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Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan and the Online
ALL MEN ARE GHOSTS
BY L. P. JACKS
AUTHOR OF “MAD SHEPHERDS,” “AMONG THE IDOLMAKERS,”
“THE ALCHEMY OF THOUGHT”
WILLIAMS & NORGATE
14 HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN
I DEDICATE THIS VOLUME
TO WHOM I OWE MORE THAN COULD BE TOLD
WERE MANY PAGES EMPLOYED
IN THE RECITAL
Of the stories in this volume, “Farmer Jeremy and his Ways” has already appeared in the Cornhill; “The Magic Formula,” “The Professor’s Mare,” and “White Roses” in the Atlantic Monthly. These are reprinted with the permission of the respective Editors. Some additions have been made which were precluded by the shorter form of the magazine story.
At first sight, if the bird be flown;
But what fair well or grove he sings in now,
That is to him unknown.
Call to the soul while man doth sleep;
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
And into glory peep.”
ALL MEN ARE GHOSTS
Ed egli a me, ‘Come il mio corpo stea
Nel mondo su, nulla scienza porto.'”
PANHANDLE LAYS DOWN A PRINCIPLE
“The first principle to guide us in the study of the subject,” said Panhandle, “is that no genuine ghost ever recognised itself as what you suppose it to be. The conception which the ghost has of its own being is fundamentally different from yours. Because it lacks solidity you deem it less real than yourself. The ghost thinks the opposite. You imagine that its language is a squeak. From the ghost’s point of view the squeaker is yourself. In short, the attitude of mankind towards the realm of ghosts is regarded by them as a continual affront to the majesty of the spiritual world, perpetrated by beings who stand on a low level of intelligence; and for that reason they seldom appear or make any attempt at open communication, doing their work in secret and disclosing their identity only to selected souls. Far from admitting that they are less real than you, they regard themselves as possessed of reality vastly more intense than yours. Imagine what your own feelings would be if, at this moment, I were to treat you as a gibbering bogey, and you will then have some measure of the contempt which ghosts entertain for human beings.”
“You must confess, my dear Panhandle,” I answered, “that you are flying in the face of the greatest authorities, and have the whole literature of the subject against you. You tell me that no genuine ghost ever recognised itself as such.”
“I mean, of course,” interrupted Panhandle, “that it never recognised itself as a ghost in your inadequate sense of the term.”
“Then,” said I, “what do you make of the Ghost’s words in Hamlet:
This one, at all events, recognised itself as such.”
“In attributing those words to the Ghost,” said Panhandle, “Shakespeare was using him as a stage property and as a means of playing to the gallery, which is incapable of right notions on this subject. But there is another passage in the same group of scenes which shows that Shakespeare was not wholly ignorant of the inner mind of ghosts. Listen to this:—
Together with that fair and warlike form
In which the majesty of buried Denmark
Did sometimes march? By Heaven I charge thee, speak!
“Now, what does that mean?” he continued. “The words of Horatio imply that the Ghost has usurped a reality which does not belong to him; that he is a wraith, a goblin, or some such absurdity—that, in short, he is going to be treated in the idiotic manner which is usual with men in the presence of such apparitions. Doubtless the Ghost saw that these men were afraid of him, that their hair was standing on end and their knees knocking together. Disgusted at such an exhibition of what to him would appear as a mixture of stupidity and bad manners, he turned up his nose at the lot of them and stalked away in wrath. No self-respecting ghost would ever consent to be so treated; and that may help you to understand why communications from the world of spirits are comparatively rare. Ghosts who believe in the existence of human beings often regard them as idiots. To communicate with such imbeciles is to court an insult, or at least to expose the communicating spirit to an exhibition of revolting antics and limited intelligence. From their point of view, men are a race of beings whose acquaintance is not worth cultivating.”
“Your words imply,” I said, “that some of the ghosts do not believe in our existence at all.”
“The majority are of that mind,” he answered. “Belief in the existence of beings like yourself is regarded among them as betokening a want of mental balance. A ghost who should venture to assert that you, for example, were real would certainly risk his reputation, and if he held a scientific professorship or an ecclesiastical appointment he would be sneered at by his juniors and made the victim of some persecution. I may tell you incidentally that the ghosts have among them a Psychical Research Society which has been occupied for many years in investigating the reality of the inhabitants of this planet. By the vast majority of ghosts the proceedings of the Society are viewed with indifference, and the claim, which is occasionally made, that communication has been established with the beings whom we know as men is treated with contempt. The critics point to the extreme triviality of the alleged communications from this world. They say that nothing of the least importance has ever come through from the human side, and are wont to make merry over the imbecility and disjointed nonsense of the messages reported by the mediums; for you must understand that there are mediums on that side as well as on this. I happen to know of two instances. Some time ago two questions, purporting to come from this world, reached the ghosts. One was, ‘What will be the price of Midland Preferred on January 1, 1915?’ The other, ‘Will it be a boy or a girl?’ For months a committee of ghostly experts has been investigating these communications, the meaning of which proved at first sight utterly unintelligible in that world. The matter is still undecided; but the conclusion most favoured at the moment is that the messages are garbled quotations from an eminent poet among the ghosts. Meanwhile more than one great reputation has been sacrificed and the sceptics are jubilant.”
“As you speak, Panhandle,” I said, “it suddenly occurs to me, with a kind of shock, that at this moment these beings may be investigating the reality of my own existence. It would be interesting if I could find out what they suppose me to be.”
“I doubt if the knowledge would flatter you,” he answered. “It is highly probable that you would hear yourself interpreted in lower terms than even the most malicious of your enemies could invent. A friend of mine, who is a Doctor of Science, and extremely scornful as to the existence of spirits, is actually undergoing that investigation by the ghosts the results of which, if applied to yourself, you would find so interesting. Some assert that he is a low form of mental energy which has managed to get astray in the universe. Others declare that he is a putrid emanation from some kind of matter which science has not yet identified, without consciousness, but by no means without odour. They allege that they have walked through him.”
At this point of the conversation I suddenly remembered a question which I had several times had on the tip of my tongue to ask.
“Panhandle,” I said, “you seem to be on a familiar footing with the ghosts. How did you acquire it?”
“Ah, my friend,” he replied, “the answer to that is a long story. Come down to my house in the country, stay a fortnight, and I promise to give you abundant material for your next book.”
PANHANDLE NARRATES HIS HISTORY AND DESCRIBES THE HAUNTED HOUSE
Panhandle’s residence was situated in a remote part of the country, and at this moment I have no clear recollection of the complicated journey, with its many changes at little-known junctions, which I had to make in order to find my friend.
The residence stood in the midst of elevated woodlands, and was well hidden by the trees. An immense sky-sign, standing out high above all other objects and plainly visible to the traveller from whatever side he made his approach, had been erected on the roof. The sky-sign carried the legend “No Psychologists!” It turned with the wind, gyrating continually, and when darkness fell the letters were outlined in electric lamps. Only a blind man could miss the warning.
This legend was repeated over the main entrance to the grounds, with the addition of the word “Beware!” I thought of mantraps and ferocious dogs, and for some minutes I stood before the gates, wondering if it would be safe for me to enter. At last, remembering how several friends had assured me that I was “no psychologist,” I concluded that little harm awaited me, plucked up my courage, and boldly advanced.
Beyond the gates I found the warning again repeated with a more emphatic truculence and a finer particularity. At intervals along the drive I saw notice-boards projecting from the barberries and the laurels, each with some new version of the original theme. “Death to the Psychology of Religion” were the words inscribed on one. The next was even more precise in its application, and ran as follows:—
“Inquisitive psychologists take notice!
Panhandle has a gun,
And will not hesitate to shoot.“
Somewhat shaken I approached the front door and was startled to see a long, glittering thing suddenly thrust through an open window in the upper storey; and the man behind the weapon was unquestionably Panhandle himself. “Can it be,” I said aloud, “that Panhandle has taken me for an inquisitive psychologist?”
“Advance,” cried my host, who had a keen ear for such undertones. “Advance and fear nothing.” A moment later he grasped me warmly by the hand, “Welcome, dearest of friends,” he was saying. “You have arrived at an opportune moment. The house is full of guests who are longing to meet you.”