Inscribed to a dear Child:
in memory of golden summer hours
and whispers of a summer sea.
Girt with a boyish garb for boyish task,
Eager she wields her spade: yet loves as well
Rest on the friendly knee, intent to ask
The tale one loves to tell.
Rude scoffer of the seething outer strife,
Unmeet to read her pure and simple spright,
Deem, if thou wilt, such hours a waste of life,
Empty of all delight!
Chat on, sweet Maid, and rescue from annoy
Hearts that by wiser talk are unbeguilded.
Ah, happy he who owns the tenderest joy,
The heart-love of a child!
Away, fond thoughts, and vex my soul no more!
Work claims my wakeful nights, my busy days,
Albeit bright memories of the sunlit shore
Yet haunt my dreaming gaze.
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!”
“The Thing standing by chair.”
“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 that Ghosts 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 kept 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.
“In caverns by the water-side.”
“At least,” I said, “I’m glad to find
A Ghost is not a dumbthing!
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 foodto!
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.”
“The Phantom dines.”
“MyFirst — but don’t suppose,” he said,
“I’m setting you a riddle —
Is — if your Victim be in bed,
Don’t touch the curtains at his head,
But take them in the middle,
“And wave them slowly in and out,
While drawing them asunder;
And in a minute’s time, no doubt,
He’ll raise his head and look about
With eyes of wrath and wonder.
“And here you must on no pretence
Make the first observation.
Wait for the Victim to commence:
No Ghost of any common sense
Begins a conversation.
“If he should say ‘How came you here?’
(The way that you began, Sir,)
In such a case your course is clear —
‘On the bat’s back, my little dear!’
Is the appropriate answer.
“If after this he says no more,
You’d best perhaps curtail your
Exertions — go and shake the door,
And then, if he begins to snore,
You’ll know the thing’s a failure.
“By day, if he should be alone —
At home or on a walk —
You merely give a hollow groan,
To indicate the kind of tone
In which you mean to talk.
“But if you find him with his friends,
The thing is rather harder.
In such a case success depends
On picking up some candle-ends,
Or butter, in the larder.
“With this you make a kind of slide
(It answers best with suet),
On which you must contrive to glide,
And swing yourself from side to side —
One soon learns how to do it.
“And swing yourself from side to side.”
“The Second tells us what is right
In ceremonious calls: —
‘First burn a blue or crimson light’
(A thing I quite forgot to-night),
‘Then scratch the door or walls.’”
I said “You’ll visit here no more,
If you attempt the Guy.
I’ll have no bonfires on my floor —
And, as for scratching at the door,
I’d like to see you try!”
“The Third was written to protect
The interests of the Victim,
And tells us, as I recollect,
To treat him with a grave respect,
And not to contradict him.”
“That’s plain,” said I, “as Tare and Tret,
To any comprehension:
I only wish some Ghosts I’ve met
Would not so constantly forget
The maxim that you mention!”
“Perhaps,” he said, “you first transgressed
The laws of hospitality:
All Ghosts instinctively detest
The Man that fails to treat his guest
With proper cordiality.
“And then you’re sure to catch it.”
“If you address a Ghost as ‘Thing!’
Or strike him with a hatchet,
He is permitted by the King
To drop all formal parleying —
And then you’re sureto catch it!
“The Fourth prohibits trespassing
Where other Ghosts are quartered:
And those convicted of the thing
(Unless when pardoned by the King)
Must instantly be slaughtered.