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Prologue, and Ch. 13: Mr. Percival's Tale

from A Mirror of Shalott:
Composed of Tales told at a Symposium

by Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914)


.... And moving through a mirror clear
     That hangs before her all the year
     Shadows of the world appear....

                        "The Lady of Shalott"


"I MAINTAIN," said Monsignor with a brisk air of aggressiveness and
holding his pipe a moment from his mouth, "I maintain that
agnosticism is the only reasonable position in these matters.  Your
common agnostic is no agnostic at all; he is the most dogmatic of
sectarians.  He declares that such things do not happen, or that
they can be explained always on a materialistic basis.  Now your
Catholic ——"

  Father Bianchi bristled, and rolled his black eyes fiercely.  If
he had had a moustache he would have twirled it.

  We were sitting in the upstairs sala of the presbytery attached
to the Canadian Church of S. Filippo in Rome.  It had been a large
comfortless room, stone-floored, stone-walled and plaster-
ceilinged, but it had been made possible by numerous rugs, a number
of armchairs and an English fireplace.  Above, in the cold plaster,
dingy flesh-coloured gods and nymphs attempted to lounge on cotton
clouds with studied ease, looking down dispiritedly upon seven
priests and myself, a layman, who sat in a shallow semi-circle
round the red logs.  In '71 the house had fallen into secular
hands, whence issued the gods and nymphs, but in '97 the Church had
come by her own again, and had not yet banished Olympus.  There was
no need to annihilate the conquered.

  In the centre sat the Father Rector, a placid old man, and round
about him were the rest of us — Monsignor Maxwell, a French priest,
an English, an Italian, a Canadian, a German and myself.  This was
five years ago.  I do not know where these people are now; one I
think is in heaven, two I should suppose in purgatory, four on
earth.  In spite of my feelings towards Padre Bianchi, I should
assign him to purgatory.  He made a good death two years later in
the Naples epidemic.

  We had begun at supper by discussing modern miracles.  The second
nocturn had furnished the text to the mouth of Monsignor, and we
had passed on by natural channels to levitation, table-turning,
family curses, ghosts and banshees.  The Italian was sceptical and
scornful.  Such things in his opinion did not take place  he
excepted only the incidents recorded in the lives of the saints. 
I did not mind his scepticism (that, after all, injures no one but
the sceptic); but scorn and contumely is another matter, and I was
glad that Canon Maxwell had taken him in hand, for that priest has
a shrewd and acrid tongue, and wears purple, besides, round his
person and on his buttons, so he speaks with authority.

  "You have some tale then, no doubt, Monsignor?" sneered the

  The Englishman smiled with tight lips.

  "Every one has," he said briefly.  "Even you, Padre Bianchi, if
you will but tell it."

  The other shook his head indulgently.

  "I will swear," he said, "that none here has such a tale at

  It was Father Meuron's turn to bristle.

  "But yes!" he exclaimed.

  Canon Maxwell drew on his pipe a moment or two and regarded the

  "I have a proposition to make," he said.  "Father Bianchi is
right.  I have one tale, and Father Meuron has another.  With the
Father Rector's permission we will tell our tales, one each night. 
On Sunday two or three of us are supping at the French College, so
that shall be holiday, and by Monday night these other gentlemen
will, no doubt, have remembered experiences — even Father Bianchi,
I believe.  And Mr. Benson shall write them down, if he wishes to,
and make an honest penny or two if he can get any publisher to take
the book."

  I hastened to express my approval of the scheme.

  The Father Rector moved in his chair.

  "That will be very amusing, Monsignor.  I am entirely in favour
of it, though I doubt my own capacity.  I propose that Canon
Maxwell takes the chair."

  "Then I understand that all will contribute one story," said
Monsignor briskly, "on those terms ——"

  There was a chorus of assent.

  "One moment, Monsignor," interrupted Father Brent.  "Would it not
be worth while to have a short discussion first as to the whole
affair?  I must confess that my own ideas are not clear."

  "Well," said Monsignor shortly, "on what point?"

  The younger priest mused a moment.

  "It is like this," he said.  "Half at least of the stories one
hears have no point — no reason.  Take the ordinary haunted house
ta]e, or the appearances at the time of death.  Now what is the
good of all that?  They tell us nothing; they don't generally ask
for prayers.  It is just a white woman wringing her hands, or a
groaning, or something.  At the best one only finds a skeleton
behind the panelling.  Now my story, if I tell it, has absolutely
no point at all."

  "No point!" said Monsignor; "you mean that you don't understand
the point, or that no one does?  Is that it?"

  "Well, yes; but there is more too.  How do you square these
things with purgatory?  How can spirits go wandering about, and be
so futile at the end of it too? Then why is everything so vague? 
Why don't they give us a hint — I'm not wanting precise information
 — but a kind of hint of the way things go?  Then the whole thing is
mixed up with such childish nonsense.  Look at the spiritualists,
and the tambourine business, and table-rapping.  Either those
things are true, even if they're diabolical — and in that case
people in the spiritual world seem considerably sillier even than
people in this — or they're not true; and in that case the whole
thing is so fraudulent that it seems useless to inquire.  Do you
see my point?"

  "I see about twenty," said Monsignor.  "And it would take all
night to answer them.  But let me take two.  Firstly, I am entirely
willing to allow that half the stories one hears are fraudulent or
hysterical; I'm quite ready to allow that.  But it seems to me that
there remain a good many others  and if one doesn't accept those to
some extent, I don't know what becomes of the value of human
evidence.  Now one of your points, I take it, is that even these
seem generally quite pointless and useless?  Is that it?"

  "More or less," said Father Brent.

  "Well, first, I would say this.  It seems perfectly clear that
these other stories aren't sent to help our faith, or anything like
that.  I don't believe that for one instant.  We have got all we
need in the Catholic Church, and the moral witness, and the rest. 
But what I don't understand in your position is this — What earthly
right have you got to think that they're sent just for your

  The other demurred.

  "I don't," he said.  "But I suppose they're sent for somebody's

  "Somebody still on earth, you mean?"

  "Well — yes."

  Monsignor leaned forward.

  "My dear Father, how very provincial you are — if I may say so I
Here is this exceedingly small earth, certainly with a very fair
number of people living on it — but absolutely a mere fraction of
the number of intelligences that are in existence.  And all about
us — since we must use that phrase — is a spiritual world, compared
with which the present generation is as a family of ants in the
middle of London.  Things happen —  this spiritual world is crammed
full of energy and movement and affairs...  We know practically
nothing of it all, except those few main principles which are
called the Catholic Faith — nothing else.  What conceivable right
have we to demand that the little glimpses that we seem to get
sometimes of the spiritual world are given us for our benefit or

  "Then why are they given?"

  Monsignor made a disdainful sound with closed lips.

  "My dear Father, a boy drops a piece-of orange peel into the
middle of the ants' nest one day.  The ants summon a council at
once and sit on it.  They discuss the lesson that is to be learned
from the orange peel: they come to the conclusion that Buckingham
Palace must be built entirely of orange peel, and that the reason
why it was sent to them was that they were to learn that great and
important lesson."

  Father Brent sat up suddenly.

  "My dear Monsignor, you seem to me to strike at the root of
revelation.  If we aren't to deduce things from supernatural
incidents, why should we believe in our religion?"

  Monsignor lifted a hand.

  "Next day there is slid into the ants' nest a box divided into
compartments, containing exactly that which the ants need for the
winter, food and so forth.  The ants hold another parliament. 
Two-thirds of them who have determined in the last hour or two to
reject the Buckingham-Palace-orange-peel theory, reject this too. 
All is fortuitous, they say.  The orange peel was; therefore the
box is!"

  Father Brent relapsed, smiling.

  "That is all right," he said; "I was a fool."

  "One-third," continued the Canon severely, "came to the not
unreasonable conclusion that a box which shows such evident signs
of intelligence, and of knowledge and care for their circumstances,
proceeds from an Intelligence which wishes them well.  But there is
a further schism.  Half of those who accept revelation remain
agnostic about most other things, and say frankly that they don't
know — especially as regards the orange peel.  The other half rages
on about the orange peel; some are inclined to think that there was
no orange peel — it was no more than an hallucination.  Others think
that there is some remarkable lesson to be learnt from it, and
these differ violently as to what the lesson is.  Others, again,
regard it unintelligently and say to one another, 'Look.  A piece
of orange peel!  How very beautiful and important."

  (I laughed softly to myself.  Monsignor spoke with such
earnestness.  I would like him to be my advocate if I ever get into

  "And, my dear Father," he went on, "I take up the first position
of those who accept revelation, and I acknowledge the fact of the
orange peel; but really nothing more.  My religion teaches me that
there is a spiritual world of indefinite size, and that things not
only may, but must, go on there which have nothing particular to do
with me.  Every now and then I get a glimpse of some of these
things — an orange pip, at the very least.  But I don't immediately
demand an explanation.  It probably isn't deliberately meant for me
at all.  It has something to do with affairs of which I know
nothing, and which manage to get on quite well without me."

  Father Brent, still smiling, protested once more.

  "Very ingenious, Monsignor; but then why does it happen to happen
to you?"

  "I have not the slightest idea, any more than I have the
slightest idea why Providence made me break a tooth this morning. 
I accept the fact; I believe that somehow it works into the scheme.

But I do not for that reason claim to understand it....  And as for
purgatory — well, I ask you, What in the world do we know about
purgatory except that there is such a thing, and that the souls of
the faithful there detained are assisted by our suffrages?  What
conceivable possibility is there that we should understand the
details of its management?  My dear Father, no one in this world
has a greater respect for, or confidence in, dogmatic theology than
myself; in fact, I may say that it is the only thing which I do
have confidence in.  But I respect the limits which it itself has
laid down."

  "Then you are an agnostic as regards everything but the faith?"

  "Certainly I am. — Well, possibly except mathematics, too, and so
is any wise man.  I have my ideas, of course, and I make guesses
sometimes; but I really do not think that they have any value.

  "There was silence a moment.

  "Then there is this, too," he continued.  "It really is important
to remember that the spiritual world exists in another mode from
that in which the material world exists.  That is where the
ant-simile breaks down.  It is more as if an ant went to the Royal
Academy....  Of course in the faith we have an adequate and
guaranteed translation of the supernatural into the natural, and
vice versa; and in these ghost stories, or whatever we call them,
we have a certain sort of translation too.  The Real Thing,
whatever it is, expresses itself in material terms, more or less. 
But in these we have no sort of guarantee that the translation is
adequate, or that we are adequate to understand it.  We can try, of
course; but we really don't know.  Therefore it seems to me that in
all ghost stories the best thing is to hear it, to satisfy
ourselves that the evidence is good or bad, and then to hold our
tongues.  We don't want elaborate commentaries on what may be,
after all, an utterly corrupt text."

  "But some of them do support the faith," put in Father Brent.

  "So much the better then.  But it is much safer not to lean your
weight on them.  You never can tell.  Now with the faith you can."

  There was another silence.

  Then the Rector stood up smiling.

  "Night prayers, Reverend Fathers," he said.


Mr. Percival's Tale

WHEN I came in from Mass into the refectory on the morning
following Father Stein's story, I found a layman breakfasting there
with the Father Rector.  We were introduced to one another; and I
learned that Mr. Percival was a barrister who had arrived from
England that morning on a holiday and was to stay at S. Filippo for
a fortnight.

  I yield to none in my respect for the clergy; at the same time a
layman feels occasionally something of a pariah among them: I
suppose this is bound to be so; so I was pleased then to find
another dog of my breed with whom I might consort, and even howl, 
if I so desired.  I was pleased, too, with his appearance.  He had
that trim academic air that is characteristic of the Bar, in spite
of his twenty-two hours journey; and was dressed in an excellently
made grey suit.  He was very slightly bald on his forehead, and had
those sharp-cut mask-like features that mark a man as either
lawyer, priest, or actor; he had besides delightful manners and
even, white teeth.  I do not think I could have suggested any
improvements in person, behaviour, or costume.

  By the time that my coffee had arrived, the Father Rector had run
dry of conversation and I could see that he was relieved when I
joined in.

  In a few minutes I was telling Mr. Percival about the symposium
we had formed for the relating of preternatural adventures; and I
presently asked him whether he had ever had any experience of the
kind.He shook his head.

  "I have not," he said in his virile voice; "my business takes my

  "I wish you had been with us earlier," put in the Rector.  "I
think you would have been interested."

  "I am sure of it," he said.  "I remember once — but you know,
Father, frankly I am something of a sceptic."

  "You remember ——?" I suggested.

  He smiled very pleasantly with eyes and mouth.

  "Yes, Mr. Benson; I was once next door to such a story.  A friend
of mine saw something; but I was not with him at the moment."

  "Well; we thought we had finished last night," I said, "but do
you think you would be too tired to entertain us this evening?"

  "I shall be delighted to tell-the story," he said easily.  "But
indeed I am a sceptic in this matter; I cannot dress it up."

  "We want the naked fact," I said.

  I went sight-seeing with him that day; and found him extremely
intelligent and at the same time accurate.  The two virtues do not
run often together; and I felt confident that whatever he chose to
tell us would be salient and true.  I felt, too, that he would need
few questions to draw him out; he would say what there was to be
said unaided.

  When we had taken our places that night, he began by again
apologizing for his attitude of mind.

  "I do not know, Reverend Fathers," he said, "what are your own
theories in this matter; but it appears to me that if what seems to
be preternatural can possibly be brought within the range of the
natural, one is bound scientifically to treat it in that way.  Now
in this story of mine — for I will give you a few words of
explanation first in order to prejudice your minds as much as
possible; in this story the whole matter might be accounted for by
the imagination.  My friend who saw what he saw was under rather
theatrical circumstances, and he is an Irishman.  Besides that, he
knew the history of the place in which he was; and he was quite
alone.  On the other hand, he has never had an experience of the
kind before or since; he is perfectly truthful, and he saw what he
saw in moderate daylight.  I give you these facts first, and I
think you would be perfectly justified in thinking they account for
everything.  As for my own theory, which is not quite that, I have
no idea whether you will agree or disagree with it.  I do not say
that my judgment is the only sensible one, or anything offensive
like that.  I merely state what I feel I am bound to accept for the

  There was a murmur of assent.  Then he crossed his legs, leaned
back and began:

  "In my first summer after I was called to the Bar I went down
South Wales for a holiday with another man who had been with me at
Oxford.  His name was Murphy: he is a J.P. now, in Ireland, I
think.  I cannot think why we went to South Wales; but there it is:
we did.

  "We took the train to Cardiff; sent on our luggage up the Taff
Valley to an inn of which I cannot remember the name; but it was
close to where Lord Bute has a vineyard.  Then we walked up to
Llandaff, saw St. Tylo's tomb; and went on again to this village.

  "Next morning we thought we would look about us before going on;
and we went out for a stroll.  It was one of the most glorious
mornings I ever remember, quite cloudless and very hot; and we went
up through woods to get a breeze at the top of the hill.

  "We found that the whole place was full of iron mines, disused
now, as the iron is richer further up the country; but I can tell
you that they enormously improved the interest of the place.  We
found shaft after shaft, some protected and some not, but mostly
overgrown with bushes, so we had to walk carefully.  We had passed
half-a-dozen, I should think, before the thought of going down one
of them occurred to Murphy.

  "Well, we got down one at last; though I rather wished for a rope
once or twice; and I think it was one of the most extraordinary
sights I have ever seen.  You know perhaps what the cave of a
demon-king is like, in the first act of a pantomime.  Well, it was
like that.  There was a kind of blue light that poured down the
shafts, refracted from surface to surface; so that the sky was
invisible.  On all sides passages ran into total darkness; huge
reddish rocks stood out fantastically everywhere in the pale light;
there was a sound of water falling into a pool from a great height
and presently, striking matches as we went, we came upon a couple
of lakes of marvellously clear blue water through which we could
see the heads of ladders emerging from other black holes of unknown
depth below.

  "We found our way out after a while into what appeared to be the
central hall of the mine.  Here we saw plain daylight again, for
there was an immense round opening at the top, from the edges of
which curved away the sides of the shaft, forming a huge circular

  "Imagine the Albert Hall roofless; or better still, imagine Saint
Peter's with the top half of the dome removed.  Of course it was
far smaller; but it gave an impression of great size; and it could
not have been less than two hundred feet from the edge, over which
we saw the trees against the sky, to the tumbled dusty rocky floor
where we stood.

  "I can only describe it as being like a great, burnt-out hell in
the Inferno.  Red dust lay everywhere, escape seemed impossible;
and vast crags and galleries, with the mouths of passages showing
high up, marked by iron bars and chains, jutted out here and there.

  "We amused ourselves here for some time, by climbing up the
sides, calling to one another, for the whole place was full of
echoes, rolling down stones from some of the upper ledges: but I
nearly ended my days there.

  "I was standing on a path, about seventy feet up, leaning against
the wall.  It was a path along which feet must have gone a thousand
times when the mine was in working order; and I was watching Murphy
who was just emerging on to a platform opposite me, on the other
side of the gulf.

  "I put my hand behind me to steady myself; and the next instant
very nearly fell forward over the edge at the violent shock to my
nerves given by a wood-pigeon who burst out of a hole, brushing my
hand as he passed.  I gripped on, however, and watched the bird
soar out across space, and then up and out at the opening  and then
I became aware that my knees were beginning to shake.  So I
stumbled along, and threw myself down on the little platform on to
which the passage led.

  "I suppose I had been more startled than I knew; for I tripped as
I went forward; and knocked my knee rather sharply on a stone.  I
felt for an instant quite sick with the pain on the top of jangling
nerves; and lay there saying what I am afraid I ought not to have

  "Then Murphy came up when I called; and we made our way together
through one of the sloping shafts; and came out on to the hillside
among the trees."

  Mr. Percival paused; his lips twitched a moment with amusement.

  "I am afraid I must recall my promise," he said.  "I told you all
this because I was anxious to give a reason for the feeling I had
about the mine, and which I am bound to mention.  I felt I never
wanted to see the place again — yet in spite of what followed I do
not necessarily attribute my feelings to anything but the shock and
the pain that I had had.  You understand that?" 

  His bright eyes ran round our faces.

  "Yes, yes," said Monsignor sharply, "go on, please, Mr.

  "Well then!"

  The lawyer uncrossed his legs and replaced them the other way.

  "During lunch we told the landlady where we had been; and she
begged us not to go there again.  I told her that she might rest
easy: my knee was beginning to swell.  It was a wretched beginning
to a walking tour.

  "It was not that, she said; but there had been a bad accident
there.  Four men had been killed there twenty years before by a
fall of rock.  That had been the last straw on the top of
ill-success; and the mine had been abandoned.

  "We inquired as to details: and it seemed that the accident had
taken place in the central chamber, locally called 'The Cathedral';
and after a few more questions I understood.

  "'That was where you were, my friend,' I said to Murphy, 'it was
where you were when the bird flew out.'

  "He agreed with me; and presently when the woman was gone
announced that he was going to the mine again to see the place.
Well; I had no business to keep him dangling about.  I couldn't
walk anywhere myself: so I advised him not to go on to that
platform again; and presently he took a couple of candles from the
sticks and went off.  He promised to be back by four o'clock; and
I settled down rather drearily to a pipe and some old magazines.

  "Naturally I fell sound asleep; it was a hot, drowsy afternoon
and the magazines were dull.  I awoke once or twice, and then slept
again deeply.

  "I was awakened by the woman coming in to ask whether I would
have tea; it was already five o'clock.  I told her Yes.  I was not
in the least anxious about Murphy; he was a good climber, and
therefore neither a coward nor a fool.

  "As tea came in I looked out of the window again, and saw him
walking up to the path, covered with iron-dust, and a moment later
I heard his step in the passage; and he came in.

  "Mrs. What's-her-name had gone out.

  "'Have you had a good time?' I asked.

  "He looked at me very oddly; and paused before he answered.

  "'Oh, yes,' he said; and put his cap and stick in a corner.

  "I knew Murphy.

  "'Well, why not?' I asked him, beginning to pour out tea.

  "He looked round at the door; then he sat down without noticing
the cup I pushed across to him.

  "'My dear fellow,' he said.  'I think I am going mad.'

  "Well; I forget what I said: but I understood that he was very
much upset about something; and I suppose I said the proper kind of
thing about his not being a qualified fool.

  "Then he told me his story.

  "Mr. Percival looked round at us again, still with that slight
twitching of the lips that seemed to signify amusement.

  "Please remember ——" he began; and then broke off. "No — I
won't ——"


  "He had gone down the same shaft that we went down in the
morning; and had spent a couple of hours exploring the passages. 
He had found an engine-room with tanks and rotten beams in it, and
rusty chains.  He had found some more lakes too, full of that
extraordinary electric-blue water; he had disturbed a quantity of
bats somewhere else.  Then he had come out again into the central
hall; and on looking at his watch had found it after four o'clock;
so he thought he would climb up by the way we had come in the
morning and go straight home.

  "It was as he climbed that his odd sensations began.  As he went
up, clinging with his hands, he became perfectly certain that he
was being watched.  He couldn't turn round very well; but he looked
up as he went to the opening overhead; but there was nothing there
but the dead blue sky, and the trees very green against it, and the
red rocks curving away on every side.  It was extraordinarily
quiet, he said, the pigeons had not come home from feeding, and he
was out of hearing of the dripping water that I told you of.

  "Then he reached the platform and the opening of the path where
I had had my fright in the morning; and turned round to look.

  "At first he saw nothing peculiar.  The rocks up which he had
come fell away at his feet down to the floor of the 'Cathedral' and
to the nettles with which he had stung his hands a minute or two
before.  He looked around at the galleries overhead and opposite;
but there was nothing there.

  "Then he looked across at the platform where he had been in the
morning and where the accident had taken place.

  "Let me tell you what this was like.  It was about twenty yards
in breadth, and ten deep; but lay irregular, and filled with
tumbled rocks.  It was a little below the level of his eyes, right
across the gulf; and, in a straight line, would be about fifty or
sixty yards away.  It lay under the roof, rather retired, so that
no light from the sky fell directly on to it; it would have been in
complete twilight if it hadn't been for a shaft smaller above it,
which shot down a funnel of bluish light, exactly like a
stage-effect.  You see, Reverend Fathers, it was very theatrical
altogether.  That might account no doubt ——"

  Mr. Percival broke off again, smiling.

  "I am always forgetting," he said.  "Well, we must go back to
Murphy.  At first he saw nothing but the rocks, and the thick red
dust, and the broken wall behind it.  He was very honest, and told
me that as he looked at it, he remembered distinctly what the
landlady had told us at lunch.  It was on that little stage that
the tragedy had happened. 

  "Then he became aware that something was moving among the rocks,
and he became perfectly certain that people were looking at him;
but it was too dusky to see very clearly at first.  Whatever it
was, was in the shadows at the back.  He fixed his eyes on what was
moving.  Then this happened."

  The lawyer stopped again.

  "I will tell you the rest," he said, "in his own words, so far as
I remember them.

  "'I was looking at this moving thing,' he said, 'which seemed
exactly of the red colour of the rocks, when it suddenly came out
under the funnel of light; and I saw it was a man.  He was in a
rough suit, all iron-stained; with a rusty cap; and he had some
kind of pick in his hand.  He stopped first in the centre light,
with his back turned to me, and stood there, looking.  I cannot say
that I was consciously frightened; I honestly do not know what I
thought he was.  I think that my whole mind was taken up in
watching him.

  "'Then he turned round slowly, and I saw his face.  Then I became
aware that if he looked at me I should go into hysterics or
something of the sort; and I crouched down as low as I could.  But
he didn't look at me; he was attending to something else; and I
could see his face quite clearly. He had a beard and moustache,
rather ragged and rusty; he was rather pale, but not particularly:
I judged him to be about thirty-five.'  Of course," went on the
lawyer, "Murphy didn't tell it me quite as I am telling it to you. 
He stopped a good deal, he drank a sip of tea once or twice, and
changed his feet about.

  "Well; he had seen this man's face very clearly; and described it
very clearly.

  "It was the expression that struck him most.

  "'It was a rather amused expression,' he said, 'rather pathetic
and rather tender; and he was looking interestedly about at
everything — at the rocks above and beneath: he carried his pick
easily in the crook of his arm.  He looked exactly like a man whom
I once saw visiting his home where he had lived as a child.' 
(Murphy was very particular about that, though I don't believe he
was right.)  'He was smiling a little in his beard, and his eyes
were half-shut.  It was so pathetic that I nearly went into
hysterics then and there,' said Murphy.  'I wanted to stand up and
explain that it was all right, but I knew he knew more than I did. 
I watched him, I should think for nearly five minutes, he went to
and fro softly in the thick dust, looking here and there, sometimes
in the shadow and sometimes out of it.  I could not have moved for
ten thousand pounds; and I could not take my eyes off him.

  "'Then just before the end, I did look away from him.  I wanted
to know if it was all real, and I looked at the rocks behind and
the openings.  Then I saw that there were other people there, at
least there were things moving, of the colour of the rocks.

  "'I suppose I made some sound then; I was horribly frightened. At
any rate, the man in the middle turned right round and faced me,
and at that I sank down, with the sweat dripping from me, flat on
my face, with my hands over my eyes.

  "'I thought of a hundred thousand things: of the inn, and you;
and the walk we had had: and I prayed — well, I suppose I prayed. 
I wanted God to take me right out of this place.  I wanted the
rocks to open and let me through.'"

  Mr. Percival stopped.  His voice shook with a tiny tremor.  He
cleared his throat.

  "Well, Reverend Fathers; Murphy got up at last, and looked about
him; and of course there was nothing there, but just the rocks and
the dust, and the sky overhead.  Then he came away home, the
shortest way."

  It was a very abrupt ending; and a little sigh ran round the

  Monsignor struck a match noisily, and kindled his pipe again.

  "Thank you very much, sir," he said briskly.

  Mr. Percival cleared his throat again; but before he could speak
Father Brent broke in.

  "Now that is just an instance of what I was saying, Monsignor,
the night we began.  May I ask if you really believe that those
were the souls of the miners?  Where's the justice of it?  What's
the point?"

  Monsignor glanced at the lawyer.

  "Have you any theory, sir?" he asked.

  Mr. Percival answered without lifting his eyes.

  "I think so," he said shortly, "but I don't feel in the least

  Father Brent looked at him almost indignantly. 

  "I should like to hear it," he said, "if you can square that ——"

  "I do not square it," said the lawyer.  "Personally I do not
believe they were spirits at all."


  "No.  I do not; though I do not wish to be dogmatic.  To my mind
it seems far more likely that this is an instance of Mr. Hudson's
theory — the American, you know.  His idea is that all apparitions
are no more than the result of violent emotions experienced during
life.  That about the pathetic expression is all nonsense, I

  "I don't understand," said Father Brent.

  "Well; these men, killed by the fall of the roof, probably went
through a violent emotion.  This would be heightened in some degree
by their loneliness and isolation from the world.  This kind of
emotion, Mr. Hudson suggests, has a power of saturating material
surroundings and which, under certain circumstances would once
more, like a phonograph, give off an image of the agent.  In this
instance, too, the absence of other human visitors would give this
materialized emotion a chance, so to speak, of surviving: there
would be very few cross-currents to confuse it.  And finally,
Murphy was alone; his receptive faculties would be stimulated by
that fact, and all that he saw, in my belief, was the physical wave
left by these men in dying."

  "Oh! did you not tell him so?"

  "I did not.  Murphy is a violent man."

  I looked up at Monsignor, and saw him nodding emphatically to


(prepared with assistance from Fr. John Woolley)