Plum Punch: Life at Home
by P. G.
MR. PUNCH'S SPECTRAL ANALYSES
XI.—The Thin End of the Wedge
"I beg you," said the Headless Man with some agitation, "not to
dream of doing such a thing. Of course, if you think that I am unequal
to the work——" he added rather stiffly.
"My dear Sir," I replied, "not at all. Not at all. What a
notion! I am sure there is not a spectre on the list who could do it
half so well, and what the Haunted Mill would be without you I don't
care to think."
"Then why wish to employ another ghost?"
"I thought you would like a companion. It must be lonely for you
here when I am away."
"I miss you, of course, as who would not?" replied the Headless Man
in his charming way. "But I prefer solitude to the company of another
ghost. Take my advice, Mr. WUDDUS. Dismiss the idea of increasing your
The trouble was this. My old friend Lord SANGAZURE, finding it
necessary, owing to the expenses connected with the marriage of his
eldest daughter, to retrench, had resolved to dismiss one of his staff
of spectres, a luminous boy of excellent character and obliging
disposition. Wishing to procure him a comfortable home in exchange for
the luxury of Sangazure Towers he had written to me, suggesting that I
should enrol him as a member of my household. "You must want a ghost,"
he had said, having evidently forgotten that I already employed a
I felt a delicacy in adding to my establishment without the
approval of the Headless Man, so I had told him of Lord SANGAZURE'S
proposal, which, as I have shown, he had unhesitatingly condemned.
"Dismiss the idea," he said again. "I have a great respect—and I
may say liking—for you, Mr. WUDDUS" (here he brushed away the not
unmanly tear), "and I should not care to see you suffer the same fate
as Mr. MOSENSTEIN."
"What was that?" I inquired; "I don't think I ever heard that
"Ah, then I will tell it to you. You will find it extremely
relevant to the case in point. This Mr. MOSENSTEIN was a 'pig in
clover,' who, by dint of rigging the market, had risen from
comparatively decent obscurity to the possession of several millions
of pounds. His first act was to ensure himself a sufficiency of
congenial society by settling in Park Lane, his second to look for a
good house in the country. He hit upon Blenkinsop Manor, the seat of
Lord BLENKINSOP, an amiable old gentleman who, through a tendency on
the part of his sons to marry music-hall artistes instead of American
heiresses, had been reduced to a genteel poverty. Lord BLENKINSOP
closed with his munificent offer, and Mr. MOSENSTEIN took possession.
Of course, as you will doubtless have foreseen, he had trouble from
the outset with the resident ghost. The latter, I have heard, gave
notice five times in the first week, and it was only the entreaties of
Mr. MOSENSTEIN, couched in passionate Yiddish, and the tears of Mrs.
MOSENSTEIN, that induced him to stop on and give them one more trial.
It was a fatal move on the part of the new owner. The spectre became a
tyrant. He insisted on having a suite of apartments reserved for him,
dismissed several of the servants, examined every list of guests, and
claimed the right to veto those of whom he disapproved. In fact,
Mosenstein Manor, as it had been re-named, became a sort of
lodging-house—in which the MOSENSTEINS were the lodgers. It was only
the fear of losing their ghost that prevented the newcomers from
rebelling. So things went on, until one day Mr. MOSENSTEIN, retiring
to his study for a last cigar before going to bed, found the best
chair already occupied. The occupant was a spectre. He was sitting in
front of the fire, reading the Spectral News. He looked up as
Mr. MOSENSTEIN entered, but resumed his reading without a word. The
lord of the Manor smoked his cigar in the billiard-room.
"'A friend of mine,' explained the resident ghost, on being
questioned next day. 'He has come to stop for a few days. I trust he
does not intrude? If so——' He paused, and looked so much as if he
were going to give notice again that Mr. MOSENSTEIN hastened to say
that he was charmed to put up any friend of his, and hoped he would
stop as long as he liked. Which, I may say, he did. He is still there.
It was the thin edge of the wedge. During the next fortnight six other
spectres arrived, and each time Mr. MOSENSTEIN was forced to give in
and assure them that they were welcome. Soon there was quite a
spectral house- party at the Manor. And it was not long before the
human occupants of the house began to feel the pinch of the boot. Mr.
MOSENSTEIN was not allowed to go into his study, because the ghost
there hated to be disturbed. He could not use the billiard-room
because two gentlemen who had killed one another there in the reign of
HENRY THE SIXTH wanted the table for their nightly three rounds with
the broadsword. All the best bedrooms had to be given up, and even the
terrace was occupied. And, not wishing to lose his original ghost, Mr.
MOSENSTEIN had to put up with it all.
"To cut a long story short, when he visits Mosenstein Manor now, he
stays at the Lodge; and I see in the Spectral News this week
that even that is about to be taken—as a bijou residence for the
Countess of BLENKINSOP, who poisoned herself there in the days of the
Commonwealth. So now you see the danger of having more than one ghost.
One spectre," concluded the Headless Man, sententiously, "is an
indispensable adjunct to domestic bliss. Two are a nuisance. Half-a-
dozen spell Misery."
And, settling his head comfortably under his arm, he vanished. I
went downstairs, and wrote to Lord SANGAZURE informing him—with
regret— that I had no vacancy.
THE FIRST PAYING GUEST (A Legend)
[An attempt is here made to avoid classical pedantry, and to
express the facts of antiquity in homely language suited to the needs
of future generations of undergraduates, when Greek has ceased to be a
ION SMITHIOS the ratepayer arose from his early Grecian couch one
lovely morning in April, B.C. 1004, feeling at peace with gods and
men. In the first place, Troy had fallen on the previous day after a
ten years' siege, and he reflected with satisfaction that he had been
one of the first to suggest the employment of guile in order to reduce
the city. Under the signature of "INDIGNANT ARGIVE" he had written to
the Argos Argus, the popular half-obol paper of the country,
exposing the futility of frontal attacks. Then, again, he had worked
off all arrears in the matter of sacrifices, and what a comfort that
was! In short, as he went for his morning constitutional through the
hall he felt that all nature smiled. Two minutes later his pleasure
was entirely spoiled by the sight of a suppliant on the hearth.
The criminal law of Greece was at that time in a very imperfect
state. Briefly the rules relating to murder and other offences were as
follows. If A. killed B., then it became the duty of B.'s nearest
relative, C., to kill A. The State declined to interfere in what it
considered a purely personal affair. It was C.'s business, and he must
manage it as he thought best. A.'s next move was to fly to the nearest
hearth, and then the thing might be considered in Chancery. The Law
was very strict on the subject of hearths. Once on a hearth a fugitive
could neither be injured nor evicted.
"Morning," said the suppliant brightly, as ION SMITHIOS appeared.
The ratepayer frowned.
"To what am I indebted?" he said.
"The fact is," replied his visitor, "in strict confidence—I'm a
god. Er—in fact, Zeus. I know I don't look like it, but this a
disguise. I am doing my celebrated imitation of the young man of the
period. The fact is, I hope it won't annoy you or upset your plans in
any way, but I love your youngest daughter with all the warmth of a
noble nature. The charms of the lovely—— Stupid of me! Can't recall
the name at the moment."
"I'm not surprised. I have no daughter."
"No, no, of course not," said the suppliant. "Stupid joke of mine.
But I see you have a feeling heart. You won't be hard on a
fellow. What's really happened is that last night being Troy night,
and me rather celebrating it, don't you know, somehow or other—purely
by accident—I cut a man's head off. His brother chased me for three
miles across difficult country, and—well, here I am, don't you know.
"Well," said the ratepayer, "I wish it to be clearly understood
that I in no way approve or sympathise. But—"
"Do you know," interrupted the suppliant, "this cross-country
running makes you awfully peckish. You couldn't hurry breakfast along
and tell me the rest afterwards, I suppose?"
From that day he became a regular member of the household. He
turned out to be an unpleasant young man, and he did not scruple to
find fault with the ratepayer's domestic arrangements. Once they
offered him cold mutton. He turned pale, and insisted on a devilled
But at last ION SMITHIOS hit on an idea.
The first the suppliant knew of it was when his breakfast was not
brought to him at the usual time.
"Where's my breakfast?" he thundered.
"Where, indeed?" said ION SMITHIOS, appearing from the adjoining
room, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
"If," said the suppliant hastily, "that breakfast is not ready in
five seconds, there will be trouble."
"And now listen to me," said the ratepayer. "I have been looking up
the law about suppliants, and it says the householder may not turn
them out. There is nothing about feeding them. You take my meaning? If
you like that hearth, by all means stay there. But you will pay from
this moment for every meal you take, and also for attendance. Not to
mention extras, and—lest we forget—fuel, lights, and washing. So
"I'll go this minute. I give you notice. I won't stay a moment
ION SMITHIOS coughed.
"As I was coming through the garden just now," he said, "I met a
pleasant young fellow with a very large spear. He seemed to be waiting
for someone. I shouldn't be half surprised, do you know, if that was
your man. The brother, you know."
The suppliant's jaw fell.
A week later it fell again. That was when SMITHIOS presented the
first bill ever made out for a Paying Guest.
THE SOCIAL REFORMERS
The scene is the billiard-room of a country-house belonging to a
hostess whose name appears in the "Society Column" with sickening
regularity. In chairs round the fire are seated our old friends,
FREDDIE, BOBBIE, and CLAUDE. FREDDIE and CLAUDE are smoking. BOBBIE IS
READING aloud M. POL DE LEON'S article in the "World" on the virtues
of the Smart Set.
Bobbie. Knew it was all rot—Father VAUGHAN, you know, and all
that. Here's feller crackin' us up all round. Listen to this. "The
work of the Smart Set has been that of slowly filing from the wrists
of English social life the fetters of the vulgar and pompous social
ideas of an earlier period."
Claude. Talking of wrists, by the way, how's yours, FREDDIE?
Freddie. Top-hole, thanks. Took it out of the sling this morning.
Be able to use it in a day or two.
Bobbie. Let's see, was it tobagganing downstairs or the soccer in
Freddie. Soccer. Young IVOR barged me over on to a table-full of
china. Tried to save the blessed thing, and came down on my hand.
Sprained it badly.
Claude. Tell you what it is, that feller oughtn't to be allowed to
play in a drawing-room. He charges like a pro.
Bobbie. His way of "filing the fetters," I suppose.
Freddie. All very well, but when it comes to a thirteen-stone
feller putting his shoulder into your ribs and shoving, I'm all for
"the vulgar and pompous social ideas of an earlier period."
Claude (meditatively). Rum those days must have been! I don't see
how they filled in the evenings then.
Freddie. No booby-traps, what?
Claude. My word, we've taught 'em a lot. We're—what d'you call
Freddie. Martyrs, sometimes. Don't forget my wrist.
Bobbie (taking up his paper again). Chap goes on. Says we've made a
stand against "the stupid conventions of an unreal respectability."
[The door opens silently, and a Mysterious Hand flings a paper bag,
which hits CLAUDE and bursts, covering him with flour.]
Claude (with emotion). Here, I say! I mean—— Hang it!
Bobbie (approvingly). Good shot that, for a girl.
Freddie. Now, a few years ago I shouldn't wonder if a feller
mightn't have cut up rough at a little thing like that.
Claude. But, I say, look here!——
Bobbie (shocked). Don't tell us
you're going to get stuffy!
You aren't in favour of "the stupid conventions of an unreal
Freddie (judicially). Besides it was probably that DE BATTLEAXE
girl. And you know you did throw your soup at her at dinner last
Claude (slightly mollified). Oh, well——
Bobbie. That's right. Stout fellow. Now, let's see, where was I?
"Unreal respectability." Oh, yes——
Freddie. One second. Where are the cigars? Make a long arm, CLAUDE.
[The application of matches to the cigars causes three sharp and
simultaneous explosions. The reformers look at one another from under
singed eyebrows. Faint and silvery laughter filters through the door.]
All. Rather smart, what?
Bobbie (dauntlessly resuming his reading). "The Smart Set have
demonstrated that it is the best form to be natural and entirely
Freddie (fingering his face in a gingerly manner). All the same, I
wish the demonstrations weren't so confoundedly painful.
Claude (swallowing a mouthful of scorched flour). Same here.