‘A wonderful modern ghost-story’, wrote Charles Harper, ‘obtained much publicity at the close of December 1913 … The principals were said to be people of the highest social position.’ It is presumably out of respect for this social status that Harper carefully avoids mentioning any names, or indicating what form the ‘publicity’ took. There seems to have been considerable interest in psychic experiences among the upper classes from the late nineteenth century onwards, exemplified, for instance, by many anecdotes in Augustus Hare’s Story of My Life (1900).
The story given by Harper is as follows. The vicar of a Kensington church was about to leave the church after choir practice one evening when an agitated lady, who was unknown to him, begged him to come at once to an address nearby where a man was dying. ‘He is extremely concerned about the state of his soul,’ she pleaded, ‘and anxious to see you before he dies.’ The lady had a taxi waiting; the vicar got in at once, and the two of them drove to the house, where the vicar rang the bell, and told the butler he had come in answer to his sick master’s urgent summons. The butler, amazed, answered that his master was in the best of health. ‘But this lady said – ’ said the vicar, and then, turning, saw that both the lady and the taxi had vanished.
At this point the master of the house appeared, and when the situation had been explained he commented that it was very strange, for though in no way ill he had indeed been troubled lately about something that was on his conscience, and had been thinking of calling some clergyman to talk about it. He and the vicar talked together for an hour or so, and the gentleman said he would come to church next morning to continue the discussion.
He never came, so the vicar went back to the house, where he was told that the gentleman had died the previous evening, just ten minutes after they parted. Going into the bedroom to pray beside the corpse, the vicar was startled to see a portrait which he recognized at once, that of the lady who had summoned him. ‘Who is that?’ he asked. ‘That, sir,’ said the butler, ‘is my master’s wife. She died fifteen years ago.’