Punch, August 12, 1903


II.— The Ghost with Social Tastes.


The wind whistled in the trees with the tuneless violence of the London street-boy. The moonbeams, like young authors, were thin and struggling. Twelve boomed from the castle clock, and I awoke with a strange feeling that I was not alone. Nor was I. A groan and a weird phosphorescent gleam at the foot of the bed told that the spectre had arrived, right on the scheduled time as usual. I took no notice. I wished to make the ghost speak first. A ghost hates to have to begin a conversation.

“You might speak to a chap,” said a plaintive voice, at last.

“Ah, you there?” I said. “The family ghost, I presume?”

“The same,” said the Spectre, courteously, seating himself on the bed. “Frightened?”

“Not in the least.”

“Hair not turned white, I suppose?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then you are the man I have been wanting to meet for the last hundred years. Reasonable; that’s what you are. I tell you, Sir, it hurts a fellow when people gibber at him, as most of your human beings do. Rational conversation becomes impossible.”

“But you have other ghosts to talk to?”

“Only for four weeks in the year, and on Bank Holidays. You see, these things are managed on a regular system. After a house has been built for a century or two, a ghost is formally appointed to haunt it. He draws a salary for the work, and gets so many weeks’ holiday in the year. It’s not all beer and skittles, I can assure you. But then there’s the honour, of course. It’s the career of a gentleman. To be appointed to a house is a sign that a ghost is of good family. None of your parvenus need apply. No, Sir. Such an appointment is a hall mark. It stamps a ghost. ‘Where’s No. 1058673 Gerard now?’ you’ll hear a ghost ask. I am No. 1058673 Gerard. We all have telephonic numbers in the spirit world. It saves a deal of confusion. ‘Oh,’ someone else will say, ‘he’s been appointed to old Sangazure’s place in the Shires, spare-bedroom department. Capital billet.’ ‘Oh, ah, yes,’ says the first speaker, ‘of course. A very good post. A sort of cousin of mine haunts the Armoury there. I hope they’ll meet.’ And so, you see, I get a reputation for moving in the best society. But on the other hand,” continued the Spectre, crossing his legs, “the life is dull; there are few excitements. Nobody talks to me. Nobody loves me. Oh,” he went on with modest fervour, “Oh, to be received into the Family Circle, to be the Honoured Guest. Do you know our host’s little daughters?” he broke off suddenly. “I met them in the passage yesterday. I believe that in a few minutes we should have been as jolly and sociable as anything. Unfortunately I vanished. That is the worst of being a ghost. You are always liable to vanish without the slightest warning. When I came back they were not there. Now, look here, could you do me a favour? Get old Sangazure to let me play with them in the nursery occasionally. It would cheer me up like a tonic. My tastes are simple and domestic, and I love children. Then again——”

He vanished.

I informed Lord Sangazure of the ghost’s request. I said that he seemed a perfect gentleman, and had a fine easy flow of conversation. I thought the children would like him.

“Doesn’t drop his aitches or anything, eh?”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Then I see no reason—if he wishes it—by all means tell him we shall be delighted if he would look in.”

On the following evening No. 1058673 Gerard was the life and soul of the festivities in the nursery. His genial bonhomie, and his never-failing anxiety to please, speedily won the hearts of all with whom he came in contact. The only blot on the evening’s pleasure, his inability to play hide-and-seek in the dark fairly, owing to the advantage his habit of night-walking gave him, was soon removed by the wholeheartedness with which he flung himself into Puss-in-the-Corner and Hunt-the-Slipper.

And to this day there is not in all the haunted houses in the kingdom a cheerier, happier, more contented spectre than No. 1058673 Gerard. But, being the soul of tact, he effaces himself when strangers are present.




Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 125 of Punch.