Phantasmagoria and Other Poems/Phantasmagoria/Canto I
One wintry 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 thin 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 shudder and to sneeze:
On which I said "Come, come, my man,
That's a most inconsiderate plan—
Less noise there, if you please!"
"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.
"The last ghost left you on the third—
Since then you've not been haunted:
But, 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 very much aghast
At having found a man at last,
And looked so scared and yellow.
"At least," I said, "I'm glad to find
A ghost is not a dumb thing—
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 food to);
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
A little drop more 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.'