A Ghost



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 conditions 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 preceptions of

nomadism as lie within the very small range of one's own observation.

And whatever in these is 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-wrecking, sudden isolations, abrupt severances from all attachment,

which form the history of the nomad--the knowledge that a strong 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 place.

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

outstretching 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 splendor 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

preexistence. Vainly you ask yourself, "Whose voice? Whose face?" It is

neither young nor old, the Face; it has a vapory 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 suns?"

* * * * *

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?