I am dying; the solid world, that once was so much to me and in which I held a great place, is slipping fast away like the ending of a dream. I have faith that I may wake in a brighter one. I look about me at the whitewashed walls of the prison infirmary, and am glad that this is at an end; I tell this story to one who has been a good friend to me and who will write it down, so that all men may know what my life has been, and may understand the ruin that fell upon me.
So many tales have got about, as to the crime I committed, that it is just and right that the truth should be told; as I hope for mercy I lay my hand upon my heart and look at the white ceiling above me and swear this is the truth.
I was said to be wild as a young man; I do not think it can ever be claimed I was vicious. The world seemed very full of wonderful things and I longed to see them; life stretched out before me like a great panorama, and I wanted to examine every corner of the picture. So, at an age when most boys are still in the home-nest, I had started out to make my fortune in what fashion I could.
I made that fortune somewhat more rapidly than most men have done. That was a day of new countries, when fortunes were to be picked out of the solid earth; when cities rose in a night, as it were; and when a man who rose a beggar in the morning might lie down at night a millionaire —or something very near it, at all events. I was one of the lucky ones; everything seemed to prosper with me; and I looked forward to returning, within a very short time, back to the old country a rich man. Then, in an evil hour, I thought I saw a chance to take a bigger stride even than before; and I arranged a partnership with Alan Mophant. Mophant was one of those bright, bold, dashing sort of creatures, who seem to twine their way into the hearts of their fellows, and who are always ready with a smile and a jest for good or ill fortune. I liked him; trusted him utterly. He repaid my trust by robbing me of all I had in a desolate part of Mexico, and leaving me penniless and almost starving. The crime was blacker when I remember that I was lying ill of a fever and could not help myself.
My fortune was gone; I had to begin all over again. A kindly woman nursed me back to life and health; and I set out with one bitter hope in my mind: to find Alan Mophant and take my revenge for the wrong he had done me. I couldn’t begin to make another fortune until I had found him —until I had met him face to face.
I was prospecting a little later in a place hundreds of miles from where he had deserted me and had practically given up all hope of finding him, when I suddenly came upon him — almost walked into his arms, as it were. We were all alone, as it happened; and, almost before he knew what had occurred, I was upon him, and we were grappling together like tigers.
I swear I did not mean to kill him; I don’t think I knew what my real intention was at that moment. All I thought of was the fact that the man who had robbed me of all I had toiled so hard to get, and who had deserted me when I was almost dying, was in my clutches. So we gripped each other and swayed about, breathing hard and not speaking a word.
Suddenly I saw behind him what he could not see himself. In that desperate fight we had worked together to the very edge of a precipice, which went sheer down almost from under his feet. In the deadly fear of the moment I struck at him and strove to breakaway; he slipped, and went backward heavily and plunged out of sight.
I knew the place well; I knew that no man could live who went down that awful depth. Sick with horror I crept away and put as great a distance as possible between myself and the place where I had killed him. For I felt that, although the thing was accidental, I was responsible for his death.
It was never known. In that wild place men came and went, and were not of much more account than the beasts and birds they slew for food. Alan Mophant was not missed and I was not suspected.
I went to another part and began life again. The old luck was with me and everything I touched was sure to be right. I built up a fortune — by myself this time—and came to England to enjoy it.
If I ever thought of the matter at all, in the years that followed, I thought of it only as some uneasy dream; I think I came, in time, to regard it as nothing else than that. If ever in wakeful hours of the night the memory of it came back to me I justified that old fault by saying that the man had robbed and wronged me, and that his death was the proper penalty; I excused myself for what had been but an accident. And never, in all that time, did I breathe, to a living soul what had happened in that desolate place at the other side of the world, when Alan Mophant and I had met face to face and he had died.
That old life was left so far behind that the time came when, with English investments and English interests, I almost persuaded myself that I had never been anything but the staid and sober citizen I became. I married one of the most gracious and lovely women imaginable; and, although she came of an old race and had possessions of her own, I married her for love. And, although we talked often of my old adventures and of my wanderings in other places, and although I knew she believed my mind and my past life were as an open book to her, yet that page was never turned — and she never heard the name of Alan Mophant.
Twelve years went by; and one winter night I sat alone in my own particular room in my big house in London. Let me say at once that there was nothing ghostly about the place; there was not the faintest thing in the room or in anything that surrounded me to suggest the past. It was a cosy room and a bright fire burned in it; certain comfortable spirits and cigars stood at my elbow; certain comfortable well-fed servants were within call at a moment’s notice. I mention all these things because I want it to be clearly understood that I was in no frame of mind for sudden surprises— that I was a sane, quiet citizen in his own house in the heart of London, thinking how comfortable it would be to go up presently to my well-warmed room and sleep the peace of a man with a good conscience.
Suddenly I experienced that queer feeling which has come to most of us frequently— the feeling that there was someone in the room. It was very late, as I have said, and the house was quiet. I sprang up abruptly and saw, standing near the door, a shadowy grey figure.
I knew that figure in a moment. Twelve years had gone by, and I had not forgotten the face of my enemy. It was the figure of the man I had killed— Alan Mophant. The figure stood perfectly still; only the eyes seemed to move a little as they looked at me. I felt that after twelve years this thing had come from the grave to haunt me.
I saw, even in the shadowy corner where he stood, the deep scar upon his forehead; I saw also a livid mark down one side of his face; all evidence of the frightful injuries he had received before he died. For I felt, as I looked at him, no shadow of doubt but that he really was dead and that the figure before me was the ghost of him, come back from the grave to haunt me.
“You are the ghost of Alan Mophant,” I said, in a low tone.
He laughed, with that laugh I remembered so well; he remained where I had first seen him, in the shadows. “Oh, yes —I’m the ghost of Alan Mophant,” he said. “You thought you’d done with me, didn’t you? You believed in the old idea that dead men tell no tales. I’ve wandered a long way to find you; I won’t leave you in a hurry now. Twelve years — isn’t it? —since you tossed me out of life.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked, in terror. “What do you want with me?”
The ghost seemed to enjoy the grim humour of the thing; he laughed aloud.
“I’ve come back from the grave,” he replied in a whisper. “I’ve come back to haunt you. I’ve waited all these years until I could see you rich and prosperous; I come back now, at my own chosen time. Yes, my friend — I’m going to haunt you!”
I remember that I turned away at that moment — perhaps because I could not bear the sight of that scarred and broken face. When I looked round again I was alone; that corner of the room was empty. After a moment’s pause I ran out, calling aloud to the servants; when they came up to me, surprised and startled by my loud cry, I asked if they had seen anyone or anything pass them. They looked at me in wonderment and shook their heads, and said that no one had come in or gone out. I knew then what it meant; I went back to my room afraid of the shadows — afraid of myself.
From that time the Thing haunted me. Always at night, when perhaps I would have almost forgotten that it had ever risen from the grave, it would stand suddenly in that corner of the room and call to me. I changed my room; I had the furniture shifted about, so as to give a fresh aspect to the other room I chose; it was all useless. Always at night came that Thing, to jeer and laugh at me.
It broke me down and wore me out within a month. Within a month I had left my speculations and the business I had delighted in to take care of themselves; I had fled from the ghost of Alan Mophant. My wife was frightened at the change that had come over me; I dared not tell her the cause. I let everything go: I forgot all the happiness I had gradually built up for myself; out of the grave had come Alan Mophant to haunt me with the memory of the past.
I can scarcely remember, after all these years, how it came about; I think the horror of that figure must have turned my brain at last. I only know that some old foolish tale about the laying of a ghost occurred to me and took possession of my mind and would not be banished.
I had heard that a silver bullet could kill or banish such an unearthly visitant as mine. I determined to try it; I think at that time I was mad enough to try anything. I melted down a silver ornament I had, secretly at night, and moulded a bullet out of it. I loaded an old pistol — a heavy, old-fashioned thing — and waited my opportunity.
I did not dare to fire at it in the house, nor was it necessary. At that time the spirit of the dead man came abroad with me sometimes at night, flitting along by my side through the darkened streets, while I kept away from it as much as I could.
I remember we came to a lonely place on the outskirts of London. I can see now as I saw then, the gleaming lights of the great city lying below us. I lured the ghostly thing on; then turned suddenly and fired point-blank at its breast. It flung up its arms and fell forward at my feet.
I had expected that it would vanish; perhaps I had not known quite what to expect. In terror I went near to it in the darkness and bent down and ventured to touch it. To my horror I touched warm flesh.
While I knelt there he turned towards me and raised his head a little. “You — you’ve done it — this time,” he said in a voice I remembered so well. “I managed to crawl back — back to life — twelve years before. The rest — was a trick. This ends it.”
They caught me there, kneeling beside him. The tale I told was so wild that they wrote me down as being mad; they shut me away from my fellows for the rest of my life. I’m an old man now; I am dying; it cannot matter. But the ghost of Alan Mophant has haunted me through all these years, appearing at night, hovering over me, whispering incessantly in my ears, tormenting me and, undoubtedly, will continue to do so until the good friend who writes this closes my eyes at the last.