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After-Supper Ghost Stories

Jerome K. Jerome

  After-Supper Ghost Stories

  and Other Tales


  Ghost Stories

  and Other Tales

  Jerome K. Jerome


  Alma Classics Ltd

  3 Castle Yard


  Surrey TW10 6TF

  United Kingdom

  After-Supper Ghost Stories and Other Tales first published in 1891

  This edition first published by Alma Classics Ltd in 2016

  Cover image © Leo Nickolls Design

  Printed in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY

  isbn: 978-1-84749-622-5

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be resold, lent, hired out or otherwise circulated without the express prior consent of the publisher.


  After-Supper Ghost Stories and Other Tales

  After-Supper Ghost Stories


  How the Stories Came to Be Told

  Teddy Biffles’s Story

  The Doctor’s Story

  The Haunted Mill or The Ruined Home


  The Ghost of the Blue Chamber

  A Personal Explanation

  My Own Story

  Other Tales



  Tea Kettles

  A Pathetic Story

  The New Utopia



  After-Supper Ghost Stories

  and Other Tales

  After-Supper Ghost Stories


  It was Christmas Eve.

  I begin this way, because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing – and the habit clings to me.

  Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve in a ghost story.

  Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fête. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody – or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody – comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding sheets and grave clothes to each other, to criticize one another’s style and sneer at one another’s complexion.

  “Christmas Eve parade” – as I expect they themselves term it – is a function, doubtless, eagerly prepared for and looked forward to throughout Ghostland, especially by the swagger set, such as the murdered barons, the crime-stained countesses and the earls who came over with the Conqueror and assassinated their relatives, and died raving mad.

  Hollow moans and fiendish grins are, one may be sure, energetically practised up. Blood-curdling shrieks and marrow-freezing gestures are probably rehearsed for weeks beforehand. Rusty chains and gory daggers are overhauled and put into good working order; and sheets and shrouds, laid carefully by from the previous year’s show, are taken down and shaken out, and mended, and aired.

  Oh, it is a stirring night in Ghostland, the night of December the twenty-fourth!

  Ghosts never come out on Christmas night itself, you may have noticed. Christmas Eve, we suspect, has been too much for them; they are not used to excitement. For about a week after Christmas Eve, the gentlemen ghosts, no doubt, feel as if they were all head, and go about making solemn resolutions to themselves that they will stop in next Christmas Eve; while the lady spectres are contradictory and snappish, and liable to burst into tears and leave the room hurriedly on being spoken to, for no perceptible cause whatever.

  Ghosts with no position to maintain – mere middle-class ghosts – occasionally, I believe, do a little haunting on off nights – on All Hallows Eve, and at Midsummer – and some will even run up for a mere local event – to celebrate, for instance, the anniversary of the hanging of somebody’s grandfather, or to prophesy a misfortune.

  He does love prophesying a misfortune, does the average British ghost. Send him out to prognosticate trouble to somebody, and he is happy. Let him force his way into a peaceful home, and turn the whole house upside down by foretelling a funeral, or predicting a bankruptcy, or hinting at a coming disgrace, or some other terrible disaster, about which nobody in their senses would want to know sooner than they could possibly help, and the prior knowledge of which can serve no useful purpose whatsoever, and he feels that he is combining duty with pleasure. He would never forgive himself if anybody in his family had a trouble and he had not been there for a couple of months beforehand, doing silly tricks on the lawn, or balancing himself on somebody’s bedrail.

  Then there are, besides, the very young or very conscientious ghosts with a lost will or an undiscovered number weighing heavy on their minds, who will haunt steadily all the year round; and also the fussy ghost, who is indignant at having been buried in the dustbin or in the village pond, and who never gives the parish a single night’s quiet until somebody has paid for a first-class funeral for him.

  But these are the exceptions. As I have said, the average orthodox ghost does his one turn a year, on Christmas Eve, and is satisfied.

  Why on Christmas Eve, of all nights in the year, I never could myself understand. It is invariably one of the most dismal nights to be out in – cold, muddy and wet. And besides, at Christmas time, everybody has quite enough to put up with in the way of a houseful of living relations, without wanting the ghosts of any dead ones mooning about the place, I am sure.

  There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas – something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.

  And not only do the ghosts themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always sit and talk about them on Christmas Eve. Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.

  There is a good deal of similarity about our ghostly experiences, but this of course is not our fault but the fault of the ghosts, who never will try any new performances, but always will keep steadily to the old, safe business. The consequence is that, when you have been at one Christmas Eve party, and heard six people relate their adventures with spirits, you do not require to hear any more ghost stories. To listen to any further ghost stories after that would be like sitting out farcical comedies, or taking in two comic journals; the repetition would become wearisome.

  There is always the young man who was, one year, spending the Christmas at a country house and, on Christmas Eve, they put him to sleep in the west wing. Then in the middle of the night, the room door quietly opens and somebody – generally a lady in her nightdress – walks slowly in, and comes and sits on the bed. The young man thinks it must be one of the visitors, or some relative of the family, though he does not remember having previously seen her, who, unable to go to
sleep and feeling lonesome, all by herself, has come into his room for a chat. He has no idea it is a ghost: he is so unsuspicious. She does not speak, however, and when he looks again, she is gone!

  The young man relates the circumstance at the breakfast table next morning, and asks each of the ladies present if it were she who was his visitor. But they all assure him that it was not, and the host, who has grown deadly pale, begs him to say no more about the matter, which strikes the young man as a singularly strange request.

  After breakfast the host takes the young man into a corner, and explains to him that what he saw was the ghost of a lady who had been murdered in that very bed, or who had murdered somebody else there – it does not really matter which: you can be a ghost by murdering somebody else or by being murdered yourself, whichever you prefer. The murdered ghost is, perhaps, the more popular, but on the other hand you can frighten people better if you are the murdered one, because then you can show your wounds and do groans.

  Then there is the sceptical guest – it is always “the guest” who gets let in for this sort of thing, by the by. A ghost never thinks much of his own family: it is “the guest” he likes to haunt who, after listening to the host’s ghost story, on Christmas Eve, laughs at it, and says that he does not believe there are such things as ghosts at all; and that he will sleep in the haunted chamber that very night, if they will let him.

  Everybody urges him not to be reckless, but he persists in his foolhardiness, and goes up to the Yellow Chamber (or whatever colour the haunted room may be) with a light heart and a candle, and wishes them all goodnight, and shuts the door.

  Next morning he has got snow-white hair.

  He does not tell anybody what he has seen: it is too awful.

  There is also the plucky guest, who sees a ghost, and knows it is a ghost, and watches it, as it comes into the room and disappears through the wainscot, after which, as the ghost does not seem to be coming back, and there is nothing, consequently, to be gained by stopping awake, he goes to sleep.

  He does not mention having seen the ghost to anybody, for fear of frightening them – some people are so nervous about ghosts – but determines to wait for the next night, and see if the apparition appears again.

  It does appear again and, this time, he gets out of bed, dresses himself and does his hair, and follows it; and then discovers a secret passage leading from the bedroom down into the beer cellar – a passage which, no doubt, was not unfrequently made use of in the bad old days of yore.

  After him comes the young man who woke up with a strange sensation in the middle of the night and found his rich bachelor uncle standing by his bedside. The rich uncle smiled a weird sort of smile and vanished. The young man immediately got up and looked at his watch. It had stopped at half-past four, he having forgotten to wind it.

  He made enquiries the next day, and found that, strangely enough, his rich uncle, whose only nephew he was, had married a widow with eleven children at exactly a quarter to twelve, only two days ago.

  The young man does not attempt to explain the extraordinary circumstance. All he does is to vouch for the truth of his narrative. And, to mention another case, there is the gentleman who is returning home late at night, from a Freemasons’ dinner, and who, noticing a light issuing from a ruined abbey, creeps up and looks through the keyhole. He sees the ghost of a “grey sister” kissing the ghost of a brown monk, and is so inexpressibly shocked and frightened that he faints on the spot, and is discovered there the next morning, lying in a heap against the door, still speechless, and with his faithful latchkey clasped tightly in his hand.

  All these things happen on Christmas Eve; they are all told of on Christmas Eve. For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated. Therefore, in introducing the sad but authentic ghost stories that follow hereafter, I feel that it is unnecessary to inform the student of Anglo-Saxon literature that the date on which they were told and on which the incidents took place was – Christmas Eve.

  Nevertheless, I do so.

  How the Stories Came to Be Told

  It was Christmas Eve! Christmas Eve at my Uncle John’s; Christmas Eve (There is too much “Christmas Eve” about this book. I can see that myself. It is beginning to get monotonous even to me. But I don’t see how to avoid it now.) at No. 47 Laburnham Grove, Tooting! Christmas Eve in the dimly lighted (there was a gas strike on) front parlour, where the flickering firelight threw strange shadows on the highly coloured wallpaper, while without, in the wild street, the storm raged pitilessly, and the wind, like some unquiet spirit, flew, moaning, across the square, and passed, wailing with a troubled cry, round by the milk shop.

  We had had supper, and were sitting round, talking and smoking.

  We had had a very good supper – a very good supper, indeed. Unpleasantness has occurred since, in our family, in connection with this party. Rumours have been put about in our family, concerning the matter generally, but more particularly concerning my own share in it, and remarks have been passed which have not so much surprised me, because I know what our family are, but which have pained me very much. As for my Aunt Maria, I do not know when I shall care to see her again. I should have thought Aunt Maria might have known me better.

  But although injustice – gross injustice, as I shall explain later on – has been done to myself, that shall not deter me from doing justice to others; even to those who have made unfeeling insinuations. I will do justice to Aunt Maria’s hot veal pasties, and toasted lobsters, followed by her own special make of cheesecakes, warm (there is no sense, to my thinking, in cold cheesecakes: you lose half the flavour), and washed down by Uncle John’s own particular old ale, and acknowledge that they were most tasty. I did justice to them then; Aunt Maria herself could not but admit that.

  After supper, Uncle brewed some whisky punch. I did justice to that also; Uncle John himself said so. He said he was glad to notice that I liked it.

  Aunt went to bed soon after supper, leaving the local curate, old Dr Scrubbles, Mr Samuel Coombes, our member of the County Council, Teddy Biffles, and myself to keep Uncle company. We agreed that it was too early to give in for some time yet, so Uncle brewed another bowl of punch, and I think we all did justice to that – at least I know I did. It is a passion with me, is the desire to do justice.

  We sat up for a long while, and the Doctor brewed some gin punch later on, for a change, though I could not taste much difference myself. But it was all good, and we were very happy – everybody was so kind.

  Uncle John told us a very funny story in the course of the evening. Oh, it was a funny story! I forget what it was about now, but I know it amused me very much at the time; I do not think I ever laughed so much in all my life. It is strange that I cannot recollect that story too, because he told it us four times. And it was entirely our own fault that he did not tell it us a fifth. After that, the Doctor sang a very clever song, in the course of which he imitated all the different animals in a farmyard. He did mix them a bit. He brayed for the bantam cock, and crowed for the pig; but we knew what he meant all right.

  I started relating a most interesting anecdote, but was somewhat surprised to observe, as I went on, that nobody was paying the slightest attention to me whatever. I thought this rather rude of them at first, until it dawned upon me that I was talking to myself all the time, instead of out aloud, so that, of course, they did not know that I was telling them a tale at all, and were probably puzzled to understand the meaning of my animated expression and eloquent gestures. It was a most curious mistake for anyone to make. I never knew such a thing happen to me before.

  Later on, our curate did tricks with cards. He asked us if we had ever seen a game called the “Three Card Trick”. He said it was an artifice by means of which low, unscrupulous men, frequenters of race meetings and suchlike haunts, swindled foolish young fel
lows out of their money. He said it was a very simple trick to do: it all depended on the quickness of the hand. It was the quickness of the hand deceived the eye.

  He said he would show us the imposture, so that we might be warned against it and not be taken in by it; and he fetched Uncle’s pack of cards from the tea caddy and, selecting three cards from the pack – two plain cards and one picture card – sat down on the hearthrug and explained to us what he was going to do.

  He said: “Now I shall take these three cards in my hand – so – and let you all see them. And then I shall quietly lay them down on the rug, with the backs uppermost, and ask you to pick out the picture card. And you’ll think you know which one it is.” And he did it.

  Old Mr Coombes, who is also one of our churchwardens, said it was the middle card.

  “You fancy you saw it,” said our curate, smiling.

  “I don’t ‘fancy’ anything at all about it,” replied Mr Coombes. “I tell you it’s the middle card. I’ll bet you half a dollar it’s the middle card.”

  “There you are, that’s just what I was explaining to you,” said our curate, turning to the rest of us. “That’s the way these foolish young fellows that I was speaking of are lured on to lose their money. They make sure they know the card, they fancy they saw it. They don’t grasp the idea that it is the quickness of the hand that has deceived their eye.”

  He said he had known young men go off to a boat race, or a cricket match, with pounds in their pocket, and come home, early in the afternoon, stone-broke, having lost all their money at this demoralizing game.

  He said he should take Mr Coombes’s half-crown, because it would teach Mr Coombes a very useful lesson and probably be the means of saving Mr Coombes’s money in the future; and he should give the two-and-sixpence to the blanket fund.

  “Don’t you worry about that,” retorted old Mr Coombes. “Don’t you take the half-crown out of the blanket fund: that’s all.”