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A Sea Dirge
Ye Carpette Knyghte
The Three Voices
Tema Con Variazioni
A Game of Fives
Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur
Size and Tears
Atalanta in Camden-Town
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!”
“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 ca’n’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.
“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
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.”
“My First — 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.
“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.
“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 SURE to 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.
“That simply means ‘be cut up small’:
Ghosts soon unite anew.
The process scarcely hurts at all —
Not more than when YOU’re what you call
‘Cut up’ by a Review.
“The Fifth is one you may prefer
That I should quote entire:—
THE KING MUST BE ADDRESSED AS ‘SIR.’
THIS, FROM A SIMPLE COURTIER,