The Transferred Ghost
by Frank R. Stockton
The country residence of Mr. John Hinckman was a delightful place to
me, for many reasons. It was the abode of a genial, though somewhat
impulsive, hospitality. It had broad, smooth-shaven lawns and towering
oaks and elms; there were bosky shades at several points, and not far
from the house there was a little rill spanned by a rustic bridge with
the bark on; there were fruits and flowers, pleasant people, chess,
billiards, rides, walks, and fishing. These were great attractions,
but none of them, nor all of them together, would have been sufficient
to hold me to the place very long. I had been invited for the trout
season, but should, probably, have finished my visit early in the
summer had it not been that upon fair days, when the grass was dry,
and the sun not too hot, and there was but little wind, there strolled beneath the lofty elms, or passed lightly through the bosky shades,
the form of my Madeline.
This lady was not, in very truth, my Madeline. She had never given
herself to me, nor had I, in any way, acquired possession of her. But
as I considered her possession the only sufficient reason for the
continuance of my existence, I called her, in my reveries, mine. It
may have been that I would not have been obliged to confine the use of
this possessive pronoun to my reveries had I confessed the state of my
feelings to the lady.
But this was an unusually difficult thing to do. Not only did I dread,
as almost all lovers dread, taking the step which would in an instant
put an end to that delightful season which may be termed the
ante-interrogatory period of love, and which might at the same time
terminate all intercourse or connection with the object of my passion;
but I was, also, dreadfully afraid of John Hinckman. This gentleman
was a good friend of mine, but it would have required a bolder man
than I was at that time to ask him for the gift of his niece, who was
the head of his household, and, according to his own frequent
statement, the main prop of his declining years. Had Madeline
acquiesced in my general views on the subject, I might have felt
encouraged to open the matter to Mr. Hinckman, but, as I said before,
I had never asked her whether or not she would be mine. I thought of
these things at all hours of the day and night, particularly the
I was lying awake one night, in the great bed in my spacious chamber,
when, by the dim light of the new moon, which partially filled the
room, I saw John Hinckman standing by a large chair near the door. I
was very much surprised at this for two reasons. In the first place,
my host had never before come into my room, and, in the second place,
he had gone from home that morning, and had not expected to return for
several days. It was for this reason that I had been able that evening
to sit much later than usual with Madeline on the moonlit porch. The
figure was certainly that of John Hinckman in his ordinary dress, but
there was a vagueness and indistinctness about it which presently
assured me that it was a ghost. Had the good old man been murdered?
and had his spirit come to tell me of the deed, and to confide to me
the protection of his dear——? My heart fluttered at what I was
about to think, but at this instant the figure spoke.
“Do you know,” he said, with a countenance that indicated anxiety, “if
Mr. Hinckman will return to-night?”
I thought it well to maintain a calm exterior, and I answered:
“We do not expect him.”
“I am glad of that,” said he, sinking into the chair by which he
stood. “During the two years and a half that I have inhabited this
house, that man has never before been away for a single night. You
can’t imagine the relief it gives me.”
And as he spoke he stretched out his legs and leaned back in the
chair. His form became less vague, and the colors of his garments more
distinct and evident, while an expression of gratified relief
succeeded to the anxiety of his countenance.
“Two years and a half!” I exclaimed. “I don’t understand you.”
“It is fully that length of time,” said the ghost, “since I first came
here. Mine is not an ordinary case. But before I say anything more
about it, let me ask you again if you are sure Mr. Hinckman will not
“I am as sure of it as I can be of anything,” I answered. “He left
to-day for Bristol, two hundred miles away.”
“Then I will go on,” said the ghost, “for I am glad to have the
opportunity of talking to some one who will listen to me; but if John
Hinckman should come in and catch me here, I should be frightened out
of my wits.”
“This is all very strange,” I said, greatly puzzled by what I had
heard. “Are you the ghost of Mr. Hinckman?”
This was a bold question, but my mind was so full of other emotions
that there seemed to be no room for that of fear.
“Yes, I am his ghost,” my companion replied, ”and yet I have no right
to be. And this is what makes me so uneasy, and so much afraid of him.
It is a strange story, and, I truly believe, without precedent. Two
years and a half ago, John Hinckman was dangerously ill in this very
room. At one time he was so far gone that he was really believed to be
dead. It was in consequence of too precipitate a report in regard to
this matter that I was, at that time, appointed to be his ghost.
Imagine my surprise and horror, sir, when, after I had accepted the
position and assumed its responsibilities, that old man revived,
became convalescent, and eventually regained his usual health. My
situation was now one of extreme delicacy and embarrassment. I had no
power to return to my original unembodiment, and I had no right to be
the ghost of a man who was not dead. I was advised by my friends to
quietly maintain my position, and was assured that, as John Hinckman
was an elderly man, it could not be long before I could rightfully
assume the position for which I had been selected. But I tell you,
sir,” he continued, with animation, “the old fellow seems as vigorous
as ever, and I have no idea how much longer this annoying state of
things will continue. I spend my time trying to get out of that old
man’s way. I must not leave this house, and he seems to follow me
everywhere. I tell you, sir, he haunts me.”
“That is truly a queer state of things,” I remarked. “But why are you
afraid of him? He couldn’t hurt you.”
“Of course he couldn’t,” said the ghost. “But his very presence is a
shock and terror to me. Imagine, sir, how you would feel if my case
I could not imagine such a thing at all. I simply shuddered.
“And if one must be a wrongful ghost at all,” the apparition
continued, “it would be much pleasanter to be the ghost of some man
other than John Hinckman. There is in him an irascibility of temper,
accompanied by a facility of invective, which is seldom met with. And
what would happen if he were to see me, and find out, as I am sure he
would, how long and why I had inhabited his house, I can scarcely
conceive. I have seen him in his bursts of passion, and, although he
did not hurt the people he stormed at any more than he would hurt me,
they seemed to shrink before him.”
All this I knew to be very true. Had it not been for this peculiarity
of Mr. Hinckman, I might have been more willing to talk to him about
“I feel sorry for you,” I said, for I really began to have a
sympathetic feeling toward this unfortunate apparition. “Your case is
indeed a hard one. It reminds me of those persons who have had
doubles, and I suppose a man would often be very angry indeed when he
found that there was another being who was personating himself.”
“Oh, the cases are not similar at all,” said the ghost. “A double or
doppelganger lives on the earth with a man, and, being exactly like
him, he makes all sorts of trouble, of course. It is very different
with me. I am not here to live with Mr. Hinckman. I am here to take
his place. Now, it would make John Hinckman very angry if he knew
that. Don’t you know it would?”
I assented promptly.
“Now that he is away I can be easy for a little while,” continued the
ghost, “and I am so glad to have an opportunity of talking to you. I
have frequently come into your room, and watched you while you slept,
but did not dare to speak to you for fear that if you talked with me
Mr. Hinckman would hear you, and come into the room to know why you
were talking to yourself.”
“But would he not hear you?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” said the other, “there are times when any one may see me,
but no one hears me except the person to whom I address myself.”
“But why did you wish to speak to me?” I asked.
“Because,” replied the ghost, “I like occasionally to talk to people,
and especially to some one like yourself, whose mind is so troubled
and perturbed that you are not likely to be frightened by a visit from
one of us. But I particularly wanted to ask you to do me a favor.
There is every probability, so far as I can see, that John Hinckman
will live a long time, and my situation is becoming insupportable. My
great object at present is to get myself transferred, and I think that
you may, perhaps, be of use to me.”
“Transferred!” I exclaimed. “What do you mean by that?”
“What I mean,” said the other, “is this: Now that I have started on my
career I have got to be the ghost of somebody; and I want to be the
ghost of a man who is really dead.”
“I should think that would be easy enough,” I said. “Opportunities
must continually occur.”
“Not at all! not at all!” said my companion, quickly. “You have no
idea what a rush and pressure there is for situations of this kind.
Whenever a vacancy occurs, if I may express myself in that way, there
are crowds of applications for the ghostship.”
“I had no idea that such a state of things existed,” I said, becoming
quite interested in the matter. “There ought to be some regular
system, or order of precedence, by which you could all take your turns
like customers in a barber’s shop.”
“Oh dear, that would never do at all!” said the other. “Some of us
would have to wait forever. There is always a great rush whenever a
good ghostship offers itself—while, as you know, there are some
positions that no one would care for. And it was in consequence of my
being in too great a hurry on an occasion of the kind that I got
myself into my present disagreeable predicament, and I have thought
that it might be possible that you would help me out of it. You might
know of a case where an opportunity for a ghostship was not generally
expected, but which might present itself at any moment. If you would
give me a short notice, I know I could arrange for a transfer.”
“What do you mean?” I exclaimed. “Do you want me to commit suicide? Or
to undertake a murder for your benefit?”
“Oh, no, no, no!” said the other, with a vapory smile. “I mean nothing
of that kind. To be sure, there are lovers who are watched with
considerable interest, such persons having been known, in moments of
depression, to offer very desirable ghostships, but I did not think of
anything of that kind in connection with you. You were the only person
I cared to speak to, and I hoped that you might give me some
information that would be of use; and, in return, I shall be very glad
to help you in your love affair.”
“You seem to know that I have such an affair,” I said.
“Oh, yes,” replied the other, with a little yawn. “I could not be here
so much as I have been without knowing all about that.”
There was something horrible in the idea of Madeline and myself having
been watched by a ghost, even, perhaps, when we wandered together in
the most delightful and bosky places. But, then, this was quite an
exceptional ghost, and I could not have the objections to him which
would ordinarily arise in regard to beings of his class.
“I must go now,” said the ghost, rising, “but I will see you somewhere
to-morrow night. And remember—you help me, and I’ll help you.”
I had doubts the next morning as to the propriety of telling Madeline
anything about this interview, and soon convinced myself that I must
keep silent on the subject. If she knew there was a ghost about the
house she would probably leave the place instantly. I did not mention
the matter, and so regulated my demeanor that I am quite sure Madeline
never suspected what had taken place. For some time I had wished that
Mr. Hinckman would absent himself, for a day at least, from the
premises. In such case I thought I might more easily nerve myself up
to the point of speaking to Madeline on the subject of our future
collateral existence, and, now that the opportunity for such speech
had really occurred, I did not feel ready to avail myself of it. What
would become of me if she refused me?
I had an idea, however, that the lady thought that, if I were going to
speak at all, this was the time. She must have known that certain
sentiments were afloat within me, and she was not unreasonable in her
wish to see the matter settled one way or the other. But I did not
feel like taking a bold step in the dark. If she wished me to ask her
to give herself to me, she ought to offer me some reason to suppose
that she would make the gift. If I saw no probability of such
generosity, I would prefer that things should remain as they were.
That evening I was sitting with Madeline in the moonlit porch. It was
nearly ten o’clock, and ever since supper-time I had been working
myself up to the point of making an avowal of my sentiments. I had not
positively determined to do this, but wished gradually to reach the
proper point when, if the prospect looked bright, I might speak. My
companion appeared to understand the situation—at least, I imagined
that the nearer I came to a proposal the more she seemed to expect it.
It was certainly a very critical and important epoch in my life. If I
spoke, I should make myself happy or miserable forever, and if I did
not speak I had every reason to believe that the lady would not give
me another chance to do so.
Sitting thus with Madeline, talking a little, and thinking very hard
over these momentous matters, I looked up and saw the ghost, not a
dozen feet away from us. He was sitting on the railing of the porch,
one leg thrown up before him, the other dangling down as he leaned
against a post. He was behind Madeline, but almost in front of me, as
I sat facing the lady. It was fortunate that Madeline was looking out
over the landscape, for I must have appeared very much startled. The
ghost had told told me that he would see me some time this night, but
I did not think he would make his appearance when I was in the company
of Madeline. If she should see the spirit of her uncle, I could not
answer for the consequences. I made no exclamation, but the ghost
evidently saw that I was troubled.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said—“I shall not let her see me; and she
cannot hear me speak unless I address myself to her, which I do not
intend to do.”
I suppose I looked grateful.
“So you need not trouble yourself about that,” the ghost continued;
“but it seems to me that you are not getting along very well with your
affair. If I were you, I should speak out without waiting any longer.
You will never have a better chance. You are not likely to be
interrupted; and, so far as I can judge, the lady seems disposed to
listen to you favorably; that is, if she ever intends to do so. There
is no knowing when John Hinckman will go away again; certainly not
this summer. If I were in your place, I should never dare to make love
to Hinckman’s niece if he were anywhere about the place. If he should
catch any one offering himself to Miss Madeline, he would then be a
terrible man to encounter.”
I agreed perfectly to all this.
“I cannot bear to think of him!” I ejaculated aloud.
“Think of whom?” asked Madeline, turning quickly toward me.
Here was an awkward situation. The long speech of the ghost, to which
Madeline paid no attention, but which I heard with perfect
distinctness, had made me forget myself.
It was necessary to explain quickly. Of course, it would not do to
admit that it was of her dear uncle that I was speaking; and so I
mentioned hastily the first name I thought of.
“Mr. Vilars,” I said.
This statement was entirely correct, for I never could bear to think
of Mr. Vilars, who was a gentleman who had, at various times, paid
much attention to Madeline.
“It is wrong for you to speak in that way of Mr. Vilars,” she said.
“He is a remarkably well-educated and sensible young man, and has very
pleasant manners. He expects to be elected to the legislature this
fall, and I should not be surprised if he made his mark. He will do
well in a legislative body, for whenever Mr. Vilars has anything to
say he knows just how and when to say it.”
This was spoken very quietly, and without any show of resentment,
which was all very natural, for if Madeline thought at all favorably
of me she could not feel displeased that I should have disagreeable
emotions in regard to a possible rival. The concluding words contained
a hint which I was not slow to understand. I felt very sure that if
Mr. Vilars were in my present position he would speak quickly enough.
“I know it is wrong to have such ideas about a person,” I said, “but I
cannot help it.”
The lady did not chide me, and after this she seemed even in a softer
mood. As for me, I felt considerably annoyed, for I had not wished to
admit that any thought of Mr. Vilars had ever occupied my mind.
“You should not speak aloud that way,” said the ghost, “or you may get
yourself into trouble. I want to see everything go well with you,
because then you may be disposed to help me, especially if I should
chance to be of any assistance to you, which I hope I shall be.”
I longed to tell him that there was no way in which he could help me
so much as by taking his instant departure. To make love to a young
lady with a ghost sitting on the railing near by, and that ghost the
apparition of a much-dreaded uncle, the very idea of whom in such a
position and at such a time made me tremble, was a difficult, if not
an impossible, thing to do; but I forbore to speak, although I may
have looked my mind.
“I suppose,” continued the ghost, “that you have not heard anything
that might be of advantage to me. Of course, I am very anxious to
hear, but if you have anything to tell me, I can wait until you are
alone. I will come to you to-night in your room, or I will stay here
until the lady goes away.”
“You need not wait here,” I said; “I have nothing at all to say to
Madeline sprang to her feet, her face flushed and her eyes ablaze.
“Wait here!” she cried. “What do you suppose I am waiting for? Nothing
to say to me indeed!—I should think so! What should you have to say
“Madeline,” I exclaimed, stepping toward her, “let me explain.”
But she had gone.
Here was the end of the world for me! I turned fiercely to the ghost.
“Wretched existence!” I cried. “You have ruined everything. You have
blackened my whole life. Had it not been for you——”
But here my voice faltered. I could say no more.
“You wrong me,” said the ghost. “I have not injured you. I have tried
only to encourage and assist you, and it is your own folly that has
done this mischief. But do not despair. Such mistakes as these can be
explained. Keep up a brave heart. Good-by.”
And he vanished from the railing like a bursting soap-bubble.
I went gloomily to bed, but I saw no apparitions that night except
those of despair and misery which my wretched thoughts called up. The
words I had uttered had sounded to Madeline like the basest insult. Of
course, there was only one interpretation she could put upon them.
As to explaining my ejaculations, that was impossible. I thought the
matter over and over again as I lay awake that night, and I determined
that I would never tell Madeline the facts of the case. It would be
better for me to suffer all my life than for her to know that the
ghost of her uncle haunted the house. Mr. Hinckman was away, and if
she knew of his ghost she could not be made to believe that he was not
dead. She might not survive the shock! No, my heart could bleed, but I
would never tell her.
The next day was fine, neither too cool nor too warm; the breezes were
gentle, and nature smiled. But there were no walks or rides with
Madeline. She seemed to be much engaged during the day, and I saw but
little of her. When we met at meals she was polite, but very quiet and
reserved. She had evidently determined on a course of conduct, and had
resolved to assume that, although I had been very rude to her, she did
not understand the import of my words. It would be quite proper, of
course, for her not to know what I meant by my expressions of the
I was downcast and wretched, and said but little, and the only bright
streak across the black horizon of my woe was the fact that she did
not appear to be happy, although she affected an air of unconcern. The
moonlit porch was deserted that evening, but wandering about the house
I found Madeline in the library alone. She was reading, but I went in
and sat down near her. I felt that, although I could not do so fully,
I must in a measure explain my conduct of the night before. She
listened quietly to a somewhat labored apology I made for the words I
“I have not the slightest idea what you meant,” she said, “but you
were very rude.”
I earnestly disclaimed any intention of rudeness, and assured her,
with a warmth of speech that must have made some impression upon her,
that rudeness to her would be an action impossible to me. I said a
great deal upon the subject, and implored her to believe that if it
were not for a certain obstacle I could speak to her so plainly that
she would understand everything.
She was silent for a time, and then she said, rather more kindly, I
thought, than she had spoken before:
“Is that obstacle in any way connected with my uncle?”
“Yes,” I answered, after a little hesitation, “it is, in a measure,
connected with him.”
She made no answer to this, and sat looking at her book, but not
reading. From the expression of her face, I thought she was somewhat
softened toward me. She knew her uncle as well as I did, and she may
have been thinking that, if he were the obstacle that prevented my
speaking (and there were many ways in which he might be that
obstacle), my position would be such a hard one that it would excuse
some wildness of speech and eccentricity of manner. I saw, too, that
the warmth of my partial explanations had had some effect on her, and
I began to believe that it might be a good thing for me to speak my
mind without delay. No matter how she should receive my proposition,
my relations with her could not be worse than they had been the
previous night and day, and there was something in her face which
encouraged me to hope that she might forget my foolish exclamations
of the evening before if I began to tell her my tale of love.
I drew my chair a little nearer to her, and as I did so the ghost
burst into the room from the doorway behind her. I say burst, although
no door flew open and he made no noise. He was wildly excited, and
waved his arms above his head. The moment I saw him, my heart fell
within me. With the entrance of that impertinent apparition, every
hope fled from me. I could not speak while he was in the room.
I must have turned pale, and I gazed steadfastly at the ghost, almost
without seeing Madeline, who sat between us.
“Do you know,” he cried, “that John Hinckman is coming up the hill? He
will be here in fifteen minutes, and if you are doing anything in the
way of love-making, you had better hurry it up. But this is not what I
came to tell you. I have glorious news! At last I am transferred! Not
forty minutes ago a Russian nobleman was murdered by the Nihilists.
Nobody ever thought of him in connection with an immediate ghostship.
My friends instantly applied for the situation for me, and obtained my
transfer. I am off before that horrid Hinckman comes up the hill. The
moment I reach my new position, I shall put off this hated semblance.
Good-by. You can’t imagine how glad I am to be, at last, the real
ghost of somebody.”
“Oh!” I cried, rising to my feet and stretching out my arms in utter
wretchedness, “I would to heaven you were mine!”
“I am yours,” said Madeline, raising to me her tearful eyes.