"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"

by M. R. James
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Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 747

The story opens on a group of professors discussing their plans for the upcoming vacation. Professor Parkins says that he is going away to Burnstow to play golf, and another professor asks if Parkins would be willing to look in on a potential archaeological site, to see if it might be useful, while he's there. Parkins agrees to do so, and he mentions that there will be an extra bed in his hotel room, though he finds such a thing to be rather unnecessary and inconvenient. A colleague, Mr. Rogers, suggests that he'd like to come and occupy this bed, though he doesn't play golf. He can, he says, protect Parkins from the ghosts. Parkins, a professor of biology, explicitly declares his disbelief in the supernatural. It's decided that Rogers will follow Parkins, after a day or two, to Burnstow, though Parkins is not exactly thrilled at the prospect of Rogers's company.

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The next day, Parkins goes to Burnstow and checks into his room at the Globe Inn. He immediately begins to work on his golf game with another guest of the hotel, Colonel Wilson, though they seem to have little in common.

After golf, Parkins goes to look at the site he'd promised to visit, and he finds a small old bronze whistle, which he pockets. On his walk back to the hotel, he notices someone far behind him in the distance, apparently trying to catch up to him, though the man makes no real progress. Parkins doesn't wait. After dinner, he cleans the dirt from the whistle and reads its Latin inscription: "Who is this who is coming?"

He blows the whistle at his window, pleased with its sound, and suddenly a gusty wind begins to blow. Parkins forces the window shut and tries to go to bed, but he keeps seeing strange things when he closes his eyes. He sees a man running down the beach, apparently in grave fear of the thing chasing him. The thing seems to be made of white linen material. After a long wait, Parkins is eventually able to fall asleep.

After breakfast, the maid mentions that both beds in Parkins's room seem to have been slept in; the sheets were all in a tangle on the bed he hardly touched. This is odd, but he chalks it up to making more of a mess than he'd realized. He plays golf with the colonel again, and they get along much better today as a result of Parkins's improvement. The colonel mentions last night's wind and says that, in his home, people would say that someone had whistled for it: an old folk superstition. Parkins explains his disbelief in the supernatural but admits that he did, in fact, whistle before the wind came. The colonel asks about the whistle, and Parkins explains how he found it. On their way home, they run into a little boy who claims to have seen a ghostly figure in Parkins's hotel room window: the figure waved to him and gave him quite a fright. Parkins assumes someone must have been in his room while he was out.

When Parkins and the colonel return to the hotel, they see that the linens on the bed that Parkins does not use have, once again, become tangled. No one has been in his room. The colonel says that he would throw the whistle into the sea if he had found it, and he tells Parkins that it is no trouble if Parkins needs him during the night. In the middle of the night, Parkins is awoken and hears what he thinks are rats playing around in the next bed—until he suddenly sees a figure sit up in it.

He leaps up in fright, and the figure, wrapped in the bed linens, jumps up as well. It comes toward him, and Parkins struggles with it at the open window so that he is almost forced out of it by his extreme aversion to the frightening figure. Just then, the colonel bursts in, and the figure turns into nothing more than a pile of sheets. The next day, the colonel throws the whistle into the sea, the sheets in question are burned, and the incident is hushed up so as not to damage the reputation of either Professor Parkins or the Globe Inn. Suddenly, the imminent arrival of his colleague Mr. Rogers is significantly more appealing to Parkins, whose views on the supernatural are no longer so certain.

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