Ghost Story Review: "The Bus-Conductor" by E. F. Benson
The narrator of this story and his friend, Hugh Grainger, have just returned from a couple of days in the country, when they spent time at a house reputed to be haunted. All the time they were out of town, the weather was dreadful, wind and rain banging on the house and windows so hard that if a ghost were trying to make its presence know, they probably didn’t hear it.
The narrator is a bundle of nerves. Hugh is calm. The narrator has never seen a ghost. Hugh has. After some preliminary remarks on how a mortal might come to see into the spirit world, Hugh tells his story.
About 18 months earlier, in the narrator’s house, after they had gone to bed, Hugh woke to open the window and get some air. He saw a horse-drawn hearse pull up in front of the house and thought it was for the servant the narrator had earlier told him was ill. The driver was not dressed as a hearse driver, though, but as a bus driver might be.
He saw Hugh looking at him, touched his to him and said, “Just room for one inside, sir.”
Hugh pulled his head inside and shut the window. He turned on the electric light and looked at his watch. It read half-past eleven. The watch must have stopped. He was sure it was later than that.
He lay back down for what he thought was about half an hour. He neither heard the hearse anymore nor had he heard it leave. He opened the curtains and looked outside. It was dawning. He looked at his watch. It read a quarter past four.
“You man did not appear at breakfast the next morning,” Hugh told the narrator in explaining why he had said nothing to the narrator about the hearse until now. “…it was still possible that, you see, that what I had seen was a real hearse, driven by a real driver.”
He went on to say that a month later he was in London again. He was about to step onto a bus when the conductor he’d seen in his dream stepped forward and told him (you might have guessed it by now), “Just room for one inside, sir.”
If this sounds familiar, it may in part because the dream premonition is a staple of horror and ghost stories, but also because this story, with its tagline, “Just room for one inside, sir” (and variations thereof) has gone through several incarnations, including a 1944 film title Dead of Night ; a Twilight Zone episode (“Twenty Two”); and the lyrics of Oingo Boing’s “Dead Man’s Party.”
Title: “The Bus-Conductor” first published in Pall Mall Magazine Dec. 1906
Author: E. F. Benson
Last review: “Caterpillers” by E. F. Benson
Last weird review: “The King of Ypres” by John Buchan
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