illustration of a ghost standing behid an iron fence with its arm raised against a large mansion

The Canterville Ghost

by Oscar Wilde

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Why did the twins' actions make the "Headless Earl" ghost flee in "The Canterville Ghost"?

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The twins expect the ghost, and so they prepare a classic practical joke. They prop a jug of water at the top of the door so that it will fall on the head of whoever next opens the door.

The ghost, proud of a particularly frightening costume he has donned, one he has not worn in seventy years, flings the door open dramatically and:

a heavy jug of water fell right down on him, wetting him to the skin, and just missing his left shoulder by a couple of inches. At the same moment he heard stifled shrieks of laughter proceeding from the four-post bed.

The ghost is badly frightened when the water and jug cascade down on him. His consolation is that, because he was playing the Headless Earl, he had not brought his head with him. We are told that he nevertheless catches a cold.

This prank is close to the final straw for the ghost, though he will go out in costume one more time. He decides he will never be able to frighten the Americans, and so he contents himself with creeping around with a muffler around his neck to fight off drafts. He also carries an arquebus, a very old-fashioned pistol, to defend himself against the twins.

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The ghost decides to appear as Reckless Rupert, the Headless Earl, a trick that he found successful in the past in scaring people. He spends three hours applying his make-up and costume to get ready, but when he enters the twins' room, also called the Blue Bed Chamber, by flinging the door open, a jug of water falls on him. His clothes are soaked, and the twins are laughing at him. He is so shocked that he runs away back to his room as fast as he can. His only consolation is that he did not bring his head, as that would have become soaked as well. After this incident, he despairs of ever scaring the American family, and he resorts to creeping about the hallways in slippers. He seems more afraid of the twins than they are of him. 

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