So this is probably very American of me, but I did not realize, Dickens Christmas Carol notwithstanding, that ghost stories are apparently a British Christmas tradition. Hereabouts, Halloween is the spooky season. But here we have a collection of late 19th and early 20th century ghostly tales culled from the British Library.
By and large this is a fairly amiable collection of ghosts. They have Reasons to visit the living, mostly along the lines of unfinished business, but aren’t actively looking to harm anyone. Belief in the paranormal, at least in the states and Britain, seemed to peak in the late 19th century, the era of séances and Ouija boards. But then there is the random H. P. Lovecraft tale, The Festival, and somehow I don’t think that one aligned with the rest of the stories. Well, at least no tentacles were involved in this particular account.
But the main incentive for me in ordering this book was the ghost story by Jerome K. Jerome, of the hilarious Three Men in a Boat fame. Many of his trademark characteristics are present in Told After Supper, and if you are not familiar with him, it is rather like early Bertie and Jeeves (P. G. Wodehouse) without Jeeves to keep them right. Tales are started, and forgotten, and briefly mentioned, and retried about the Christmas Eve after dinner table, but my favorite was the ghost who was particularly peeved by holiday musicians. He first takes out a wait (Christmas caroler) with a lump of coal.
…when he opened his mouth for a B flat, the lump of coal was thrown by the sinful man from one of the windows, and that it went down the wait’s throat and choked him.
“You want to be a good shot, but it is certainly worth trying,” murmured Mr. Coombs thoughtfully.
In addition, a coronet street musician (with a repertoire of two songs that he played for two hours every evening), a gentleman who played the harp with his toes, and a young barrel-organ player were all lured to their deaths by the mysterious resident of the Blue Chamber. Not to mention a visiting band from Germany who left soon after much the worst for wear. Our ghost had his standards.