Tuesday, January 19, 2010
From Phantasms of the Living by Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore, Chapter V "Specimens of the Various Types of Spontaneous Telepathy."
The account is from a gentleman of good position, whom I must term Mr. A. Z. He is as far removed as possible from superstition, and takes no general interest in the subject. He has given us the full names of all the persons concerned, but is unwilling that they should be published, on account of the painful character of the event recorded.
"In 1876, I was living in a small agricultural parish in the East of England, one of my neighbours at the time being a young man, S. B.,^ who had recently come into the occupation of a large farm in the place. Pending the alteration of his house, he lodged and boarded with his groom at the other end of the village, furthest removed from my own residence, which was half a mile distant and separated by many houses, gardens, a plantation, and farm buildings. He was fond of field sports, and spent much of his spare time during the season in hunting. He was not a personal friend of mine, only an acquaintance, and I felt no interest in him except as a tenant on the estate. I have asked him occasionally to my house, as a matter of civility, but to the best of my recollection was never inside his lodgings.
"One afternoon in March, 1876, when leaving, along with my wife, our railway station to walk home, I was accosted by S. B.; he accompanied us as far as my front gate, where he kept us in conversation for some time, but on no special subject. I may now state that the distance from this gate, going along the carriage drive, to the dining and breakfast room windows is about 60 yards; both the windows of these rooms face the north-east and are parallel with the carriage drive.' On S. B. taking leave of us my wife remarked, 'Young B. evidently wished to be asked in, but I thought you would not care to be troubled with him.' Subsequently — about half-an-hour later — I again met him, and, as I was then on my way to look at some work at a distant part of the estate, asked him to walk with me, which he did. His conversation was of the ordinary character; if anything, he seemed somewhat depressed at the bad times and the low prices of farming produce. I remember he asked me to give him some wire rope to make a fence on his farm, which I consented to do. Returning from our walk, and on entering the village, I pulled up at the cross- roads to say good evening, the road to his lodgings taking him at right angles to mine. I was surprised to hear him say, 'Come and smoke a cigar with me to-night.' To which I replied, 'I cannot very well, I am engaged this evening.' 'Do come,' he said. 'No,' I replied, 'I will look in another evening.' And with this we parted. We had separated about 40 yards when he turned around and exclaimed, 'Then if you will not come, good-bye.' This was the last time I saw him alive.
"I spent the evening in my dining-room in writing, and for some hours I may say that probably no thought of young B. passed through my mind. The night was bright and clear, full or nearly full moon, still, and without wind. Since I had come in slight snow had fallen, just sufficient to make the ground show white.
"At about 5 minutes to 10 o'clock I got up and left the room, taking up a lamp from the hall table, and replacing it on a small table standing in a recess of the window in the breakfast-room. The curtains were not drawn across the window. I had just taken down from the nearest book- case a volume of 'Macgillivray's British Birds' for reference, and was in the act of reading the passage, the book held close to the lamp, and my shoulder touching the window shutter, and in a position in which almost the slightest outside sound would be heard, when I distinctly heard the front gate opened and shut again with a clap, and footsteps advancing at a run up the drive; when opposite the window the steps changed from sharp and distinct on gravel to dull and less clear on the grass slip below the window, and at the same time I was conscious that someone or some- thing stood close to me outside, only the thin shutter and a sheet of glass dividing us. I could hear the quick panting laboured breathing of the messenger, or whatever it was, as if trying to recover breath before speaking. Had he been attracted by the light through the shutter. Suddenly, like a gunshot, inside, outside, and all around, there broke out the most appalling shriek — a prolonged wail of horror, which seemed to freeze the blood, it was not a single shriek, but more prolonged, com- mencing in a high key, and then less and less, wailing away towards the north, and becoming weaker and weaker as it receded in sobbing pulsations of intense agony. Of my fright and horror I can say nothing — increased tenfold when I walked into the dining-room and found my wife sitting quietly at her work close to the window, in the same line and distant only 10 or 12 feet from the corresponding window in the breakfast-room. She had heard nothing. I could see that at once; and from the position in which she was sitting, I knew she could not have failed to hear any noise outside and any footstep on the gravel. Perceiving I was alarmed about some- thing, she asked, 'What is the matter?' 'Only someone outside,' I said. Then why do you not go out and see? You always do when you hear any unusual noise.' I said, 'There is something so queer and dreadful about the noise. I dare not face it. It must have been the Banshee shrieking.'
"Young S. B., on leaving me, went home to his lodgings. He spent most of the evening on the sofa, reading one of Whyte Melville's novels. He saw his groom at 9 o'clock and gave him orders for the following day. The groom and his wife, who were the only people in the house besides S. B., then went to bed.
"At the inquest the groom stated that when about falling asleep, he was suddenly aroused by a shriek, and on running into his master's room found him expiring on the floor. It appeared that young B. had undressed upstairs, and then came down to his sitting-room in trousers and night- shirt, had poured out half-a-glass of water, into which he emptied a small bottle of prussic acid (procured that morning under the plea of poisoning a dog, which he did not possess). He walked upstairs, and on entering his room drank off the glass, and with a scream fell dead on the floor. All this happened, as near as I can ascertain, at the exact time when I had been so much alarmed at my own house. It is utterly impossible that any sound short of a cannon shot could have reached me from B.'s lodgings.
"Having to leave home by the early train, I was out very soon on the following morning, and on going to examine the ground beneath the window found no footsteps on grass or drive, still covered with the slight sprinkling of snow which had fallen on the previous evening.
"The whole thing had been a dream of the moment — an imagination, call it what you will; I simply state these facts as they occurred, without attempting any explanation, which, indeed, I am totally unable to give. The entire incident is a mystery, and will ever remain a mystery to me. I did not hear the particulars of the tragedy till the following afternoon, having left home by an early train. The motive of suicide was said to be a love affair."
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