How it Happened by
Arthur Conan Doyle
She was a writing medium. This is what she
I can remember some things upon that evening most distinctly,
and others are like some vague, broken dreams. That is what
makes it so difficult to tell a connected story. I have no
idea now what it was that had taken me to London and brought me
back so late. It just merges into all my other visits to
London. But from the time that I got out at the little
country station everything is extraordinarily clear. I can
live it again—every instant of it.
I remember so well walking down the platform and looking at
the illuminated clock at the end which told me that it was
half-past eleven. I remember also my wondering whether I
could get home before midnight. Then I remember the big
motor, with its glaring head-lights and glitter of polished
brass, waiting for me outside. It was my new
thirty-horse-power Robur, which had only been delivered that
day. I remember also asking Perkins, my chauffeur, how she
had gone, and his saying that he thought
she was excellent.
“I’ll try her myself,” said I, and I climbed
into the driver’s seat.
“The gears are not the same,” said he.
“Perhaps, sir, I had better drive.”
“No; I should like to try her,” said I.
And so we started on the five-mile drive for home.
My old car had the gears as they used always to be in notches
on a bar. In this car you passed the gear-lever through a
gate to get on the higher ones. It was not difficult to
master, and soon I thought that I understood it. It was
foolish, no doubt, to begin to learn a new system in the dark,
but one often does foolish things, and one has not always to pay
the full price for them. I got along very well until I came
to Claystall Hill. It is one of the worst hills in England,
a mile and a half long and one in six in places, with three
fairly sharp curves. My park gates stand at the very foot
of it upon the main London road.
We were just over the brow of this hill, where the grade is
steepest, when the trouble began. I had been on the top
speed, and wanted to get her on the free; but she stuck between
gears, and I had to get her back on the top again. By this
time she was going at a great rate, so I clapped on both brakes,
and one after the other they gave
way. I didn’t mind so much when I felt my footbrake
snap, but when I put all my weight on my side-brake, and the
lever clanged to its full limit without a catch, it brought a
cold sweat out of me. By this time we were fairly tearing
down the slope. The lights were brilliant, and I brought
her round the first curve all right. Then we did the second
one, though it was a close shave for the ditch. There was a
mile of straight then with the third curve beneath it, and after
that the gate of the park. If I could shoot into that
harbour all would be well, for the slope up to the house would
bring her to a stand.
Perkins behaved splendidly. I should like that to be
known. He was perfectly cool and alert. I had thought
at the very beginning of taking the bank, and he read my
“I wouldn’t do it, sir,” said he.
“At this pace it must go over and we should have it on the
top of us.”
Of course he was right. He got to the electric switch
and had it off, so we were in the free; but we were still running
at a fearful pace. He laid his hands on the wheel.
“I’ll keep her steady,” said he, “if
you care to jump and chance it. We can never get round that
curve. Better jump, sir.”
“No,” said I; “I’ll stick it
out. You can jump if you like.”
“I’ll stick it with you, sir,” said
If it had been the old car I should have jammed the gear-lever
into the reverse, and seen what would happen. I expect she
would have stripped her gears or smashed up somehow, but it would
have been a chance. As it was, I was helpless.
Perkins tried to climb across, but you couldn’t do it going
at that pace. The wheels were whirring like a high wind and
the big body creaking and groaning with the strain. But the
lights were brilliant, and one could steer to an inch. I
remember thinking what an awful and yet majestic sight we should
appear to any one who met us. It was a narrow road, and we
were just a great, roaring, golden death to any one who came in
We got round the corner with one wheel three feet high upon
the bank. I thought we were surely over, but after
staggering for a moment she righted and darted onwards.
That was the third corner and the last one. There was only
the park gate now. It was facing us, but, as luck would
have it, not facing us directly. It was about twenty yards
to the left up the main road into which we ran. Perhaps I
could have done it, but I expect that the steering-gear had been
jarred when we ran on the bank. The wheel did not turn
easily. We shot out of the lane. I saw the open gate
on the left. I whirled round my wheel with all the strength
of my wrists. Perkins and I threw our bodies
across, and then the next instant, going at fifty miles an hour,
my right front wheel struck full on the right-hand pillar of my
own gate. I heard the crash. I was conscious of
flying through the air, and then—and then—!
* * * * *
When I became aware of my own existence once more I was among
some brushwood in the shadow of the oaks upon the lodge side of
the drive. A man was standing beside me. I imagined
at first that it was Perkins, but when I looked again I saw that
it was Stanley, a man whom I had known at college some years
before, and for whom I had a really genuine affection.
There was always something peculiarly sympathetic to me in
Stanley’s personality; and I was proud to think that I had
some similar influence upon him. At the present moment I
was surprised to see him, but I was like a man in a dream, giddy
and shaken and quite prepared to take things as I found them
without questioning them.
“What a smash!” I said. “Good Lord,
what an awful smash!”
He nodded his head, and even in the gloom I could see that he
was smiling the gentle, wistful smile which I connected with
I was quite unable to move. Indeed, I had not any desire
to try to move. But my senses were
exceedingly alert. I saw the wreck of the motor lit up by
the moving lanterns. I saw the little group of people and
heard the hushed voices. There were the lodge-keeper and
his wife, and one or two more. They were taking no notice
of me, but were very busy round the car. Then suddenly I
heard a cry of pain.
“The weight is on him. Lift it easy,” cried
“It’s only my leg!” said another one, which
I recognized as Perkins’s. “Where’s
master?” he cried.
“Here I am,” I answered, but they did not seem to
hear me. They were all bending over something which lay in
front of the car.
Stanley laid his hand upon my shoulder, and his touch was
inexpressibly soothing. I felt light and happy, in spite of
“No pain, of course?” said he.
“None,” said I.
“There never is,” said he.
And then suddenly a wave of amazement passed over me.
Stanley! Stanley! Why, Stanley had surely died of
enteric at Bloemfontein in the Boer War!
“Stanley!” I cried, and the words seemed to choke
my throat—“Stanley, you are dead.”
He looked at me with the same old gentle, wistful smile.
“So are you,” he answered.