I am not a believer in ghosts in general; I see no good in them. They come
-- that is, are reported to come -- so irrelevantly, purposelessly -- so
ridiculously, in short -- that one's common sense as regards this world,
one's supernatural sense of the other, are alike revolted. Then nine out
often 'capital ghost stories' are so easily accounted for; and in the tenth,
when all natural explanation fails, one who has discovered the extraordinary
difficulty there is in all society in getting hold of that very slippery
article called a fact, is strongly inclined to shake a dubious head,
ejaculating, 'Evidence! a question of evidence!'
But my unbelief springs from no dogged or contemptuous scepticism as to the
possibility -- however great the improbability -- of that strange impression
upon or communication to, spirit in matter, from spirit wholly
immaterialized, which is vulgarly called 'a ghost'. There is no credulity
more blind, no ignorance more childish, than that of the sage who tries to
measure 'heaven and earth and the things under the earth', with the small
two-foot-rule of his own brains. Dare we presume to argue concerning any
mystery of the universe, 'It is inexplicable, and therefore impossible'?
Premising these opinions, though simply as opinions, I am about to relate
what I must confess is to me a thorough ghost story; its external and
circumstantial evidence being indisputable, while its psychological causes
and results, though not easy of explanation, are still more difficult to be
explained away. The ghost, like Hamlet's, was 'an honest ghost'. From her
daughter -- an old lady, who, bless her good and gentle memory! has since
learned the secrets of all things -- I learnt this veritable tale.
'My dear,' said Mrs MacArthur to me -- it was in the early days of
table-moving, when young folk ridiculed and elder folk were shocked at the
notion of calling up one's departed ancestors into one's dinner-table, and
learning the wonders of the angelic world by the bobbings of a hat or the
twirlings of a plate; -- 'My dear,' continued the old lady, 'I do not like
playing at ghosts.'
'Why not. Do you believe in them?'
'Did you ever see one?'
'Never. But once I heard --'
She looked serious, as if she hardly liked to speak about it, either from a
sense of awe or from fear of ridicule. But no one could have laughed at any
illusions of the gentle old lady, who never uttered a harsh or satirical
word to a living soul; and this evident awe was rather remarkable in one who
had a large stock of common sense, little wonder, and no ideality.
I was rather curious to hear MacArthur's ghost story.
'My dear, it was a long time ago, so long that you may fancy I forget and
confuse the circumstances. But I do not. Sometimes I think one recollects
more clearly things that happened in one's teens -- I was eighteen that year
-- than a great many nearer events. And besides, I had other reasons for
remembering vividly everything belonging to this time, -- for I was in love,
you must know.'
She looked at me with a mild, deprecating smile, as if hoping my
youthfulness would not consider the thing so very impossible or ridiculous.
No; I was all interest at once.
'In love with Mr MacArthur,' I said, scarcely as a question, being at that
Arcadian time of life when one takes as a natural necessity, and believes as
an undoubted truth, that everybody marries his or her first love.
'No, my dear; not with Mr MacArthur.'
I was so astonished, so completely dumb-foundered -- for I had woven a sort
of ideal round my good old friend -- that I suffered Mrs MacArthur to knit
in silence for full five minutes. My surprise was not lessened when she
said, with a little smile --
'He was a young gentleman of good parts; and he was very fond of me. Proud,
too, rather. For though you might not think it, my dear, I was actually a
beauty in those days.'
I had very little doubt of it. The slight lithe figure, the tiny hands and
feet, -- if you had walked behind Mrs MacArthur you might have taken her for
a young woman still. Certainly, people lived slower and easier in the last
generation than in ours.
'Yes, I was the beauty of Bath. Mr Everest fell in love with me there. I was
much gratified; for I had just been reading Miss Burney's Cecilia, and I
thought him exactly like Mortimer Delvil. A very pretty tale, Cecilia; did
you ever read it?'
'No.' And, to arrive at her tale, I leaped to the only conclusion which
could reconcile the two facts of her having had a lover named Everest, and
being now Mrs MacArthur. 'Was it his ghost you saw?'
'No, my dear, no; thank goodness, he is alive still. He calls here
sometimes; he has been a good friend to our family. Ah!' with a slow shake
of the head, half pleased, half pensive, 'you would hardly believe, my dear,
what a very pretty fellow he was.'
One could scarcely smile at the odd phrase, pertaining to last-century
novels and to the loves of our great-grandmothers. I listened patiently to
the wandering reminiscences which still further delayed the ghost-story.
'But, Mrs MacArthur, was it in Bath that you saw or heard what I think you
were going to tell me? The ghost, you know?'
'Don't call it that; it sounds as if you were laughing at it. And you must
not, for it is really true; as true as that I sit here, an old lady of
seventy-five; and that then I was a young gentlewoman of eighteen. Nay, my
dear, I will tell you all about it.'
'We had been staying in London, my father and mother, Mr Everest, and I. He
had persuaded them to take me; he wanted to show me a little of the world,
though it was but a narrow world, my dear -- for he was a law student,
living poorly and working hard. He took lodgings for us near the Temple; in
C---- street, the last house there, looking on to the river. He was very
fond of the river; and often of evenings, when his work was too heavy to let
him take us to Ranelagh or to the play, he used to walk with my father and
mother and me, up and down the Temple Gardens. Were you ever in the Temple
Gardens? It is a pretty place now -- a quiet, grey nook in the midst of
noise and bustle; the stars look wonderful through those great trees; but
still it is not like what it was then, when I was a girl.'
Ah! no; impossible.
'It was in the Temple Gardens, my dear, that I remember we took our last
walk -- my mother, Mr Everest, and I -- before she went home to Bath. She
was very anxious and restless to go, being too delicate for London gaieties.
Besides, she had a large family at home, of which I was the eldest; and we
were anxiously expecting the youngest in a month or two. Nevertheless, my
dear mother had gone about with me, taken me to all the shows and sights
that I, a hearty and happy girl, longed to see, and entered into them with
almost as great enjoyment as my own.
'But tonight she was pale, rather grave, and steadfastly bent on returning
'We did all we could to persuade her to the contrary, for on the next night
but one was to have been the crowning treat of all our London pleasures: we
were to see Hamlet at Drury Lane, with John Kemble and Sarah Siddons! Think
of that, my dear. Ah! you have no such sights now. Even my grave father
longed to go, and urged in his mild way that we should put off our
departure. But my mother was determined.
'At last Mr Everest said -- (I could show you the very spot where he stood,
with the river -- it was high water -- lapping against the wall, and the
evening sun shining on the Southwark houses opposite.) He said -- it was
very wrong, of course, my dear; but then he was in love, and might be
'"Madam," said he, "it is the first time I ever knew you think of yourself
"'Pardon me, but would it not be possible for you to return home, leaving
behind, for two days only, Mr Thwaite and Mistress Dorothy?"
'"Leave them behind -- leave them behind!" She mused over the words. "What
say you, Dorothy?"
'I was silent. In very truth, I had never been parted from her in all my
life. It had never crossed my mind to wish to part from her, or to enjoy any
pleasure without her, till -- till within the last three months. "Mother,
don't suppose I
'But here I caught sight of Mr Everest, and stopped.
"'Pray continue. Mistress Dorothy."
'No, I could not. He looked so vexed, so hurt; and we had been so happy
together. Also, we might not meet again for years, for the journey between
London and Bath was then a serious one, even to lovers; and he worked very
hard -- had few pleasures in his life. It did indeed seem almost selfish of
'Though my lips said nothing, perhaps my sad eyes said only too much, and my
mother felt it.
'She walked with us a few yards, slowly and thoughtfully. I could see her
now, with her pale, tired face, under the cherry-coloured ribbons of her
hood. She had been very handsome as a young woman, and was most
sweet-looking still -- my dear, good mother!
"'Dorothy, we will no more discuss this. I am very sorry, but I must go
home. However, I will persuade your father to remain with you till the
week's end. Are you satisfied?"
'"No," was the first filial impulse of my heart; but Mr Everest pressed my
arm with such an entreating look, that almost against my will I answered
'Mr Everest overwhelmed my mother with his delight and gratitude. She walked
up and down for some time longer, leaning on his arm -- she was very fond of
him; then stood looking on the river, upwards and downwards.
"'I suppose this is my last walk in London. Thank you for all the care you
have taken of me. And when I am gone home -- mind, oh mind, Edmond, that you
take special care of Dorothy."
'These words, and the tone in which they were spoken, fixed themselves on my
mind -- first, from gratitude, not unmingled with regret, as if I had not
been so considerate to her as she to me; afterwards -- But we often err, my
dear, in dwelling too much on that word. We finite creatures have only to
deal with "now" -- nothing whatever to do with "afterwards". In this case, I
have ceased to blame myself or others. Whatever was, being past, was right
to be, and could not have been otherwise.
'My mother went home next morning, alone. We were to follow in a few days,
though she would not allow us to fix any time. Her departure was so hurried
that I remember nothing about it, save her answer to my father's urgent
desire -- almost command -- that if anything was amiss she would immediately
let him know.
'"Under all circumstances, wife," he reiterated, "this you promise?"
'Though when she was gone he declared she need not have said it so
earnestly, since we should be at home almost as soon as the slow Bath coach
could take her and bring us a letter. And besides, there was nothing likely
to happen. But he fidgeted a good deal, being unused to her absence in their
happy wedded life. He was, like most men, glad to blame anybody but himself;
and the whole day, and the next, was cross at intervals with both Edmond and
me; but we bore it -- and patiently.
'"It will be all right when we get him to the theatre. He has no real cause
for anxiety about her. What a dear woman she is, and a precious -- your
'I rejoiced to hear my lover speak thus, and thought there hardly ever was
young gentlewoman so blessed as I.
'We went to the play. Ah, you know nothing of what a play is, now-a-days.
You never saw John Kemble and Mrs Siddons. Though in dresses and shows it
was far inferior to the Hamlet you took me to see last week, my dear -- and
though I perfectly well remember being on the point of laughing when in the
most solemn scene, it became clearly evident that the Ghost had been
drinking. Strangely enough, no after events connected therewith -- nothing
subsequent ever drove from my mind the vivid impression of this my first
play. Strange, also, that the play should have been Hamlet. Do you think
that Shakespeare believed in -- in what people call "ghosts"?'
I could not say; but I thought Mrs MacArthur's ghost very long in coming.
'Don't, my dear -- don't; do anything but laugh at it.'
She was visibly affected, and it was not without an effort that she
proceeded in her story.
'I wish you to understand exactly my position that night -- a young girl,
her head full of the enchantment of the stage -- her heart of something not
less engrossing. Mr Everest had supped with us, leaving us both in the best
of spirits; indeed my father had gone to bed, laughing heartily at the
remembrance of the antics of Mr Grimaldi, which had almost obliterated the
queen and Hamlet from his memory, on which the ridiculous always took a far
stronger hold than the awful or sublime.
'I was sitting -- let me see -- at the window, chatting with my maid Patty,
who was brushing the powder out of my hair. The window was open half-way,
and looking out on the Thames; and the summer night being very warm and
starry, made it almost like sitting out of doors. There was none of the awe
given by the solitude of a midnight closed room, when every sound is
magnified, and every shadow seems alive.
'As I said, we had been chatting and laughing; for Patty and I were both
very young, and she had a sweetheart, too. She, like every one of our
household, was a warm admirer of Mr Everest. I had just been half scolding,
half smiling at her praises of him, when St Paul's great clock came booming
over the silent river.
'"Eleven," counted Patty. "Terrible late we be, Mistress Dorothy: not like
Bath hours, I reckon."
'"Mother will have been in bed an hour ago," said I, with a little
self-reproach at not having thought of her till now.
'The next minute my maid and I both started up with a simultaneous
'"Did you hear that?"
"'Yes, a bat flying against the window."
'"But the lattices are open, Mistress Dorothy."
'So they were; and there was no bird or bat or living thing about -- only
the quiet summer night, the river, and the stars.
'"I be certain sure I heard it. And I think it was like -- just a bit like
-- somebody tapping."
'"Nonsense, Patty!" But it had struck me thus -- though I said it was a bat.
It was exactly like the sound of fingers against a pane -- very soft, gentle
fingers, such as, in passing into her flower-garden, my mother used often to
tap outside the school-room casement at home.
"'I wonder, did father hear anything. It -- the bird, you know, Patty --
might have flown at his window, too?"
"'Oh, Mistress Dorothy!" Patty would not be deceived. I gave her the brush
to finish my hair, but her hand shook too much. I shut the window, and we
both sat down facing it.
'At that minute, distinct, clear, and unmistakable, like a person giving a
summons in passing by, we heard once more the tapping on the pane. But
nothing was seen; not a single shadow came between us and the open air, the
'Startled I was, and awed, but I was not frightened. The sound gave me even
an inexplicable delight. But I had hardly time to recognize my feelings,
still less to analyse them, when a loud cry came from my father's room.
"'Dolly, -- Dolly!"
'Now my mother and I had both one name, but he always gave her the
old-fashioned pet name -- I was invariably Dorothy. Still I did not pause to
think, but ran to his locked door, and answered.
'It was a long time before he took any notice, though I heard him talking to
himself, and moaning. He was subject to bad dreams, especially before his
attacks of gout. So my first alarm lightened. I stood listening, knocking at
intervals, until at last he replied.
'"What do'ee want, child?"
'"Is anything the matter, father?"
"'Nothing. Go to thy bed, Dorothy."
"'Did you not call? Do you want any one?"
"'Not thee. 0 Dolly, my poor Dolly,' -- and he seemed to be almost sobbing,
"Why did I let thee leave me!"
'"Father, you are not going to be ill? It is not the gout, is it?" (for that
was the time when he wanted my mother most, and indeed, when he was wholly
unmanageable by any one but her.)
'"Go away. Get to thy bed, girl; I don't want 'ee."
'I thought he was angry with me for having been in some sort the cause of
our delay, and retired very miserable. Patty and I sat up a good while
longer, discussing the dreary prospect of my father's having a fit of the
gout here in London lodgings, with only us to nurse him, and my mother away.
Our alarm was so great that we quite forgot the curious circumstance which
had first attracted us, till Patty spoke up, from her bed on the floor.
"'I hope master beant going to be very ill, and that -- you know -- came for
a warning. Do 'ee think it was a bird, Mistress Dorothy?"
'"Very likely. Now, Patty, let us go to sleep."
'But I did not, for all night I heard my father groaning at intervals. I was
certain it was the gout, and wished from the bottom of my heart that we had
gone home with mother.
'What was my surprise when, quite early, I heard him rise and go down, just
as if nothing was ailing him! I found him sitting at the breakfast-table in
his travelling coat, looking very haggard and miserable, but evidently bent
on a journey.
"'Father, you are not going to Bath?"
'"Yes, I be."
'"Not till the evening coach starts," I cried, alarmed. "We can't, you
'"I'll take a post-chaise, then. We must be off in an hour."
'An hour! The cruel pain of parting -- (my dear, I believe I used to feel
things keenly when I was young) -- shot through me -- through and through. A
single hour, and I should have said goodbye to Edmond -- one of those
heart-breaking farewells when we seem to leave half of our poor young life
behind us, forgetting that the only real parting is when there is no love
left to part from. A few years, and I wondered how I could have crept away
and wept in such intolerable agony at the mere bidding goodbye to Edmond --
Edmond, who loved me.
'Every minute seemed a day till he came in, as usual, to breakfast. My red
eyes and my father's corded trunk explained all.
"'Doctor Thwaite, you are not going?"
'"Yes, I be," repeated my father. He sat moodily leaning on the table --
would not taste his breakfast.
'"Not till the night coach, surely? I was to take you and Mistress Dorothy
to see Mr Benjamin West, the king's painter."
"'Let kings and painters alone lad; I be going home to my Dolly."
'Mr Everest used many arguments, gay and grave, upon which I hung with
earnest conviction and hope. He made things so clear always; he was a man of
much brighter parts than my father, and had great influence over him.
'"Dorothy," he whispered, "help me to persuade the Doctor. It is so little
time I beg for, only a few hours; and before so long a parting." Ay, longer
than he thought, or I.
'"Children," cried my father at last, "you are a couple of fools. Wait till
you have been married twenty years. I must go to my Dolly. I know there is
something amiss at home."
'I should have felt alarmed, but I saw Mr Everest smile; and besides, I was
yet glowing under his fond look, as my father spoke of our being "married
"'Father, you have surely no reason for thinking this? If you have, tell
'My father just lifted his head, and looked me woefully in the face.
'"Dorothy, last night, as sure as I see you now, I saw your mother."
'"Is that all?" cried Mr Everest, laughing; "why, my good sir, of course you
did; you were dreaming."
'"I had not gone to sleep."
"'How did you see her?"
"'Coming into the room just as she used to do in the bedroom at home, with
the candle in her hand and the baby asleep on her arm."
'"Did she speak?" asked Mr Everest, with another and rather satirical smile;
"remember, you saw Hamlet last night. Indeed, sir -- indeed, Dorothy -- it
was a mere dream. I do not believe in ghosts; it would be an insult to
common sense, to human wisdom -- nay, even to Divinity itself."
'Edmond spoke so earnestly, so justly, so affectionately, that perforce I
agreed; and even my father became to feel rather ashamed of his own
weakness. He, a physician, the head of a family, to yield to a mere
superstitious fancy, springing probably from a hot supper and an overexcited
brain! To the same cause Mr Everest attributed the other incident, which
somewhat hesitatingly I told him.
"'Dear, it was a bird; nothing but a bird. One flew in at my window last
spring; it had hurt itself, and I kept it, and nursed it, and petted it. It
was such a pretty, gentle little thing, it put me in mind of Dorothy."
'"Did it?" said I.
'"And at last it got well and flew away."
'"Ah! that was not like Dorothy."
'Thus, my father being persuaded, it was not hard to persuade me. We settled
to remain till evening. Edmond and I, with my maid Patty, went about
together, -- chiefly in Mr West's Gallery, and in the quiet shade of our
favourite Temple Gardens. And if for those four stolen hours, and the
sweetness in them, I afterwards suffered untold remorse and bitterness, I
have entirely forgiven myself, as I know my dear mother would have forgiven
me, long ago.'
Mrs MacArthur stopped, wiped her eyes, and then continued -- speaking more
in the matter-of-fact way that old people speak than she had been lately
'Well, my dear, where was I?'
'In the Temple Gardens.'
'Yes, yes. Well, we came home to dinner. My father always enjoyed his
dinner, and his nap afterwards; he had nearly recovered himself now: only
looked tired from loss of rest. Edmond and I sat in the window, watching the
barges and wherries down the Thames; there were no steam-boats then, you
'Some one knocked at the door with a message for my father, but he slept so
heavily he did not hear. Mr Everest went to see what it was; I stood at the
window. I remember mechanically watching the red sail of a Margate hoy that
was going down the river, and thinking with a sharp pang how dark the room
seemed, in a moment, with Edmond not there.
'Re-entering, after a somewhat long absence, he never looked at me, but went
straight to my father.
'"Sir, it is almost time for you to start" (oh! Edmond). "There is a coach
at the door; and, pardon me, but I think you should travel quickly."
'My father sprang to his feet.
'"Dear sir, indeed there is no need for anxiety now; but I have received
news. You have another little daughter, sir, and --"
"'Dolly, my Dolly!" Without another word my father rushed away without his
hat, leaped into the post-chaise that was waiting, and drove off
"'Edmond!" I gasped.
"'My poor little girl -- my own Dorothy!"
'By the tenderness of his embrace, not lover-like, but brotherlike -- by his
tears, for I could feel them on my neck -- I knew, as well as if he had told
me, that I should never see my dear mother any more.'
'She had died in childbirth,' continued the old lady after a long pause --
'died at night, at the very hour and minute when I had heard the tapping on
the window-pane, and my father had thought he saw her coming into his room
with a baby on her arm.'
'Was the baby dead, too?'
'They thought so then, but it afterwards revived.'
'What a strange story!'
'I do not ask you to believe in it. How and why and what it was I cannot
tell; I only know that it assuredly was so.'
'And Mr Everest?' I enquired, after some hesitation.
The old lady shook her head. 'Ah, my dear, you will soon learn how very,
very seldom one marries one's first love. After that day, I did not see Mr
Everest for twenty years.'
'How wrong -- how --'
'Don't blame him; it was not his fault. You see, after that time my father
took a prejudice against him -- not unnatural, perhaps; and she was not
there to make things straight. Besides, my own conscience was very sore, and
there were the six children at home, and the little baby had no mother: so
at last I made up my mind. I should have loved him just the same if we had
waited twenty years: but he could not see things so. Don't blame him -- my
dear -- don't blame him. It was as well, perhaps, as things turned out.'
'Did he marry?'
'Yes, after a few years; and loved his wife dearly. When I was about
one-and-thirty, I married Mr MacArthur. So neither of us was unhappy, you
see -- at least, not more so than most people; and we became sincere friends
afterwards. Mr and Mrs Everest come to see me, almost every Sunday. Why you
foolish child, you are not crying?'
Ay, I was -- but scarcely at the ghost story.