Punch, October 7, 1903


VII.—A Joke and a Sequel.


The Headless Man seemed pained at the very suggestion. “No,” he said. “No. It was not I who placed the wet sponge on top of your door. I should scorn such an action.”

“My dear Sir,” I stammered, hastening to make amends, “I trust you will forgive—unjust suspicions—cumulative mass of circumstantial ev——”

“Say no more, say no more. The episode is forgotten, forgotten. Not,” he added with a snigger, “but what we do play practical jokes at the Back of Beyond. You know what Gilbert says of us, ‘We spectres are a jollier crew than you perhaps suppose.’ Shrewd man, Gilbert. Puts the matter in a nutshell. But we don’t annoy human beings. We confine our pleasantries to our fellow spectres. I remember——”


“Oh, only a curious little story. If you’re sure it wouldn’t bore you? Very well, then. A young fellow came over one autumn; he was evidently as unsophisticated and innocent as he could possibly be. Guileless, if you understand me. And some of the frivolous set determined to see if they could not take him in somehow. They thought and thought, and at last their victim himself suggested an idea to them. He was always talking of his ambitions, and how he hoped, if he stuck to his work, to be given a responsible post some day as haunter somewhere, so the conspirators hit on the notion of sending him a fictitious appointment. As their ringleader put it rather neatly, ‘He wants a bogey’s appointment. We will give him a bogus one.’ So they got hold of a ghost who had been a forger in his lifetime, and drew up what looked like an official document, appointing No. 428351 Avenue (that was the young fellow’s number) to a certain house in the East End of London. No. 428351 felt that this was not quite what he had hoped for—he wanted a castle or an Elizabethan manor house—but he accepted the commission, and left to go into residence. How the conspirators chuckled! The place they had sent him to haunt was a waxworks show! And whenever they thought of him plodding patiently away at the inanimate figures, and pictured his growing surprise and dismay at their unresponsiveness, they roared and fell over one another with laughter.

Well, No. 428351 toiled along, until one day he discovered everything, and realised how he had been taken in. But he was too proud to go back and be laughed at. He stayed on amongst the waxworks, and at last he attracted the attention of the proprietor, who forthwith advertised him all over London, so that crowds flocked to see him. Now, mark the conclusion. Among the crowds was a certain millionaire who had recently built a great house in the country. All that it needed to make it complete was a ghost, and how to get one had long been a puzzle to him. He had thought of murdering a friend in the best spare bedroom, but had felt that the friend might after all not stay to haunt, in which case all his trouble and the consequent unpleasantness would have been for nothing. When he heard of No. 428351 Avenue he was overjoyed. The very limitations of the young fellow were in his favour. He did not want a ghost that would scare his guests. One who could only groan and rattle chains would be just the thing. The negotiations were speedily carried through. No. 428351 signed the agreement, and is now the proud haunter of one of the very finest houses in England.

“And so,” concluded the Headless Man unctuously, shifting his head from his right hand to his left, and preparing to vanish through the floor, “we see that Virtue triumphs over all obstacles. Indeed, yes.”




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