Half-Hours with a Ghost.
I.—THE TWO SCEPTICS.
Fair (UK), January 26, 1905
“GLAD to see you back again,” said the Man in Armour, politely, seating himself on the chair at the side of my bed as the last stroke of twelve boomed from the castle clock.
“Thanks. Same to you,” I said. “Long time since we met.”
“Just two years. You don’t look a day older.”
“You flatter me,” I said.
It was Christmas night, and I was staying with my old friend Lord Strathpuffer at his ancestral castle. At my request he had placed me in the Red Room, where, two years before, I had first made the acquaintance of the Man in Armour. We had become firm friends from the start. I think the fact that I did not scream or faint when he appeared endeared me to him, for he has confessed to me, in the course of conversation, that nothing embarrasses a spectre so greatly as the thought that his room is preferred to his company. People who are nervous in the presence of ghosts would do well to remember this. If they knew the pain their thoughtlessness gave they would possibly see the error of their ways.
“Methought,” resumed the Man in Armour, shifting his position and crossing his legs, “that I heard sounds of revelry issuing from the banqueting hall. Was I correct?”
“Quite,” I said. “Strathpuffer is an ideal host.”
“I know, I know. I remember on one occasion—but it will bore you?”
“Far from it,” I replied, eagerly.
“Well,” he said, “it was like this. It was the night before Christmas, and they were keeping it up, you know, in the good old style in the banqueting hall. Naturally before long the conversation turned on to the subject of ghosts. It always does. Well, you know how proud Lord Strathpuffer is of me—I don’t deserve it, of course—”
“Oh, yes, yes,” I interrupted.
The Man in Armour blushed.
“Well,” he said, “since you say so, perhaps— At any rate, he is proud of me, and he began talking about me to his guests, praising me up, don’t you know, when a person at the other end of the table had the incredible audacity to say that he didn’t believe in ghosts. Didn’t believe in ’em, I’ll trouble you! Said he thought they were all nonsense. Of course, the man was drunk—”
“Of course,” I said, “of course. Still—!”
“Just so. Still—! Well, you can imagine the effect of such a remark on Lord Strathpuffer. ‘By Jingo, sir,’ he shouted—a friend of mine who haunts the musicians’ gallery at the end of the banqueting hall was there and heard him—‘By Jingo, sir, let me tell you that I’ve a ghost in this house that would turn your backbone into cold putty before you could say Jack Robinson. Yes, by Jove!’ ‘Of course,’ says the man, ‘I hate to doubt the existence of a fine old crusted spectre like yours, Strathpuffer, but, hang it, you know, in these days of modern science! Really, Strathpuffer, really!’ ‘I will bet you ten to one in sovereigns,’ said his lordship, ‘that you will not sleep to-night in the haunted room.’ ‘Done!’ said the reptile. ‘With pleasure. It will be like finding ten pounds.’ And there the subject dropped. It was decided that the sceptic should sleep in the haunted room on the following night.
“Now it happened that on the next day, late in the afternoon, another guest arrived. The castle was very full, for an unusual number of guests had been invited, and when the housekeeper came to give her undivided attention to the subject, she found that the only unoccupied room was this one—the Red Room. When I say unoccupied I mean, of course, that no one but myself was there. So, after some hesitation, she suggested the Red Room to this guest. She knew that some people disliked ghosts—why, I can’t say. I’m sure we do all we can to make ourselves agreeable—and she was afraid that perhaps he might object to sleeping in a haunted room. But did he? Not a bit of it. You will scarcely credit it that two such idiots could exist in a small world, but he, too, like the sceptical guest at the dinner-table, did not believe in ghosts, and thought them nonsense.”
I said it almost made one despair for humanity.
“When I arrived at twelve o’clock sharp he was in bed, reading. His candle illuminated but a small portion of the room, and threw weird flickering shadows on the ceiling. In fact, the scenic effects were excellent for my purpose, and I was just wondering how I might become visible with the greatest amount of dramatic feeling when I noticed that Sceptic Number Two was sitting up in bed, rigid, with his eyes starting from their sockets. Hullo, I thought to myself, this won’t do. Something must have gone wrong with my works, and I am visible when I meant to be invisible. In which case, as you are doubtless aware, my career as a first-class haunter would have been over, and I should have been put back to graveyard duty again, for a ghost who cannot control his appearances is useless in a good establishment such as this.
“However, I soon saw that I was not the cause of his alarm. In the doorway stood Sceptic Number One, the man who had betted that he would sleep that night in the haunted room. And I must say he looked a most gruesome sight. He was staring at the bed in quite a grisly manner. I have a friend who does it awfully well. He is working up in Forfarshire now.
“They looked at one another for a time. Then the man at the door bolted, and two minutes later, just as I had made up my mind to appear and get the thing over, the other man bolted as well. I heard later that he passed the night in the billiard-room under the table, and left by an early train. The other one also left during the morning.”
“But why?” I asked.
“Ah! then you didn’t read about it in the Spiritualistic Times? There were long letters from both of them in the same number, and each wanted to become a subscriber to the paper for life. You see, each thought the other was the ghost. The man in the bed said he had seen a ‘foul shape’ standing in the doorway, and the man in the doorway said he had seen a ‘ghostly vision’ in the bed. And the joke of it was that there was a real ghost there all the time. But they will never dare to doubt the existence of spectres again. And the moral of that,” concluded the Man in Armour, “is Don’t be opiniative.”
P. G. Wodehouse.
Wodehouse first mentioned Strathpuffer Castle and the man in armour in “An Official Muddle,” fourth in the Punch series “Mr. Punch’s Spectral Analyses.”