A Ghost[1]

: VI

Perhaps the man who never wanders away from the place of his birth may

pass all his life without knowing ghosts; but the nomad is more than

likely to make their acquaintance. I refer to the civilized nomad,

whose wanderings are not prompted by hope of gain, nor determined by

pleasure, but simply compelled by certain necessities of his

being,--the man whose inner secret nature is totally at variance with

the stable cond
tions of a society to which he belongs only by

accident. However intellectually trained, he must always remain the

slave of singular impulses which have no rational source, and which

will often amaze him no less by their mastering power than by their

continuous savage opposition to his every material interest.... These

may, perhaps, be traced back to some ancestral habit,--be explained by

self-evident hereditary tendencies. Or perhaps they may not,--in which

event the victim can only surmise himself the Imago of some

pre-existent larval aspiration--the full development of desires long

dormant in a chain of more limited lives....

Assuredly the nomadic impulses differ in every member of the

class,--take infinite variety from individual sensitiveness to

environment: the line of least resistance for one being that of

greatest resistance for another;--no two courses of true nomadism can

ever be wholly the same. Diversified of necessity both impulse and

direction, even as human nature is diversified. Never since

consciousness of time began were two beings born who possessed exactly

the same quality of voice, the same precise degree of nervous

impressibility, or,--in brief, the same combination of those viewless

force-storing molecules which shape and poise themselves in sentient

substance. Vain, therefore, all striving to particularize the curious

psychology of such existences: at the very utmost it is possible only

to describe such impulses and perceptions of nomadism as lie within the

very small range of one's own observation. And whatever in these be

strictly personal can have little interest or value except in so far as

it holds something in common with the great general experience of

restless lives. To such experience may belong, I think, one ultimate

result of all those irrational partings,--self-wreckings,--sudden

isolations,--abrupt severances from all attachment, which form the

history of the nomad ... the knowledge that a strange silence is ever

deepening and expanding about one's life, and that in that silence

there are ghosts.

... Oh! the first vague charm, the first sunny illusion of some fair

city,--when vistas of unknown streets all seem leading to the

realization of a hope you dare not even whisper; when even the shadows

look beautiful, and strange facades appear to smile good omen through

light of gold! And those first winning relations with men, while you

are still a stranger, and only the better and the brighter side of

their nature is turned to you!... All is yet a delightful, luminous

indefiniteness--sensation of streets and of men,--like some beautifully

tinted photograph slightly out of focus....

Then the slow solid sharpening of details all about you,--thrusting

through illusion and dispelling it--growing keener and harder day by

day, through long dull seasons, while your feet learn to remember all

asperities of pavements, and your eyes all physiognomy of buildings and

of persons,--failures of masonry,--furrowed lines of pain. Thereafter

only the aching of monotony intolerable,--and the hatred of sameness

grown dismal,--and dread of the merciless, inevitable, daily and hourly

repetition of things;--while those impulses of unrest, which are Nature's

urgings through that ancestral experience which lives in each one

of us,--outcries of sea and peak and sky to man,--ever make wilder

appeal.... Strong friendships may have been formed; but there finally

comes a day when even these can give no consolation for the pain of

monotony,--and you feel that in order to live you must decide,--regardless

of result,--to shake forever from your feet the familiar dust of that


And, nevertheless, in the hour of departure you feel a pang. As train

or steamer bears you away from the city and its myriad associations,

the old illusive impression will quiver back about you for a

moment,--not as if to mock the expectation of the past, but softly,

touchingly, as if pleading to you to stay; and such a sadness, such a

tenderness may come to you, as one knows after reconciliation with a

friend misapprehended and unjustly judged.... But you will never more

see those streets,--except in dreams.

Through sleep only they will open again before you,--steeped in the

illusive vagueness of the first long-past day,--peopled only by friends

outreaching to you. Soundlessly you will tread those shadowy pavements

many times,--to knock in thought, perhaps, at doors which the dead will

open to you.... But with the passing of years all becomes dim--so dim

that even asleep you know 'tis only a ghost-city, with streets going to

nowhere. And finally whatever is left of it becomes confused and

blended with cloudy memories of other cities,--one endless bewilderment

of filmy architecture in which nothing is distinctly recognizable,

though the whole gives the sensation of having been seen before ...

ever so long ago.

* * * * *

Meantime, in the course of wanderings more or less aimless, there has

slowly grown upon you a suspicion of being haunted,--so frequently does

a certain hazy presence intrude itself upon the visual memory. This,

however, appears to gain rather than to lose in definiteness: with each

return its visibility seems to increase.... And the suspicion that you

may be haunted gradually develops into a certainty.

You are haunted,--whether your way lie through the brown gloom of

London winter, or the azure splendour of an equatorial day,--whether

your steps be tracked in snows, or in the burning black sand of a

tropic beach,--whether you rest beneath the swart shade of Northern

pines, or under spidery umbrages of palm:--you are haunted ever and

everywhere by a certain gentle presence. There is nothing fearsome in

this haunting ... the gentlest face ... the kindliest voice--oddly

familiar and distinct, though feeble as the hum of a bee....

But it tantalizes,--this haunting,--like those sudden surprises of

sensation within us, though seemingly not of us, which some dreamers

have sought to interpret as inherited remembrances,--recollections of

pre-existence.... Vainly you ask yourself:--"Whose voice?--whose face?"

It is neither young nor old, the Face: it has a vapoury indefinableness

that leaves it a riddle;--its diaphaneity reveals no particular

tint;--perhaps you may not even be quite sure whether it has a beard.

But its expression is always gracious, passionless, smiling--like the

smiling of unknown friends in dreams, with infinite indulgence for any

folly, even a dream-folly.... Except in that you cannot permanently

banish it, the presence offers no positive resistance to your will: it

accepts each caprice with obedience; it meets your every whim with

angelic patience. It is never critical,--never makes plaint even by a

look,--never proves irksome: yet you cannot ignore it, because of a

certain queer power it possesses to make something stir and quiver in

your heart,--like an old vague sweet regret,--something buried alive

which will not die.... And so often does this happen that desire to

solve the riddle becomes a pain,--that you finally find yourself making

supplication to the Presence,--addressing to it questions which it will

never answer directly, but only by a smile or by words having no

relation to the asking,--words enigmatic, which make mysterious

agitation in old forsaken fields of memory ... even as a wind betimes,

over wide wastes of marsh, sets all the grasses whispering about

nothing. But you will question on, untiringly, through the nights and

days of years:--

--"Who are you?--what are you?--what is this weird relation that you

bear to me? All you say to me I feel that I have heard before--but

where?--but when? By what name am I to call you,--since you will answer

to none that I remember? Surely you do not live: yet I know the

sleeping-places of all my dead,--and yours, I do not know! Neither are

you any dream;--for dreams distort and change; and you, you are ever

the same. Nor are you any hallucination; for all my senses are still

vivid and strong.... This only I know beyond doubt,--that you are of

the Past: you belong to memory--but to the memory of what dead


* * * * *

Then, some day or night, unexpectedly, there comes to you at

least,--with a soft swift tingling shock as of fingers invisible,--the

knowledge that the Face is not the memory of any one face, but a

multiple image formed of the traits of many dear faces,--superimposed

by remembrance, and interblended by affection into one ghostly

personality,--infinitely sympathetic, phantasmally beautiful: a

Composite of recollections! And the Voice is the echo of no one voice,

but the echoing of many voices, molten into a single utterance,--a

single impossible tone,--thin through remoteness of time, but

inexpressibly caressing.

Thou most gentle Composite!--thou nameless and exquisite Unreality,

thrilled into semblance of being from out the sum of all lost

sympathies!--thou Ghost of all dear vanished things ... with thy vain

appeal of eyes that looked for my coming,--and vague faint pleading of

voices against oblivion,--and thin electric touch of buried hands, ...

must thou pass away forever with my passing,--even as the Shadow that I

cast, O thou Shadowing of Souls?...

I am not sure.... For there comes to me this dream,--that if aught in

human life hold power to pass--like a swerved sunray through

interstellar spaces,--into the infinite mystery ... to send one sweet

strong vibration through immemorial Time ... might not some luminous

future be peopled with such as thou?... And in so far as that which

makes for us the subtlest charm of being can lend one choral note to

the Symphony of the Unknowable Purpose,--in so much might there not

endure also to greet thee, another Composite One,--embodying indeed,

the comeliness of many lives, yet keeping likewise some visible memory

of all that may have been gracious in this thy friend...?