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A Midsummer Noon's Phantasm by E. C. B.


"Ghosts? No, I don't believe in ghosts: I have seen too many of them," is a very fair thing on one of the oldest of subjects. My case is different. I have been trying all my life to believe in ghosts, and saw my first four days ago. Toward noon I fell into a doze—very short and slight it must have been—over my book. No one was in the room, and the door was closed. The book was held up in the usual position, a little below the level of the eye, in the right hand. I awoke—if the word can be applied to what was so very slight a slumber—and saw limned with perfect distinctness against the page the head of a girl or boy six or eight years old, blue-eyed, light-haired, and fair but not clear in complexion. It was below life-size, not more than four inches in height. Only the head was visible, without anything below the jaw. At first it seemed perfectly solid, but the lines of print, which were still held up as in reading, gradually showed themselves through the fading apparition until it entirely died away. This happened in about a third of a minute, the beautiful little face continuing the whole time to gaze at me with a calm but not sad expression. It was not in full front, the right side being turned to me in what is called a three-quarter position. The light which illuminated it did not come from the window, which was directly behind me and gave all the light there was in the room, and yet the impression was in no respect that of a picture. Not for a moment did this interpretation occur to me, strongly as did the evanescent character of the head militate against the idea of reality. The fading was most rapid at the occiput, and may be said to have begun there, extending to the right and upward. There was no background or accessory of any kind, the head being quite isolated and detached, objectively as subjectively.

The lineaments were not those of any one of my acquaintance, and recalled no countenance I had ever seen. If the appearance suggested a young member of the family, it was not because of resemblance, but from his being frequently in my mind, and apt to be associated with any alarm due to the tinge of superstition from which none of us are wholly free. For the reason already given it could not have been a reminiscence of a picture. The shading and coloring were too exact for anything painted. My easel was, it is true, near by, on the opposite side of me, and on it were two heads of nearly the size of that I describe; but they were hard-featured old saints of a deep mahogany hue, relieved by a very dark background, and therefore the exact antipodes of my shadowy visitant. On these I had been painting an hour or two before; and that is the solitary connection conceivable between the spectre and anything tangible. The reader will perhaps be inclined to set it down as having been complementary to them. I do not think it was; but were it so, the point mainly craving explanation remains untouched—that what I saw was with the waking eye. It may have come from the land of dreams, or from a remote outlying province of it, but its perceptible existence was entirely in the realm of actualities. I was not conscious, and had no recollection, of having had a dream. It is true that, according to a theory necessarily and in its nature incapable of being sustained by positive proof, we may have unconscious dreams, and be always dreaming when asleep without knowing it. Persons who rise at night, take pen and paper and solve problems which had been the worry of their waking hours, and return to their couch still asleep, present cases analogous to mine in so far as their unconscious mental activity leaves an outcome and expression obvious to the senses. Another parallel would be that of a sleep-walking artist who should when in a state of somnambulism execute a picture. But neither case would be identical in principle with mine. The artist and the mathematician would both have executed in their sleep what they had laid the foundation of when awake. I, on the other hand, would, should I transfer my aërial sitter to canvas, simply paint what I saw when wide awake, just as in undertaking to reproduce any other face from memory, whether observed once for twenty seconds or frequently and for longer periods.

It is usual to explain the common stories of phantoms by attributing them to ocular illusion, aided or not aided by the imagination or by particular conditions of the bodily or mental health. The eye, of course, is never quite proof against deception, but there needs some little material for it; and in my case there was absolutely none—no waving sheet or trees or clouds, nothing but the printed page; and that was visible, unchanged except by the utterly inharmonious and contrasted image before it. My imagination was not affected before, at the time, or after. My pulse may have been a little quickened for the moment, for I did not accept the appearance as a matter of course, as we do everything, however preposterous, in a dream, but, on the contrary, quite recognized its abnormal character. I know of no existing cause of especial or temporary liability to any delusion of the kind. In short, though I have not—and had not when I continued after the disappearance to contemplate, without moving a muscle, the book against which the head had been projected, and coolly reflect upon what I had seen—the slightest belief that it was supernatural, I should be compelled, if called on in court, to swear that I had seen what must be provisionally named a spectre. "If I stand here, I saw it!"

E. C. B.