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Dead or Alive
Review of Reviews 1892.
(New Year's Extra Number).

Mr. R. D'Onston sends me the following communication:

'To those instances in Real Ghost Stories of ghosts who have kept promises made in life to appear to those dear to them, may I add my own experience? The incident occurred to me some years ago, and all the details can be substantiated. The date was August 26th, 1867, at midnight. I was then residing in the neighbourhood of Hull, and held an appointment under the Crown which necessitated my repairing thither every day for a few hours' duty. My berth was almost a sinecure; and I had been for some time engaged to a young North-country heiress, it being understood that on our marriage I should take her name and "stand for the county", or rather for one of its divisions.

'For her sake I had to break off a love affair, not of the most reputable order, with a girl in Hull. I will call her Louise. She was young, beautiful, and devoted to me. On the night of the 26th August we took our last walk together, and a few minutes before midnight paused on a wooden bridge running across a kind of canal, locally termed the "drain". We paused on the bridge, listening to the swirling current against the wooden piles and waiting for the stroke of midnight to part forever. In the few minutes' interval she repeated, sotto voce, Longfellow's Bridge, the words of which, "I stood on the bridge at midnight", seemed terribly appropriate. After nearly twenty-five years I can never hear that piece repeated without feeling a deathly chill and the whole scene of two souls in agony again rising before me. Well! midnight struck, and we parted; but Louise said: "Grant me one favour, the only one that I shall ever ask you on this earth, promise to meet me here twelve months to-night at this same hour." I demurred at first, thinking it would be bad for both of us, and only re-open partially healed wounds. At last, however, I consented, saying: "Well, I will come if I am alive!" but she said, "Say alive or dead!" I said, "Very well then, we will meet, dead or alive."

'The next year I was on the spot a few minutes before the time; and, punctual to the stroke of midnight, Louise arrived. By this time, I had begun to regret the arrangement I had made; but it was of too solemn a nature to be put aside. I therefore kept the appointment, but said that I did not care to renew the compact. Louise, however, persuaded me to renew it for one more year, and I consented, much against my will; and we again left each other repeating the same formula, "Dead or alive".

'The next year after that passed rapidly for me until the first week in July, when I was shot dangerously in the thigh by a fisherman named Thomas Piles, of Hull, a reputed smuggler. A party of four of us had hired his 10 ton yawl to go yachting round the Yorkshire coast, and amuse ourselves by shooting sea-birds amongst the millions of them at Flamborough Head. The third or fourth day out I was shot in the right thigh by the skipper Piles; and the day after, one and a quarter ounce of No.2 shot were cut therefrom by the coastguard surgeon at Bridlington Quay (whose name I forget for the moment), assisted by Dr. Alexander Mackay, at the Black Lion Hotel. The affair was in all the papers at the time, about a column of it appearing in the Eastern Morning News, of Hull.

'As soon as I was able to be removed (two or three weeks) I was taken home, where Dr. Kelburne King, of Hull, attended me. The day - and the night - (the 26th August) came. I was then unable to walk without crutches, and that for only a short distance, so had to be wheeled about in a Bath chair. The distance to the trysting being rather long, and the time and circumstances being very peculiar, I did not avail myself of the services of my usual attendant, but specially retained an old servant of the family, who frequently did confidential commissions for me, and who knew Miss Louise well. We set forth "without beat of drum", and arrived at the bridge about a few minutes to midnight. I remember that it was a brilliant starlight night, but I do not think that there was any moon, at all events, at that hour. "Old Bob", as he was always affectionately called, wheeled me to the bridge, helped me out of the Bath chair, and gave me my crutch. I walked on to the bridge, and leaned my back against the white painted top rail, then lighted my briar-root, and had a comfortable smoke.

'I was very much annoyed that I had allowed myself to be persuaded to come a second time, and determined to tell "Louise" positively that this should be the last meeting. Besides, now, I did not consider it fair to Miss K., with whom I was again negotiating, en rapport to a certain extent. So, if anything, it was in rather a sulky frame of mind that I awaited Louise. Just as the quarters before the hour began to chime I distinctly heard the "clink, clink" of the little brass heels, which she always wore, sounding on the long flagged causeway, leading for 200 yards up to the bridge. As she got nearer I could see her pass lamp after lamp in rapid succession, while the strokes of the large clock at Hull resounded through the still night. 'At last the patter, patter of the tiny feet sounded on the woodwork of the bridge, and I saw her distinctly pass under the lamp at the farther end - it was only twenty yards wide, and I stood under the lamp at my side. When she got close to me I saw that she had neither hat nor cape on, and concluded that she had taken a cab to the farther end of the flagged causeway, and (it being a very warm night) had left her wraps in the cab, and for purposes of effect had come the short distance in evening dress.

"Clink, clink" went the brass heels, and she seemed about passing me, when I, suddenly urged by an impulse of affection, stretched out my arms to receive her. She passed through them, intangible, impalpable, and as she looked at me I distinctly saw her lips move, and form the words, "Dead or alive". I even heard the words, but not with my outward ears, with something else, some other sense - what, I know not. I felt startled, surprised, but not afraid, until a moment afterwards, when I felt, but could not see, some other presence following her. I could feel, though I could not hear, the heavy, clumsy "thud" of feet following her; and my blood seemed turned to ice. Recovering myself with an effort, I shouted out to "Old Bob" who was safely ensconced with the Bath chair in a nook out of sight round the corner. "Bob, who passed you just now?" In an instant the old Yorkshireman was by side. "Ne'er a one passed me, sir!" "Nonsense, Bob," I replied, "I told you that I was coming to meet Miss Louise, and she just passed me on the bridge, and must have passed you, because there's nowhere else she could go! You don't mean to tell me you didn't see her?" The old man replied solemnly, "Maister Ros, there's something uncanny aboot it. I heerd her come on the bridge, and off it, I'd knaw them clicketty heels onywhere; but I'm dommed, sir, if she passed me. I'm thinking we'd better gang." And "gang" we did; and it was the small hours of the morning (getting daylight) before we left off talking over the affair, and went to bed.

'The next day I made inquiries from Louise's family about her, and ascertained that she had died in Liverpool three months previously, being apparently delirious for a few hours before her death, and our parting compact evidently weighing on her mind, as she kept repeating "Dead or Alive! Shall I be there?" to the utter bewilderment of her friends, who could not divine her meaning, being of course entirely unaware of our agreement.'