The Spectre Knows: Sixth Pale Knight
The Spectre Knows
‘Then further,’ says the guest, ‘we are not talking about intuition. If a railwayman observes that passengers are in the habit of jumping from the cars before the train comes to a halt, he will say, ‘There you have the makings of an accident’, and may well be proved right. We do not call that prophecy.’
Michelwhyte, of ninety-nine years
Seventy and more visiting old stores
of books, his favourite enviable pastime
Dust, and tiny beads of sweat…of fingertips, of saints
Of leaves’ tender gilding none else had managed to unstick
Michelwhyte, a patient wight, a slowly mummifying servant
of Christ, a man who keeps his watches, a pale knight
gliding edges of evening-hours smiles and animated eyes
Kind-hearted, pontificating Michelwhyte
The very man—astonishing!
Old Michelwhyte, living, truly? You don’t say…
‘Ay, ’tis he.’
A near century of mounting cataclysm, and the spectre knows
It Is All One
the doom of man, propagating like a cloud
The ancient sexton unearthed again by a junior reporter
sent in search of local colour
‘Ere the plague arrived in England, Godfrey had been seen
Ten villages along the coast been left without a living soul
And gales blowing down their walls
And bones of dead men lying on their beds
Full-clothed and lying on their beds.’
It is unfortunately true, that one of the easiest mistakes of memory is in the ordering of events. Let me digress.
Oh, I hope you’ll take it in stages, Roscoe says. Don’t want to tax yourself, learning a new skill.
Yes. So…it was in 1912 that we lost the Titanic. I’d mentioned Michelwhyte’s spellbinding reminiscences, printed in the Advertiser, on this occasion, three years earlier. The ‘echo period’, as we call it, generally will proceed from the source for three to five years.
The old sexton’s manifestations were fairly regular. Michelwhyte did plenty of unintended mischief…every decade or so, out with a fresh recounting. He had, by attrition, got possession of the story…all rival sources dying away, whilst Michelwhyte lived on.
You see, I’d been confident the Pale Knight was fabrication, and bearing all the signs of it. My aim was disproof, rather than proof. And so I’d set about reviewing articles, letters…interviewing those mentioned by name; or, in the case of the letters, locating them by a sort of deductive process—
One might sign himself: ‘A Hobbyist’, for example, or ‘Old Fusilier’… Most times an appeal to the landlord—of any public house near the given address—would readily identify the writer.
Now, invariably (and many of the stories, due to the passage of time, must come at second-hand), the claim was that someone else had seen the apparition. This sort of lead, you won’t be surprised to learn, would go cold at once. However, I had talked—it was five years ago—to a David Butcherson, aged forty-five then, twenty-eight at the time of his claim…
And did it speak?
Head scratch. Wary smile. I can’t remember that.
And how do you picture yourself…? How many feet distant, between yourself and Godfrey… Where would you place the creature on the compass, facing north, facing south…?
Well, I felt right off he hadn’t got a picture. He had imagined the needed bits, of the knight’s demeanour and accoutrement, to facilitate the telling of his yarn…and the reporter hadn’t cared enough to mind. Only a bit of column-filler, item of local interest.
But, I am an investigator. The gear Butcherson described was such as you might see in a pageant or a play; and if the Pale Knight were a true phenomenon, he would not have appeared as anything like a knight…not, that is, habilimented in the Arthurian manner. By rights, the helmet either would resemble a museum piece from the late Roman period, or be a thing never seen—yet nevertheless consistent in detail from account to account.
Then again, it is not really a social faux pas to have seen a ghost…more a feather in the cap, in a number of circles.
You mean to say, by rights he’d have gone at once, to tell a friend.
Or accuse a friend…
Of taking the piss.
The guest blushes before Virginia.
Phrase you were looking for. No need to thank me, Roscoe says.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)