Punch, January 20, 1904


XI.—The Thin End of the Wedge.


“I beg you,” said the Headless Man with some agitation, “not to dream of doing such a thing. Of course, if you think that I am unequal to the work——” he added rather stiffly.

“My dear Sir,” I replied, “not at all. Not at all. What a notion! I am sure there is not a spectre on the list who could do it half so well, and what the Haunted Mill would be without you I don’t care to think.”

“Then why wish to employ another ghost?”

“I thought you would like a companion. It must be lonely for you here when I am away.”

“I miss you, of course, as who would not?” replied the Headless Man in his charming way. “But I prefer solitude to the company of another ghost. Take my advice, Mr. Wuddus. Dismiss the idea of increasing your establishment.”

The trouble was this. My old friend Lord Sangazure, finding it necessary, owing to the expenses connected with the marriage of his eldest daughter, to retrench, had resolved to dismiss one of his staff of spectres, a luminous boy of excellent character and obliging disposition. Wishing to procure him a comfortable home in exchange for the luxury of Sangazure Towers he had written to me, suggesting that I should enrol him as a member of my household. “You must want a ghost,” he had said, having evidently forgotten that I already employed a Headless Man.

I felt a delicacy in adding to my establishment without the approval of the Headless Man, so I had told him of Lord Sangazure’s proposal, which, as I have shown, he had unhesitatingly condemned.

“Dismiss the idea,” he said again. “I have a great respect—and I may say liking—for you, Mr. Wuddus” (here he brushed away the not unmanly tear), “and I should not care to see you suffer the same fate as Mr. Mosenstein.”

“What was that?” I inquired; “I don’t think I ever heard that story.”

“Ah, then I will tell it to you. You will find it extremely relevant to the case in point. This Mr. Mosenstein was a “pig in clover,” who, by dint of rigging the market, had risen from comparatively decent obscurity to the possession of several millions of pounds. His first act was to ensure himself a sufficiency of congenial society by settling in Park Lane, his second to look for a good house in the country. He hit upon Blenkinsop Manor, the seat of Lord Blenkinsop, an amiable old gentleman who, through a tendency on the part of his sons to marry music-hall artistes instead of American heiresses, had been reduced to a genteel poverty. Lord Blenkinsop closed with his munificent offer, and Mr. Mosenstein took possession. Of course, as you will doubtless have foreseen, he had trouble from the outset with the resident ghost. The latter, I have heard, gave notice five times in the first week, and it was only the entreaties of Mr. Mosenstein, couched in passionate Yiddish, and the tears of Mrs. Mosenstein, that induced him to stop on and give them one more trial. It was a fatal move on the part of the new owner. The spectre became a tyrant. He insisted on having a suite of apartments reserved for him, dismissed several of the servants, examined every list of guests, and claimed the right to veto those of whom he disapproved. In fact, Mosenstein Manor, as it had been re-named, became a sort of lodging-house—in which the Mosensteins were the lodgers. It was only the fear of losing their ghost that prevented the newcomers from rebelling. So things went on, until one day Mr. Mosenstein, retiring to his study for a last cigar before going to bed, found the best chair already occupied. The occupant was a spectre. He was sitting in front of the fire, reading the Spectral News. He looked up as Mr. Mosenstein entered, but resumed his reading without a word. The lord of the Manor smoked his cigar in the billiard-room.

“ ‘A friend of mine,’ explained the resident ghost, on being questioned next day. ‘He has come to stop for a few days. I trust he does not intrude? If so——’ He paused, and looked so much as if he were going to give notice again that Mr. Mosenstein hastened to say that he was charmed to put up any friend of his, and hoped he would stop as long as he liked. Which, I may say, he did. He is still there. It was the thin edge of the wedge. During the next fortnight six other spectres arrived, and each time Mr. Mosenstein was forced to give in and assure them that they were welcome. Soon there was quite a spectral house-party at the Manor. And it was not long before the human occupants of the house began to feel the pinch of the boot. Mr. Mosenstein was not allowed to go into his study, because the ghost there hated to be disturbed. He could not use the billiard-room because two gentlemen who had killed one another there in the reign of Henry the Sixth wanted the table for their nightly three rounds with the broadsword. All the best bedrooms had to be given up, and even the terrace was occupied. And, not wishing to lose his original ghost, Mr. Mosenstein had to put up with it all.

“To cut a long story short, when he visits Mosenstein Manor now, he stays at the Lodge; and I see in the Spectral News this week that even that is about to be taken—as a bijou residence for the Countess of Blenkinsop, who poisoned herself there in the days of the Commonwealth. So now you see the danger of having more than one ghost. One spectre,” concluded the Headless Man, sententiously, “is an indispensable adjunct to domestic bliss. Two are a nuisance. Half-a-dozen spell Misery.”

And, settling his head comfortably under his arm, he vanished. I went downstairs, and wrote to Lord Sangazure informing him—with regret—that I had no vacancy.




Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 126 of Punch.