The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens (1866)
After recently reading Drood by Dan Simmons which described Charles Dickens’ involvement in the Staplehurst Rail Disaster, I decided to read Dickens’ short story, The Signal-Man. Although it doesn’t directly reference the Staplehurst incident, The Signal-Man was written the following year so was almost certainly influenced by his experience.
Whilst taking a walk one evening, the unnamed narrator discovers an isolated railway station and makes the acquaintance of the lonely signalman. The signalman tells him of a ghostly figure that he has previously witnessed on two occasions standing below the danger light in the entrance to the tunnel. On both occasions, the ghost’s appearance has been followed by tragedy. Now the spectre has appeared again and the signalman is convinced that another disaster is imminent…
This is the first of Charles Dickens’ short stories that I’ve ever read and having read some of his full-length novels, I was surprised by how quick and easy The Signal-Man was to read. Although the outcome of the story was very predictable, Dickens creates a wonderfully eerie and foreboding atmosphere. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for a classic ghost story.
“His post was in as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw…So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.”
* Clayton Tunnel picture – in the public domain