"Could you paint me from memory?"
This story, perhaps appropriately, begins with Charles Dickens. The author of the ghostly perennial classic A Christmas Carol, penned "Four Ghost Stories" for the popular British magazine All the Year Round. It was published in the Year of Our Lord 1861.
In the tale, a Mr. "H" is riding on a train to an appointment somewhere in France. Mr. H is a portrait painter, it turns out, and has been commissioned by a wealthy couple who wish to sit for him. Or, I believe that's how it goes. The date is September 13th, an important little detail that only becomes relevant later.
While snoozing on the train, H is awakened by the presence of a young woman. Most attractive, he thinks.
She asks him, "Could you paint me from memory?" To which he replies that, most certainly, he could, "But, I'd rather paint you from life!"
Amused, obviously, the young woman then says, "Well, you may have to take a likeness of me."
She gets up and departs. We flash forward two years, and H is visited in his studio by a Mr. Wylde, who asks him if it would be possible for him to paint a portrait based on a description. H affirms that, most certainly, it would be possible, fire away old chap, that sort of thing.
Mr. Wylde begins a description. (And that man must have had a real flair for exacting facial detail!)
Well, after completing the sketch H finds himself astounded, as it is the exact image of the woman he sat across from on the train, so long ago.
Mr. Wylde finds himself shaken at this suggestion. For, you see, he explains that this is an image of his daughter—who died, two years ago, on the (are you ready for it?): the 13th of September.
"We shall meet again before you have had time to forget me!"
Fifties radio host Frank Edwards, who was an early chronicler of paranormal and UFO accounts, also wrote a similar story—as fact. But, first, we must add the finishing touch on Dickens' tale.
It seems a real-life painter (Edwards identifies him as Girard Hale) contacted Dickens shortly after publication. Rather astounded this man was, because he swore that everything Dickens wrote, had, essentially, happened to him IN REAL LIFE.
Edwards recounts it thusly:
Same essential situation, except Mr. HALE ("H"), instead of waiting two years, is picked up at the train station by the affluent French couple and driven back to their chateau. The mysterious woman on the train additionally tells him: "We shall meet again before you have had the time to forget me!"
Getting to the chateau, and being left to his own devices before dinner, Mr. Hale is shocked to discover, coming up the staircase as he is going down...the same young woman with whom he had talked on the train!
"I told you we would meet again!" she said.
Hale replied, "Had I known you were coming here, too, perhaps we could have come by the same route."
She then said, strangely, "I'm afraid that would have been rather difficult!"
She then disappeared up stairs. Thinking this a remarkable turn of events, Hale later commented on it to the elderly couple during dinner.
"The sketch you have draw from memory, sir, is a perfect likeness of her!"
"A young lady? In this house? I cannot imagine to whom you refer," said the elderly hostess. And then the host, seemingly rather troubled now, asked Hale if he could draw the young woman from memory. He certainly could, of course, and did so post-haste.
Upon completing the sketch, the old woman took one look at it and literally fainted. Her husband seemed to take event swith more poise, however.
He apologized, and then explained, "Many years ago, we had a daughter, our only child, who died while we were on a trip to the orient. It must have been she whom you met on the train and again in this house tonight. The sketch you have draw from memory, sir, is a perfect likeness of her!"
And there it is.
Can this legend be based in truth?
Can this really be based in truth? For starters, it is an odd coincidence that Mr "H" is identified with Hale, who lived many, many decades later than the 1861 publication of Dickens's tale. We vaguely remember hearing another variation of this particular ghost story involving two men riding in a coach.
Of course, Edwards's variation involves the artist actually seeing the ghost a second time, and being asked to sketch that sighting from memory, unaware that it is the dead daughter of someone for whom he is sketching. We confess to disbelieving the account, or simply putting it down to spectral legend.
But, who knows? Perhaps, in some alternate dimension, the whole damn thing is true. After all, for Mr. Hale and the "Portrait Lady" to have traveled back to her home would have, as she claimed, been fraught with "exceeding difficulty." A discorporate entity, and a living man, cannot travel the same pathways often. Only, seemingly, at those rare and sundry occurrences when the "Great Panjandrum," the laughing trickster of the cosmos lets the spirit ride forth, by hook or by crook, by plane, automobile, broomstick... or common passenger train, to implore the unwary, and deliver a testament of proof to that which, during bright and happy hours, we think CANNOT BE. And well, to close, we all know a picture, here, is worth more considerably more than a thousand words.