The story begins with the narrator calling "Halloa! Below there!" into a railway cutting. The signalman standing on the line below does not look up, as the narrator expects, but rather turns about and stares into the railway tunnel it is his responsibility to monitor. The narrator calls down again and asks permission to descend. The signalman seems reluctant, but assents and waits with an air of ‘expectation and watchfulness’.
The railway cutting is a damp, gloomy and lonely place. The signalman seems still to be in fear of the narrator, who tries to put him at ease. The signalman appears to have seen the narrator before. The narrator assures him that this is impossible. Reassured, the signalman welcomes the newcomer into his little cabin and the two men speak of the signalman's work. His labour consists of a dull, monotonous routine, but the signalman feels he deserves nothing better, as he misused his youthful academic opportunities. The narrator remarks that the signalman seems a sane and dutiful employee at all times but when he looks to his signal bell at two moments when it is not ringing. The visitor leaves with a promise to return on the following night. Before he makes his exit, the signalman asks him why he used the words "Halloa! Below!" on his arrival; were they not suggested to him “…in any supernatural way”? The narrator says no. The signalman implores him to by no means call out so again. He says that he is “troubled”.
The following day the narrator returns and does not call. The signalman tells him that he will reveal to him the nature of his trouble, which is that he is haunted by a recurring apparition: he has seen a spectre at the entrance to the tunnel on two separate occasions and that each appearance has foreshadowed a tragedy. In the first instance, the signalman heard the shouted words that the narrator spoke and saw a figure with its arm across its face, waving the other in desperate warning. He questions it but it vanishes. He then...
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