Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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As published in The New York Albion, 4 February 1871

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-12-23

Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

I WAS seated in a comfortable compartment in a first-class railway carriage at London Bridge railway-station one 24th December. The weather was horribly cold, and the wind was very high. I had my evening paper already out by my side, and my Bradshaw was in my hand; but they were at present both unheeded, for my thoughts were far away down the line—forty miles down, to Nettleton, where I was going to spend my Christmas holidays with my uncle, Arthur Blucher, a few cousins, and Bessie Noland.

When I say that my uncle and cousins were second and third in my thoughts, I need hardly explain that Bessie was my sweetheart—rather an old-fashioned word, but I like to use it. I had won her after a courtship of twelve months; and I thought myself the happiest of young fellows and the luckiest of mankind.

I will not attempt to describe my Bessie, for that can only be done by photography. She was very pretty, very sensible, and beloved by everybody and adored by me. I had parted with her in the autumn; and although every week brought me a kind gentle letter from her, we had not met since saying good-bye at the Barmouth station, North Wales, when she went to stop at Nettleton, and I returned to grim old law in my chambers, New Inn, Lincoln's Inn.

How slowly the time dragged on, to be sure! There never could have been a windier or more cheerless October than in that year, never a duller or darker November. I could find no charm in the London theatres, in spite of the novelties produced. The newspapers were stupid, and the magazines barely readable. My friends, too, somehow or other, became wearisome. Johnson's puns fell flat; Robinson's practical Jokes lost their charms; and Smith and Jones' parties bored me. I wanted Christmas to come as quickly as possible, and yet Old Time would not get on any quicker in spite of my fretting. But at last the day arrived for my departure. I had packed my portmanteau two days before it was necessary. I had studied my route until I knew the stations by heart, and I found myself at London Bridge station a good half hour before the train was advertised to start.

Immediately "my" train (I had known this 5.55 for so many weeks, that I looked upon it in the light of personal property) backed into its position, I insisted on taking my seat, although the guard assured me that we shouldn't be off for a quarter of an hour, if then. Never mind, I felt happier and less restless in the carriage, knowing that it was something somehow connected with Nettleton and my visit. Our train, according to the timetables, did not stop anywhere after passing Croydon, but ran right into Nettleton junction—ignoring Reigate, Little Houghton, and Rushley. So, giving a shilling to the guard, I requested him to lock the door, and I was left to my cigar, my evening paper, my "Bradshaw," and my Bessie.

The station was thronged with holiday-makers of all grades of society, pushing, squeezing, laughing, shouting, but all bent on one object—to get good places in their various trains. Poor guards, how I pitied them! and how I admired their coolness and clear-headedness in the midst of such a babel of tongues!

"Should we never depart?" I asked myself as I leaned out of the window for the twentieth time. Yes, surely those are "our" doors being slammed-to; that is our guard whistling and holding up his hand; and that brisk determined whistle belongs to our engine—we are off!

As we slowly glided out of the station, I was somewhat surprised to see a tall, lank, white-faced gentleman walk up to my carriage door—which I paid the guard to lock—open it, step in, and take his seat opposite to me. He was a most peculiar-looking individual. His face was very long and painfully white; his eye was bright and restless; his hands, encased in black kid gloves, had the appearance of possessing a good deal of bone; his legs were awkwardly long; and to add to his eccentricity, his head was quite bald, and shone like a plain white billiard-ball. On entering the carriage he bowed to me, and after carefully gazing round him, smiled—such a smile!—and taking out a black-covered book, coiled himself up in a corner and buried himself in its contents.

This strange being puzzled me considerably. What could he be? Perhaps a doctor. No—his appearance would terrify any nervous patient. A lawyer—possibly an escaped lunatic, more probably. I determined to speak to him; for though I was not a coward, I did not like the man. There was something unearthly about him; for now and then he would put down his book, gaze on the lamp above him, and laugh quietly, then fixing his eyes on me for a second, would relapse into a smile and continue his reading.

"Do you object to smoking?" I asked—I own with an effort. He took no notice of me. I repeated the question; but in lieu of replying he twisted himself into an easier position, and went on with the black-bound book.

"I shall not be at all sorry when we get to Nettleton," I thought to myself, as I threw my cigar away and took up the paper; "I don't relish this super-human fellow passenger at all. Well, as there's no chance of release for two good hours, I may as well make the best of it."

I tried to read, but could not fix my thoughts on any subject; so I soon gave it up, and tried to lose myself in dreamland. But at first I could not sleep; for whenever I happened to look up, I found my horrible companion's eyes fixed on mine. A cold perspiration came over me every time I looked on him; so I summoned up courage and said somewhat sharply, "I think you are very rude to stare at me so, sir; if you have anything to say to me, be good enough to speak." He smiled, and looked out of the window for a moment, sighed, and changed his seat.

I must have soon fallen into a doze, but how long I slept I have little idea. When I awoke I felt the carriage oscillating violently, and to my horror and surprise, my companion had gone! Yes, I was alone in the carriage! In another moment the air was filled with shrieks of agony and yells of despair, the escape of steam, and the crashing of wood. My carriage shook and groaned, and then tottered over on its side down an embankment; but luckily for me, I was, with the exception of a few bruises, unhurt.

O, what a sight was before me! The 5.55 from London had run into a goods train, and lay before me a wreck. Women, children, and men were buried under the debris; whilst some, like me, had escaped without a scratch. We rendered all the assistance that lay in our power to the poor creatures; and it was not until the sun had risen on Christmas-morning that we got sufficient hands together to clear the line. Twenty-five people were killed in this awful accident, and over thirty severely injured.

The news of the disaster had reached Nettleton some hours previous to my arrival; and when I had briefly narrated the painful facts of the case, I asked leave to go to my room, feeling perfectly unable to take part in the Christmas merry-makings. I was glad enough to throw myself on the bed; and although I could not sleep, the quietude of the place, and the calm rest which I enjoyed, soothed my nervous frame and cooled my burning brain.

I thought over the events of the short time which had elapsed since I left London, and could not help connecting my mysterious fellow-traveller in some way with the accident. I was no believer in ghosts; and yet what was the meaning of that man's mysterious entrance at London Bridge, and his still more mysterious disappearance? Was it fancy? Certainly not. Could it have been a warning of the coming danger? I could not answer myself, but continued to ponder and argue until I could not bear to be alone, so I got up and went down into my uncle's library. I sent for Bessie by one of the servants; and in a very few moments my dear girl and myself were together. I told her all my adventure. At first she laughed at me, and called me a superstitious goose; but when she found me serious she was annoyed, and gave me a good lecture, which she finished up by telling me that I had been working too hard and too late at my chambers, had over-heated my brain, and therefore fancied all manner of stupid things. I promised not to allude to the "ghost," as she termed my railway companion during my holidays; and I kept my word.

The few days' leisure that I had allowed myself went quickly enough; and my Nettleton visit was soon a thing of the past, and I was once again hard at work in the Inn. At times my thoughts would turn to the events of Christmas-eve; and though I strove to erase the recollection from my mind, I could not forget my fellow-traveller. I read books on spiritualism; and in spite of arguments with friends, and several serious conversations with my relatives, I became a believer in ghosts. I kept the truth from Bessie; for I knew that she would be broken-hearted it she knew that I had become a disciple of the spiritualists. I was very unhappy and very unsettled; my health was none of the best; my spirits were low, and my energy flagged considerably.

SO the long year passed away, and Christmas came again. I was, as usual, to spend my few days' holiday at Nettleton; and found myself once more in a first-class carriage by myself at 5.55 on the 24th of December.

The whistle was sounded, the engine shrieked, the train moved, the door opened, and HE entered the carriage, smiled in the same deathlike manner as he had smiled twelve months ago, took his seat, produced the black book, and read in silence. I do not think I was very much surprised at seeing him, for he had been in my "mind's eye" all the year; but a cold perspiration came over me; I felt a sinking at my heart, and a burning throbbing pain flew to my head, "Man—if man you be—" I said, fixing my eyes on the figure; "if you have come to warn me of any coming danger, speak to me. I am brave enough to hear the worst." He lifted his eyes from his book, yawned, closed the volume, and settled himself to sleep. "No," I cried, "you shall not evade my question; you must answer me. What will happen? Why are you here?" He roused himself, and looked at me with a smile upon his hard lips; he then took out a small pocket book, and wrote on a page, which he tore out and handed me, these words, "We shall meet to-night."

I read the five words over and over again, but could not fathom their meaning. I was painfully certain, in my own mind, that some other terrible calamity of some kind or other would happen before long, and that I read my warning on the piece of paper I held in my hand. I kept my eyes fixed on him for some time; but nature at length ruled, and I fell asleep—not into a sound slumber, but into a troubled fretful series of dozes of an unrefreshing and feverish character.

I was aroused by the train slackening speed; and on looking out of the window, found we had arrived at Nettleton junction, and I was the only occupant of the carriage! Hastily gathering my traps together, I got out of the haunted carriage, and inquired of a porter if my uncle had sent over any conveyance for me. Yes, there was the dog-cart.

Before leaving the station I asked the station-master if he was sure that the train from which I had alighted was the express from town.

"Yes, sir," was his answer; "through from London Bridge."

What an awful ride I had on that dark Christmas-eve! At every turn of the road I thought we should be overturned; whenever the horse improved his pace, I made up my mind that he had bolted; but in spite of my fears, we arrived safely at Nettleton House, and received a hearty welcome, as of yore.

All agreed that I was looking far from well, "Bless the boy," said my aunt, "you look as pale as though you'd seen a ghost." I stammered out something about the closeness of London, and went upstairs to dress tor dinner.

How I got through the meal, I have very little idea. Bessie must have thought me very stupid; for I made few remarks, and answered her questions in monosyllables. There was to be a dance, as usual, in the evening, and I was engaged, of course, to Bessie for the opening quadrille; but I made so many foolish blunders, and, as my sweetheart told me, looked so very unwell, that I was fain to leave off.

"Come into this room, dear," Bessie said; "it is cooler there, and more quiet."

We entered. I started back with a look of horror on my face; for there, by the mantel shelf, stood my mysterious railway companion with a glass of sherry in his hand.

"Bessie," I said earnestly, "come away; come away, for heaven's sake!"

"Why, what ever is the matter, Charlie? You look so terribly frightened," she said.

But I heeded her not; for I could not think of anything but the phantom before me. He approached, with that cursed smile upon his face, and held out his hand.

Bessie looked up laughingly at his face and said, "Charlie, won't you shake hands with Doctor Linton?"

"Who—who is be?" I asked.

"Why, Doctor Linton, the deaf and dumb gentleman."

For a moment my brain whirled round, and I can remember but indistinctly what immediately followed. I saw Bessie making signs with her fingers, and the Doctor replying to her in the same manner. This is what I learned in calmer moments:

The Doctor was deaf and dumb, and a season ticket-holder on the line; and as he could not always make the porters understand him, he was allowed a private key. He lived at a little village some five miles the London side of Nettleton, and the managers of the line stopped the 5.55 for him out of courtesy.

So my ghost vanished with the explanation. I shook him warmly by the hand, and with the assistance of my Bessie, informed him of my doubts and fears, at which he laughed heartily.

My spirits soon returned, and by the time the last dance was announced, no one was happier than myself.

Bessie and I were married the following Christmas, and conspicuous amongst our guests was my "First-class Ghost."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.