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REAL GHOST STORIES (Collected and Edited by William T. Stead) online

REAL GHOST STORIES by William T. Stead


Here, again, it could not possibly have been said that my premonition had any share in bringing about its realisation. It was not known by Mr. Ashton Dilke's most intimate friends in October that he would not be able to face another session. I did not even know that he was ill, and my vision, so far from being based on any calculation of Mr. Morley's chances of securing a seat in Parliament, was quite independent of all electoral changes. My vision, my message, my premonition, or whatever you please to call it, was strictly limited to one point, Mr. Morley only coming into it indirectly. I was to have charge of certain duties which necessitated his disappearance from Northumberland Street. Note also that my message did not say that I was to be _editor_ of the _Pall Mall Gazette_ on Mr. Morley's departure, nor was I ever in strict title editor of that paper. I edited it, but Mr. Yates Thompson was nominally editor-in-chief, nor did I ever admit that I was editor until I was in the dock at the Old Bailey, when it would have been cowardly to have seemed to evade the responsibility of a position which I practically occupied, although, as a matter of fact, the post was never really conferred upon me.

_My Imprisonment._

The third instance which I will quote is even more remarkable, and entirely precluded any possibility of my premonition having any influence whatever in bringing about its realization. During what is known as the Armstrong trial it became evident from the judge's ruling that a conviction must necessarily follow. I was accused of having conspired to take Eliza Armstrong from her parents without their consent. My defence was that her mother had sold the child through a neighbour for immoral purposes. I never alleged that the father had consented, and the judge ruled with unmistakable emphasis that her mother's consent, even if proved, was not sufficient. Here I may interpolate a remark to the effect that if Mrs. Armstrong had been asked to produce her marriage lines the sheet anchor of the prosecution would have given way, for long after the trial it was discovered that from a point of law Mr. Armstrong had no legal rights over Eliza, as she was born out of wedlock. The council in the case, however, said we had no right to suggest this, however much we suspected it, unless we were prepared with evidence to justify the suggestion. As at that time we could not find the register of marriage at Somerset House the question was not put, and we were condemned largely on the false assumption that her father had legal rights as custodian of his daughter. And this, as it happened, was not the case. This, however, by the way.

When the trial was drawing to a close, conviction being certain, the question was naturally discussed as to what the sentence would be. Many of my friends, including those actively engaged in the trial on both sides, were strongly of opinion that under the circumstances it was certain I should only be bound over in my own recognisance to come up for judgment when called for. The circumstances were almost unprecedented; the judge, and the Attorney-General, who prosecuted, had in the strongest manner asserted that they recognised the excellence of the motives which had led me to take the course which had landed me in the dock. The Attorney-General himself was perfectly aware that his Government could never have passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act--would never even have attempted to do so--but for what I had done. The jury had found me guilty, but strongly recommended me to mercy on the ground, as they said, that I had been deceived by my agent. The conviction was very general that no sentence of imprisonment would be inflicted.