During what would prove to be one of my last visits to London, and only a few days before I left my solicitors firm, I had the honour of being entertained at a dinner party given by my partners. There were twelve of us altogether, Mr Leicester being the most senior. After dinner I turned the conversations upon the subject of the supernatural, and remarked that I did not think a dozen persons ever met without one of their number having seen a ghost.
“Now, who is here?” I asked, “who has seen a ghost?”
Sitting opposite me at the table was Mr. Simon Poates, solicitor, of 17, Parkinson Court, a young married man, about thirty-two, a member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, and one of the earliest members of our association.
He said — “I do not believe in ghosts, but I have seen one.”
“Was it the ghost of a living or a dead person?”‘ I enquired.
The response was immediate, “A ghost of a dead person.”
“How long had it been dead?” “Nine years.”
“Where did you see it?” “In Pitfield Street, near Hoxton.”
“In the day or night?” “At half-past 2 in the afternoon, in broad daylight.”
“Daylight you say. Well I never —”
I accepted his words at face value, such was the earnestness of his tone and countenance, and begged the storyteller to continue.
It was then that the conversation took on a life beyond mere staccato interview.
“I had left the office in Great Eastern Street at that particular time. I was going on an errand to Rivington Street, and had my mind full of my business. I went along Charlotte Road and entered Rivington Street, where the ghost came alongside me.”
“You believed it to be a ghost?” “Believe?”
His tart tone compelled me to adjust my question. “What made you certain it was a ghost ?”
“Because I recognised it immediately.” “Did it say anything?” “Yes, it spoke to me.” “What did it say to you?” “That I cannot say; it spoke of circumstances only known to myself.”
“Yes, and maintained my walk, the ghost travelling beside me exactly as if had been a living person. We walked down Rivington Street together, talking. There was nothing in the appearance of the ghost to impress upon any person that my companion was anything less than a living man. It wore a grey coat and a flat felt hat, which I had seen but once in the lifetime of the deceased. The part of Rivington Street we traversed together is about 350 yards long, and one of the busiest streets in the area. When I got to the corner of Curtain Road the ghost vanished. I did not see it arrive and I did not see it go; I only knew it was no longer there.”
“Were you not the least bit frightened?” “Not the least in the world.” “Did you not ask it any questions?” “No, none at all; I simply continued with the conversation which it had begun.”
“Did not its abrupt disappearance disturb you?” “No, not at all; it joined me without address, and left me as unannounced as it came. I did not see it fade, it simply was no longer there.”
“You said the ghost was familiar to you. You knew it?”
“Who was it, may I ask ?”
“It was the ghost of my father.”
“Your father —,” I answered, my voice throttled by surprise.
“Yes. He was standing beside me as clear as you are standing in front of me now.”
“Were your thoughts leading to its appearance that of your father?” “Not at all.” “And when he began speaking were you not at all surprised?” “No, not in the least.” “Nor inquisitive?”
“No, it seemed not out of place, nothing less than natural. My mind was chiefly focused on the place I was going to. In fact, it was not until the following day that I began to realise how odd it was that I had been speaking familiarly to my father nine years after he had died, in a busy London street. But that it was so I have not the faintest doubt. That I know. It was as singular an experience as I ever went through. As I said, I do not ordinarily have time for such things; yet, all I know is that I did walk down Rivington Street with my father nine years after his death.”
“And that is all.”
“Yes, that is all,” said the storyteller. “Almost—”
“I am unsure of it but I believe he made a second appearance a few days later.”
“Where?” I enquired.
“At my mother’s funeral. She had died suddenly and I was in attendance at the service. I was in conversation with the chief mourner, requesting that he convey my appreciation to those who had stood with their hats raised and heads bowed as the procession passed them on the way to St John’s Cemetery. It was then I remembered something that had struck me as quite peculiar at the time. As the hats were raised, my eyes were drawn to one that stuck out as bucking convention, a flat felt hat, not raised in respect but tipped.”
“Yes, as if to say good day.”