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Back From That Bourne

Scary Books: Humorous Ghost Stories


We are permitted to make extracts from a private letter which bears the

signature of a gentleman well known in business circles, and whose

veracity we have never heard called in question. His statements are

startling and well-nigh incredible, but if true, they are susceptible of

easy verification. Yet the thoughtful mind will hesitate about accepting

them without the fullest proof,
for they spring upon the world a social

problem of stupendous importance. The dangers apprehended by Mr. Malthus

and his followers become remote and commonplace by the side of this new

and terrible issue.

The letter is dated at Pocock Island, a small township in Washington

County, Maine, about seventeen miles from the mainland and nearly

midway between Mt. Desert and the Grand Menan. The last state census

accords to Pocock Island a population of 311, mostly engaged in the

porgy fisheries. At the Presidential election of 1872 the island gave

Grant a majority of three. These two facts are all that we are able to

learn of the locality from sources outside of the letter already

referred to.

The letter, omitting certain passages which refer solely to private

matters, reads as follows:

"But enough of the disagreeable business that brought me here to this

bleak island in the month of November. I have a singular story to tell

you. After our experience together at Chittenden I know you will not

reject statements because they are startling.

"My friend, there is upon Pocock Island a materialized spirit which (or

who) refuses to be dematerialized. At this moment and within a quarter

of a mile from me as I write, a man who died and was buried four years

ago, and who has exploited the mysteries beyond the grave, walks, talks,

and holds interviews with the inhabitants of the island, and is, to all

appearances, determined to remain permanently upon this side of the

river. I will relate the circumstances as briefly as I can."


"In April, 1870, John Newbegin died and was buried in the little

cemetery on the landward side of the island. Newbegin was a man of

about forty-eight, without family or near connections, and eccentric to

a degree that sometimes inspired questions as to his sanity. What money

he had earned by many seasons' fishing upon the banks was invested in

quarters of two small mackerel schooners, the remainder of which

belonged to John Hodgeson, the richest man on Pocock, who was estimated

by good authorities to be worth thirteen or fourteen thousand dollars.

"Newbegin was not without a certain kind of culture. He had read a good

deal of the odds and ends of literature and, as a simple-minded islander

expressed it in my hearing, knew more bookfuls than anybody on the

island. He was naturally an intelligent man; and he might have attained

influence in the community had it not been for his utter aimlessness of

character, his indifference to fortune, and his consuming thirst for


"Many yachtsmen who have had occasion to stop at Pocock for water or for

harbor shelter during eastern cruises, will remember a long, listless

figure, astonishingly attired in blue army pants, rubber boots, loose

toga made of some bright chintz material, and very bad hat, staggering

through the little settlement, followed by a rabble of jeering brats,

and pausing to strike uncertain blows at those within reach of the dead

sculpin which he usually carried round by the tail. This was John



"As I have already remarked, he died four years ago last April. The

Mary Emmeline, one of the little schooners in which he owned, had

returned from the eastward, and had smuggled, or 'run in' a quantity of

St. John brandy. Newbegin had a solitary and protracted debauch. He was

missed from his accustomed walks for several days, and when the

islanders broke into the hovel where he lived, close down to the seaweed

and almost within reach of the incoming tide, they found him dead on the

floor, with an emptied demijohn hard by his head.

"After the primitive custom of the island, they interred John Newbegin's

remains without coroner's inquest, burial certificate, or funeral

services, and in the excitement of a large catch of porgies that summer,

soon forgot him and his friendless life. His interest in the Mary

Emmeline and the Prettyboat recurred to John Hodgeson; and as nobody

came forward to demand an administration of the estate, it was never

administered. The forms of law are but loosely followed in some of these

marginal localities."


"Well, my dear ----, four years and four months had brought their quota

of varying seasons to Pocock Island when John Newbegin reappeared under

the following circumstances:

"In the latter part of last August, as you may remember, there was a

heavy gale all along our Atlantic coast. During this storm the squadron

of the Naugatuck Yacht Club, which was returning from a summer cruise as

far as Campobello, was forced to take shelter in the harbor to the

leeward of Pocock Island. The gentlemen of the club spent three days at

the little settlement ashore. Among the party was Mr. R---- E----, by

which name you will recognize a medium of celebrity, and one who has

been particularly successful in materializations. At the desire of his

companions, and to relieve the tedium of their detention, Mr.

E---- improvised a cabinet in the little schoolhouse at Pocock, and gave

a seance, to the delight of his fellow yachtsmen and the utter

bewilderment of such natives as were permitted to witness the


"The conditions appeared unusually favorable to spirit appearances and

the seance was upon the whole perhaps the most remarkable that Mr.

E---- ever held. It was all the more remarkable because the surroundings

were such that the most prejudiced skeptic could discover no possibility

of trickery.

"The first form to issue from the wood closet which constituted the

cabinet, when Mr. E---- had been tied therein by a committee of old

sailors from the yachts, was that of an Indian chief who announced

himself as Hock-a-mock, and who retired after dancing a 'Harvest Moon'

pas seul, and declaring himself in very emphatic terms, as opposed to

the present Indian policy of the Administration. Hock-a-mock was

succeeded by the aunt of one of the yachtsmen, who identified herself

beyond question by allusion to family matters and by displaying the scar

of a burn upon her left arm, received while making tomato catsup upon

earth. Then came successively a child whom none present recognized, a

French Canadian who could not talk English, and a portly gentleman who

introduced himself as William King, first Governor of Maine. These in

turn reentered the cabinet and were seen no more.

"It was some time before another spirit manifested itself, and Mr. E----

gave directions that the lights be turned down still further. Then the

door of the wood closet was slowly opened and a singular figure in

rubber boots and a species of Dolly Varden garment emerged, bringing a

dead fish in his right hand."


"The city men who were present, I am told, thought that the medium was

masquerading in grotesque habiliments for the more complete astonishment

of the islanders, but these latter rose from their seats and exclaimed

with one consent: 'It is John Newbegin!' And then, in not unnatural

terror of the apparition they turned and fled from the schoolroom,

uttering dismal cries.

"John Newbegin came calmly forward and turned up the solitary kerosene

lamp that shed uncertain light over the proceedings. He then sat down in

the teacher's chair, folded his arms, and looked complacently about him.

"'You might as well untie the medium,' he finally remarked. 'I propose

to remain in the materialized condition.'

"And he did remain. When the party left the schoolhouse among them

walked John Newbegin, as truly a being of flesh and blood as any man of

them. From that day to this, he has been a living inhabitant of Pocock

Island, eating, drinking, (water only) and sleeping after the manner of

men. The yachtsmen who made sail for Bar Harbor the very next morning,

probably believe that he was a fraud hired for the occasion by Mr.

E----. But the people of Pocock, who laid him out, dug his grave, and

put him into it four years ago, know that John Newbegin has come back to

them from a land they know not of."


"The idea, of having a ghost--somewhat more condensed it is true than

the traditional ghost--as a member was not at first overpleasing to the

311 inhabitants of Pocock Island. To this day, they are a little

sensitive upon the subject, feeling evidently that if the matter got

abroad, it might injure the sale of the really excellent porgy oil

which is the product of their sole manufacturing interest. This

reluctance to advertise the skeleton in their closet, superadded to the

slowness of these obtuse, fishy, matter-of-fact people to recognize the

transcendent importance of the case, must be accepted as explanation of

the fact that John Newbegin's spirit has been on earth between three and

four months, and yet the singular circumstance is not known to the whole


"But the Pocockians have at last come to see that a spirit is not

necessarily a malevolent spirit, and accepting his presence as a fact in

their stolid, unreasoning way, they are quite neighborly and sociable

with Mr. Newbegin.

"I know that your first question will be: 'Is there sufficient proof of

his ever having been dead?' To this I answer unhesitatingly, 'Yes.' He

was too well-known a character and too many people saw the corpse to

admit of any mistake on this point. I may add here that it was at one

time proposed to disinter the original remains, but that project was

abandoned in deference to the wishes of Mr. Newbegin, who feels a

natural delicacy about having his first set of bones disturbed from

motives of mere curiosity."


"You will readily believe that I took occasion to see and converse with

John Newbegin. I found him affable and even communicative. He is

perfectly aware of his doubtful status as a being, but is in hopes that

at some future time there may be legislation that shall correctly define

his position and the position of any spirit who may follow him into the

material world. The only point upon which he is reticent is his

experience during the four years that elapsed between his death and his

reappearance at Pocock. It is to be presumed that the memory is not a

pleasant one: at least he never speaks of this period. He candidly

admits, however, that he is glad to get back to earth and that he

embraced the very first opportunity to be materialized.

"Mr. Newbegin says that he is consumed with remorse for the wasted years

of his previous existence. Indeed, his conduct during the past three

months would show that this regret is genuine. He has discarded his

eccentric costume, and dresses like a reasonable spirit. He has not

touched liquor since his reappearance. He has embarked in the porgy oil

business, and his operations already rival that of Hodgeson, his old

partner in the Mary Emmeline and the Prettyboat. By the way,

Newbegin threatens to sue Hodgeson for his individed quarter in each of

these vessels, and this interesting case therefore bids fair to be

thoroughly investigated in the courts.

"As a business man, he is generally esteemed on the Island, although

there is a noticeable reluctance to discount his paper at long dates. In

short, Mr. John Newbegin is a most respectable citizen (if a dead man

can be a citizen) and has announced his intention of running for the

next Legislature!"


"And now, my dear ----, I have told you the substance of all I know

respecting this strange, strange case. Yet, after all, why so strange?

We accepted materialization at Chittenden. Is this any more than the

logical issue of that admission? If the spirit may return to earth,

clothed in flesh and blood and all the physical attributes of humanity,

why may it not remain on earth as long as it sees fit?

"Thinking of it from whatever standpoint, I cannot but regard John

Newbegin as the pioneer of a possibly large immigration from the spirit

world. The bars once down, a whole flock will come trooping back to

earth. Death will lose its significance altogether. And when I think of

the disturbance which will result in our social relations, of the

overthrow of all accepted institutions, and of the nullification of all

principles of political economy, law, and religion, I am lost in

perplexity and apprehension."