My Irish Friend.
Many of the apparitions that are reported are of phantasms that appear in fulfilment of a promise made to survivors during life. Of this class I [W.T. Stead, journalist and Spiritualist] came, in the course of my census, upon a very remarkable case.
Among my acquaintances is an Irish lady, the widow of an official who held a responsible position in the Dublin Post Office. She is Celt to her backbone, with all the qualities of her race. After her husband’s death she contracted an unfortunate marriage—which really was no marriage legally— with an engineer of remarkable character and no small native talent. He, however, did not add to his other qualities the saving virtues of principle and honesty. Owing to these defects my friend woke up one fine morning to find that her new husband had been married previously, and that his wife was still living.
On making this discovery she left her partner and came to London, where I met her. She is a woman of very strong character, and of some considerable although irregular ability. She has many superstitions, and her dreams were something wonderful to hear. After she had been in London two years her bigamist lover found out where she was, and leaving his home in Italy followed her to London. There was no doubt as to the sincerity of his attachment to the woman whom he had betrayed, and the scenes which took place between them were painful, and at one time threatened to have a very tragic ending.
Fortunately, although she never ceased to cherish a very passionate affection for her lover, she refused to resume her old relations with him, and after many stormy scenes he departed for Italy, loading her with reproaches. Some months after his departure she came to me and told me she was afraid something had happened to him. She had heard him calling her outside her window, and shortly afterwards saw him quite distinctly in her room. She was much upset about it.
I pooh-poohed the story, and put it down to a hallucination caused by the revival of the stormy and painful scenes of the parting. Shortly afterwards she received news from Italy that her late husband, if we may so call him, had died about the same time she heard him calling her by her name under her window in East London.
I only learnt when the above was passing through the press that the unfortunate man, whose phantasm appeared to my friend, died suddenly either by his own hand or by accident. On leaving London he drank on steadily, hardly being sober for a single day. After a prolonged period of intoxication he went out of the house, and was subsequently found dead, either having thrown himself or fallen over a considerable height, at the foot of which he was found dead.
I asked Mrs. G. F.—to write out for me, as carefully as she could remember it after the lapse of two years, exactly what she saw and heard. Here is her report:—
“In the end of the summer of 1886 it happened one morning that Irwin and myself were awake at 5.30 a.m., and as we could not go to sleep again, we lay talking of our future possible happiness and present troubles. We were at the time sleeping in Room No. 16, Hotel Washington, overlooking the Bay of Naples. We agreed that nothing would force us to separate in this life—neither poverty nor persecution from his family, nor any other thing on earth. (I believed myself his wife then.) We each agreed that we would die together rather than separate. We spoke a great deal that morning about our views of what was or was not likely to be the condition of souls after death, and whether it was likely that spirits could communicate, by any transmitted feeling or apparition, the fact that they had died to their surviving friends. Finally, we made a solemn promise to each other that whichever of us died first would appear to the other after death if such was permitted.
“Well, after the fact of his being already married came to light, we parted. I left him, and he followed me to London on December ’87. During his stay here I once asked if he had ever thought about our agreement as to as to who should die first appealing to the other; and he said, ‘Oh, Georgie, you do not need to remind me; my spirit is a part of yours, and can never be separated nor dissolved even through all eternity; no, not even though you treat me as you do; even though you became the wife of another you cannot divorce our spirits. And whenever my spirit leaves this earth I will appear to you.’
“Well, in the beginning of August ’88 he left England for Naples; his last words were that I would never again see him; I should see him, but not alive, for he would put an end to his life and heart-break. After that he never wrote to me; still I did not altogether think he would kill himself. On the 22nd or 23rd of the following November (’88), I posted a note to him at Sarno post office. No reply came, and I thought it might be he was not at Sarno, or was sick, or travelling, and so did not call at the post office, and so never dreamed of his being dead.”
“Time went on and nothing occurred till November 27th (or I should say 28th, for it occurred at 12.30, or between 12 and 1 a.m., I forget the exact time). It was just at that period when I used to sit up night after night till 1, 2, and 3 o’clock a.m. at home doing the class books; on this occasion I was sitting close to the fire, with the table beside me, sorting cuttings. Looking up from the papers my eyes chanced to fall on the door, which stood about a foot and a half open, and right inside, but not so far in but that his clothes touched the edge of the door, stood Irwin; he was dressed as I last had seen him—overcoat, tall hat, and his arms were down by his sides in his natural, usual way. He stood in his exact own perfectly upright attitude, and held his head and face up in a sort of dignified way, which he used generally to adopt on all occasions of importance or during a controversy or dispute. He had his face turned towards me, and looked at me with a terribly meaning expression, very pale, and as if pained by being deprived of the power of speech or of local movements.
“I got a shocking fright, for I thought at first sight he was living, and had got in unknown to me to surprise me. I felt my heart jump with fright, and I said, ‘Oh !’ but before I had hardly finished the exclamation, his figure was fading way, and, horrible to relate, it faded in such a way that the flesh seemed to fade out of the clothes, or at all events the hat and coat were longer visible than the whole man. I turned white and cold, felt an awful dread; I was too much afraid to go near enough to shut the door when he had vanished. I was so shaken and confused, and half paralysed, I felt I could not even cry out; it was as if something had a grip on my spirit, I feared to stir, and sat up all night, fearing to take my eyes off the door, not daring to go and shut it. Later on I got an umbrella and walked tremblingly, and pushed the door close without fastening it. I feared to touch it with my hand. I felt such a relief when I saw daylight and heard the landlady moving about.
“Now, though I was frightened, I did not for a moment think he was dead, nor did it enter my mind then about our agreement. I tried to shake off the nervousness, and quite thought it must be something in my sight caused by imagination, and nerves being overdone by sitting up so late for so many nights together. Still, I thought it dreadfully strange, it was so real.”
A Ghost’s Cough.
“Well, about three days passed, and then I was startled by hearing his voice outside my window, as plain as a voice could be, calling,’Georgie! Are you there, Georgie?’ I felt certain it was really him come back to England. I could not mistake his voice. I felt quite flurried, and ran out to the hall door, but no one in sight. I went back in, and felt rather upset and disappointed, for I would have been glad if he had come back again, and began to wish he really would turn up. I then thought to myself, ‘Well, that was so queer. Oh, it must be Irwin, and perhaps he is just hiding in some hall door to see if I will go out and let him in, or what I will do. So out I went again. This time I put my hat on, and ran along and peeped into hall doors where he might be hiding, but with no result. Later on that night I could have sworn I heard him cough twice right at the window, as if he did it to attract attention. Out I went again. No result.
“Well, to make a long story short, from that night till about nine weeks after that voice called to me, and coughed, and coughed, sometimes every night for a week, then three nights a week, then miss a night and call on two nights, miss three or four days, and keep calling me the whole night long, on and off, up till 12 midnight or later. One time it would be, ‘Georgie! It’s me! Ah, Georgie!’ Or, ‘Georgie, are you in? Will you speak to Irwin?’ Then a long pause, and at the end of, say, ten minutes, a most strange, unearthly sigh, or a cough—a perfectly intentional, forced cough, other times nothing but, ‘Ah, Georgie!’ On one night there was a dreadful fog. He called me so plain, I got up and said, ‘Oh, really! that man must be here; he must be lodging somewhere near, as sure as life; if he is not outside I must be going mad in my mind or imagination.’ I went and stood outside the hall door steps in the thick black fog. No lights could be seen that night. I called out, ‘Irwin ! Irwin! here, come on. I know you’re there, trying to humbug me, I saw you in town; come on in, and don’t be making a fool of yourself.’
“Well, I declare to you, a voice that seemed within three yards of me, replied out of the fog, ‘It’s only Irwin,’ and a most awful, and great, and supernatural sort of sigh faded away in the distance. I went in, feeling quite unhinged and nervous, and could not sleep. After that night it was chiefly sighs and coughing, and it was kept up until one day, at the end of about nine weeks, my letter was returned marked, ‘Signor O’Neill e morto,’ together with a letter from the Consul to say he had died on November 28th, 1888, the day on which he appeared to me.”
The Question of Dates.
On inquiring as to dates and verification Mrs. F replied :—
“I don’t know the hour of his death, but if you write to Mr. Turner, Vice Consul, Naples, he can get it for you. He appeared to me at the hour I say; of course there is a difference of time between here and Naples. The strange part is that once I was informed of his death by human means (the letter), his spirit seemed to be satisfied, for no voice ever came again after; it was as if he wanted to inform and make me know he had died, and as if he knew I had not been informed by human agency.
“I was so struck with the apparition of November 28th, that I made a note of the date at the time so as to tell him of it when next I wrote. My letter reached Sarno a day or two after he died. There is no possible doubt about the voice being his, for he had a peculiar and uncommon voice, one such as I never heard any exactly like, or like at all in any other person. And in life he used to call me through the window as he passed, so I would know who it was knocked at the door, and open it. When he said, ‘Ah!’ after death, it was so awfully sad and long drawn out, and as if expressing that now all was over and our separation and his being dead was all so very, very pitiful and unutterable; the sigh was so real, so almost solid, and discernible and unmistakable, till at the end it seemed to have such a supernatural, strange, awful dying away sound, a sort of fading, retreating into distance sound, that gave the impression that it was not quite all spirit, but that the spirit had some sort of visible and half-material being or condition. This was especially so the night of the fog, when the voice seemed nearer to me as I stood there, and as if it was able to come or stay nearer to me because there was a fog to hide its materialism. On each of the other occasions it seemed to keep a good deal further off than on that night, and always sounded as if at an elevation of about 10ft. or 11ft., from the ground, except the night of the fog, when it came down on a level with me as well as nearer.
Real Ghost Stories, W.T. Stead, 1921: p. 222-30
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While appreciating this narrative as a splendid and chilling ghost story, Mrs Daffodil cannot help but wonder if a man so singularly lacking in candour and honesty and so enraged by the lady’s rejection of him might not have asked an Italian friend to write ‘Signor O’Neill e morto,’ on her letter and forged an epistle from the Consul on pilfered letterhead. The very material “Signor O’Neill,” of course, was in England all along, calling, coughing, and sighing piteously under the lady’s window, aided in his gaslighting efforts by the kindly English fog. If it did not happen that way, Mrs Daffodil suggests that her version would make an admirable plot for a thrilling motion picture.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.