« AnteriorContinuar »
“ Exactly so. Well, now, you must have noticed that a guard insisted from time to time upon waking up the sleepy passengers for no other purpose than to look at their tickets. Such a precaution might be resented, say by an Egerton of Egerton Castle, as an insult to his veracity and his honesty. But, you see, the guard doesn't know an Egerton from a Muggins : and the mere word of a passenger to the effect that he belongs to that distinguished family is in itself of no more value than his personal assertion that his ticket is perfectly en règle.”
“I see your analogy, and I must allow its remarkable force.”
“ Not only so," continued Harry firmly, “ but you must remember that in the case I have put, the guard is dealing with known beings of the ordinary human type. Now, when a living person introduces himself to me as Egerton of Egerton Castle, or Sir Roger Tichborne of Alresford, I accept his statement with a certain amount of doubt, proportionate to the natural improbability of the circumstances. But when a gentleman of shadowy appearance and immaterial substance, like yourself, makes a similar assertion, to the effect that he is Algernon Egerton who died two hundred years ago, then I am reluctantly compelled to acknowledge, even at the risk of hurting that gentleman's susceptible feelings, that I can form no proper opinion whatsoever of his probable veracity. Even men, whose habits and constitution I familiarly understand, cannot always be trusted to tell me the truth: and how then can I expect implicitly to believe a being whose very existence contradicts all my previous experiences, and whose properties give the lie to all my scientific conceptions--a being who moves without muscles and speaks without lungs? Look at the possible alternatives, and then you will see that I am guilty of no personal rudeness when I respectfully decline to accept your uncorroborated assertions. You may be Mr. Algernon Egerton, it is true, and your general style
of dress and appearance certainly bears out that supposition; but then you may equally well be his Satanic Majesty in person—in which case you can hardly expect me to credit your character for implicit truthfulness. Or again, you may be a mere hallucination of my fancy: I may be suddenly gone mad, or I may be totally drunk,and now that I look at the bottle, Jim, we must certainly allow that we have fully appreciated the excellent qualities of your capital Glenlivat. In short, a number of alternatives exist, any one of which is quite as probable as the supposition of your being a genuine ghost; which supposition I must therefore lay aside as a mere matter for the exercise of a suspended judgment.”
I thought Harry had him on the hip, there : and the spectre evidently thought so too; for he rose at once and said rather stiffly, “I fear, sir, you are a confirmed sceptic upon this point, and further argument might only result in one or the other of us losing his temper. Perhaps it would be better for me to withdraw. I have the honour
more with the hauteur and grand mannerism of the old school, besides bowing very low at each of us separately as he wished us good-night.
“Stop a moment,” said Harry rather hastily. “I wouldn't for the world be guilty of any in hospitality, and least of all to a gentleman, however indefinite in his outline, who has been so anxious to afford us every chance of settling an interesting question as you have. Won't you take a glass of whisky and water before you go, just to show there's no animosity ?”
“I thank you,” answered the apparition, in the same chilly tone; “I cannot accept your kind offer. My visit has already extended to a very unusual length, and I have no doubt I shall be blamed as it is by more reticent ghosts for the excessive openness with which I have conversed upon subjects generally kept back from the living world. Once more," with another ceremonious bow, “ I have the honour to wish you a pleasant evening."
As he said these words, the fluorescent light brightened for a second, and then faded entirely away. A slightly unpleasant odour also accompanied the departure, of our guest. In a moment, spectre and scent alike disappeared ; but careful examination with a delicate test exhibited a faint reaction which proved the presence of sulphur in small quantities. The ghost had evidently vanished quite according to established precedent.
We filled our glasses once more, drained them off meditatively, and turned into our bedrooms as the clock was striking four.
Next morning, Harry and I drew up a formal account of the whole circumstance, which we sent to the Royal Society, with a request that they would publish it in their Transactions. To our great surprise, that learned body refused the paper, I may say with contumely. We next applied to the Anthropological Institute, where, strange to tell, we met with a like inexplicable rebuff. Nothing daunted by our double failure, we despatched a copy of our analysis to the Chemical Society; but the only acknowledgment accorded to us was a letter from the secretary, who stated that “such a sorry joke was at once impertinent and undignified.” In short, the scientific world utterly refuses to credit our simple and straightforward narrative; so that we are compelled to throw ourselves for justice upon the general reading public at large. As the latter invariably peruse the pages of “ BELGRAVIA,” I have ventured to appeal to them in the present article, confident that they will redress our wrongs, and accept this valuable contribution to a great scientific question at its proper worth. It may be many years before another chance occurs for watching an undoubted and interesting Apparition under such favourable circumstances for careful observation; and all the above information may be
regarded as absolutely correct, down to five places of decimals.
Still, it must be borne in mind that unless an apparition had been scientifically observed as we two independent witnesses observed this one, the grounds for believing in its existence would have been next to none. And even . after the clear evidence which we obtained of its im.. material nature, we yet remain entirely in the dark as to its objective reality, and we have not the faintest reason for believing it to have been a genuine unadulterated ghost. At the best we can only say that we saw and heard Something, and that this Something differed very widely from almost any other object we had ever seen and heard before. To leap at the conclusion that the Something was therefore a ghost, would be, I venture humbly to submit, without offence to the Psychical Research Society, a most unscientific and illogical specimen of that peculiar fallacy known as Begging the Question.
RAM DAS OF CAWNPORE.
WE Germans do not spare trouble where literary or scientific work is on hand : and so when I was appointed by the University of Breslau to the travelling scholarship in the Neo-Sanskritic languages, I made up my mind at once to spend the next five years of my life in India. I knew already a good deal more Hindi and Urdu than most English officials who have spent twenty years in the country; but I was anxious to perfect my knowledge by practice on the spot, and to acquire thorough proficiency in conversation by intercourse with the people themselves. I therefore went out to India at once, and avoiding the great towns, such as Calcutta or Allahabad, which have been largely anglicised by residents and soldiers, I took up my abode in the little village of Bithoor on the Ganges, a few miles from Cawnpore, celebrated as having been the residence of the Nana Sahib, whom you English always describe as “the most ferocious rebel in the Mutiny." Here I spent four years in daily intercourse with the native gentry, whose natural repugnance to foreigners I soon conquered by invariable respect for their feelings and prejudices. At the end of eighteen months I had so won my way to their hearts that the Muhammedans regarded me as scarcely outside the pale of Islam, while the Hindoos usually addressed me by the religious title of Bhai or brother.