Told After Supper
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
fete. 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 criticise one another's style, and sneer at one
"Christmas Eve parade," as I expect they themselves term it, is a function, doubtless,
eagerly prepared for and looked forward to throughout Ghostland, especially 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 over-hauled, 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 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
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.