THE TWO GHOSTSA STORY FOR CHRISTMAS EVE
Jabez jorum had a wife. Not that there is anything extraordinary in a man having a wife, but Jabez Jorum’s wife was one of an extraordinary sort. However he managed to get hold of her nobody could tell; yet there he was, and there was she, and a more unlikely couple were never seen.
Jabez was a diminutive creature, standing a little under ﬁve feet in his shoes, and remarkably thin. Nobody would have thought him any more than a boy, had it not been for a dark moustache and beard, which clustered about his mouth and chin, the curling and stroking of which formed his greatest delight. Nevertheless, he was a man; and, as I have said before, he had a wife.
Mrs. Angelina Jorum was a tallish woman, about ﬁve feet eleven inches in height, and exceedingly stout. Everybody would have taken her for a man, only that she wore tight boots, white stockings petticoats, and a small patch of a bonnet, and had her hair done up in puffs. Notwithstanding, she was a woman; and she had — which I haven’t stated before — a temper. Oh! such a temper. Moreover, it was a short one. Oh! so short. And whenever anybody — particularly Jabez — set her temper a-going it was a long time before it stopped. In fact, like most of tempers, it was a terrible thing to deal with, and Jabez found it so from the ﬁrst day of January to the last day of December; he couldn’t do anything right. He either did nothing or what he did do was done too much or too little, and would have been better had it not been done at all. If he lay in bed on a Sunday morning, it was only because he was too lazy to get up; and if he got up, he only meddled and hindered people from getting their work done. If he went to Church, he did so to appear good when he wasn’t; and if he stayed at home, it was because he knew he was so wicked, that if twenty Christs were cruciﬁed they couldn’t save him. So they lived; and so it became Jabez’s whole study how he might affect an change of living. He lay in bed at night wondering how he could put a check to her ﬂowing temper, and would get up the following morning, in a sleepy state, to ﬁnd the stream rushing on with its usual force.
One evening — and, above all others, it was the one known as Christmas Eve — Mrs. Jorum was engaged in preparing a nice fat goose for the morrow’s dinner, and Jabez sat in the rocking chair by the ﬁreside nursing the sole heir to the Jorum estate. What a delightful occupation as he sat there rocking backwards and forwards like a lord — if ever lords do rock-whilst the ﬁre blazed away as ﬁres can only blaze on a Christmas Eve, and the winds waved and whistled with such enchanting harmony, as they have only power to roar and whistle about Christmas time, and when the hearth seemed more comfortable than it does at any other part of the year. Ah! it is charming on such an evening to sit in a cozy two-armed chair, with a pretty baby on your knee, and a bushy beard to stroke, and a wife preparing a goose for your Christmas dinner, and Jabez Jorum was charmed. But how different when the child begins to cry, and you are obliged to leave off stroking your beard, and turn the baby upside down, and call it a duck, and a darling, and jolt it a little and say, “Come, then! come, then!” when you want it to go all the while; and when it will neither go nor come, you turn it right away, up again and pityingly ask, “Does it do; does it?” and as it keeps doing, with no signs of abating, you give it up in despair; and your wife takes it from you, calls you for all kinds of cruel wretches, and emphatically declares that you are not ﬁt to be father, and she cannot, for the life of her, tell why you ever were.
So it was with Jabez Jorum. Mrs. Jorum swore that he had been squeezing, or throttling, or pinching, the young Jorum; and after having heaped upon him all the ugliest names she could remember, she pulled his ears till they smarted, and, ﬁnally, bundled him off to bed. Safe and snug, under the blankets, Jabez began wondering upon the old theme; and it being Christmas Eve, when ghosts are most numerous, and most addicted to frighten their friends, he began to think of ghosts, and the idea ﬂashed into his mind he would be a ghost and frighten away his wife’s temper. Jabez jorurn a ghost! It was amusing to think of it. A capital idea, too; and Jabez laughed, and laughed again — not aloud, for his wife might hear, but in his sleeve, in his shirt-sleeve, and the sleeve was so well buttoned that Jabez had actually laughed himself asleep before the laugh found its way out, and then it was so slow that it made no noise and nobody ever knew about it.
When Mrs. Jorum retired to rest she heard her husband talking in a very strange manner about ghosts and ghosts’ wives, and of the ghosts’ wives having awfully bad tempers, and the ghosts appearing on Christmas Eve and frightening such tempers away. Then Jabez laughed in his sleep, and the laugh awoke him just as the clock was striking twelve. “What’s that?” muttered Jabez to himself, but no answer came. His wife lay beside him doubtless asleep, and all was dark and quiet. Now was the time! and he commenced getting out of bed. This was no easy task under the circumstances, and had to be executed with a great deal of caution. First, he must work himself close to the edge without pulling the bed-clothes, then wait a few seconds to ascertain if he had disturbed his wife; now one leg slowly draws itself from under the covering, the other follows its example, another stoppage; then the body begins to slide down till the feet touch the floor — a third stoppage — now the body stands erect and he walks towards the door, the boards creak and he stops again to listen if his wife stirs. No! quietness reigns, and downstairs he goes. His wife discerning his object, accomplishes the feat in a similar fashion. She folds a sheet about her, turns her nightcap the wrong way about, and downstairs she goes. Jabez had enveloped himself in a large sheet which went several times round him, and trailed a long way on the ﬂoor behind, constituting him a very fashionable ghost, and was busy chalking his face as he stood before the fire, when he heard a rustle behind him, and ere he could summon courage to look round a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a strange voice sounded in his ears, “Brother Ghost!”
Jabez started and trembled. “Brother Ghost!” repeated the voice.
Jabez shrank and shivered beneath the pressure of the hand, but spoke not. “Brother Ghost!” said the voice in a very loud and unearthly tone, “What is your mission here?”
Jabez turned his head a little, just a little, and, horror of horrors! There stood a real ghost, almost touching the ceiling with its head, and its hands stretched out before it in a very ghostly manner as though it were pronouncing a blessing. To say that Jabez feared and trembled, to say that his heart beat quick, and his blood turned cold, to say that he sank upon his knees in an imploring attitude, while the perspiration rolled down his face, and to assert most emphatically that his hair stood exactly perpendicular upon his head, would give but a poor idea of the state in which the ghost had put Jabez Jorum.
“I — I — If you please Mr. Ghost, I am a man and not a ghost.”
“Not a ghost?” ﬁercely interrogated the real ghost.
“No; if you please, Mr. Ghost, I was only pretending.”
“What man is it who pretends to be a ghost?” inquired the real ghost, and Jabez fancied he heard some one reply.
“Jabez Jorum! Jabez Jorum!”
“Who is it that wants to be a ghost?”
A voice up the chimney called out “Jabez Jorum.”
“And he shall be;” and as the real ghost said this, it stamped its foot on the ground, and the house seemed to turn round; it struck the table with its hand and all the furniture jumped up and down, the pots and pans rattled, and everything was noise and confusion, it advanced towards Jabez, and Jabez tried to run and couldn’t do.
“Don’t, Mr. Ghost! please don’t! It was only my fun. I will never do so again. Never! never! never!”
“Who deserves to be punished?”
“Jabez Jorum,” said a voice from under the table.
“And he shall be,” said the real ghost, and it took hold of his ears very much as his wife used to take hold of them, and held them with a grasp like a vice, and marched him round the room, while Jabez yelled and roared for mercy; and the more he yelled and roared the more the ghost pulled at his ears, until he couldn’t tell whether they were on or off.
At length, the ghost released him, and bade him go to bed and stay there. Jabez ran up stairs as he never ran before, and dived underneath the bed clothes with a strong endeavour to render himself invisible. He heard the ghost following him. Nearer and nearer it came. Now it stopped, and something like the striking of a match ensued. Now the bed clothes began to be turned down until Jabez’s head once more came in sight. He opened his eyes and there stood his wife with a candle in her hand and a sheet thrown about her!
“Angelina, my love, forgive me! I will never be a ghost again — Never! never! never!”
“You’d better not,” and Mrs. Jorum cast off her ghost’s dress; got into bed, and blew out the light.