Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in All the Year Round, London, January 1873

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-04-08

Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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

EVERYBODY, or nearly everybody, young or old, loves a ghost story. It is not necessary to believe in its truth to derive enjoyment from it. The more inexplicable it appears to our ordinary reason, the greater the charm that it exercises. Incredulity itself is pleased by a flight into the regions of the wonderful and the supernatural, as is evident from the satisfaction derived by people of all ages and nations from fairy tales, which nobody accepts for truth. But the fairy tale only appeals to the imagination. The ghost story goes deeper into the mysterious fountains of human nature, and touches on the confines of the great undiscovered land of spirits, whose secrets are not to be divulged on this side of the grave. Hence its charm and fascination, and hence everybody who reads or hears a ghost story, experiences a satisfaction, either in believing in it implicitly, or in explaining it away by natural causes.

A few years ago I travelled in a British colony in America. The governor was absent in England on his holiday visit, and the duties of his office were temporarily performed by the chief justice, aided by the prime minister, or secretary of state. I was a frequent guest at Government House, and there became acquainted with an old soldier, one Sergeant Monaghan, who performed the part of orderly or messenger, and sometimes waited at table when the governor had company. The manners of a colony are free and easy, and learning that the old soldier was a thorough believer in ghosts, and had one ghost story which he was fond of telling, I invited him to my room, treated him to a cigar and a glass of grog, gave him a seat by the blazing wood fire, and prevailed upon him to evolve the story once again out of the coils of his memory. I repeat it, as nearly as I can, in his own words.

"You see," said Sergeant Monaghan, "Tim O'Loghlin was a delicate and wake sort of a boy. He had had a love affair in Ireland that weighed on his mind. He was a kind of cousin of mine, and served in my regiment as a private. Perhaps he would have risen to be a sergeant if he had lived, but, as I said, he was not strong. You may have noticed that from the gate of Government House, where the sentry-box stands, you can see into the burial-ground on the opposite side of the road. Not a cheerful situation for Government House. But, however, all the best rooms look into the garden at the back, and the governor need not see much of the burial-ground, except when he goes in and out. One foggy night, Tim O'Loghlin was stationed as sentry at Government House. It was full moon at the time, and the light upon the white warm mist that lay like an immense blanket over the earth, shone weak and watery-like. It was not a very thick fog, and did not hide objects at the distance of a hundred yards, but only revealed them to make them look larger than they really were. I was in the guard-room smoking my pipe, comfortably as I am now (either a pipe or a cigar, it's all the same to Sergeant Monaghan, if the baccy's good), when who should walk in but Tim O'Loghlin, with a face of such wild, blank, dismal terror, as I never saw before or since on a human being. It was fully an hour before his time to be relieved of duty, and in leaving his post he had committed a very serious offence. I ordered him back to his post, but he sat down by the fire, and doggedly refused to stir.

"'What's the matter with you, Tim?' said I. 'Are you unwell? And why did you come off duty? And it's I myself that'll have to report you.'

"'You may report—you must report; but I will not go back again, though I be shot for it. I have seen him.'

"'Him?—and who is him?'

"'Him! Why Captain Percival. He came close up to me, and pointed to a man in the burial-ground digging a grave next to his own.'

"The captain had died about a month previously, and Tim, who was very much attached to him—and indeed everybody in the regiment was—had grieved very much about his death. He had acted as the captain's servant, and had received many favours at his hand, and poor Tim was a grateful crater.

"'It's all nonsense, Tim,' said I. 'Go back to your post, and in reporting you, I'll make the best case out that I can for you.'

"'Never!' said Tim, 'if I be shot for it.'

"As chance and luck would have it, the doctor happened to drop in at this moment, and learning the circumstances that had induced Tim to leave his post, questioned him fully on the subject. But he felt Tim's pulse first, and there came over his face an expression that I noticed, but that Tim did not, which said very plainly to me that he did not like the beat of it. Tim was confident that he had seen Captain Percival, and that the captain pointed out the grave which a man was digging alongside of his own, and had distinctly told him that he was to be buried there as soon as the grave was quite ready.

"'And you saw the man digging the grave?' asked the doctor.

"'Distinctly,' replied Tim; 'and you can see him too, if you go immediately.'

"'Do you go, sergeant,' said the doctor to me, 'and I'll sit with O'Loghlin till you return. I think you had better detail another sentry in his place. Is there any brandy to be got? But stay; it does not matter. I have a flask. And O'Loghlin, my man, you must take a pull at it; it is medicine, you know, and I order it.'

"Tim was taking a pull at the flask as I went out. I thought it possible enough that the grave-digger might be at work, but I did not know what to say about the captain, except to think, perhaps, that Tim had been dreaming, and fancied he saw things that had no existence. I got into the burial-ground without difficulty—the gate was not fastened—and went straight to the grave of Captain Percival. There stood the gravestone, sure enough, with the captain's name, age, and date of death upon it, and a short story besides, setting forth what a good and brave fellow he was, which was all as true as gospel. But there was no grave-digger there, nor no open grave, as Tim had fancied. I went back, and found Tim and the doctor together, Tim not looking quite so wild and white as before, but bad and ill, all the same.

"'Well?' inquired the doctor.

"'Well!' I replied. 'There's nothing to be seen. It's just as I thought. Poor Tim's fancy has cheated him, and it's my opinion the poor boy is not well at all. An' what am I to do about reporting him?'

"'You must report him, of course,' said the doctor; 'but I don't think much harm will come to him out of that. O'Loghlin, you must go into hospital for a day or two, and I will give you some stuff that will bring you out again right as a trivet, and you will see no more ghosts.'

"Tim shook his head, and was taken quietly to the hospital, and put to bed. The brandy had done him good; whether it was all brandy, or whether there wasn't a drop of sleeping stuff in it, I can't say, but it's very likely there was, for the doctor told me the longer he slept in reason the better it would be for him. And Tim had a long sleep, but not a very quiet one, for all that same, and tossed about for the matter of a dozen hours or so. But he never got out of bed again. When I saw him at noon the next day he was wide awake, and very feverish and excitable.

"'How are you, Tim, my poor fellow?' said I, taking his hand, which was very hot and moist.

"'I've seen him again,' he replied. "I see him now. He is sitting at the foot of the bed, and pointing to the graveyard. I know what he means.'

"'Tim, it's crazy that ye are,' said I.

"He shook his head mournfully. 'Monaghan,' he sighed, rather than said, 'ye've been a kind friend to me. Give that to the little girl in Ireland—you know.' And he drew a photographic portrait of himself from under his pillow, tied round with a blue ribbon, from which depended a crooked sixpence with a hole in it. 'In a few days ye'll be laying me in the ground alongside of the captain. Do ye see him now? he is leaving the room, smiling upon me, and still pointing to the graveyard. I am no longer afraid of him. He means me no harm, and it is no blame to him if he is sent to tell me to get ready.'

"'Tim, you are cheating yourself. What you're telling me is all a waking dream. I can see no ghost.'

"'Of course you can't,' said Tim, 'the spirits never appears to two persons at once. But Patrick Monaghan,' he added, 'let us talk no more on the subject, but send Father Riley to me, that I may unburden me sowl, and die in peace.'

"It would have been cruel in me to have argued the matter with the poor afflicted creature, and him such a friend of my own too, so I left him to go in search of the doctor first, and of Father Riley afterwards. They both came. What passed between Tim and the holy father, of course I never knew; but the doctor told me distinctly that Tim was in a very bad way. The stomach was wrong, the nerves were wrong, the brain was wrong; in fact, he was wrong altogether, and had a fever which the doctor called by a very grand and high-sounding name, which I did not hear very plainly, and which if I did I am unable to remember. Tim survived three days after this, sleeping and dozing, and talking in his sleep, and every now and then saying, amid words which I could not well put together into any meaning, 'I am coming, I am coming.' Just before he died, he grew more collected, and made me promise that he should be buried in the grave that had been dug for him by the side of the captain. I knew that no such grave had been dug as he said, and that it was all a delusion; but what was the use of arguing with a dying man? So I promised of course, by my honour and by my sowl, to do all I could to have his last wish gratified. The doctor promised also, and so did Father Riley, and I think poor Tim died happy. His last words were something about the ribbon and the crooked sixpence, and the captain, the very last syllable being 'I come.'

"We buried the poor lad in the place assigned by himself, and I was so affected altogether by the sadness of the thing, that I could have persuaded myself, in fact I did persuade myself, that I saw Captain Percival in undress, or fatigue uniform, just as he had appeared to poor Tim walking past the sentry-box before the door of Government House, and stopping every now and then to point at the grave; and the more I closed my eyes to avoid seeing him, the more permanently and clearly he stood before me."

"And are you in any doubt on the subject now?" I inquired.

"And indeed I am," replied the sergeant, shaking the ashes from his cigar with the tip of his little finger. "Tim must have seen the ghost, and must have believed in him, and if I only saw it after Tim's death, it is but another proof of what almost everybody knows, that two people never saw the same ghost at the same time. And ghost or no ghost, it is quite clear that Tim died of him, and might have been alive at this moment but for the ghost's extraordinary behaviour. But it's one of the questions that all the talk in the world can't settle."

"Do you think Tim would have seen the ghost of Captain Percival, or anybody else, if he had been sound in mind and limb, if he had been a strong hearty man with a good appetite, and an undisordered stomach?"

"Can't say," replied the sergeant, taking a sip of his liquor. "The doctor thought not; but doctors don't know everything; and if there were no ghosts, why, I should like to ask, should the spirit of Samuel appear to Saul, and answer his questions?"

"Well, sergeant," said I, "if you are going to the Bible for arguments, I shall shut up. Finish your glass, my man, and let us say good-night."

He finished his glass, he said good-night, and walked away with the air of a man who thought he had had the best of the argument.


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.