Davenport's Story (1902)

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It was a rainy afternoon, and we had been passing the time by telling ghost stories. That is a very good sort of thing for a rainy afternoon, and it is a much better time than after night. If you tell ghost stories after dark they are apt to make you nervous, whether you own up to it or not, and you sneak home and dodge upstairs in mortal terror, and undress with your back to the wall, so that you can't fancy there is anything behind you.

We had each told a story, and had had the usual assortment of mysterious noises and death warnings and sheeted spectres and so on, down through the whole catalogue of horrors—enough to satisfy any reasonable ghost-taster. But Jack, as usual, was dissatisfied. He said our stories were all second-hand stuff. There wasn't a man in the crowd who had ever seen or heard a ghost; all our so-called authentic stories had been told us by persons who had the story from other persons who saw the ghosts.

"One doesn't get any information from that," said Jack. "I never expect to get so far along as to see a real ghost myself, but I would like to see and talk to one who had."

Some persons appear to have the knack of getting their wishes granted. Jack is one of that ilk. Just as he made the remark, Davenport sauntered in and, finding out what was going on, volunteered to tell a ghost story himself—something that had happened to his grandmother, or maybe it was his great-aunt; I forget which. It was a very good ghost story as ghost stories go, and Davenport told it well. Even Jack admitted that, but he said:

"It's only second-hand too. Did you ever have a ghostly experience yourself, old man?"

Davenport put his finger tips critically together.

"Would you believe me if I said I had?" he asked.

"No," said Jack unblushingly.

"Then there would be no use in my saying it."

"But you don't mean that you ever really had, of course?"

"I don't know. Something queer happened once. I've never been able to explain it—from a practical point of view, that is. Want to hear about it?"

Of course we did. This was exciting. Nobody would ever have suspected Davenport of seeing ghosts.

"It's conventional enough," he began. "Ghosts don't seem to have much originality. But it's firsthand, Jack, if that's what you want. I don't suppose any of you have ever heard me speak of my brother, Charles. He was my senior by two years, and was a quiet, reserved sort of fellow—not at all demonstrative, but with very strong and deep affections.

"When he left college he became engaged to Dorothy Chester. She was very beautiful, and my brother idolized her. She died a short time before the date set for their marriage, and Charles never recovered from the blow.

"I married Dorothy's sister, Virginia. Virginia did not in the least resemble her sister, but our eldest daughter was strikingly like her dead aunt. We called her Dorothy, and Charles was devoted to her. Dolly, as we called her, was always 'Uncle Charley's girl.'

"When Dolly was twelve years old Charles went to New Orleans on business, and while there took yellow fever and died. He was buried there, and Dolly half broke her childish heart over his death.

"One day, five years later, when Dolly was seventeen, I was writing letters in my library. That very morning my wife and Dolly had gone to New York en route for Europe. Dolly was going to school in Paris for a year. Business prevented my accompanying them even as far as New York, but Gilbert Chester, my wife's brother, was going with them. They were to sail on the Aragon the next morning.

"I had written steadily for about an hour. At last, growing tired, I threw down my pen and, leaning back in my chair, was on the point of lighting a cigar when an unaccountable impulse made me turn round. I dropped my cigar and sprang to my feet in amazement. There was only one door in the room and I had all along been facing it. I could have sworn nobody had entered, yet there, standing between me and the bookcase, was a man—and that man was my brother Charles!

"There was no mistaking him; I saw him as plainly as I see you. He was a tall, rather stout man, with curly hair and a fair, close-clipped beard. He wore the same light-grey suit which he had worn when bidding us good-bye on the morning of his departure for New Orleans. He had no hat on, but wore spectacles, and was standing in his old favourite attitude, with his hands behind him.

"I want you to understand that at this precise moment, although I was surprised beyond measure, I was not in the least frightened, because I did not for a moment suppose that what I saw was—well, a ghost or apparition of any sort. The thought that flashed across my bewildered brain was simply that there had been some absurd mistake somewhere, and that my brother had never died at all, but was here, alive and well. I took a hasty step towards him.

"'Good heavens, old fellow!' I exclaimed. 'Where on earth have you come from? Why, we all thought you were dead!'

"I was quite close to him when I stopped abruptly. Somehow I couldn't move another step. He made no motion, but his eyes looked straight into mine.

"'Do not let Dolly sail on the Aragontomorrow,' he said in slow,  clear tones that I heard distinctly.

"And then he was gone—yes, Jack, I know it is a very conventional way of ending up a ghost story,| but I have to tell you just what occurred, or at least what I thought occurred. One moment he was there and the next moment he wasn't. He did not pass me or go out of the door.

"For a few moments I felt dazed. I was wide awake and in my right and proper senses so far as I could judge, and yet the whole thing seemed incredible. Scared? No, I wasn't conscious of being scared. I was simply bewildered.

"In my mental confusion one thought stood out sharply—Dolly was in danger of some kind, and if the warning was really from a supernatural source, it must not be disregarded. I rushed to the station and, having first wired to my wife not to sail on the Aragon, I found that I could connect with the five-fifteen train for New York. I took it with the comfortable consciousness that my friends would certainly think I had gone out of my mind.

"I arrived in New York at eight o'clock the next morning and at once drove to the hotel where my wife, daughter and brother-in-law were staying. I found them greatly mystified by my telegram. I suppose my explanation was a very lame one. I know I felt decidedly like a fool. Gilbert laughed at me and said I had dreamed the whole thing. Virginia was perplexed, but Dolly accepted the warning unhesitatingly.

"'Of course it was Uncle Charley,' she said confidently. 'We will not sail on the Aragon now.'

"Gilbert had to give in to this decision with a very bad grace, and the Aragon sailed that day minus three of her intended passengers.

"Well, you've all heard of the historic collision between the Aragon and the Astarte in a fog, and the fearful loss of life it involved. Gilbert didn't laugh when the news came, I assure you. Virginia and Dolly sailed a month later on the Marseilles, and reached the other side in safety. That's all the story, boys—the only experience of the kind I ever had," concluded Davenport.

We had many questions to ask and several theories to advance. Jack said Davenport had dreamed it and that the collision of the Aragon and the Astarte was simply a striking coincidence. But Davenport merely smiled at all our suggestions and, as it cleared up just about three, we told no more ghost stories.

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