The Grocer's Cough
A man of letters was born in a small Scotch town, where his father was
the intimate friend of a tradesman whom we shall call the grocer.
Almost every day the grocer would come to have a chat with Mr. Mackay,
and the visitor, alone of the natives, had the habit of knocking at
the door before entering. One day Mr. Mackay said to his daughter,
"There's Mr. Macwilliam's knock. Open the door." But there was no
Mr. Macwilliam! He was just leaving his house at the other end of the
street. From that day Mr. Mackay always heard the grocer's knock "a
little previous," accompanied by the grocer's cough, which was
peculiar. Then all the family heard it, including the son who later
became learned. He, when he had left his village for Glasgow,
reasoned himself out of the opinion that the grocer's knock did herald
and precede the grocer. But when he went home for a visit he found
that he heard it just as of old. Possibly some local Sentimental
Tommy watched for the grocer, played the trick and ran away. This
explanation presents no difficulty, but the boy was never detected.
Such anecdotes somehow do not commend themselves to the belief even of
people who can believe a good deal.
But "the spirits of the living," as the Highlanders say, have surely
as good a chance to knock, or appear at a distance, as the spirits of
the dead. To be sure, the living do not know (unless they are making
a scientific experiment) what trouble they are giving on these
occasions, but one can only infer, like St. Augustine, that probably
the dead don't know it either.
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