12 Days of Weird Christmas Presents: The Ghost of the Blue Chamber by Jerome K. Jerome

December 22, 2023


(My Uncle’s Story)

“I don’t want to make you fellows nervous,” began my uncle in a peculiarly impressive, not to say blood-curdling, tone of voice, “and if you would rather that I did not mention it, I won’t; but, as a matter of fact, this very house, in which we are now sitting, is haunted.”

“You don’t say that!” exclaimed Mr. Coombes.

“What’s the use of your saying I don’t say it when I have just said it?” retorted my uncle somewhat pettishly. “You do talk so foolishly. I tell you the house is haunted. Regularly on Christmas Eve the Blue Chamber [they called the room next to the nursery the ‘blue chamber,’ at my uncle’s, most of the toilet service being of that shade] is haunted by the ghost of a sinful man—a man who once killed a Christmas wait with a lump of coal.”

“How did he do it?” asked Mr. Coombes, with eager anxiousness.

“Was it difficult?”

“I do not know how he did it,” replied my uncle; “he did not explain the process. The wait had taken up a position just inside the front gate, and was singing a ballad. It is presumed that, when he opened his mouth for 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. Coombes thoughtfully.

“But that was not his only crime, alas!” added my uncle. “Prior to that he had killed a solo cornet-player.”

“No! Is that really a fact?” exclaimed Mr. Coombes.

“Of course it’s a fact,” answered my uncle testily; “at all events, as much a fact as you can expect to get in a case of this sort.

“How very captious you are this evening. The circumstantial evidence was overwhelming. The poor fellow, the cornet-player, had been in the neighbourhood barely a month. Old Mr. Bishop, who kept the ‘Jolly Sand Boys’ at the time, and from whom I had the story, said he had never known a more hard-working and energetic solo cornet-player. He, the cornet-player, only knew two tunes, but Mr. Bishop said that the man could not have played with more vigour, or for more hours in a day, if he had known forty. The two tunes he did play were “Annie Laurie” and “Home, Sweet Home”; and as regarded his performance of the former melody, Mr. Bishop said that a mere child could have told what it was meant for.

“This musician—this poor, friendless artist used to come regularly and play in this street just opposite for two hours every evening. One evening he was seen, evidently in response to an invitation, going into this very house, BUT WAS NEVER SEEN COMING OUT OF IT!”

“Did the townsfolk try offering any reward for his recovery?” asked

Mr. Coombes.

“Not a ha’penny,” replied my uncle.

“Another summer,” continued my uncle, “a German band visited here, intending—so they announced on their arrival—to stay till the autumn.

“On the second day from their arrival, the whole company, as fine and healthy a body of men as one could wish to see, were invited to dinner by this sinful man, and, after spending the whole of the next twenty-four hours in bed, left the town a broken and dyspeptic crew; the parish doctor, who had attended them, giving it as his opinion that it was doubtful if they would, any of them, be fit to play an air again.”

“You—you don’t know the recipe, do you?” asked Mr. Coombes.

“Unfortunately I do not,” replied my uncle; “but the chief ingredient was said to have been railway refreshment-room pork-pie.

“I forget the man’s other crimes,” my uncle went on; “I used to know them all at one time, but my memory is not what it was. I do not, however, believe I am doing his memory an injustice in believing that he was not entirely unconnected with the death, and subsequent burial, of a gentleman who used to play the harp with his toes; and that neither was he altogether unresponsible for the lonely grave of an unknown stranger who had once visited the neighbourhood, an Italian peasant lad, a performer upon the barrel- organ.

“Every Christmas Eve,” said my uncle, cleaving with low impressive tones the strange awed silence that, like a shadow, seemed to have slowly stolen into and settled down upon the room, “the ghost of this sinful man haunts the Blue Chamber, in this very house. There, from midnight until cock-crow, amid wild muffled shrieks and groans and mocking laughter and the ghostly sound of horrid blows, it does fierce phantom fight with the spirits of the solo cornet- player and the murdered wait, assisted at intervals, by the shades of the German band; while the ghost of the strangled harpist plays mad ghostly melodies with ghostly toes on the ghost of a broken harp.

Uncle said the Blue Chamber was comparatively useless as a sleeping-apartment on Christmas Eve.

“Hark!” said uncle, raising a warning hand towards the ceiling, while we held our breath, and listened; “Hark! I believe they are at it now—in the BLUE CHAMBER!”


I rose up, and said that I would sleep in the Blue Chamber.

Before I tell you my own story, however—the story of what happened in the Blue Chamber—I would wish to preface it with –



I feel a good deal of hesitation about telling you this story of my own. You see it is not a story like the other stories that I have been telling you, or rather that Teddy Biffles, Mr. Coombes, and my uncle have been telling you: it is a true story. It is not a story told by a person sitting round a fire on Christmas Eve, drinking whisky punch: it is a record of events that actually happened.

Indeed, it is not a ‘story’ at all, in the commonly accepted meaning of the word: it is a report. It is, I feel, almost out of place in a book of this kind. It is more suitable to a biography, or an English history.

There is another thing that makes it difficult for me to tell you this story, and that is, that it is all about myself. In telling you this story, I shall have to keep on talking about myself; and talking about ourselves is what we modern-day authors have a strong objection to doing. If we literary men of the new school have one praiseworthy yearning more ever present to our minds than another it is the yearning never to appear in the slightest degree egotistical.

I myself, so I am told, carry this coyness—this shrinking reticence concerning anything connected with my own personality, almost too far; and people grumble at me because of it. People come to me and say –

“Well, now, why don’t you talk about yourself a bit? That’s what we want to read about. Tell us something about yourself.”

But I have always replied, “No.” It is not that I do not think the subject an interesting one. I cannot myself conceive of any topic more likely to prove fascinating to the world as a whole, or at all events to the cultured portion of it. But I will not do it, on principle. It is inartistic, and it sets a bad example to the younger men. Other writers (a few of them) do it, I know; but I will not—not as a rule.

Under ordinary circumstances, therefore, I should not tell you this story at all. I should say to myself, “No! It is a good story, it is a moral story, it is a strange, weird, enthralling sort of a story; and the public, I know, would like to hear it; and I should like to tell it to them; but it is all about myself—about what I said, and what I saw, and what I did, and I cannot do it. My retiring, anti-egotistical nature will not permit me to talk in this way about myself.”

But the circumstances surrounding this story are not ordinary, and there are reasons prompting me, in spite of my modesty, to rather welcome the opportunity of relating it.

As I stated at the beginning, there has been unpleasantness in our family over this party of ours, and, as regards myself in particular, and my share in the events I am now about to set forth, gross injustice has been done me.

As a means of replacing my character in its proper light—of dispelling the clouds of calumny and misconception with which it has been darkened, I feel that my best course is to give a simple, dignified narration of the plain facts, and allow the unprejudiced to judge for themselves. My chief object, I candidly confess, is to clear myself from unjust aspersion. Spurred by this motive—and I think it is an honourable and a right motive—I find I am enabled to overcome my usual repugnance to talking about myself, and can thus tell –



As soon as my uncle had finished his story, I, as I have already told you, rose up and said that I would sleep in the Blue Chamber that very night.

“Never!” cried my uncle, springing up. “You shall not put yourself in this deadly peril. Besides, the bed is not made.”

“Never mind the bed,” I replied. “I have lived in furnished apartments for gentlemen, and have been accustomed to sleep on beds that have never been made from one year’s end to the other. Do not thwart me in my resolve. I am young, and have had a clear conscience now for over a month. The spirits will not harm me. I may even do them some little good, and induce them to be quiet and go away. Besides, I should like to see the show.”

Saying which, I sat down again. (How Mr. Coombes came to be in my chair, instead of at the other side of the room, where he had been all the evening; and why he never offered to apologise when I sat right down on top of him; and why young Biffles should have tried to palm himself off upon me as my Uncle John, and induced me, under that erroneous impression, to shake him by the hand for nearly three minutes, and tell him that I had always regarded him as father,—are matters that, to this day, I have never been able to fully understand.)

They tried to dissuade me from what they termed my foolhardy enterprise, but I remained firm, and claimed my privilege. I was ‘the guest.’ ‘The guest’ always sleeps in the haunted chamber on Christmas Eve; it is his perquisite.

They said that if I put it on that footing, they had, of course, no answer; and they lighted a candle for me, and accompanied me upstairs in a body.

Whether elevated by the feeling that I was doing a noble action, or animated by a mere general consciousness of rectitude, is not for me to say, but I went upstairs that night with remarkable buoyancy. It was as much as I could do to stop at the landing when I came to it; I felt I wanted to go on up to the roof. But, with the help of the banisters, I restrained my ambition, wished them all good- night, and went in and shut the door.

Things began to go wrong with me from the very first. The candle tumbled out of the candlestick before my hand was off the lock. It kept on tumbling out of the candlestick, and every time I picked put it up and put it in, it tumbled out again: I never saw such a slippery candle. I gave up attempting to use the candlestick at last, and carried the candle about in my hand; and, even then, it would not keep upright. So I got wild and threw it out of window, and undressed and went to bed in the dark.

I did not go to sleep,—I did not feel sleepy at all,—I lay on my back, looking up at the ceiling, and thinking of things. I wish I could remember some of the ideas that came to me as I lay there, because they were so amusing. I laughed at them myself till the bed shook.

I had been lying like this for half an hour or so, and had forgotten all about the ghost, when, on casually casting my eyes round the room, I noticed for the first time a singularly contented-looking phantom, sitting in the easy-chair by the fire, smoking the ghost of a long clay pipe.

I fancied for the moment, as most people would under similar circumstances, that I must be dreaming. I sat up, and rubbed my eyes.

No! It was a ghost, clear enough. I could see the back of the chair through his body. He looked over towards me, took the shadowy pipe from his lips, and nodded.

The most surprising part of the whole thing to me was that I did not feel in the least alarmed. If anything, I was rather pleased to see him. It was company.

I said, “Good evening. It’s been a cold day!”

He said he had not noticed it himself, but dared say I was right.

We remained silent for a few seconds, and then, wishing to put it pleasantly, I said, “I believe I have the honour of addressing the ghost of the gentleman who had the accident with the wait?”

He smiled, and said it was very good of me to remember it. One wait was not much to boast of, but still, every little helped.

I was somewhat staggered at his answer. I had expected a groan of remorse. The ghost appeared, on the contrary, to be rather conceited over the business. I thought that, as he had taken my reference to the wait so quietly, perhaps he would not be offended if I questioned him about the organ-grinder. I felt curious about that poor boy.

“Is it true,” I asked, “that you had a hand in the death of that Italian peasant lad who came to the town once with a barrel-organ that played nothing but Scotch airs?”

He quite fired up. “Had a hand in it!” he exclaimed indignantly. “Who has dared to pretend that he assisted me? I murdered the youth myself. Nobody helped me. Alone I did it. Show me the man who says I didn’t.”

I calmed him. I assured him that I had never, in my own mind, doubted that he was the real and only assassin, and I went on and asked him what he had done with the body of the cornet-player he had killed.

He said, “To which one may you be alluding?”

“Oh, were there any more then?” I inquired.

He smiled, and gave a little cough. He said he did not like to appear to be boasting, but that, counting trombones, there were seven.

“Dear me!” I replied, “you must have had quite a busy time of it, one way and another.”

He said that perhaps he ought not to be the one to say so, but that really, speaking of ordinary middle-society, he thought there were few ghosts who could look back upon a life of more sustained usefulness.

He puffed away in silence for a few seconds, while I sat watching him. I had never seen a ghost smoking a pipe before, that I could remember, and it interested me.

I asked him what tobacco he used, and he replied, “The ghost of cut cavendish, as a rule.”

He explained that the ghost of all the tobacco that a man smoked in life belonged to him when he became dead. He said he himself had smoked a good deal of cut cavendish when he was alive, so that he was well supplied with the ghost of it now.

I observed that it was a useful thing to know that, and I made up my mind to smoke as much tobacco as ever I could before I died.

I thought I might as well start at once, so I said I would join him in a pipe, and he said, “Do, old man”; and I reached over and got out the necessary paraphernalia from my coat pocket and lit up.

We grew quite chummy after that, and he told me all his crimes. He said he had lived next door once to a young lady who was learning to play the guitar, while a gentleman who practised on the bass- viol lived opposite. And he, with fiendish cunning, had introduced these two unsuspecting young people to one another, and had persuaded them to elope with each other against their parents’ wishes, and take their musical instruments with them; and they had done so, and, before the honeymoon was over, SHE had broken his head with the bass-viol, and HE had tried to cram the guitar down her throat, and had injured her for life.

My friend said he used to lure muffin-men into the passage and then stuff them with their own wares till they burst and died. He said he had quieted eighteen that way.

Young men and women who recited long and dreary poems at evening parties, and callow youths who walked about the streets late at night, playing concertinas, he used to get together and poison in batches of ten, so as to save expense; and park orators and temperance lecturers he used to shut up six in a small room with a glass of water and a collection-box apiece, and let them talk each other to death.

It did one good to listen to him.

I asked him when he expected the other ghosts—the ghosts of the wait and the cornet-player, and the German band that Uncle John had mentioned. He smiled, and said they would never come again, any of them.

I said, “Why; isn’t it true, then, that they meet you here every Christmas Eve for a row?”

He replied that it WAS true. Every Christmas Eve, for twenty-five years, had he and they fought in that room; but they would never trouble him nor anybody else again. One by one, had he laid them out, spoilt, and utterly useless for all haunting purposes. He had finished off the last German-band ghost that very evening, just before I came upstairs, and had thrown what was left of it out through the slit between the window-sashes. He said it would never be worth calling a ghost again.

“I suppose you will still come yourself, as usual?” I said. “They would be sorry to miss you, I know.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied; “there’s nothing much to come for now. Unless,” he added kindly, “YOU are going to be here. I’ll come if you will sleep here next Christmas Eve.”

“I have taken a liking to you,” he continued; “you don’t fly off, screeching, when you see a party, and your hair doesn’t stand on end. You’ve no idea,” he said, “how sick I am of seeing people’s hair standing on end.”

He said it irritated him.

Just then a slight noise reached us from the yard below, and he started and turned deathly black.

“You are ill,” I cried, springing towards him; “tell me the best thing to do for you. Shall I drink some brandy, and give you the ghost of it?”

He remained silent, listening intently for a moment, and then he gave a sigh of relief, and the shade came back to his cheek.

“It’s all right,” he murmured; “I was afraid it was the cock.”

“Oh, it’s too early for that,” I said. “Why, it’s only the middle of the night.”

“Oh, that doesn’t make any difference to those cursed chickens,” he replied bitterly. “They would just as soon crow in the middle of the night as at any other time—sooner, if they thought it would spoil a chap’s evening out. I believe they do it on purpose.”

He said a friend of his, the ghost of a man who had killed a water- rate collector, used to haunt a house in Long Acre, where they kept fowls in the cellar, and every time a policeman went by and flashed his bull’s-eye down the grating, the old cock there would fancy it was the sun, and start crowing like mad; when, of course, the poor ghost had to dissolve, and it would, in consequence, get back home sometimes as early as one o’clock in the morning, swearing fearfully because it had only been out for an hour.

I agreed that it seemed very unfair.

“Oh, it’s an absurd arrangement altogether,” he continued, quite angrily. “I can’t imagine what our old man could have been thinking of when he made it. As I have said to him, over and over again, ‘Have a fixed time, and let everybody stick to it—say four o’clock in summer, and six in winter. Then one would know what one was about.'”

“How do you manage when there isn’t any cock handy?” I inquired.

He was on the point of replying, when again he started and listened. This time I distinctly heard Mr. Bowles’s cock, next door, crow twice.

“There you are,” he said, rising and reaching for his hat; “that’s the sort of thing we have to put up with. What IS the time?”

I looked at my watch, and found it was half-past three.

“I thought as much,” he muttered. “I’ll wring that blessed bird’s neck if I get hold of it.” And he prepared to go.

“If you can wait half a minute,” I said, getting out of bed, “I’ll go a bit of the way with you.”

“It’s very good of you,” he rejoined, pausing, “but it seems unkind to drag you out.”

“Not at all,” I replied; “I shall like a walk.” And I partially dressed myself, and took my umbrella; and he put his arm through mine, and we went out together.

Just by the gate we met Jones, one of the local constables.

“Good-night, Jones,” I said (I always feel affable at Christmas- time).

“Good-night, sir,” answered the man a little gruffly, I thought.

“May I ask what you’re a-doing of?”

“Oh, it’s all right,” I responded, with a wave of my umbrella; “I’m just seeing my friend part of the way home.”

He said, “What friend?”

“Oh, ah, of course,” I laughed; “I forgot. He’s invisible to you. He is the ghost of the gentleman that killed the wait. I’m just going to the corner with him.”

“Ah, I don’t think I would, if I was you, sir,” said Jones severely. “If you take my advice, you’ll say good-bye to your friend here, and go back indoors. Perhaps you are not aware that you are walking about with nothing on but a night-shirt and a pair of boots and an opera-hat. Where’s your trousers?”

I did not like the man’s manner at all. I said, “Jones! I don’t wish to have to report you, but it seems to me you’ve been drinking. My trousers are where a man’s trousers ought to be—on his legs. I distinctly remember putting them on.”

“Well, you haven’t got them on now,” he retorted.

“I beg your pardon,” I replied. “I tell you I have; I think I ought to know.”

“I think so, too,” he answered, “but you evidently don’t. Now you come along indoors with me, and don’t let’s have any more of it.”

Uncle John came to the door at this point, having been awaked, I suppose, by the altercation; and, at the same moment, Aunt Maria appeared at the window in her nightcap.

I explained the constable’s mistake to them, treating the matter as lightly as I could, so as not to get the man into trouble, and I turned for confirmation to the ghost.

He was gone! He had left me without a word—without even saying good-bye!

It struck me as so unkind, his having gone off in that way, that I burst into tears; and Uncle John came out, and led me back into the house.

On reaching my room, I discovered that Jones was right. I had not put on my trousers, after all. They were still hanging over the bed-rail. I suppose, in my anxiety not to keep the ghost waiting, I must have forgotten them.

Such are the plain facts of the case, out of which it must, doubtless, to the healthy, charitable mind appear impossible that calumny could spring.

But it has.

Persons—I say ‘persons’—have professed themselves unable to understand the simple circumstances herein narrated, except in the light of explanations at once misleading and insulting. Slurs have been cast and aspersions made on me by those of my own flesh and blood.

But I bear no ill-feeling. I merely, as I have said, set forth this statement for the purpose of clearing my character from injurious suspicion.


“The Ghost in the Blue Chamber” by Jerome K. Jerome, 1891

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