The Workman, by Lord Dunsany
I saw a workman fall with his scaffolding right from the summit of
some vast hotel. And as he came down I saw him holding a knife
and trying to cut his name on the scaffolding. He had time to try and
do this for he must have had nearly three hundred feet to fall. And I
could think of nothing but his folly in doing this futile thing, for not
only would the man be unrecognizably dead in three seconds, but the
very pole on which he tried to scratch whatever of his name he had
time for was certain to be burnt in a few weeks for firewood.
Then I went home for I had work to do. And all that evening I thought
of the man's folly, till the thought hindered me from serious work.
And late that night while I was still at work, the ghost of the workman
floated through my wall and stood before me laughing.
I heard no sound until after I spoke to it; but I could see the grey
diaphanous form standing before me shuddering with laughter.
I spoke at last and asked what it was laughing at, and then the ghost
spoke. It said: "I'm a laughin' at you sittin' and workin' there."
"And why," I asked, "do you laugh at serious work?"
"Why, yer bloomin' life 'ull go by like a wind," he said, "and yer 'ole
silly civilization 'ull be tidied up in a few centuries."
Then he fell to laughing again and this time audibly; and, laughing
still, faded back through the wall again and into the eternity from
which he had come.