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

REAL GHOST STORIES by William T. Stead


"And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she ran in and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel (or double)."--Acts xil. 13-15.

Chapter I. Aerial Journeyings.

I began to write this in the autumn of 1891 in a small country-house among the Surrey hills, whither I had retreated in order to find undisturbed leisure in which to arrange my ideas and array my facts. It was a pleasant place enough, perched on the brow of a heath-covered slope that dipped down to a ravine, at the head of which stands Professor Tyndall's house with its famous screen. Hardly a mile away northward lies the Devil's Punch Bowl, with its memorial stone erected in abhorrence of the detestable murder perpetrated on its rim by ruffians whose corpses slowly rotted as they swung on the gibbet overhead; far to the south spreads the glorious amphitheatre of hills which constitute the Highlands of the South.

The Portsmouth road, along which for hundreds of years rolled to and fro the tide of martial life between London and the great Sea Gate of the Realm, lies near by, silent and almost disused. Mr. Balfour's land, on the brow of Hindhead, is enclosed but not yet built upon, although a whole archipelago of cottages and villas is springing up amid the heather as the ground slopes towards Selborne--White's Selborne--that can dimly be descried to the westward beyond Liphook Common. Memories there are, enough and to spare, of the famous days of old, and of the not less famous men of our own time; but the ghosts have fled. "There used to be a ghost in the mill," said my driver, "and another in a comparatively new house over in Lord Tennyson's direction, but we hear nothing about them now." "Not even at the Murder Stone of the Devil's Punch Bowl?" "Not even at the Murder Stone. I have driven past it at all hours, and never saw anything--but the stone, of course."

Yet a more suitable spot for a ghost could hardly be conceived than the rim of the Devil's Punch Bowl, where the sailor was murdered, and where afterwards his murderers were hanged. I visited it late at night, when the young moon was beginning to struggle through the cloudy sky, and looked down into the ravine which Cobbett declared was the most horrid place God ever made; but no sign of ghostly visitant could be caught among the bracken, no sound of the dead voices was audible in the air. It is the way with ghosts--they seldom appear where they might be looked for. It is the unexpected in the world of shadows, as in the workaday world, which always happens.

Of this I had soon a very curious illustration. For, although there were no ghosts in the Devil's Punch Bowl by the Murder Stone, I found that there had been a ghost in the trim new little villa in which I was quartered! It didn't appear to me--at least, it has not done so as yet. But it appeared to some friends of mine whose statement is explicit enough. Here was a find indeed. I spent most of my boyhood within a mile of the famous haunted house or mill at Willington, but I had never slept before in a place which ghosts used as a trysting place. I asked my hostess about it. She replied, "Yes, it is quite true; but, although you may not believe it, I am the ghost." "You? How?" "Yes," she replied, quite seriously; "it is quite true what your friends have told you. They did see what you would correctly describe as an apparition. That is to say, they saw a more or less shadowy figure, which they at once identified, and which then gradually faded away. It was an apparition in the true sense of the word. It entered the room without using the door or window, it was visibly manifested before them, and then it vanished. All that is quite true. But it is also true that the ghost, as you call it, was my ghost." "Your ghost, but----" "I am not dead, you are going to say. Precisely. But surely you must be well aware of the fact that the ghosts of the living are much better authenticated than ghosts of the dead."