There are other occasions in which the ghost story is rendered credible by some remarkable combination of circumstances very unlikely to have happened, and which no one could have supposed, unless some particular fortune occasioned a discovery.
An apparition which took place at Plymouth is well known, but it has been differently related ; and having some reason to think the following edition correct, it is an incident so much to my purpose, that you must pardon its insertion.
A club of persons connected with science and literature, was formed at the great sea-town we have named. During the summer months, the society met in a cave by the sea-shore ; during those of autumn and winter, they convened within the premises of a tavern, but, for the sake of privacy, had their meetings in a summer-house situated in the garden, at a distance from the main building. Some of the members to whom the position of their own dwellings rendered this convenient, had a pass-key to the garden door, by which they could enter the garden and reach the summer-house without the publicity or trouble of passing through the open tavern. It was the rule of this club that its members presided alternately. On one occasion, in the winter, the president of the evening chanced to be very ill; indeed, was reported to be on his deathbed. The club met as usual, and, from a sentiment of respect, left vacant the chair which ought to have been occupied by him, if in his usual health ; for the same reason, the conversation turned upon the absent gentleman's talents, and the loss expected to the society by his death. While they were upon this melancholy theme, the door suddenly opened, and the appearance of the president entered the room. He wore a white wrapper, a nightcap round his brow, the appearance of which was that of death itself. He stalked into the room with unusual gravity, took the vacant place of ceremony, lifted the empty glass which stood before him, bowed around, and put it to his lips; then replaced it on the table, and stalked out of the room as silent as he had entered it. The company remained deeply appalled ; at length, after many observations on the strangeness of what they had seen, they resolved to dispatch two of their number as ambassadors, to see how it fared with the president, who had thus strangely appeared among them. They went, and returned with the frightful intelligence, that the friend, after whom they had inquired, was that evening deceased.
The astonished party then resolved that they would remain absolutely silent respecting the wonderful sight which they had seen. Their habits were too philosophical to permit them to believe that they had actually seen the ghost of their deceased brother, and at the same time they were too wise men, to wish to confirm the superstition of the vulgar, by what might seem indubitable evidence of a ghost. The affair was therefore kept a strict secret, although, as usual, some dubious rumours of the tale found their way to the public. Several years afterwards, an old woman who had long filled the place of a sick-nurse, was taken very ill, and on her death-bed was attended by a medical member of the philosophical club. To him, with many expressions of regret, she acknowledged that she had long before attended Mr.-, naming the president, whose appearance had surprised the club so strangely, and that she felt distress of conscience on account of the manner in which he died. She said that, as his malady was attended by light-headedness, she had been directed to keep a close watch upon him during his illness. Unhappily she slept, and during her sleep the patient had awaked, and left the apartment. When, on her own awaking, she found the bed empty and the patient gone, she forthwith hurried out of the house to seek him, and met him in the act of returning. She got him, she said, replaced in bed, but it was only to die there. She added, to convince her hearer of the truth of what she said, that immediately after the poor gentleman expired, a deputation of two members from the club came to enquire after their president's health, and received for answer that he was already dead. This confession explained the whole matter. The delirious patient had very naturally taken the road to the club, from some recollections of his duty of the night. In approaching and retiring from the apartment, he had used one of the pass-keys already mentioned, which made his way shorter. On the other hand, the gentlemen sent to enquire after his health had reached his lodging by a more circuitous road ; and thus there had been time for him to return to what proved his deathbed, long before they reached his chamber. The philosophical witnesses of this strange scene, were now as anxious to spread the story as they had formerly been to conceal it, since it showed in what a remarkable manner men's eyes might turn traitors to them, and impress them with ideas far different from the truth.
Another occurrence of the same kind, although scarcely so striking in its circumstances, was yet one which, had it remained unexplained, might have passed as an indubitable instance of a supernatural apparition.
A Teviotdale farmer was riding from a fair, at which he had indulged himself with John Barleycorn, but not to that extent of defying goblins which it inspired into the gallant Tarn O'Shanter. He was pondering with some anxiety upon the dangers of travelling alone on a solitary road, which passed the corner of a churchyard, now near at hand, when he saw before him, in the moonlight, a pale female form standing upon the wall which surrounded the cemetery. The road was very narrow, with no opportunity of giving the apparent phantom what seamen call a wide berth. It was, however, the only path which led to the rider's home, who therefore resolved, at all risks, to pass the apparition. He accordingly approached, as slowly as possible, the spot where the spectre stood, while the figure remained, now perfectly still and silent, now brandishing its arms, and gibbering to the moon. When the farmer came close to the spot, he dashed in the spurs, and set the horse off upon a gallop; but the spectre did not miss its opportunity. As he passed the corner where she was perched, she contrived to drop behind the horseman, and seize him round the waist; a manoeuvre which greatly increased the speed of the horse, and the terror of the rider; for the hand of her who sat behind him, when pressed upon his, felt as cold as that of a corpse. At his own house at length he arrived, and bid the servants who came to attend him, " Take aff the ghaist!" They took off accordingly a female in white, and the poor farmer himself was conveyed to bed, where he lay struggling for weeks with a strong nervous fever. The female was found to be a maniac, who had been left a widow very suddenly by an affectionate husband, and the nature and cause of her malady induced her, when she could make her escape, to wander to the churchyard, where she sometimes wildly wept over his grave, and sometimes standing on the corner of the churchyard wall, looked out, and mistook every stranger on horseback for the husband she had lost. If this woman, which was very possible, had dropped from the horse unobserved by him whom she had made her involuntary companion, it would have been very hard to have convinced the honest farmer that he had not actually performed part of his journey with a ghost behind him.