ONE winter night, at half-past nine,|
Cold, tired, and cross, and muddy,
I had come home, too late to dine,
And supper, with cigars and wine,
Was waiting in the study.
There was a strangeness in the room,
And Something white and wavy
Was standing near me in the gloom---
I took it for the carpet-broom
Left by that careless slavey.
But presently the Thing began
To shiver and to sneeze:
On which I said "Come, come, my man!
That's a most inconsiderate plan.
Less noise there, if you please!"
"I've caught a cold," the Thing replies,
"Out there upon the landing."
I turned to look in some surprise,
And there, before my very eyes,
A little Ghost was standing!
He trembled when he caught my eye,
And got behind a chair.
"How came you here," I said, "and why?
I never saw a thing so shy.
Come out! Don't shiver there!"
He said "I'd gladly tell you how,
And also tell you why;
But" (here he gave a little bow)
"You're in so bad a temper now,
You'd think it all a lie.
"And as to being in a fright,
Allow me to remark
That Ghosts have just as good a right,
In every way, to fear the light,
As Men to fear the dark."
"No plea," said I, "can well excuse
Such cowardice in you:
For Ghosts can visit when they choose,
Whereas we Humans can't refuse
To grant the interview."
He said "A flutter of alarm
Is not unnatural, is it?
I really feared you meant some harm:
But, now I see that you are calm,
Let me explain my visit.
"Houses are classed, I beg to state,
According to the number
Of Ghosts that they accommodate:
(The Tenant merely counts as weight,
With Coals and other lumber).
"This is a 'one-ghost' house, and you,
When you arrived last summer,
May have remarked a Spectre who
Was doing all a Ghost can do
To welcome the new-comer.
"In Villas this is always done---
However cheaply rented:
For, though of course there's less of fun
When there is only room for one,
Ghosts have to be contented.
"That Spectre left you on the Third---
Since then you've not been haunted:
For, as he never sent us word,
'Twas quite by accident we heard
That any one was wanted.
"A Spectre has first choice, by right,
In filling up a vacancy;
Then Phantom, Goblin, Elf, and Sprite---
If all these fail them, they invite
The nicest Ghoul that they can see.
"The Spectres said the place was low,
And that you kep bad wine:
So, as a Phantom had to go,
And I was first, of course, you know,
I couldn't well decline."
"No doubt," said I, "they settled who
Was fittest to be sent:
Yet still to choose a brat like you,
To haunt a man of forty-two,
Was no great compliment!"
"I'm not so young, Sir," he replied,
"As you might think. The fact is,
In caverns by the water-side,
And other places that I've tried,
I've had a lot of practice:
"But I have never taken yet
A strict domestic part,
And in my flurry I forget
The Five Good Rules of Etiquette
We have to know by heart."
My sympathies were warming fast
Towards the little fellow:
He was so utterly aghast
At having found a Man at last,
And looked so scared and yellow.
"At least," I said, "I'm glad to find
A Ghost is not a dumb thing!
But pray sit down: you'll feel inclined
(If, like myself, you have not dined)
To take a snack of something:
Though, certainly, you don't appear
A thing to offer food to!
And then I shall be glad to hear---
If you will say them loud and clear---
The Rules that you allude to."
"Thanks! You shall hear them by and by.
This is a piece of luck!"
"What may I offer you?" said I.
"Well, since you are so kind, I'll try
A little bit of duck.
"One slice! And may I ask you for
Another drop of gravy?"
I sat and looked at him in awe,
For certainly I never saw
A thing so white and wavy.
And still he seemed to grow more white,
More vapoury, and wavier---
Seen in the dim and flickering light,
As he proceeded to recite
His "Maxims of Behaviour."