Mugby Junction
  • I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone‘ is a quotation from The Signal-Man.
  • The Signal-Man is a short ghost story by Charles Dickens originally titled ‘No. 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man‘. It was first published in the Christmas special edition of All the Year Round, December 1866, which was titled ‘Mugby Junction‘. Mugby Junction contained a series of eight stories revolving around a man, who having left a quiet life working at the firm Barbox Brothers & Co., seeks more inquisitive adventures leading from railway lines that connect with Mugby Junction. Four of the eight stories in Mugby Junction were written by Charles Dickens, and the remainder came from collaborators Andrew Halliday, Charles Collins, Hesba Stretton, and Amelia B. Edwards.


Quotation said by the Signalman, the central character in the short ghost story The Signal-Man. The Signalman is talking to the narrator, an inquisitive traveller, who has befriended him. Based at an isolated signal box in a deep rail cutting, the Signalman tells the narrator of a ghost that has been haunting him.

A year ago, on a moonlight night, the spectre called out to the Signalman ‘Look out! Look out!‘ whilst appearing near the entrance of a nearby tunnel. Concerned, the Signalman rushes up to the figure, which holds a sleeve across its eyes. As he goes to remove the sleeve, the spectre disappears. The Signalman is so alarmed he immediately telegraphs the two nearest signal boxes to see if everything is ok. They reply that ‘All well‘, but just six hours later there is a fatal accident on the line, and ‘the dead and wounded were brought along through the tunnel over the spot where the figure had stood‘.

Eighteen months before the publication of The Signal-Man, Charles Dickens had been involved in a serious train crash near Staplehurst in Kent which profoundly affected him. On 9 June 1865, Dickens was travelling on a Folkestone to London train with his mistress Ellen Terren and her mother, when it was derailed whilst crossing a viaduct. Ten passengers were killed and a further forty badly wounded when the train plunged down a bank into a dry river bed. Dickens was injured but was able to help in the immediate rescue operation. The accident was caused by a length of the track that had been removed during engineering works, but there were insufficient warnings to trains of work ahead that day.

The Signalman and the Narrator
Image of the Signal-Man, described as ‘a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows‘. Illustration from a 1890 American collected work of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Books and stories.

Chapter Summary.

Mugby Junction Chapter 4. No. 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man.

The Signal-Man reloves around the story of a spectre seen beside a tunnel entrance. The signal-man of the title tells the narrator of a ghost that has been haunting him. Each spectral appearance precedes and is a harbinger of, a tragic event on the railway on which the signalman works. The signalman’s work is at a signalbox in a deep cutting near a tunnel entrance on a lonely stretch of the line, and he controls the movements of passing trains. When there is danger, his fellow signalmen alert him via telegraph and alarms. Three times, he receives phantom warnings of danger when his bell rings in a fashion that only he can hear. Each warning is followed by the appearance of the spectre, and then by a terrible accident.


Taken from the following passage in The Signal-Man:

Punctual to my appointment, I placed my foot on the first notch of the zig-zag next night, as the distant clocks were striking eleven. He was waiting for me at the bottom, with his white light on. “I have not called out,” I said, when we came close together; “may I speak now?” “By all means, sir.” “Good night then, and here’s my hand.” “Good night, sir, and here’s mine.” With that, we walked side by side to his box, entered it, closed the door, and sat down by the fire.

“I have made up my mind, sir,” he began, bending forward as soon as we were seated, and speaking in a tone but a little above a whisper, “that you shall not have to ask me twice what troubles me. I took you for some one else yesterday evening. That troubles me.”

“That mistake?”

“No. That some one else.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Like me?”

“I don’t know. I never saw the face. The left arm is across the face, and the right arm is waved. Violently waved. This way.”

I followed his action with my eyes, and it was the action of an arm gesticulating with the utmost passion and vehemence: “For God’s sake clear the way!”

“One moonlight night,” said the man, “I was sitting here, when I heard a voice cry ‘Halloa! Below there!’ I started up, looked from that door, and saw this Some one else standing by the red light near the tunnel, waving as I just now showed you. The voice seemed hoarse with shouting, and it cried, ‘Look out! Look out!’ And then again ‘Halloa! Below there! Look out!’ I caught up my lamp, turned it on red, and ran towards the figure, calling, ‘What’s wrong? What has happened? Where?’ It stood just outside the blackness of the tunnel. I advanced so close upon it that I wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes. I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone.”

“Into the tunnel,” said I.

“No. I ran on, into the tunnel, five hundred yards. I stopped and held my lamp above my head, and saw the figures of the measured distance, and saw the wet stains stealing down the walls and trickling through the arch. I ran out again, faster than I had run in (for I had a mortal abhorrence of the place upon me), and I looked all round the red light with my own red light, and I went up the iron ladder to the gallery atop of it, and I came down again, and ran back here. I telegraphed both ways: ‘An alarm has been given. Is anything wrong?’ The answer came back, both ways: ‘All well.’”


The Signalman.

The Signalman is ‘a dark sallow man‘ who lives a solitary existence working alone in a signal-box in a deep railway cutting, where he monitors passing trains through a nearby tunnel. His job is to ensure the for guiding passing trains them safely and preventing major accidents. The signalman is reluctantly befriended by an inquisitive traveller, who narrates the tale. The signalman tells the narrator is haunted by a recurring spirit that he has seen at the entrance to the tunnel on separate occasions, and, with each appearance, was followed by a tragedy. Although initially dismissed by the narrator, a strange event makes him believe the hauntings.

  • In a 1976 BBC television adaptation of The Signal-Man, the role of the signalman was played by English actor Denholm Elliott (1922–1992). Elliot also appeared in another BBC adaptation of a Charles Dickens work, when he starred as John Jarndyce in a 1985 production of Bleak House.

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I ran right up at it, and had my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone.


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