Many stories end with a wedding. Mine begins with one. The day that I married Annie Burdon was one of the happiest of my life. Everyone said we were crazy. We had no money and I was a young doctor with no job, but we loved each other.
After the wedding we were very poor and I could not find a job. I tried everywhere until, one day, I found a job as a doctor on a ship, sailing to Jamaica. I did not want to leave Annie, but I was not able to choose — I had to get some money.
The name of the ship was the Darien and my boss was Mr Julius Mendez, a small man of about fifty years old. Nobody liked him and, after one day at sea, I began to feel the same. He thought about one thing only - his health. He came to see me two or three times a day, worried about his heart, his stomach, his head or some other part of his body.
When we arrived at Kingston in Jamaica, Mr Mendez came to see me and said,'I'm not sure if you will believe this, but I am in danger of dying before the end of my fifty-seventh year. I will be fifty-eight on September the 10th, and after midnight on that day I will be safe and able to live a long life. I cannot explain why or how I know this, but believe me it is true. I am frightened of dying and I don't like the doctors here. Please will you stay with me as my doctor and look after me? I will pay you well and after midnight on September the 10th you will be free to leave.'
At the end of the first month he paid me £50, which I immediately sent to Annie. The second month seemed very long. I was with Mr Mendez all day and all night because he was so worried, but he was healthy all the time. At last September the 10th came and Mr Mendez did not die. He thanked me and gave me my money, which I sent to Annie. My plan was to leave Jamaica on the Damn, but I became ill and it was a long time before I could start my journey home.
I looked like a ghost when I arrived home many months later. Annie was living with her brother and all the family thought I was dead. I was so happy when I saw my family again, but soon I started to worry. I still had no job and I was weak after my illness in Jamaica. I looked for a job in an office - anything for money — but it was still impossible. I found nothing.
One day I was looking for a pen on Annies desk, when I noticed a letter from Jamaica.
'Oh, yes. I forgot all about that letter,' said Annie, 'it arrived while you were away'
I opened it and found a letter from Julius Mendez. The letter said.
September the 12th, 1832 Dear Wilson,
You probably thought it was strange that I did not really thank you for your work. I am sending you this cheque, which I hope will help you.
Yours faithfully, Julius Mendez
With the letter was a cheque for £1,000! At first I thought I was dreaming. All these months we were poor and worried about money and the cheque was sitting on Annie's desk. We were so happy. I immediately wrote a letter of thanks to Mr Mendez and then decided to go to London the next day to cash the cheque. I had to take it to the Bank of England.
On the journey I met Mr Deacon, one of our neighbours.
'Where are you going, young Wilson?' he asked.
'I have to go to the Bank of England,' I answered.
'Ah,' he said, smiling, 'do you know I worked there as a cashier for twenty years. I still remember my desk ... it was a lucky one. I haven't been back there for forty years.'
'A lucky desk?' I asked, surprised.
'Oh, yes,' he said, 'everyone in the bank knew that some desks were lucky and some were unlucky. Men who sat in some desks did very well and got better jobs, others ... well ... I can tell you about one unlucky desk as an example. A young man called Fred Hawes sat there. He was a good-looking, happy young man and he had a beautiful sister, Nancy who loved her brother very much. She worked hard to make more money for the family and she always looked after Fred. All the cashiers were in love with her and many young men, including myself, asked her to marry them, but she always said no. There was one young man, Isaac Ayscough, who was a close friend of Fred's. Nancy was frightened of him. She knew Isaac loved her but she only felt afraid of him and was always worried about Fred spending time with him. One day there was a problem at the bank. Some money disappeared and Isaac said that Fred was the thief. Fred went to prison and died there. Of course, his sister was very unhappy and became a little - well, odd. She came to the bank every day after Fred died and she always asked the same question, "Is my brother, Mr Frederick, here today?" and one of us always answered, "No, miss, not today." Then she always said, "Give my love to him when he returns and say I'll call tomorrow." One day she didn't come and we heard that she was dead.'
'And what about Isaac Ayscough?' I asked.
'Well,' continued Mr Deacon, 'after Fred's death, they moved him from a lucky desk to Fred's old, unlucky one. He came to work every day at the same time and left at the same time. He never spoke to anyone. He never married, but lived alone in a small room. He died suddenly at the age of fifty. Now they say that his ghost always comes to the bank when someone cashes the cheque of a dead man. Many people have seen it.'
As Mr Deacon finished his story, our journey ended and we said goodbye.
Soon I was walking in the busy streets of London. When I came to the Bank of England, I took the cheque from my pocket and looked at it again. I wanted to be sure it was real. I went into the bank and at first I felt confused. There were so many desks with cashiers behind them - I did not know which one to go to. Then I noticed one of the cashiers looking at me. He was older than the other cashiers and was standing behind them. His clothes looked odd, perhaps from some years ago, and his face looked strange — thin and white, like a dead man's. He had a red scar on his face in the shape of a letter Y. The other cashiers were busy, so I gave him my cheque. I took the £1,000 banknote from him and left the bank quickly, feeling uneasy. But I returned home a rich man.
Everything was wonderful for a year. I found a job and we lived well. I enjoyed my work as a doctor. Then one day I was surprised to find a man from the Bank of England and a policeman at my house. They asked lots of questions about my cheque and the £1,000 banknote. I answered them all and they left, but the next day they returned. They said that my £1,000 banknote was not real, and that night I found myself in prison. I could not believe it. How could the note not be real? The police asked me the same questions again, and again I gave the same answers. They asked me about the cheque from Mr Mendez.
'What was the date on the cheque, Mr Wilson?' asked the detective.
'It was the same date as the letter, September the 12th,' I answered. 'Look, here it is.'
'I think you wrote the letter and the cheque, Mr Wilson. Do you know why? We have heard from the police in Jamaica that Mr Mendez died on September the 11th. Now how do you think he wrote a letter and a cheque to you on the 12th? He was already dead. You say that you cashed the cheque at the Bank of England. The banknote is not a real one — how do you explain that? The number on it is not from the Bank of England. Perhaps you made it yourself?'
I was so confused I could not speak. How did Mr Mendez die on September the 1 lth? That was the day after I left him and the day before he wrote my cheque. It was impossible. All I knew was that I was not crazy and I was not a criminal. 'Take me to the Bank of England,' I said, 'and I will show you the cashier who took my cheque and gave me the £1,000 banknote.'
Mr Deacon, the man who travelled with me to London that day and told me the ghost story, heard about my troubles. He liked me and felt sorry for me, so he came to visit me in prison. 'I'll come with you and the detective to the bank, tomorrow,' he said. 'Perhaps I'll be able to help.'
We arrived at the bank early the next day. The detective told me to look carefully at all the cashiers. Of course, I could not see the strange older man in his odd clothes anywhere.
'He's not here,' I said quietly.
'I knew it — a waste of time,' said the detective angrily. 'Of course he's not here.'
Mr Deacon stopped him. 'Wait,' he said, 'can you describe the cashier?'
I told them about the man's strange, old clothes, his thin, white face and the red scar in the shape of a letter Y. 'He didn't look alive,' I said, 'he looked more like a dead man.'
'That's because he was dead,' said Mr Deacon. 'You saw the ghost of Isaac Ayscough. Do you remember the story I told you that day? Do you know that his ghost always comes when the cheque of a dead man is cashed? Ask any banker,' he said, turning to the detective. 'Ask anyone at the Bank of England or any bank in the country. They all know the story of the ghost in the Bank of England.'
The police asked hundreds of questions that day and they heard the same story from everyone in the bank. Finally, they had to believe it and in the evening I was a free man.