THE SIGNAL-MAN: Charles Dickens


“…men of common sense did not allow much for coincidences in making the ordinary calculations of life.”

“But, I know it was remarkable enough to attract my notice, even though his figure was foreshortened and shadowed, down in the deep trench, and mine was high above him, so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset that I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all.
‘Halloa! Below!’”

As Above, so Below.
The cold trench of the track and its high banks either side, and the warnings of dire events by such recurring words, leading to the truth of those warnings but not to the prevention of what they warned about. We all know the chilling effects of this classic story, and its white and red lights and the signal-box’s bell, and the little low hut that later appears no bigger than a bed. I do not think I have ever understood this famous ghost story … until I re-read it today, a proffered revelation below that may entail a SPOILER for you! (A revelation that some may already know and/or have imparted.)

“And I, Lord help me! A mere poor signalman on this solitary station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be believed, and power to act!”
“My notice”, quoted above, and later an ambiguous reference to “my signalman’s box“ quoted below. (All my italics)
‘Below’ being one of the words “conveyed in a supernatural way”.
The signalman and the narrator the same person? A “gesticulation he had imitated” in the final paragraph of a story told by a dead man? The dead intellectual man that the ‘lowly’ signalman might have become had his work in algebra and philosophy worked out, and therefore smart enough to write this story! Not forgetting that soundless ‘Yes’. And some of the dialogue being by thought transference, or without quote marks.
‘Below’ is an anagram of ‘elbow’ and the important sleeve before the eyes, the importance of the waving arm etc. And of “this Some one else”.
“He had his left hand at his chin, and that left elbow rested on his right hand crossed over his breast. His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness, that I stopped a moment, wondering at it.”
A recurring shouted ‘Below’ resonating with a recurring ‘Bell’.
“I would extend my walk for an hour, I said to myself, half an hour on and half an hour back, and it would then be time to go to my signalman’s box.” …while the title has it as signal-man, not signalman.
A possible glimpse of some truth.

“But it was unquestionable that remarkable coincidences did continually occur, and they must be taken into account…”

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