Mr. Punch’s Spectral Analyses.
AN OFFICIAL MUDDLE.
It is always my custom when I go to stop at a country house to ask my host to put me in the haunted room. I like ghosts. In my earlier literary days I was often a ghost myself, and even now I occasionally do “Cheery Chatter for the Chicks” in Baby’s Own lckle Magazine for my friend Bamstead Barker when he wants a holiday. I use a spirit lamp, too, and in a great many other ways exhibit a marked partiality for the spectre world.
When, therefore, I went to stay at Strathpuffer Castle last autumn, I put my usual request, and my host sent for the butler.
“Keggs,” he said, “Mr. Wuddus wishes to sleep in a haunted room. What ghosts have we?”
“Well, your lordship,” said Keggs thoughtfully, “there’s Bad Lord ‘erbert and Dark Lord Despard and the man in armour wot moans and ‘er late ladyship as ain’t got no ‘ead and exhibits of warious gaping wounds, but all the bedrooms wot they ‘aunts is took at present. They do say, though, your lordship, as ‘ow remarkable sounds ‘ave bin ‘eard recent from the Red Room.”
“Then let the Red Room be my bedroom,” I said, dropping into poetry with all the aplomb of a Silas Wegg. ” I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.” And to the Red Room accordingly I went.
It was past twelve when I went to bed. Scarcely had I got inside the room when a sepulchral voice on my right said “Boo!” and almost at the same instant a chain rattled on my left. I sat down on the bed, and spoke with firmness and decision.
“This won’t do at all,” I said. “No haunted room is ever allowed two ghosts. One of you must go, or I lodge a formal complaint. Which is it to be?”
“I got here first,” said a sulky voice.
“Well, you’d no business here,” said the second ghost snappishly. “I was definitely and officially appointed, and I give up my rights to no one.”
“I’ve told you a thousand times that I was appointed.”
“Nonsense. I was.”
“Meaning that I lie, Sir?”
“Come, come, come,” I interrupted impatiently. “I won’t have this unseemly wrangling. Settle it peaceably, my friends, peaceably.”
“Tell you what,” said the ghost with the chain, eagerly; “we’ll have a haunting competition, if this gentleman will be good enough to act as referee; and the loser quits.”
“But, my good Sir,” I said, “you forget that I want to go to sleep some time to-night. And besides, if you’ll forgive the criticism, a haunting competition between you two would be poor sport. You are neither of you what I should describe as fliers at the game. You lack finesse. You, Sir, remarked ‘Boo!” when I came in, and your colleague rattled a chain. Now, I ask you, what is the good of that kind of thing?”
“Ah,” said the groaning ghost, “but I can do a deal more than that. I can imitate all sorts of things. Thunderstorms and bagpipes, for instance. And I can turn myself into a hearse-and-four and drive up to the front door. And I can–”
“Well,” broke in the other, “and can’t I turn myself into a luminous boy and a hideous old woman, and a variety of jumpy and ingenious shapes? And can’t I produce raps from the furniture and fill a room with a weird, unearthly glow? And can’t I–”
“Stop,” I said, “stop. I see it all. A bright idea has struck me. You are respectively outdoor and indoor ghosts. What has happened, I take it, is this. Your muddling officials down below have made out your papers for Strathpuffer Castle and forgotten to give details. I have no doubt that, if you make enquiries, you will find that one of you has been appointed to haunt this room, the other the Castle grounds. You follow me?”
“My preserver!” gasped both spectres simultaneously, and vanished together to make enquiries at headquarters.
That my surmise proved correct was shown on the occasion of my next visit to the Castle. As the carriage passed through the grounds I heard the sound of bagpipes mingled with thunderclaps from behind an adjacent tree, and the first sight that met my eyes as I entered the Red Room was a hideous old woman who, even as I gazed, changed into a luminous boy.
Punch 2 September 1903: p. 153
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Once again, Punch unerringly hits the satirical mark in listing some of the most popular spectres of Britain:
- The Luminous (or Radiant) Boy, found at Corby Castle and other stately homes
- The hideous old woman, practically de rigueur in any ghost story written by Mr Elliott O’Donnell. An example not by that lurid gentleman is this chilling anecdote, either from Streatlam Castle or Glamis Castle:
My daughter-in-law has a ghost story of an old woman who appears in a haunted room at Lord Strathmore’s. His lordship’s house was so full of visitors on one occasion that the only spare bedroom was the haunted chamber, into which two of his lordship’s guests, the Misses Davidson, were ushered without being told of its ghostly reputation. After midnight one of the young ladies was wakened by some noise, and shrieked at seeing a hideous old woman in an antiquated dress leaning over her, grinning fiendishly, and bringing her loathly visage into close conformity to that of Miss D. Recovering her courage, and suspecting that the ghost was flesh and blood, the girl sprang out of bed to repulse the intruder. The phantom retreated and disappeared at a door, to the astonishment of both ladies, who still thought it might be a living human being. Next morning they related their nocturnal adventure to the company at breakfast, on which the Earl’s family exchanged significant glances, but gave no explanation.
- The hearse-and-four, often lit by skull-lamps with flaming eyes and pulled by headless horses, is a favourite omen of death among noble families. That peripatetic person over at Haunted Ohio has written several times about phantom coaches and hearses.
- The phantom piper, who was sent to explore a tunnel (for example, at Keilor at Edinburgh Castle) and who never emerged, leaving behind only the sound of his pipes beneath the ground.
Hideous old women are all very well, but Mrs Daffodil wonders that the Punch satirist neglected to include those pillars of the British paranormal scene, The Grey Lady, The White Lady, The Green Lady, The Woman in Black, and The Pink Lady It is a curious and perhaps telling omission. Mrs Daffodil would advise the legal representatives of those colourful entities to file grievances with the proper office. There is no excuse for not remembering the lady ghosts who must haunt twice as hard as the gentlemen, backwards, and in high heels.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.