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The Signalman[ Udskriv ]
 
_____________________________________________

 

v/ Michael Rehder, juli 2007

 

 

Hvad hedder han på dansk?

 

Ledvogteren

 

Banevogteren

 

Signalmanden

(hvor svært kan det være?)

 

Baneterrænsfunktionæren

 

eller ...

 

Nederst på siden her kan du læse den komplette engelske tekst, samt oversættelse ved Michael Rehder anno 2007 (som læst op af Anet Burchard ved mødet 100607).

Moltke har så vidt vides oversat også denne novelle, og jeg håber at finde en kopi af hans tekst til videre diskussion (hvis du kan lede mig på sporet så modtages hjælp meget gerne).

 

 

 

 

MR

 

 

 

 
_____________________________________________
forside_krummelyrer_dk

 

 

 

 


 
DANSK OVERSÆTTELSE

 

 

ved Michael Rehder, juli 2007

 

 

 

 

Charles Dickens

 

SIGNALMANDEN

 

 

 

“Hallo! Hallo, dernede!”

 

Da han hørte en stemme kalde stod han i døren til sit skur; i hånden holdt han et flag, omviklet et kort træskaft. Omgivelserne taget i betragtning skulle man have troet at han ikke ville have været i tvivl om hvorfra råbet kom; men i stedet for at kigge opad, hvor jeg stod ved kanten af klippen, næsten lige over ham, vendte han sig rundt og kiggede hen langs jernbaneskinnerne. Der var noget besynderligt over hans bevægelser, selv om jeg ikke for min død ville have kunnet sige hvad. Men jeg husker at hans måde at bevæge sig på tiltrak sig min opmærksomhed, selv om jeg iagttog hans skikkelse i skrå-perspektiv fra oven og tilmed i skygge dernede i dybet; selv stod jeg højt over ham på klippen, og jeg var desuden indhyllet i skæret fra en så blændende solnedgang, at jeg havde måttet skygge med hånden for øjnene for overhovedet at se ham dybt dernede.

 

“Hallo! Hallo, dernede!”

 

Han vendte sig rundt, og idet han løftede hovedet, så han min skikkelse højt over sig.

 

“Er der en trappe hvorad jeg kan komme ned til Dem og tale med Dem?”

 

Han så på mig uden at svare, og jeg betragtede ham uden at gentage mit henkastede spørgsmål. Netop da føltes en svag vibration i luft og jord, hurtigt voksede det til en kraftig pulséren, og en fremadstormende brusen fik mig til at vige tilbage, som havde den kraft til at trække mig ned. Da røg og damp var blæst op og bort og bølgede væk hen over det åbne landskab, så jeg atter ned, og jeg så manden folde sit flag sammen, efter at have vist det da toget passerede nede i banegraven.

 

Jeg gentog mit spørgsmål. Efter en pause, i hvilken han syntes at betragte mig indgående, pegede han med sin flagpind mod et punkt lidt længere henne ad klippevæggen. Jeg råbte ‘Tak’ og begav mig hen mod det udpegede sted; dér fandt jeg, efter at have kigget nøje omkring mig, en groft udhugget stentrappe som førte nedad i zigzag, og jeg begyndte nedstigningen.

 

Klippevæggene her var ekstremt dybe og usædvanlig stejle og trappen var udhugget i en fugtig-klam stenart, som blev mere og mere våd efterhånden som jeg bevægede mig nedad. Det tog mig et stykke tid at komme ned, og jeg havde lejlighed til at genkalde mig en særpræget modvilje eller vrangvillighed, som havde kendetegnet mandens visen vej.

 

Da jeg var kommet langt nok ned til atter at kunne se manden, så jeg at han stod mellem skinnerne, netop dér hvor toget havde passeret. Han indtog en spændt, afventende holdning: han holdt venstre hånd om hagen og hans venstre albue hvilede på hans højrehånd, med armen lagt over brystet; hans kropsholdning var så anspændt og vagtsom at jeg undrende stoppede et øjeblik.

 

Jeg fortsatte min nedstigen, og da jeg kom ud på baneterrænets grove stenbelægning og gik hen imod manden, så jeg at han var en mørk, gusten mand, med sort skæg og vildtvoksende øjenbryn. Hans skur var placeret et umådeligt ensomt og dystert sted: siderne i denne menneskeskabte dal udgjordes af mørkt-skinnende forrevne, itusprængte klippevægge, som udelukkede ethvert udsyn, bortset fra en smal stribe af himlen foroven; kiggede man i længderetningen den ene vej, så man blot en ensartet forlængelse af denne skinnernes fængselsgrav, som fortonede sig bort i en kurve, og kiggede man den anden vej var der kun et kort stykke vej til et dystert, rødt advarselslys, som stod ved udmundingen af en endnu dystrere, mørk tunnel, hvis tungt-massive arkitektur havde en rå, uheldssvanger og fjendtlig udstråling.

 

Så lidt sollys fandt vej herned, at stedet havde en jordslået, dødlig lugt; og så megen kold vind blæste hen langs banelegemet at det isnede i mig, og jeg fik en fornemmelse af at have lagt den virkelige verden bag mig.

 

Jeg gik hen mod manden og jeg var så tæt på ham, at jeg kunne have rakt ud og rørt ved ham før han bevægede sig; han tog ikke øjnene fra mig, mens han tog et skridt bagud og løftede hånden.

 

Dette var sandelig et ensomt sted at opholde sig (sagde jeg) og det havde vakt min nysgerrighed da jeg kiggede ned. En gæst var sikkert en sjældenhed, men forhåbentlig ikke en uvelkommen afveksling, håbede jeg? I mig så han en mand som havde været tvunget til at sidde stille indendørs det meste af sit liv og som nu, med nyvunden frihed, havde en nyligt vakt interesse i disse grandiose jernbaneanlæg. Dette var omtrent hvad jeg sagde til manden, men jeg er langt fra sikker på hvilke ord jeg brugte, for udover at jeg ikke er snakkesaglig anlagt under nogen omstændigheder, var der noget ved manden som foruroligede mig.

 

Manden rettede blikket mod det røde advarselslys ved tunnelmundingen, og kiggede indgående derhen, som om han eftersøgte noget; derefter kiggede han på mig.

 

Det røde lys dér, det var en del af hans ansvar, ikke sandt?

 

Han svarede mig med tonløs stemme: “Det véd De jo at det er?”

 

Den frygtelige tanke slog ned i mig, da jeg iagttog hans stirrende øjne og indfaldne kinder, at dette var et åndesyn, ikke et menneske; jeg har siden spekuleret på om hans sind var inficeret ...

 

Jeg gik selv et skridt tilbage, men min bevægelse adstedkom et glimt at angst i hans øjne, og min tanke om at han blot var et åndesyn vejredes bort.

 

“De ser på mig,” sagde jeg med et forceret smil, “som om jeg skræmmer Dem?”

 

 “Jeg var ikke sikker på om jeg havde set Dem før,” svarede han.

 

 “Hvor?”

 

Han pegede på det røde signallys ved tunnelmundingen.

 

 “Dér henne?” spurgte jeg.

 

Han betragtede mig intenst og svarede: (idet hans læber formede ordet, men uden at der kom en lyd over hans læber): “Ja.”

 

“Min gode mand, hvad skulle jeg dog lave dér? Jeg har aldrig været i nærheden, det forsikrer jeg Dem.”

 

 “Jeg tror Dem – ja, jeg er sikker på at De har ret,” svarede han.

 

 

 

Han virkede nu lettet, og det var jeg også. Herefter svarede han beredvilligt på mine spørgsmål, og med velvalgte ord. Havde han meget at gøre hernede? Ja, - det vil sige - der var en del at passe, men præcision og årvågenhed var hvad der blev krævet af ham - af rent fysisk arbejde var der stort set intet: at ændre signalet dér, justere lyset deroppe, et håndtag derhenne der af og til skulle drejes i position, det var alt hvad der var at gøre rent praktisk. Vedrørende de mange, ensomme timer som jeg syntes at tillægge så stor betydning, så kunne han kun sige, at det nu en gang var blevet hans livsrutine, og at han havde vænnet sig til det. Han havde såmænd lært sig selv et fremmedsprog hernede – hvis man da kunne kalde dét at kunne genkende ordene og have en grov idé om hvordan de skulle udtales – at have lært et sprog. Han havde også forsøgt sig med matematik, brøker og decimaler, og endda prøvet sig udi algebraen; men han var, og havde altid været, dårlig til tal.

 

Var det nødvendigt for ham når han havde vagt altid at opholde sig hernede i den dystre skakt med dens klamme fugtighed? Kunne han ikke af og til stige op fra disse snævre klippevægge, komme op i solskinnet? Nuvel, det kom an på tidspunkt og omstændigheder; somme tider ville der være mindre trafik på linierne end ellers, og det samme gjorde sig gældende med hensyn til visse tider på døgnet. I klart vejr kunne han af og til fristes til at klatre op og ud af disse lave skygger, men han risikerede hele tiden at blive hidkaldt af den elektriske klokke, og hvis han var oppe fra slugten lyttede han efter klokken med dobbelt og anspændt opmærksomhed, så det pusterum en tur op kunne synes, var sjældent særligt vederkvægende.

 

Manden inviterede mig nu indenfor i sit skur, hvor der var et ildsted og et bord. På bordet lå der en officielt udseende bog, i hvilken han tilsyneladende gjorde antegninger; der var desuden et telegrafisk instrument med skiver og visernåle, og jeg så den lille elektriske klokke, som han havde omtalt. Jeg var sikker på at han ville tilgive at jeg sagde det: det virkede som om han var veluddannet, og måske endda overkvalificeret til arbejdet hernede? Han svarede mig at den slags skævheder efter hans mening altid var at finde i store virksomheder; han havde hørt at det var således på arbejdsanstalter, i  politikorpset, og også i den sidste, desperate udvej: i hæren. Han var sikker på at enhvert større jernbaneselskab havde eksempler at fremvise. Han havde, da han var yngre (hvis jeg ville tro ham, han kunne næppe selv tro det længere) været filosofi-studerende, var gået til forelæsninger og eksaminer. Men han havde skejet ud, havde misbrugt sine muligheder, var gået til bunds, og havde ikke kunnet rejse sig igen. Han beklagede sig ikke; han vidste at han lå som han havde redet. Det var for sent at begynde forfra nu.

 

 

 

Alt hvad jeg her har refereret fortalte signalmanden i et stilfærdigt tonefald, mens han kiggede skiftevis på mig og ind i ilden. Han indskød ordet ‘Hr.’ adskillige gange undervejs, specielt når han omtalte sin ungdom, som om han respektfuldt appellerede til mig, og bad mig forstå at han havde resigneret og affundet sig med sin skæbne. Flere gange blev han afbrudt i sin beretning af den elektriske klokke, og telegrafen sendte ham beskeder som han måtte svare på. En enkelt gang måtte han gå ud af døren og vise sit flag, mens et tog passerede, og afgive en mundtlig besked til togføreren. Når han udførte sit arbejde var han fokuseret og præcis, han afbrød vor samtale midt i en sætning når det var nødvendigt, og han forblev tavs indtil han havde udført sine opgaver. Kort sagt: jeg ville have anset ham for en særdeles pålidelig mand på denne post, hvis det ikke havde været for den omstændighed at han, midt under vor samtale, to gange brød af, blegnede, vendte ansigtet mod den elektriske klokke selv om den IKKE ringede, åbnede døren til skuret (som han ellers holdt lukket for at holde fugten ude) og iagttog tunnelmundingen med spændt opmærksomhed. Ved begge disse lejligheder kom han tilbage til bordet og ildstedet med et besynderligt udtryk i ansigtet, samme udtryk som jeg havde observeret, men ikke kunnet definere, da vi endnu var langt fra hinanden ude på skinnerne.

 

 

Da jeg til sidst rejste mig for at forlade ham sagde jeg: “De får mig næsten  til at tro at jeg har mødt et tilfreds menneske” (jeg må indrømme at jeg sagde dette for at få hans tunge på gled).

 

 “Jeg har tidligere været tilfreds,” svarede han med sin tonløse stemme, “men jeg er bekymret,  jeg er bekymret.”

 

Jeg kunne se på ham at han straks fortrød disse ord; men nu var de sagt, og jeg tog tråden op.

 

“Bekymret over hvad dog? Hvad er der galt?”

 

“Det er utroligt vanskeligt at tale om; det er meget, meget svært at fortælle. Hvis De kommer og besøger mig en anden gang, så vil jeg forsøge at forklare.”

 

 “Jeg påtænker udtrykkeligt at komme igen; hvornår vil det passe?”

 

 “Jeg får fri i morgen tidlig, og jeg har vagten igen fra i morgen aften klokken ti.”

 

 “Godt, jeg vil komme igen i morgen aften klokken elleve, så.”

 

Signalmanden takkede mig, og fulgte mig til døren. “Jeg lyser med min lygte,” sagde han med sin næsten hviskende stemme, “indtil De har fundet klippetrappen op igen. Når De har fundet trappen, så lad være med at råbe til mig. Og når De har nået toppen, lad være med at råbe.”

 

Hans besynderlige optræden syntes at gøre stedet om muligt endnu koldere, men jeg tænkte ikke nærmere over hans ord og svarede ham blot “Det er i orden.”

 

 “Og når De kommer igen i morgen aften, lad være med at råbe til mig. Nu blot et sidste spørgsmål: hvad fik Dem til at råbe ‘Hallo! Hallo, dernede!’  da De første gang så mig?”

 

 “Det må guderne vide,” sagde jeg, “jeg råbte vist noget i den retning ...” - han afbrød mig:

 

“Nej, Hr, ikke noget i den retning, men præcis de ord; jeg kender dem kun alt for godt.”

 

“Jo, det var nok de ord jeg brugte; jeg sagde dem vel sagtens fordi jeg så Dem stå hernede.”

 

 “Ikke af nogen anden grund?”

 

 “Hvad anden grund kunne jeg dog have?”

 

 “De havde ikke følelsen af at disse ord blev dikteret dem af overnaturlig vej?”

 

 “Nej, på ingen måde!”

 

Vi tog herefter afsked og jeg gik tilbage langs skinnerne, med en meget ubehagelig fornemmelse af at der kom et tog imod mig bagfra, og jeg fandt trappen. Opstigningen var lettere end nedstigningen, og jeg vendte hjem til den kro hvor jeg boede uden yderligere begivenheder.

 

 

Præcis som aftalt satte jeg min fod på det øverste trin af stentrappen næste aften, netop da fjerne klokker ringede elleve. Signalmanden ventede på mig for foden af trappen, med lygten i hånden. “Jeg har ikke råbt til Dem,” sagde jeg da vi nærmede os hinanden, “må jeg tale nu?” “Ja, naturligvis” sagde han, “God aften, min herre, her er min hånd.” “God aften, her er min.” Vi gik side om side de få skridt til hans skur, gik indenfor, lukkede døren, og satte os ved ildstedet.

 

 

“Jeg har besluttet mig” sagde manden, idet han bøjede sig frem mod ilden og talte med en stemme, der var lidet mere end en hvisken, “at De ikke skal behøve at gentage Deres spørgsmål fra i går; i går aftes antog jeg Dem for at være en anden – dét er hvad bekymrer mig.”

 

 “Deres fejltagelse?”

 

“Nej, denne anden person.”

 

 “Hvem er det?”

 

 “Jeg véd det ikke.”

 

 “Ligner han mig?”

 

“Jeg véd det ikke. Jeg har aldrig set hans ansigt; hans venstre arm holder han foran ansigtet, og hans højre arm gestikulerer, voldsomt, sådan her:” – jeg fulgte hans bevægelser med øjnene, og så hans højre arm svinge i en voldsom, afværgende, passioneret bevægelse, som for at signalere ‘For Guds skyld! Af banen!’

 

 

Manden fortsatte sin beretning: “En månelys aften sad jeg her, da jeg hørte en stemme råbe til mig: ‘Hallo! Hallo dernede!’  Jeg sprang op fra min stol, løb hen til døren og så fra døråbningen en skikkelse stå henne ved det røde advarselslys ved tunnelmundingen; han vinkede som jeg lige har vist Dem. Skikkelsens stemme syntes hæs af at råbe, og den råbte igen og igen: ‘Pas på! Pas på!’  Og så atter råbet ‘Hallo! Hallo, dernede! Pas på!’ Jeg greb min signallampe, satte det røde lys på for ‘Fare’, og løb hen imod skikkelsen, mens jeg råbte til ham: ‘Hvad er der galt? Hvad er der sket? Hvor?’ Skikkelsen stod lige udenfor tunnelens sorte munding; jeg nærmede mig ham, og jeg undrede mig over at han stadig holdt armen for øjnene. Til sidst nåede jeg helt hen til ham, og jeg rakte min hånd ud for at trække hans arm væk fra ansigtet – og i det nu var skikkelsen forsvundet.”

 

“Ind i tunnelen?” spurgte jeg.

 

 “Nej, jeg løb selv langt ind i tunnelen, fem hundrede meter. Til sidst stoppede jeg og jeg holdt min lampe op over mit hovede og jeg så tallene på tunnelens mure, som angiver afstanden, og jeg så væden løbe drypvis ned ad murene, og løbe ned fra topbuens midte. Jeg løb hurtigere ud af tunnelen end jeg var løbet ind, for stedet indgød mig nu en dødelig skræk, og jeg kiggede rundt ved signallyset igen, ved hjælp af min egen signallampe, og jeg kravlede op ad jernstigen til galleriet foroven, og til sidst kom jeg ned igen og jeg løb tilbage her til skuret. Jeg telegraferede straks i begge retninger: ‘Der er slået alarm, er der noget galt?’ Der kom hurtigt enslydende svar tilbage: ‘Alt vel’.”

 

 

Idet jeg undlod at lade mig mærke med den istap-finger som krøb langsomt op ad min rygrad, fortalte jeg manden hvorledes denne skikkelse måtte være adstedkommet af en forstyrrelse af hans synssans; hvordan andre, lignende skikkelser og syner, opstået ved sygdom i øjets små nervetråde, som styrer dets opfattelsesevne, var kendt for at have hjemsøgt patienter, hvoraf nogle var blevet opmærksomme på selvbedraget, og havde bevist disse syners oprindelse ved eksperimenter på sig selv.

 

“Med hensyn til at høre syner og skikkelsens råb,” fortsatte jeg, “så lyt dog blot et øjeblik til vindens susen hernede i denne menneskeskabte dal, under vor dæmpede samtale, og hør, hvordan vinden skaber en vild harpemusik fra telegrafens kabelstrenge.”

 

Han svarede, at det kunne være sandt nok hvad jeg fremførte, men at han, om nogen, kendte lydene fra telegraftrådene, han der som den eneste tilbragte lange vinternætter hernede, alene og på vagt. Derefter gjorde han mig opmærksom på at hans beretning ikke var slut.

 

Jeg bad om undskyldning for min afbrydelse, og bad ham fortsætte sin fortælling, og han sagde, idet han lagde en hånd på min arm: “Indenfor seks timer efter skikkelsens opdukken skete den berygtede ulykke her på linien, og et par timer senere blev de døde og sårede båret ud af tunnelen, lige forbi det sted, hvor skikkelsen havde stået.”

 

 

En ubehagelig kuldegysning løb atter gennem mig, men jeg gjorde mit bedste for at skjule det. Man kunne ikke nægte (sagde jeg) at det sandelig var et højst bemærkelsesværdigt sammentræf; men det var uomtvisteligt, at dens slags tilfældigheder og samtidigheder hele tiden fandt sted, og man måtte altid tage højde for at den slags kunne hænde tilfældigt og uforklarligt. Men samtidigt var det da også klart, tilføjede jeg (for jeg kunne se at han selv var på nippet til at komme med denne indvending), at normale mennesker ikke kalkulerede med tilfældigheder og sammentræf af den slags i hverdagen.

 

Han svarede mig atter at han ikke havde afsluttet sin beretning; jeg undskyldte igen at jeg var blevet forledt til at afbryde ham.

 

 “Dette skete,” sagde han, idet han igen lagde hånden på min arm og kiggede på mig med tomme øjne, “for lige over ét år siden. Der gik seks-syv måneder; jeg var kommet mig over chokket og ulykken, da jeg en morgen ved solopgang stod i døråbningen her og kiggede ned mod advarselslyset ved tunnelen; da så jeg skikkelsen igen.”

 

Han stoppede sin beretning og stirrede på mig.

 

“Råbte skikkelsen til Dem?”

 

 “Nej, den var tavs.”

 

 “Vinkede den med armen?”

 

“Nej, skikkelsen lænede sig op ad lysstanderen, med begge hænder foran ansigtet, sådan her:” – igen fulgte jeg signalmandens bevægelser med øjnene; han indtog nu en sørgende positur; jeg har set stenfigurer på gravmonumenter i lignende positur.

 

“Løb De hen til skikkelsen?”

 

“Nej, jeg gik ind i skuret og satte mig ned, dels for at samle tankerne, dels fordi skikkelsens genkomst havde gjort mig ør. Da jeg atter gik hen til døren var det fuldt dagslys og fremtoningen var forsvundet.”

 

“Men der skete intet? Intet fulgte deraf?”

 

Han rørte ved min arm to-tre gange med sin pegefinger, medens han samtidigt nikkede ildevarslende.

 

“Den selvsamme dag kom et tog brusende ud af tunnelen, og jeg bemærkede i et kupé-vindue på min side en hvirvel af hænder og hoveder, og én der vinkede desperat. Jeg så det lige i tide til at signalere til togføreren: ‘STOP!’, og han lukkede dampen ud og bremsede med det samme, men alligevel fortsatte toget næsten et par hundrede meter før det standsede. Jeg løb efter toget, og da jeg nærmede mig hørte jeg frygtelige skrig og råben. En smuk, ung kvinde var død på stedet i én af kupéerne, og hun blev båret ud af toget og lagt her på gulvet i skuret, på brædderne her imellem os.”

 

Uvilkårligt skød jeg min stol tilbage, og stirrede målløs ned på plankerne hvor han pegede.

 

 “Det er sandt, Hr. – Sandt. Det skete nøjagtigt som jeg her fortæller det.”

 

Jeg kunne ikke finde på noget meningsfuldt at sige og min mund føltes meget tør; vinden hørtes udenfor, hvor telegraftrådene fortsatte fortællingen med deres langtrukne, vibrerende, dæmpede klageskrig ...

 

Manden fortsatte: “Men videre, Hr. – og De kan forestille Dem hvordan jeg nu er til mode – fremtoningen kom tilbage for en uge siden; lige siden er den dukket op nu og da, uregelmæssigt, men vedholdende.”

 

 “Står skikkelsen så henne ved lyset?”

 

“Ja, ved det røde faresignal.”

 

“Hvad synes den at foretage sig?”

 

Manden gentog sin gestikuleren, om muligt med forøget voldsomhed og udtrykskraft, gestikken som syntes at sige: ‘For Guds skyld! Af banen!’

 

“Jeg har ikke fred for ham,” fortsatte signalmanden, “skikkelsen kalder på mig hele tiden, i adskillige minutter ad gangen, med en smerteligt forvredet stemme: ‘Hallo! Hallo dernede! Pas på! Pas på!’ Han står og vinker til mig, han ringer med min elektriske klokke.”

 

Jeg fangede denne detalje og spurgte ham: “Da jeg var her i går aftes, ringede fremtoningen da med Deres klokke?”

 

 “To gange.”

 

“Jamen, der kan De se, hvorledes Deres fantasi spiller Dem et puds. Mine øjne iagttog klokken og mine ører var åbne for dens toner, men så sandt som jeg er et levende menneske: klokken ringede IKKE de to gange De omtaler. Heller ikke nogen anden gang, bortset fra når den blev sat i svingninger på naturlig vis, når stationsforstanderen kommunikerede med Dem.”

 

 Manden rystede på hovedet.“Jeg har aldrig nogensinde taget fejl på den måde, Hr. Jeg har aldrig forvekslet skikkelsens ringen med stationsforstanderens. Fremtoningens ringen er en sær vibration i klokken som kommer ingensteds fra, og jeg har ved selvsyn konstateret at klokken ikke vibrerer for det blotte øje; det undrer mig ikke at De ikke hørte klokken. Men JEG hørte den.”

 

 “Og skikkelsen synes at være der, da De kiggede ud?”

 

“Den VAR der.”

 

“Begge gange?”

 

Han gentog med fasthed: “Begge gange.”

 

“Vil De gøre mig den tjeneste at komme hen i døråbningen og se om skikkelsen er der lige nu?”

 

Manden bed sig i underlæben, som om han var uvillig, men han rejste sig. Jeg åbnede døren til skuret og stod på trinnet, mens han stod i døråbningen. Dér så vi advarselslampen, dér den skumle tunnelmunding, vi så de høje, klamme klippevægge på begge sider, og vi skimtede et par stjerner højt over os.

 

“Ser De skikkelsen?” spurgte jeg manden, idet jeg iagttog hans ansigt nøje; hans øjne var fremstående og anstrengte, men måske ikke meget mere end mine egne, da jeg selv havde rettet dem mod det samme sted.

 

 “Nej,” svarede han, “den er der ikke.”

 

 “Enig,” sagde jeg.

 

Vi gik indenfor igen, lukkede døren, og indtog atter vore pladser; jeg sad og funderede over hvordan jeg kunne udnytte denne fordel, hvis det da kunne kaldes sådan, da manden genoptog samtalen i et intet-er-ændret tonefald, tilsyneladende gående ud fra at der ikke kunne sættes spørgsmålstegn overhovedet ved nogen detalje i hans beretning, og jeg følte mig unægtelig meget i vildrede.

 

“De vil have forstået nu, Hr, at hvad der foruroliger mig usigeligt er: hvad prøver skikkelsen at sige?”

 

Jeg var ikke helt sikker på at jeg forstod ham, sagde jeg.

 

 “Hvad advarer spektret imod?” sagde han, rugende, med øjnene rettet mod ilden, og kun af og til med et blik til min side.

 

“Hvad er faren? Hvor er faren? Der må vare fare et eller sted på linien. Der vil ske en frygtelig kalamitet. Det kan der ikke være tvivl om denne tredje gang. Men det er da en frygtelig hjemsøgelse af MIG. Hvad kan jeg gøre?”

 

Han tog sit tørklæde og tørrede sveddråber af panden.

 

 “Hvis jeg telegraferer ‘Fare!’ i den ene eller i den anden retning, så kan jeg ikke begrunde det,” fortsatte han, medens han tørrede sine håndflader.

 

 “Jeg ville få problemer, og ikke udrette noget godt. De ville tro jeg var gal. Det ville gå sådan her for sig - meddelelse: ‘Fare! Pas på!’ – svar: ‘Hvilken Fare, hvor?’ – meddelelse: ‘Véd det ikke, men for Guds skyld: Pas på!’ De ville forflytte mig. Hvad andet kunne de gøre?”

 

Det var hjerteskærende at iagttage denne samvittighedsfulde mands kvaler, fanget i en skruestik af uhyrlige omstændigheder uden for hans kontrol, med et tungt ansvar for liv og død.

 

“Da skikkelsen første gang stod ved advarselslyset,” fortsatte manden, mens han strøg håret tilbage fra issen, og pressede indersiden af begge håndled bagud langs med tindingerne, i en gestus af yderste rådvildhed, “hvorfor fortalte den mig ikke hvor ulykken ville ske? Hvis den måtte finde sted? Hvorfor fortalte fremtoningen mig ikke hvordan ulykken kunne afværges? Hvis den kunne afværges? Da spektret ved sin anden tilsynekomst skjulte sit ansigt, hvorfor fortalte den mig ikke i stedet: ‘Hun vil dø. Sørg for, at de holder hende hjemme.’ Hvis spøgelset virkelig kom begge gange kun for at vise mig at advarslerne var sande, og nu for at forberede mig på en tredje ulykke, hvorfor dog ikke advare mig direkte denne tredje gang? Og så mig, Gud hjælpe mig! En simpel signalmand her på denne øde post! Hvorfor ikke advare nogen højere oppe i systemet, nogen som ville blive troet, nogen med magt til at handle?”

 

Da jeg så signalmanden i denne forfatning blev det mig klart at jeg både for den stakkels mands skyld, men også for almenhedens skyld, måtte berolige ham og få ham til at fatte sig. Jeg glemte derfor alt om hvad der kunne være sandt eller indbildning imellem os, og jeg gjorde det klart for ham, at en mand som samvittighedsfuldt udfører sin opgave er på rette spor, og at han måtte trøste sig med at han kendte sit ansvar og sine opgaver, og at han indtil videre måtte affinde sig med ikke at kunne forstå disse forunderlige tilskikkelser. Jeg havde langt mere held med denne strategi, end jeg før havde haft held med at ændre hans overbevisning med hensyn til disse syner. Han blev atter rolig. Hans opgaver begyndte at lægge beslag på ham som natten skred frem, og jeg efterlod ham klokken to om morgenen; jeg havde tilbudt at blive hele natten, men han ville ikke høre tale om det.

 

Da jeg atter steg op ad stentrappen kunne jeg ikke lade være med at kigge tilbage på det røde advarselslys; jeg vil ikke lægge skjul på, at jeg ikke var glad ved den lampe, og at jeg, hvis jeg skulle have sovet under den, ville have sovet meget dårligt.

 

Jeg følte mig også dårligt tilpas når jeg tænkte på de to hændelser, først ulykken og siden den unge piges død, det vil jeg ikke lægge skjul på.

 

Men min største bekymring var dog hvad jeg burde gøre, da jeg nu var blevet delagtiggjort i disse hændelser. Der var ingen tvivl om at signalmanden var intelligent, årvågen, omhyggelig og præcis – men hvor længe ville han vedblive med at være det? Selv om han var i en underordnet stilling sad han alligevel på en ansvarsfuld post, og ville jeg selv, for eksempel, synes om at mit eget liv afhang af om denne mand fortsat kunne udføre sine opgaver tilfredsstillende?

 

Jeg havde en følelse af, at det ville være forræderisk overfor manden at gå direkte til hans overordnede, uden først at have talt lige ud af posen med ham selv om problemet, og måske foreslå ham en form for kompromis. Til sidst besluttede jeg mig for om muligt at ledsage manden (idet jeg indtil videre ville holde på hans hemmelighed) til den bedste lægelige kapacitet i området for at høre hans mening. Signalmanden havde fortalt mig at der blev et skift i hans vagtplan næste aften, og at han ville få fri et par timer efter solopgang, og være tilbage på sin post efter solnedgang; vi havde aftalt at jeg skulle komme tilbage om aftenen når han atter var på sin post.

 

 

Den næste aften var en dejlig aften og jeg gik tidligt ud for at nyde vejret. Solen var endnu ikke gået helt ned, da jeg kom gående hen ad stien i nærheden af den dybe jernbaneslugt. Jeg ville forlænge min spadseretur med en time, tænkte jeg, en halv time videre og så en halv time tilbage, og så ville det være tid til at stige ned til signalmandens skur. Før jeg fortsatte min vandring gik jeg helt hen til kanten, og kiggede mekanisk ned, fra det punkt, hvor jeg første gang havde set signalmanden.

 

Det er umuligt for mig at beskrive den ophidselse som slog ind over mig, da jeg så en mandsskikkelse tæt ved tunnelmundingen, med venstre arm for øjnene og højre arm voldsomt gestikulerende.

 

Min navnløse rædsel forsvandt imidlertid efter et øjeblik, da jeg så at skikkelsen virkelig var et menneske, og at en gruppe mænd stod ikke langt fra ham, og at han syntes at øve sin gestikuleren foran denne gruppe mænd.

 

Det røde advarselslys var ikke tændt. Ved lysstanderen var rejst et ganske lille, lavt overdække, som jeg aldrig havde set før, det bestod blot af et par træstivere og et stykke presenning; det var tilsyneladende ikke større end en seng.

 

Med en ubehagelig fornemmelse af at noget var galt, og med en selvbebrejdende følelse af at min laden signalmanden være alene var skyld i miséren, at det havde været forkert at ingen var blevet sendt for at overvåge hans embedsførelse – steg jeg ned ad stentrappen så hurtigt jeg kunne.

 

“Hvad er der sket?” spurgte jeg mændene.

 

“En signalmand er blevet dræbt her til morgen, Hr.”

 

“Da vel ikke manden som arbejdede i skuret dér?”

 

”Jo, Hr.”

 

 “Da vel ikke den mand jeg kendte?”

 

 “De vil genkende ham, Hr, hvis de kendte ham”, sagde manden som talte på gruppens vegne, mens han blottede hovedet, og løftede en flig af presenningen, “for hans ansigt er helt uskadt.”

 

“Åh, hvordan er dette sket, hvordan er det gået til!?” spurgte jeg, mens jeg vendte mig fra den ene til den anden, og presenningen atter blev lukket til.

 

“Han blev kørt ned af et lokomotiv, Hr. Der var ikke den mand i England som var mere påpasselig. Men på en eller anden måde kom han ikke af banen fra det yderste spor. Dagen var lige brudt frem. Han havde slukket signallyset, og han havde sin lampe i hånden. Da lokomotivet kom ud af tunnelen havde han ryggen til maskinen og han blev kørt ned. Manden dér kørte lokomotivet, og var ved at vise os hvordan det gik til. Vis den herre, Tom.”

 

Manden, som bar groft sort arbejdstøj, gik hen foran tunnelmundingen igen og fortalte: “Da jeg kom ud af kurven inde i tunnelen så jeg ham stå for enden af tunnelen, som om jeg så ham gennem en kikkert. Der var ikke tid til at bremse, og jeg vidste at han normalt var meget forsigtig. Men da han ikke synes at høre togfløjten, slog jeg den fra igen da vi nærmede os, og så råbte jeg til ham af mine lungers fulde kraft.”

 

 “Hvad råbte De?”

 

Jeg råbte: “Hallo! Hallo, dernede! Pas på! Pas på! For Guds skyld! Af banen!”

 

Det gav et ryk i mig.

 

“Åh, det var forfærdeligt,” fortsatte lokomotivføreren, ”jeg vedblev at råbe til ham, og jeg holdt min arm op for øjnene for ikke at se, og jeg vinkede desperat med den anden arm til det sidste, til ingen nytte.”

 

 

Uden af gøre historien længere ved at dvæle ved den ene eller den anden mærkværdige omstændighed snarere end ved nogen af de andre, vil jeg her, afslutningsvis, blot gøre opmærksom på at lokomotivførerens advarselsråb inkluderede ikke blot de ord som signalmanden havde refereret og hørt hjemsøge ham, men tillige de ord som jeg selv – ikke han – havde tillagt gestikken, og dette kun for mig selv.

 

 

SLUT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
ENGELSK ORIGINAL TEKST
_untitled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Dickens

 

THE SIGNALMAN

 

 

"Halloa! Below there!"

 

  When he heard a voice thus calling to him, he was standing at the door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled round its short pole. One would have thought, considering the nature of the ground, that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came; but, instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself about and looked down the Line. There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so, though I could not have said, for my life, what. But, I know it was remarkable enough to attract my notice, even though his figure was foreshortened and shadowed, down in the deep trench, and mine was high above him, so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset that I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all.

 

  "Halloa! Below!"

 

  From looking down the Line, he turned himself about again, and, raising his eyes, saw my figure high above him.

 

  "Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?"

 

  He looked up at me without replying, and I looked down at him without pressing him too soon with a repetition of my idle question. Just then, there came a vague vibration in the earth and air, quickly changing into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming rush that caused me to start back, as though it had force to draw me down. When such vapour as rose to my height from this rapid train, had passed me and was skimming away over the landscape, I looked down again, and saw him re-furling the flag he had shown while the train went by.

 

  I repeated my inquiry. After a pause, during which he seemed to regard me with fixed attention, he motioned with his rolled-up flag towards a point on my level, some two or three hundred yards distant. I called down to him, "All right!" and made for that point. There, by dint of looking closely about me, I found a rough zig-zag descending path notched out: which I followed.

 

  The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitate. It was made through a clammy stone that became oozier and wetter as I went down. For these reasons, I found the way long enough to give me time to recall a singular air of reluctance or compulsion with which he had pointed out the path.

 

  When I came down low enough upon the zig-zag descent, to see him again, I saw that he was standing between the rails on the way by which the train had lately passed, in an attitude as if he were waiting for me to appear. He had his left hand at his chin, and that left elbow rested on his right hand crossed over his breast. His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness, that I stopped a moment, wondering at it.

 

  I resumed my downward way, and, stepping out upon the level of the railroad and drawing nearer to him, saw that he was a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows. His post was in as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way, only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction, terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.

 

  Before he stirred, I was near enough to him to have touched him. Not even then removing his eyes from mine, he stepped back one step, and lifted his hand.

 

  This was a lonesome post to occupy (I said), and it had riveted my attention when I looked down from up yonder. A visitor was a rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity, I hoped? In me, he merely saw a man who had been shut up within narrow limits all his life, and who, being at last set free, had a newly-awakened interest in these great works. To such purpose I spoke to him; but I am far from sure of the terms I used, for, besides that I am not happy in opening any conversation, there was something in the man that daunted me.

 

  He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnel's mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were missing from it, and then looked at me.

 

  That light was part of his charge? Was it not?

 

  He answered in a low voice: "Don't you know it is?"

 

  The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man. I have speculated since, whether there may have been infection in his mind.

 

  In my turn, I stepped back. But in making the action, I detected in his eyes some latent fear of me. This put the monstrous thought to flight.

 

  "You look at me," I said, forcing a smile, "as if you had a dread of me."

 

  "I was doubtful," he returned, "whether I had seen you before."

 

  "Where?"

 

  He pointed to the red light he had looked at.

 

  "There?" I said.

 

  Intently watchful of me, he replied (but without sound), Yes.

 

  "My good fellow, what should I do there? However, be that as it may, I never was there, you may swear."

 

  "I think I may," he rejoined. "Yes. I am sure I may."

 

  His manner cleared, like my own. He replied to my remarks with readiness, and in well-chosen words. Had he much to do there? Yes; that was to say, he had enough responsibility to bear; but exactness and watchfulness were what was required of him, and of actual work--manual labour he had next to none. To change that signal, to trim those lights, and to turn this iron handle now and then, was all he had to do under that head. Regarding those many long and lonely hours of which I seemed to make so much, he could only say that the routine of his life had shaped itself into that form, and he had grown used to it. He had taught himself a language down here--if only to know it by sight, and to have formed his own crude ideas of its pronunciation, could be called learning it. He had also worked at fractions and decimals, and tried a little algebra; but he was, and had been as a boy, a poor hand at figures. Was it necessary for him when on duty, always to remain in that channel of damp air, and could he never rise into the sunshine from between those high stone walls? Why, that depended upon times and circumstances. Under some conditions there would be less upon the Line than under others, and the same held good as to certain hours of the day and night. In bright weather, he did choose occasions for getting a little above these lower shadows; but, being at all times liable to be called by his electric bell, and at such times listening for it with redoubled anxiety, the relief was less than I would suppose.

 

  He took me into his box, where there was a fire, a desk for an official book in which he had to make certain entries, a telegraphic instrument with its dial face and needles, and the little bell of which he had spoken. On my trusting that he would excuse the remark that he had been well-educated, and (I hoped I might say without offence), perhaps educated above that station, he observed that instances of slight incongruity in such-wise would rarely be found wanting among large bodies of men; that he had heard it was so in workhouses, in the police force, even in that last desperate resource, the army; and that he knew it was so, more or less, in any great railway staff. He had been, when young (if I could believe it, sitting in that, hut; he scarcely could), a student of natural philosophy, and had attended lectures; but he had run wild, misused his opportunities, gone down, and never risen again. He had no complaint to offer about that. He had made his bed and he lay upon it. It was far too late to make another.

 

  All that I have here condensed, he said in a quiet manner, with his grave dark regards divided between me and the fire. He threw in the word "Sir" from time to time, and especially when he referred to his youth: as though to request me to understand that he claimed to be nothing but what I found him. He was several times interrupted by the little bell, and had to read off messages, and send replies. Once, he had to stand without the door, and display a flag as a train passed, and make some verbal communication to the driver. In the discharge of his duties I observed him to be remarkably exact and vigilant, breaking off his discourse at a syllable, and remaining silent until what he had to do was done.

 

  In a word, I should have set this man down as one of the safest of men to be employed in that capacity, but for the circumstance that while he was speaking to me he twice broke off with a fallen colour, turned his face towards the little bell when it did NOT ring, opened the door of the hut (which was kept shut to exclude the unhealthy damp), and looked out towards the red light near the mouth of the tunnel. On both of those occasions, he came back to the fire with the inexplicable air upon him which I had remarked, without being able to define, when we were so far asunder.

 

  Said I when I rose to leave him: "You almost make me think that I have met with a contented man."

 

  (I am afraid I must acknowledge that I said it to lead him on.)

 

  "I believe I used to be so," he rejoined, in the low voice in which he had first spoken; "but I am troubled, sir, I am troubled."

 

  He would have recalled the words if he could. He had said them, however, and I took them up quickly.

 

  "With what? What is your trouble?"

 

  "It is very difficult to impart, sir. It is very, very difficult to speak of. If ever you make me another visit, I will try to tell you."

 

  "But I expressly intend to make you another visit. Say, when shall it be?"

 

  "I go off early in the morning, and I shall be on again at ten to-morrow night, sir."

 

  "I will come at eleven."

 

  He thanked me, and went out at the door with me. "I'll show my white light, sir," he said, in his peculiar low voice, "till you have found the way up. When you have found it, don't call out! And when you are at the top, don't call out!"

 

  His manner seemed to make the place strike colder to me, but I said no more than "Very well."

 

  "And when you come down to-morrow night, don't call out! Let me ask you a parting question. What made you cry 'Halloa! Below there!' to-night?"

 

  "Heaven knows," said I. "I cried something to that effect----"

 

  "Not to that effect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them well."

 

  "Admit those were the very words. I said them, no doubt, because I saw you below."

 

  "For no other reason?"

 

  "What other reason could I possibly have!"

 

  "You had no feeling that they were conveyed to you in any supernatural way?"

 

  "No."

 

  He wished me good night, and held up his light. I walked by the side of the down Line of rails (with a very disagreeable sensation of a train coming behind me), until I found the path. It was easier to mount than to descend, and I got back to my inn without any adventure.

 

  Punctual to my appointment, I placed my foot on the first notch of the zig-zag next night, as the distant clocks were striking eleven. He was waiting for me at the bottom, with his white light on. "I have not called out," I said, when we came close together; "may I speak now?" "By all means, sir." "Good night then, and here's my hand." "Good night, sir, and here's mine." With that, we walked side by side to his box, entered it, closed the door, and sat down by the fire.

 

  "I have made up my mind, sir," he began, bending forward as soon as we were seated, and speaking in a tone but a little above a whisper, "that you shall not have to ask me twice what troubles me. I took you for someone else yesterday evening. That troubles me."

 

  "That mistake?"

 

  "No. That someone else."

 

  "Who is it?"

 

  "I don't know."

 

  "Like me?"

 

  "I don't know. I never saw the face. The left arm is across the face, and the right arm is waved. Violently waved. This way."

 

  I followed his action with my eyes, and it was the action of an arm gesticulating with the utmost passion and vehemence: "For God's sake clear the way!"

 

  "One moonlight night," said the man, "I was sitting here, when I heard a voice cry 'Halloa! Below there!' I started up, looked from that door, and saw this Some one else standing by the red light near the tunnel, waving as I just now showed you. The voice seemed hoarse with shouting, and it cried, 'Look out! Look out!' And then again 'Halloa! Below there! Look out!' I caught up my lamp, turned it on red, and ran towards the figure, calling, 'What's wrong? What has happened? Where?' It stood just outside the blackness of the tunnel. I advanced so close upon it that I wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone."

 

  "Into the tunnel," said I.

 

  "No. I ran on into the tunnel, five hundred yards. I stopped and held my lamp above my head, and saw the figures of the measured distance, and saw the wet stains stealing down the walls and trickling through the arch. I ran out again, faster than I had run in (for I had a mortal abhorrence of the place upon me), and I looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up the iron ladder to the gallery atop of it, and I came down again, and ran back here. I telegraphed both ways, 'An alarm has been given. Is anything wrong?' The answer came back, both ways: 'All well.'"

 

  Resisting the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine, I showed him how that this figure must be a deception of his sense of sight, and how that figures, originating in disease of the delicate nerves that minister to the functions of the eye, were known to have often troubled patients, some of whom had become conscious of the nature of their affliction, and had even proved it by experiments upon themselves. "As to an imaginary cry," said I, "do but listen for a moment to the wind in this unnatural valley while we speak so low, and to the wild harp it makes of the telegraph wires!"

 

  That was all very well, he returned, after we had sat listening for a while, and he ought to know something of the wind and the wires, he who so often passed long winter nights there, alone and watching. But he would beg to remark that he had not finished.

 

  I asked his pardon, and he slowly added these words, touching my arm:

 

  "Within six hours after the Appearance, the memorable accident on this Line happened, and within ten hours the dead and wounded were brought along through the tunnel over the spot where the figure had stood."

 

  A disagreeable shudder crept over me, but I did my best against it. It was not to be denied, I rejoined, that this was a remarkable coincidence, calculated deeply to impress his mind. But it was unquestionable that remarkable coincidences did continually occur, and they must be taken into account in dealing with such a subject. Though to be sure I must admit, I added (for I thought I saw that he was going to bring the objection to bear upon me), men of common sense did not allow much for coincidences in making the ordinary calculations of life.

 

  He again begged to remark that he had not finished.

 

  I again begged his pardon for being betrayed into interruptions.

 

  "This," he said, again laying his hand upon my arm, and glancing over his shoulder with hollow eyes, "was just a year ago. Six or seven months passed, and I had recovered from the surprise and shock, when one morning, as the day was breaking, I, standing at that door, looked towards the red light, and saw the spectre again." He stopped, with a fixed look at me.

 

  "Did it cry out?"

 

  "No. It was silent."

 

  "Did it wave its arm?"

 

  "No. It leaned against the shaft of the light, with both hands before the face. Like this."

 

  Once more, I followed his action with my eyes. It was an action of mourning. I have seen such an attitude in stone figures on tombs.

 

  "Did you go up to it?"

 

  "I came in and sat down, partly to collect my thoughts, partly because it had turned me faint. When I went to the door again, daylight was above me, and the ghost was gone."

 

  "But nothing followed? Nothing came of this?"

 

  He touched me on the arm with his forefinger twice or thrice, giving a ghastly nod each time:

 

  "That very day, as a train came out of the tunnel, I noticed, at a carriage window on my side, what looked like a confusion of hands and heads, and something waved. I saw it, just in time to signal the driver, Stop! He shut off, and put his brake on, but the train drifted past here a hundred and fifty yards or more. I ran after it, and, as I went along, heard terrible screams and cries. A beautiful young lady had died instantaneously in one of the compartments, and was brought in here, and laid down on this floor between us."

 

  Involuntarily, I pushed my chair back, as I looked from the boards at which he pointed, to himself.

 

  "True, sir. True. Precisely as it happened, so I tell it you."

 

  I could think of nothing to say, to any purpose, and my mouth was very dry. The wind and the wires took up the story with a long lamenting wail.

 

  He resumed. "Now, sir, mark this, and judge how my mind is troubled. The spectre came back, a week ago. Ever since, it has been there, now and again, by fits and starts."

 

  "At the light?"

 

  "At the Danger-light."

 

  "What does it seem to do?"

 

  He repeated, if possible with increased passion and vehemence, that former gesticulation of "For God's sake clear the way!"

 

  Then, he went on. "I have no peace or rest for it. It calls to me, for many minutes together, in an agonised manner, 'Below there! Look out! Look out!' It stands waving to me. It rings my little bell----"

 

  I caught at that. "Did it ring your bell yesterday evening when I was here, and you went to the door?"

 

  "Twice."

 

  "Why, see," said I, "how your imagination misleads you. My eyes were on the bell, and my ears were open to the bell, and if I am a living man, it did NOT ring at those times. No, nor at any other time, except when it was rung in the natural course of physical things by the station communicating with you."

 

  He shook his head. "I have never made a mistake as to that, yet, sir. I have never confused the spectre's ring with the man's. The ghost's ring is a strange vibration in the bell that it derives from nothing else, and I have not asserted that the bell stirs to the eye. I don't wonder that you failed to hear it. But I heard it."

 

  "And did the spectre seem to be there, when you looked out?"

 

  "It WAS there."

 

  "Both times?"

 

  He repeated firmly: "Both times."

 

  "Will you come to the door with me, and look for it now?"

 

  He bit his under-lip as though he were somewhat unwilling, but arose. I opened the door, and stood on the step, while he stood in the doorway. There, was the Danger-light. There, was the dismal mouth of the tunnel. There, were the high wet stone walls of the cutting. There, were the stars above them.

 

  "Do you see it?" I asked him, taking particular note of his face. His eyes were prominent and strained; but not very much more so, perhaps, than my own had been when I had directed them earnestly towards the same spot.

 

  "No," he answered. "It is not there."

 

  "Agreed," said I.

 

  We went in again, shut the door, and resumed our seats. I was thinking how best to improve this advantage, if it might be called one, when he took up the conversation in such a matter of course way, so assuming that there could be no serious question of fact between us, that I felt myself placed in the weakest of positions.

 

  "By this time you will fully understand, sir," he said, "that what troubles me so dreadfully, is the question, What does the spectre mean?"

 

  I was not sure, I told him, that I did fully understand.

 

  "What is its warning against?" he said, ruminating, with his eyes on the fire, and only by times turning them on me. "What is the danger? Where is the danger? There is danger overhanging, somewhere on the Line. Some dreadful calamity will happen. It is not to be doubted this third time, after what has gone before. But surely this is a cruel haunting of me. What can I do?"

 

  He pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped the drops from his heated forehead.

 

  "If I telegraph Danger, on either side of me, or on both, I can give no reason for it," he went on, wiping the palms of his hands. "I should get into trouble, and do no good. They would think I was mad. This is the way it would work:--Message: 'Danger! Take care!' Answer: 'What danger? Where?' Message: 'Don't know. But for God's sake take care!' They would displace me. What else could they do?"

 

  His pain of mind was most pitiable to see. It was the mental torture of a conscientious man, oppressed beyond endurance by an unintelligible responsibility involving life.

 

  "When it first stood under the Danger-light," he went on, putting his dark hair back from his head, and drawing his hands outward across and across his temples in an extremity of feverish distress, "why not tell me where that accident was to happen--if it must happen? Why not tell me how it could be averted--if it could have been averted? When on its second coming it hid its face, why not tell me instead: 'She is going to die. Let them keep her at home'? If it came, on those two occasions, only to show me that its warnings were true, and so to prepare me for the third, why not warn me plainly now? And I, Lord help me! A mere poor signalman on this solitary station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be believed, and power to act!"

 

  When I saw him in this state, I saw that for the poor man's sake, as well as for the public safety, what I had to do for the time was, to compose his mind. Therefore, setting aside all question of reality or unreality between us, I represented to him that whoever thoroughly discharged his duty, must do well, and that at least it was his comfort that he understood his duty, though he did not understand these confounding Appearances. In this effort I succeeded far better than in the attempt to reason him out of his conviction. He became calm; the occupations incidental to his post as the night advanced, began to make larger demands on his attention; and I left him at two in the morning. I had offered to stay through the night, but he would not hear of it.

 

  That I more than once looked back at the red light as I ascended the pathway, that I did not like the red light, and that I should have slept but poorly if my bed had been under it, I see no reason to conceal. Nor, did I like the two sequences of the accident and the dead girl. I see no reason to conceal that, either.

 

  But, what ran most in my thoughts was the consideration how ought I to act, having become the recipient of this disclosure? I had proved the man to be intelligent, vigilant, painstaking, and exact; but how long might he remain so, in his state of mind? Though in a subordinate position, still he held a most important trust, and would I (for instance) like to stake my own life on the chances of his continuing to execute it with precision?

 

  Unable to overcome a feeling that there would be something treacherous in my communicating what he had told me, to his superiors in the Company, without first being plain with himself and proposing a middle course to him, I ultimately resolved to offer to accompany him (otherwise keeping his secret for the present) to the wisest medical practitioner we could hear of in those parts, and to take his opinion. A change in his time of duty would come round next night, he had apprised me, and he would be off an hour or two after sunrise, and on again soon after sunset. I had appointed to return accordingly.

 

  Next evening was a lovely evening, and I walked out early to enjoy it. The sun was not yet quite down when I traversed the field-path near the top of the deep cutting. I would extend my walk for an hour, I said to myself, half an hour on and half an hour back, and it would then be time to go to my signalman's box.

 

  Before pursuing my stroll, I stepped to the brink, and mechanically looked down, from the point from which I had first seen him. I cannot describe the thrill that seized upon me, when, close at the mouth of the tunnel, I saw the appearance of a man, with his left sleeve across his eyes, passionately waving his right arm.

 

  The nameless horror that oppressed me, passed in a moment, for in a moment I saw that this appearance of a man was a man indeed, and that there was a little group of other men standing at a short distance, to whom he seemed to be rehearsing the gesture he made. The Danger-light was not yet lighted. Against its shaft, a little low hut, entirely new to me, had been made of some wooden supports and tarpaulin. It looked no bigger than a bed.

 

  With an irresistible sense that something was wrong--with a flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my leaving the man there, and causing no one to be sent to overlook or correct what he did--I descended the notched path with all the speed I could make.

 

  "What is the matter?" I asked the men.

 

  "Signalman killed this morning, sir."

 

  "Not the man belonging to that box?"

 

  "Yes, sir."

 

  "Not the man I know?"

 

  "You will recognise him, sir, if you knew him," said the man who spoke for the others, solemnly uncovering his own head and raising an end of the tarpaulin, "for his face is quite composed."

 

  "O! how did this happen, how did this happen?" I asked, turning from one to another as the hut closed in again.

 

  "He was cut down by an engine, sir. No man in England knew his work better. But somehow he was not clear of the outer rail. It was just at broad day. He had struck the light, and had the lamp in his hand. As the engine came out of the tunnel, his back was towards her, and she cut him down. That man drove her, and was showing how it happened. Show the gentleman, Tom."

 

  The man, who wore a rough dark dress, stepped back to his former place at the mouth of the tunnel!

 

  "Coming round the curve in the tunnel, sir," he said, "I saw him at the end, like as if I saw him down a perspective-glass. There was no time to check speed, and I knew him to be very careful. As he didn't seem to take heed of the whistle, I shut it off when we were running down upon him, and called to him as loud as I could call."

 

  "What did you say?"

 

  "I said, Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake clear the way!"

 

  I started.

 

  "Ah! it was a dreadful time, sir. I never left off calling to him. I put this arm before my eyes, not to see, and I waved this arm to the last; but it was no use."

 

  

 

  Without prolonging the narrative to dwell on any one of its curious circumstances more than on any other, I may, in closing it, point out the coincidence that the warning of the Engine-Driver included, not only the words which the unfortunate Signalman had repeated to me as haunting him, but also the words which I myself--not he--had attached, and that only in my own mind, to the gesticulation he had imitated.

 

(End)

 

 

 

 

 



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