said, “unfortunately never. But I've read”—and then I hurled my whole stock of ghostly lore at him. He listened more attentively than he usually did to me, and, when I had finished, remarked; “Some of those stories are certainly curious, but seeing is believing, you know, and I don't think anything less than personal experience will convince me. Now, you firmly believe in ghosts on hearsay, eh?”

“Yes,” I answered enthusiastically, “I do: and I would go to the stake for my belief.”

“Nobody wants you to do that,” said my cousin coldly. “Well, I hope for your sake you will see one some day. For my part, they seem to be rather kittle cattle at the best of times, and I don't care if I never make their acquaintance.”

This conversation took place a day or two after I arrived, and next evening we talked again of ghosts. My cousin seemed interested, and I was quite in hopes of converting him to a belief in spirits. One night, after our late meal of tea, chops, and damper, he announced his intention of spending the evening with a friend who lived about four miles away.

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“Very likely I shall not return till late,” he said. “You won't mind keeping house, I suppose. Perhaps you'll have a ghostly visitor; just about Christmas is a great time for them, isn't it?”

I smiled pityingly at his rude banter; but, looked at in the light of after events, his words were almost prophetic. I watched him as he strode in the direction of the stable till he disappeared. Then I went into the house, and leaving the door open, as it was a warm night, sat down and began a letter to Anna Maria. So engrossed was I in this pleasing task that I did not notice the flight of time, till I was roused by a cold blast striking down my neck. I looked up. The clock was pointing to ten minutes to twelve. The night had changed, and through the open door I saw heavy clouds rapidly covering the sky, and gusts of wind moaned fitfully among the fir-trees at the back of the house. Quickly I shut and locked the door. I ought to explain that our domicile consists of four rooms; the sitting-room with three doors, one leading on to the verandah, one into the kitchen, and one into George's bedroom. This last door, when I tried it, proved to be locked, and I could not see the key. I then went into the kitchen, and examined and fastened the doors and windows, and looked in every corner for fear there should be a cat concealed anywhere, as I have a morbid dread of that animal. None was there, however, and I went into my own room, which opened out of the kitchen. I mention this search so particularly, in order that the reader may understand that there was no living being, save myself, on the premises, and all means of egress and ingress were barred.

I stayed in my room some few minutes, and then returned to the sitting-room. As I passed through the dark kitchen, I fancied I smelt tobacco smoke, and as I drew near the door the scent became so strong as nearly to choke me. At the same time, I distinctly heard the ring of glass, and a sound as of the pouring out of liquor. Stealthily I crept to the door, and hardly daring to breathe, peered through the key-hole. What did I behold? Seated comfortably in my cousin's big armchair was a man. He was very tall and thin, quite cadaverous indeed; his hair page 83 was long and lank, and his eyes, deeply sunken beneath heavy brows, were supernaturally bright. He was cleanshaven, and appeared to be about forty years of age. He was smoking a pipe which I recognised as a favourite one of George's, and at his elbow stood a whiskey bottle, also belonging to my cousin. In one hand he held a half-emptied tumbler, while in the other—oh! sacrilege—was the photograph of my beloved, which I had left on the table.

At first, I give you my word of honour, I thought he was a human being like myself, and I was wondering how he had managed to get into the sitting-room, when a pungent whiff of smoke came through the key-hole and made me cough loudly. The stranger did not seem disturbed. He merely said, “Come in,” as though a violent fit of coughing were the usual mode of demanding admittance. I by no means wished to intrude upon him, but some mysterious force urged me forward, and in I went. The being looked up as I entered.

“Good evening, Mr. Rawson,” said he. “I am extremely glad to see you. Pray sit down.”

I obeyed him, my head whirling. My new friend continued: “You seem bewildered. Ah, of course! you do not know who I am. I will tell you. You believe in ghosts, do you not?”

I nodded feebly. Putting down his glass, he took the pipe out of his mouth, and leaning forward, said impressively: “I am a ghost!”

I tried to say I was very happy to hear it, but the truth was, I had never read of a ghost who smoked, drank, and wore rather “loud” check clothes of a slightly old-fashioned cut, and I scarcely believed him. I fear I showed my incredulity, for a shadow passed over his face, and he said:

“You evidently do not credit my assertion. Perhaps you have never seen a spirit like me. No doubt, if I had come clad in a shroud and clanking chains, I should appear more orthodox; but that costume is quite out of date, no page 84 really high-toned ghost would dream of going about in such a garb. However, I am willing to give you a proof of my spirituality. Have you such a thing as a pistol about you?”

Though somewhat startled at the request, I told him that my cousin always kept a loaded one in the room.

“Get it,” said the ghost, “and fire at me.”

I protested at the extreme inhospitality of such a measure, but the spectre scowled so fiercely that I did as I was bid, and fetched the pistol.

“Take a careful aim,” commanded the spirit, with an air of great enjoyment, “and don't smash the whiskey bottle.”

In fear and trembling I raised the weapon, took aim, and fired.

When I opened my eyes again, (I always close them when I let off firearms, as I have a great dislike to seeing any creature suffer), the ghost was leaning back, smiling.

“That was a good shot of yours,” said he, taking a gulp of whiskey and water. “If I had been a living man when you fired, I should certainly be a spirit by this time. Look here!” and unclasping his hand, which had been clenched against his breast, he showed me the bullet from the pistol.

“I simply stopped it,” he added carelessly. “Would you like to keep it as a curiosity?” politely handing it to me.

I was convinced. No mortal being could stop a pistol bullet without serious consequences to himself. My visitor must be a spirit, though certainly a substantial one, as he had said; it would be foolish to doubt any longer, so casting all my preconceived ideas to the winds, I determined to enjoy to the utmost the society of so unusual a guest.

“Now,” said the ghost seriously, “to business. You believe in me after that proof, do you not?”

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I assured him of my unwavering faith.

“Then would you mind writing down your experiences of to-night, together with the date, and signing your name?”

I complied with the request, and handed the document to the ghost, who folded it and put it in his waistcoat pocket with much satisfaction.

“Might I ask”—I began timidly—

“Certainly,” interrupted the spectre. “Just let me fill up my glass and get some more baccy. Don't you smoke?”

“Why, no,” I replied. “I consider smoking a most disgusting habit. At least,” I added hastily, “for some people.”

“Doesn't agree with you, p'raps,” said the ghost, with a loud laugh. “Don't you drink either? No. Well, you're young yet, and will learn better some day. Now, I'll tell you why I came here this evening. You must know that when a man dies, he becomes a ghost; but if, during his earthly life, he has doubted the existence of spirits, he is shut out from all the privileges of regular ghostship until he can persuade some living person to believe in him, and to give him a written acknowledgment to that effect. Armed with this, he goes to a certain well-known “Society for the Supervision of Spirits and the Suppression of Pseudo-Spectres,” and exchanges this acknowledgment for a proper certificate; then he is a full-blown ghost. I assure you it is considered a great rise in life, and I am exceedingly grateful to you for your valuable assistance. I shall never forget your kindness, and if at any time I can be of use to you, command me.”

Such was his affability that he absolutely winked, at the same moment replenishing his glass for the third time.

“You see,” he continued, “the vagrant ghosts are only allowed to show themselves at stated times, and they spend the intervals in hunting for a human being credulous enough to take up their cause; and, owing to the fearful scepticism of the age, such people are growing scarcer every day. I have long had my eye on you”—here I could not page 86 restrain a shudder—“and the more I saw of you, the more I esteemed your simple child-like nature. Your cousin is a rank unbeliever, is he not?”

“I fear so,” I answered. “But I shall tell him about you, and perhaps that will convince him.”

“It ought to,” said the spectre. “But he's a stubborn fellow. Never mind, one consolation is, he'll have a hard time of it when he's a ghost himself.”

The apparition chuckled with joyful anticipation, and filled his pipe again from George's tobacco jar.

“Ah!” he went on, taking a long pull at his pipe, with an air of placid bliss, “we have an old fellow with us, whose creed is, ‘Wine, Woman, and Song.’ He never knew the charms of the weed, or he would have added that to the list, and maybe struck out ‘Woman.’ That wouldn't suit you though, would it?” he added, looking at the photo of Anna Maria, which was still on the table. “I see you have a fine girl there. Sly dog! Sly dog!”

Here the ghost winked again, and I think was going to poke me in the ribs, but I drew back; I could not bear jesting on that subject, even from a spirit. So I endeavoured to turn the conversation back to ghostly matters. But the spectre, who seemed very full of spirits, (N.B.—This looks like a pun, but it isn't one really; I object to puns on principle), declined to enlighten me any farther.

“No, no!” he said, “I'm sick of ghosts. Let's have a song.” And without more ado, he struck up a lively ditty of a decidedly Bacchanalian character. In the middle of the second verse he stopped and held up his hand. The sharp sound of a horse trotting quickly up the road was distinctly audible.

“I expect it is my cousin returning,” I said.

“Your cousin,” exclaimed the ghost, tossing off what remained of the liquor in his tumbler. “Then I must be off. Well! I haven't had such a pleasant evening for a long time. I'm really quite sorry to leave you, but it would never do for your cousin to find me here. Are you sure it is he?”

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“I'll look,” I replied; and unlocking the front door, I stepped on to the verandah and gazed into the darkness. Rain had fallen, but a watery moon was now feebly struggling through the clouds. I could not see my cousin, but I heard him whistling as he approached the house.

“Yes,” I said, without turning, “it is George. I do wish, though, that you would stop and see him.”

But there was no answer, save a faint echo of the word “Farewell.”

Wheeling swiftly round, I looked into the sitting-room. It was empty. I rushed through into the kitchen, thence into my room. All was dark and blank. The spectre had vanished, melted into thin air. I was sorry that he had taken the opportunity of my back being turned, to melt, as I should like to have seen how he did it; but regrets were vain. He had gone, and but for the thick haze of smoke and a perceptible odour of whiskey in the room, I might have fancied I had dreamt him. Just then George appeared, wet through and rather cross, having been caught in the rain.

“Hullo! you up still,” was his salutation. “Been making a night of it apparently,” he added, sniffing suspiciously. “I thought you didn't smoke.”

“It wasn't I,” I hastened to assure him. “It was the spirit.”

“Hm! so I should say,” he rejoined grimly. “Why, that bottle was nearly full when I left.”

“I mean the ghost.” I explained.

“Ghost! what ghost? You're drunk, man.”

“I am not drunk,” I retorted indignantly: “I tell you there's been a ghost sitting in your chair, smoking your tobacco and—”

“Then, where is he now?”

“He melted when he heard you coming.”

“Best thing he could do after drinking all my whiskey. However, ghost or no ghost, I must go and change. Did page 88 you notice that my door was locked?” he asked, drawing the key from his pocket. “No slur on you, old fellow, but the last man who lived with me was a kleptomaniac, and I got into the way of always fastening my door.”

He went into his room, whence he presently emerged in a dry suit of clothes, saying, as he rummaged among the things on the mantelpiece:

“Now, I'll just have one smoke before bed, and you can tell me about your ghost. Where's my pipe gone to, I wonder”

“I'm afraid,” I answered humbly, for I was beginning to feel the responsibilities of entertaining spectres, “that the ghost must have forgotten to leave it behind. He was using it, you know.”

“Confound your ghosts,” said George irritably. “This is getting beyond a joke. Just tell me what you mean.”

So I gave him a full account of my adventure, he gazing steadily at me all the time. When I had finished, he remarked:

“Well, Dolly, you are, without exception, the biggest ass I ever met.”

I began to protest against this language, which I considered stronger than the occasion warranted; but George, who appeared to be in a very bad temper, turned abruptly away, saying that we had better go to bed, and discuss the subject in the morning.

Accordingly, next day, we argued the matter coolly, indeed we have often returned to it since, but to no purpose. I maintain, and always shall maintain, that “My Ghost” was a bonâ fide apparition; while my cousin persists in repeating his original unflattering remark.

However, he has introduced to me a friend of his named Maitland—a most superior mind—who fully shares my views on ghostly matters, and considers my experience as the most remarkable one on record. By-the-way, this Mr. Maitland bears a most extraordinary resemblance to my spectral visitor. So strong is the likeness, that I was page 89 fairly staggered by it. I told him about it, and he was much interested and pleased, saying that it confirms a theory of his; namely, that every human being has, somewhere or other, an exact facsimile or double; and that evidently the ghost who appeared to me was his (Maitland's) “twin-soul.” It is a most striking and original theory, and I shall devote myself to tracing it out and proving the truth of it to the best of my ability.

One word more. It is chiefly due to Maitland's earnest advice that I am writing out this slight account of my strange adventure. I am further emboldened to do so by feeling quite confident that no one can read this “ower true tale” without being instantly converted, if a sceptic, (I need scarcely say my cousin George is hopelessly prejudiced), or strengthened in his opinions, if already a believer, by the perusal of so marvellous a story.