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.

{191}



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.



Thus,





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