How do you account for it?'
'I don't account for it at all. I don't pretend to understand it.'
'You think, then, that it was really supernatural?'
'We know so little what Nature comprehends what are its powers and limits that we can scarcely speak of anything that happens as beyond it or above it.'
'And you are certain that this did happen?'
'Quite certain; of that I have no doubt whatever.'
These sentences passed between two gentlemen in the drawing?room of a country house, where a small family party was assembled after dinner; and in consequence of a lull in the conversation occurring at the moment they were distinctly heard by nearly everybody present. Curiosity was excited, and enquiries were eagerly pressed as to the nature or supernature of the event under discussion. 'A ghost story!' cried one; 'oh! delightful! we must and will hear it.' 'Oh! please, no, said another; 'I should not sleep all night and yet I am dying with curiosity.'
Others seemed inclined to treat the question rather from a rational or psychological point of view, and would have started a discussion upon ghosts in general, each giving his own experience; but these were brought back by the voice of the hostess, crying, 'Question, question!' and the first speakers were warmly urged to explain what particular event had formed the subject of their conversation.
'It was you, Mr Browne, who said you could not account for it; and you are such a very matter?of? fact person that we feel doubly anxious to hear what wonderful occurrence could have made you look so grave and earnest.'
'Thank you,' said Mr Browne. 'I am a matter?of?fact person, I confess; and I was speaking of a fact; though I must beg to be excused saying any more about it. It is an old story; but I never even think of it without a feeling of distress; and I should not like to stir up such keen and haunting memories merely for the sake of gratifying curiosity. I was relating to Mr Smith, in few words, an adventure which befell me in Italy many years ago, giving him the naked facts of the case, in refutation of a theory which he had been propounding.'
'Now we don't want theories, and we won't have naked facts; they are hardly proper at any time, and at this period of the year, with snow upon the ground,' they would be most unseasonable; but we must have that story fully and feelingly related to us, and we promise to give it a respectful hearing, implicit belief, and unbounded sympathy. So draw round the fire, all of you, and let Mr Browne begin.'
Poor Mr Browne turned pale and red, his lips quivered, his entreaties to be excused became quite plaintive; but his good nature and perhaps, also, the consciousness that he could really interest his hearers, led him to overcome his reluctance; and after exacting a solemn promise that there should be no jesting or levity in regard to what he had to tell, he cleared his throat twice or thrice, and in a hesitating nervous tone began as follows:
'It was in the spring of 18 . I had been at Rome during the Holy Week, and had taken a place in the diligence for Naples. There were two routes: one by way of Terracina and the other by the Via Latina, more inland. The diligence, which made the journey only twice a week, followed these routes alternately, so that each road was traversed only once in seven days. I chose the.inland route, and after a long day's journey arrived at Ceprano, where we halted for the night.
The next morning we started again very early, and it was scarcely yet daylight when we reached the Neapolitan frontier, at a short distance from the town. There our passports were examined, and to my great dismay I was informed that mine was not en regle. It was covered, indeed, with stamps and signatures, not one of which had been procured without some cost and trouble; but one 'visa' yet was wanting, and that the all?important one, without which none could enter the kingdom of Naples. I was obliged therefore to alight, and to send my wretched passport back to Rome, my wretched self being doomed to remain under police surveillance at Ceprano, until the diligence should bring it back to me on that day week, at soonest.