"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 5, 2022

One Night in Paris: A Ghost Story That Wasn't

One Henrietta Leslie wrote the following account, which appeared in the “Occult Review” for January 1920, under the title “An Extraordinary Experience.”  When I first read this story, I fully expected that “Gillespie” had died, and was making one last ghostly visit to a close friend.  The fact that it ended otherwise (spoiler alert!) makes the tale somewhat unique.

A rather remarkable happening was experienced a few years ago by a friend of mine who was spending a week or two in Paris.  Seized with a sudden impulse to attend a late evening service at the Madeleine, she left the friends she was with, promising to meet them later at a much frequented restaurant.  The music at the beautiful church, however, being particularly grand and her mood one of extreme depression, she stayed on and fell into a deep reverie, from which she was at last aroused by the verger touching her upon the shoulder and informing her that they wished to close the church for the night. He indicated,moreover, that she must leave by the side entrance, the large west door being already shut.

On passing out, the girl found herself facing the flower market, which flanks the great church on both sides. It was summer, and the twilight was gradually creeping up and chasing away the remnants of day. She went slowly down the steps, and, as she reached the last, she became suddenly conscious of a group of three people--a man and two women--talking together in animated tones.

The man, who must have caught sight of the girl over his shoulder, for he was standing with his back to her, immediately left his companions and came towards her, raising his hat. She stared at him in amazement through the half light, for it was a friend--one James Gillespie--whom she had last seen in London, and from whom she had, during her Paris sojourn, received several letters, in none of which had he made any mention of coming to France.

“Hullo, Laura!" was his greeting. "Surprised to see me, are you? Let me drive you to your hotel.” And he hailed a passing fiacre.

As my friend was about to step into the conveyance, a little barefooted urchin came running by, with a single bunch of violets upon his tray; these Gillespie purchased and tucked into the girl’s coat. He then gave Laura’s address to the driver--unprompted by her--and the pair set off.

They conversed intimately of subjects known only to themselves, until suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Gillespie seized my friend in his arms and embraced her affectionately.

“You mustn’t do that,” she protested. ”Think of your fiancée.”

“Oh yes--Estelle,” echoed Gillespie, with a blank look.  ”Forget all about it, Laura, please. I want you to meet Estelle.  She’s in Paris now. Will you come to lunch tomorrow--Café de la Lanterne, near the Bourse, you know--at half-past twelve.”

”I should like to come very much,” Laura replied; ”perhaps you’ll write the name down for me. I’ve got no memory at all,” and she handed him her little diary, in which he duly inscribed both hour and address of the projected meeting.

By this time they had reached their destination, and Gillespie, descending from the cab, helped Laura to do likewise and paid the driver.

The hotel proprietor was standing in the doorway of the house and Gillespie wished him a cheery good evening; after which, once more reminding Laura of the morrow’s appointment, he bade her good-bye and disappeared into the night.

At a quarter to twelve the following morning, Laura sallied forth to the Café de la Lanterne, a small restaurant, essentially Parisian in character, with its small check cloth covered tables and sunny veranda. She waited until past one o’clock, and then, as neither Gillespie nor his Estelle had put in an appearance, she wended her way back to her hotel.

In the doorway, as last night, stood mine host.

”Back already, mademoiselle?” he greeted her.

”My friends have failed me,” she told him. ”Did you hear the gentleman who came with me last night mention any hour?”

”Oh no, mademoiselle.” replied the old fellow; ”I only bade ‘ce Monsieur’ bon soir.”

Laura took one more look at her diary, which convinced her that she was not in fault, and resigned herself to the inevitable.

A few weeks later she returned to London. She had made no attempt to clear up the mystery by writing to Gillespie, for she felt that the first explanation was due to come from him.  When she had been home a few days, however, the telephone bell rang and her friend's voice came to her over the wire.

"You’re a nice one,” he abused her, ”leaving a poor fellow to languish like this. What’s the meaning of it, may I ask?”

”Have you any need to ask,” she rejoined, “after what happened in Paris?”

“Paris!” he echoed. ”Why, what did happen there?”

“The way you behaved to me," she enlarged.

“I dare say I should have behaved atrociously had I been there," he laughed, “but, unfortunately, I haven’t--at least, not for about six years. I've not left London since I saw you last.” 

And so it proved to be. Mutual friends gave a detailed corroboration of Gillespie’s account of his doings for the night when Laura had supposed him to be sharing her fiacre from the Madeleine.

Yet against this was the spoken evidence of the hotel proprietor and the written evidence in Laura’s diary. The whole mystery seemed impossible of solution, and has indeed remained unsolved to this day.


  1. Wow ! No urgency, no death or tragic experience - this story is missing everything except the fact of Mr Gillespie being in two places at once. Someone more versed in psychology than I am might say he is unsettled in his mind about marrying his fiance,,,

  2. If it weren't for corroboration of his story, Gillespie might be lying. Did he have a brother? It would had to have been a careful set-up if it was all a gag. How did the Paris Gillespie know where Laura was staying? This one is most interesting.


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