When I called the signalman, I was above him on the hill. But he did not look up. He looked along the railway line towards the tunnel.
'Hello, down there!' I called again.
Then he looked up and saw me.
'Where's the path?' I asked. 'How can I come down and speak to you?'
He did not answer me. Just then a train came out of the tunnel. The signalman had a flag in his hand and he showed it when the train passed. Again I asked him where the path was. He pointed his flag at the hill, and I saw a path that went down.
'Alright! Thanks!' I shouted.
I went down the wet path. The signalman was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. He was standing between the railway lines with a strange, nervous expression on his face.
The place was quiet and lonely. High walls blocked out a lot of the sky, so there was not much sun there, and it was dark. I looked along the line and saw a red light in front of the entrance to the black tunnel. Then I went up to the signalman, but he moved away from me. He looked at me strangely.
'It's very lonely here' I said. 'You don't get many visitors. Am I disturbing you?'
He did not answer, but looked at the red light near the tunnel.
'Why are you watching that light?' I asked. 'Is that part of your job?'
He answered quietly, 'Don't you know it is?'
Suddenly the horrible idea came to me that he was a ghost, not a man. So I moved away. But then I saw fear in his eyes.
'Are you afraid of me?' I asked.
'I was thinking perhaps I've seen you before.'
He pointed to the red light. 'There.'
'Why? I've never been there before.'
'No, perhaps you haven't.'
Then he began to relax. He took me into his signal box.
'Have you got much work to do here?' I asked.
'No, not very much. But I have to be very attentive and careful,' he replied.
'What are your responsibilities?'
'I change the signal, pull these switches, and check that the red light is working,' he explained.
'Do you ever feel lonely?' I asked.
'No, I'm used to it.'
'Can't you ever go out into the sunlight?'
'Yes, sometimes when the weather is good. But I must always listen for the electric bell and watch the red light.'
I looked around his signal box. There was a fire, a desk, a telegraph machine for receiving and sending messages and a little electric bell.
'When I was a young man, I studied science,' he told me.
The bell suddenly rang. He received messages and sent replies. Then he showed his flag when a train passed. He did everything very precisely. During our conversation he opened the door twice and looked at the red light. He came back to the fire with an anxious expression. I wanted to know why, so I asked, 'Are you a happy man?'
'I was happy once,' he replied. 'But now I'm worried, sir.'
'Why? What's the problem?'
'It's difficult to say. If you come again, I'll try and tell you,' he said.
'When shall I come?'
'I'll be here again at ten o'clock tomorrow night, sir.'
'I'll come at eleven then,' I replied.
It was dark outside, so he showed me to the path with his light.
'Don't call out «hello» again, please,' he said.
'And don't call out when you come tomorrow night. Why did you shout «Hello, down there!» tonight?' he asked.
'I don't know. Did I say those exact words?'
'Yes. I know those words very well.'
'I think' I said them because I saw you down here,' I said.
'Is that the only reason?
'Yes, of course. Why?'
'You don't think there was any supernatural reason?' he asked.
Then we said goodnight, and I returned to my hotel.
I arrived at eleven the following night. The signalman was waiting for me with his light. 'You see, I didn't call out,' I said, smiling. We walked to the signal box and sat down by the fire.
'I've decided to tell you what disturbs me,' he began in a quiet voice. 'Yesterday evening I thought you were somebody else.'
'Who?' I asked.
'I don't know.'
'Does he look like me?'
'I've never seen his face because his left arm is always in front of it. He waves his right arm — like this.' And he waved violently, like somebody trying to say, 'Please get out of the way!'
'One night,' continued the signalman, 'the moon was shining and I was sitting here. Suddenly I heard a voice — «Hello, down there!» I went to the door and looked out. There was somebody by the red light near the tunnel and he was waving. «Look out! Look out!» he shouted, and then again, «Hello, down there! Look out!» I took my lamp and ran towards him. «What's wrong? What's happened?» I called. I wondered why he had his arm in front of his eyes. As I came near him, I put out my hand to pull his arm away — but he wasn't there.'
'Did he go into the tunnel?' I asked.
'No. I ran into the tunnel. I stopped and shone my lamp around, but there was nobody there. I was scared, so I ran out fast and came to my box. I sent a telegraph message — «Alarm received. Is anything wrong?» The answer came back: «All well.»'
I said that the person was probably a hallucination.
'Wait a moment, sir,' the signalman said, touching my arm. 'Six hours later a terrible accident happened on this line. They brought a lot of dead and injured people out of the tunnel.'
'But it was only a coincidence,' I said. 'A very strange coincidence.'
'Excuse me, but I haven't finished yet, sir.'
'I'm sorry,' I replied.
'This was a year ago. Six or seven months passed and I recovered from the shock. Then one morning at dawn I saw the ghost again.'
'Did it call out?' I asked.
'No. It was silent.'
'Did it wave its arm?'
'No. It had its hands in front of its face — like this.' He covered his face with his hands.
'Did you go up to it?'
'No. I came in and sat down, very frightened,' he said. 'When I went back to the door, the ghost was gone.'
'And afterwards? Did anything happen this time?' I asked again.
'Yes. That day a train came out of the tunnel, and I saw in a carriage window a lot of people standing up looking agitated. I gave a signal to the driver to stop. When the train stopped, I ran to it and heard terrible screams. A beautiful young lady was dying in one of the carriages. They brought her here and put her down on the floor between us.'
I pushed back my chair in horror.
'It's true, sir. That's exactly what happened. Now listen and you'll understand why I'm worried. The ghost came back a week ago, and I've seen it again two or three times.'
'Is it always at the red light?' I asked.
'Yes, the danger light.'
'What does it do?'
'It waves — like this,' he replied. He repeated the movements that expressed the words «Please get out of the way!» Then he continued. 'I have no peace or rest. It calls me many times — «Hello, down there! Look out!» And it rings my bell.'
'Did it ring your bell yesterday when I was here?' I asked him.
'Twice,' he replied.
'Oh, it's your imagination! I was looking at the bell and listening for it, but it only rang when the station called you.'
The signalman shook his head. 'No, the ghost's ring is different. You didn't see or hear it — but I did.'
'And was the ghost there when you looked out?'
'Will you come to the door with me and look for it now?'
He came to the door and I opened it.
'Can you see it?' I asked.
'No. It's not there.'
'Right,' I said.
We went in, shut the door and sat down. Now I was certain that the ghost did not exist.
'I think you understand,' he said, 'that I'm disturbed by one question: what does the ghost mean?'
'No, I don't understand you.'
'What is the ghost warning me about? What is the danger? Where is it? Some horrible disaster is going to happen, but what can I do? I can't send a telegraph to the station. What can I say? Message: «Danger! Take care!» Answer: «What danger? Where?» Message: «Don't know. But be careful!» They'll think I'm mad.'
The poor signalman looked very worried. He pushed his fingers into his black hair. Then he took his handkerchief and wiped his face and hands.
'Why doesn't the ghost tell me where the accident will happen? Why doesn't it tell me how I can prevent it? Why didn't it say that the beautiful young lady was in danger? My God, I'm only a poor signalman! Why me!'
I tried to calm him down. I said he must do his duty well, as correctly as possible — and that was all. He became calm after a while, and I offered to stay with him for the night.
'No, it's alright, thank you,' he said. 'Come back an hour after sunset tomorrow.'
I left him at two o'clock in the morning. In my hotel room I thought about what to do. The signalman was intelligent, careful and correct in his work. But the situation disturbed him very much. How could he continue to do his job well? So I finally decided to take him to the best doctor in town.
The next evening I went out early. It was nearly sunset when I reached the path above the railway. I had another hour before the signalman came, so I decided to go for a walk. But as I looked down at the railway I saw a man at the tunnel. He had his left arm in front of his eyes, and he was waving violently.
I cannot describe my horror. But it passed when I saw that the man was not a ghost. He was a real person, and there were some other men not far away from him. The red light was not shining. Near it was a small object like a bed covered with a sheet. I ran down the path very fast.
'What's the matter?' I asked the men.
'The signalman is dead, sir,' one of them said.
'What? The man I know?'
'If you know him, you'll recognise him.' And the man pulled back the sheet.
'Oh, how did this happen?' I cried, recognising the dead signalman.
The man at the tunnel came forward and spoke. 'A train knocked him down and killed him this morning. It was just getting light. The train came out of the tunnel, and he was standing with his lamp near the line, with his back to the train. Show the gentleman, Tom.'
'I'm the train driver, sir,' Tom said. 'I saw the signalman as I came towards the end of the tunnel. There was no time to slow down. He didn't hear my whistle, so I shouted very loudly.'
'What did you say?'
'I said, «Hello, down there! Look out! Look out! Please get out of the way!» I called to him many times, and I put this arm in front of my eyes because I didn't want to see, and I waved this arm — like this — but it was too late...'