016 - There Is No Death, by Florence Marryat: The Spirit of a Sailor


I cannot end this chapter more appropriately than by relating a very remarkable case of “optical illusion” which was seen by myself alone. It was in the month of July, 1880, and I had gone down alone to Brighton for a week's quiet. I had some important literary work to finish, and the exigencies of the London season made too many demands upon my time. So I packed up my writing materials, and took a lodging all to myself, and set hard to work.

I used to write all day and walk in the evening. It was light then till eight or nine o'clock, and the Esplanade used to be crowded till a late hour. I was pushing my way, on the evening of the 9th of July, through the crowd, thinking of my work more than anything else, when I saw, as I fully thought, my step-son, Francis Lean, leaning with his back against the palings at the edge of the cliff and smiling at me. He was a handsome lad of eighteen who was supposed to have sailed in his ship for the Brazils five months before. But he had been a wild young fellow, causing his father much trouble and anxiety, and my first impression was one of great annoyance, thinking naturally that, since I saw him there, he had never sailed at all, but run away from his ship at the last moment. I hastened up to him, therefore, but as I reached his side, he turned round quite methodically, and walked quickly down a flight of steps that led to the beach. I followed him, and found myself amongst a group of ordinary seamen mending their nets, but I could see Francis nowhere.

I did not know what to make of the occurrence, but it never struck me that it was not either the lad himself or some one remarkably like him. The same night, however, after I had retired to bed in a room that was unpleasantly briliant with the moonlight streaming in at the window, I was roused from my sleep by someone turning the handle of my door, and there stood Francis in his naval uniform, with the peaked cap on his head, smiling at me as he had done upon the cliff. I started up in bed intending to speak to him, when he laid his finger on his lips and faded away. This second vision made me think something must have happened to the boy, but I determined not to say anything to my husband about it until it was verified. Shortly after my return to London, we were going, in company with my own son (also a sailor), to see his ship which was lying in the docks, when, as we were driving through Poplar, I again saw my stepson Francis standing on the pavement, and smiling at me.

That time I spoke. I said to Colonel Lean: “I am sure I saw Francis standing there. Do you think it is possible he may not have sailed after all?”

But Colonel Lean laughed at the idea. He believed it to be a chance likeness I had seen. Only the lad was too good-looking to have many duplicates in this world.

We visited the seaside after that, and in September, whilst we were staying at Folkestone, Colonel Lean received a letter to say that his son Francis had been drowned by the upsetting of a boat in the surf of the Bay of Callao, in the Brazils, on the 9th of July – the day I had seen him twice in Brighton, two months before we heard that he was gone.

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