Punch, August 26, 1903


III.— A Ghostly Cause Célèbre.


Are you, may I ask,” said my fellow-traveller, as the express rattled through a station, “a man of reasonably strong nerves?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Then it will possibly interest rather than alarm you to learn that I am a ghost.”

I looked at him carefully. There was nothing in his appearance to indicate the spectre.

“Excuse my apparent incredulity,” I said, “but, if what you say is correct, this umbrella should pass through you. May I make the experiment?”

“Certainly. Certainly.”

I executed a thrust in tierce at the third button of his waistcoat. The ferule struck sharply against the cushion at his back. I apologised.

“Don’t mention it,” he said with that charming courtliness which I have so frequently noticed in ghosts. “Pray don’t mention it. There is a great deal of deceit everywhere nowadays, and we spectres have our full share of it. There was that case of—but I shall bore you with my yarns. What do you think of Mr. Chamberlain’s Fiscal Manœuvres?”

I begged him to continue his story.

“The case I refer to was that of No. 804 Holborn versus No. 1263 Avenue. Perhaps you know that we use telegraphic numbers? You do? Precisely. This case, which formed our only topic of conversation in the Back of Beyond while it was in progress, was connected with Rigby-Digby Manor in Shropshire, near Bridgnorth. You know the place? Fine old Elizabethan mansion, offering all sorts of possibilities for artistic effects to whoever was lucky enough to get the haunting of it. For the last two hundred years or so the post had been held by a steady old fellow who died in the reign of James the Second. He was a good, sound haunter, and did very well in the unsophisticated times when people lit their houses by candles. But when the lord of the manor put in the electric light, it became quite plain that a change was wanted. A spectre more in the movement must be appointed. Efficiency is our watchword at the Back of Beyond.

“Well, after some consultation the authorities decided on No. 1263 Avenue, a fine young fellow of good family, who had only just joined us. So his predecessor was pensioned off, and he took over the post. The step proved brilliantly successful. Within a week he had scared every single person out of the house, with the exception of an old servant who acted as caretaker. She owed her immunity to the fact that she was stone deaf, and so proof against No. 1263’s best efforts, which were of such a nature as to appeal to the ear more than to the eye. We now come to No. 804 Holborn’s share in the business. Just as No. 1263 Avenue’s fame was at its height, and there was some talk of a public testimonial, a formal petition was lodged by No. 804 for restitution of property. You can imagine the sensation it caused! His claim was that he had been a member of the Rigby-Digby family, and had actually been murdered in the manor. Such a claim, of course, if proved, would have been conclusive. If a ghost has been murdered in a house belonging to his own family, he is naturally offered the haunting of that house before all other applicants. The Rigby-Digby claimant, as No. 804 was called, did his best to prove his claim. Rhadamanthus tried the case, and at the end of the first week it seemed pretty clear that No. 804 had been murdered, and in that house. The only question that remained to be solved was whether he was a member of the family.”

“And how did it end?”

“I will tell you. All this time, you must remember, No. 1263 had continued to haunt the manor. And at last—with what must have been a supreme effort—he contrived to attract the old servant’s attention, and before long to scare her to death. The news sent a thrill of excitement through Society. Here at last was a reliable witness. Directly she stepped off Charon’s boat she was subpœna’d. And what do you think she said? Why, that No. 804 was a base impostor! He was no more a Rigby-Digby than I am. He had been an under-footman at the Manor, and had been killed one morning in the library by a volume of the Encyclopædia Britannica falling on his head from a top shelf. What happened to him when he was found out? Fourteen years in Tartarus, of course. What do you think? Queer story, isn’t it?”

At this moment the guard came to inspect our tickets, and my companion vanished.




Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 125 of Punch. Entered by Wodehouse as “A Spectral Cause Celebre” in Money Received for Literary Work.




thrust in tierce: a fencing attack made with the sword hand at waist height, the fingernails of the hand downward, and the tip of the sword to the upper body of the opponent.
third button of his waistcoat: See the notes to Thank You, Jeeves.
Bridgnorth: Wodehouse’s parents leased a house at Stableford, near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, beginning in 1895.
Rhadamanthus: the son of Zeus and Europa, a wise king in Greek myth. Some later sources credit him as a judge over the dead, as here.
Tartarus: in Greek mythology, a place “as far below Hades as the earth is below the sky,” where the souls of the wicked receive punishment.

Neil Midkiff