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Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell


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Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter

"Oh, I'll make allowances for the dusk," I said. "You haven't got any ghosts stowed away there, have you?" And he went off into a roar of laughter.

"No, the house is not haunted," Mr. Baldwin replied. "Not that it would much matter to you if it were, for I can see you don't believe in spooks."

"Believe in spooks!" I cried. "Not much. I would as soon believe in patent hair restorers. Let me see over it at once."

"Very well, sir. I'll take you there myself," Mr. Baldwin replied, somewhat reluctantly. "Here, Tim--fetch the keys of the Crow's Nest and tell Higgins to bring the trap round."

The boy he addressed flew, and in a few minutes the sound of wheels and the jingling of harness announced the vehicle was at the door.

Ten minutes later and I and my escort were bowling merrily over the ground in the direction of the Crow's Nest. It was early autumn, and the cool evening air, fragrant with the mellowness of the luscious Virginian pippin, was tinged also with the sadness inseparable from the demise of a long and glorious summer. Evidences of decay and death were everywhere--in the brown fallen leaves of the oaks and elms; in the bare and denuded ditches. Here a giant mill-wheel, half immersed in a dark, still pool, stood idle and silent; there a hovel, but recently inhabited by hop-pickers, was now tenantless, its glassless windows boarded over, and a wealth of dead and rotting vegetable matter in thick profusion over the tiny path and the single stone doorstep.

"Is it always as quiet and deserted as this?" I asked of my companion, who continually cracked his whip as if he liked to hear the reverberations of its echoes.

"Always," was the reply, "and sometimes more so. You ain't used to the country?"

"Not very. I want to try it by way of a change. Are you well versed in the cry of birds? What was that?"

We were fast approaching an exceedingly gloomy bit of the road where there were plantations on each side, and the trees united their fantastically forked branches overhead. I thought I had never seen so dismal-looking a spot, and a sudden lowering of the temperature made me draw my overcoat tighter round me.

"That--oh, a night bird of some sort," Mr. Baldwin replied. "An ugly sound, wasn't it? Beastly things, I can't imagine why they were created. Whoa--steady there, steady."

The horse reared as he spoke, and taking a violent plunge forward, set off at a wild gallop. A moment later, and I uttered an exclamation of astonishment. Keeping pace with us, although apparently not moving at more than an ordinary walking pace, was a man of medium height, dressed in a panama hat and albert coat. He had a thin, aquiline nose, a rather pronounced chin, was clean-shaven, and had a startlingly white complexion. By the side of him trotted two poodles, whose close-cropped skins showed out with remarkable perspicuity.

"Who the deuce is he?" I asked, raising my voice to a shout on account of the loud clatter made by the horse's hoofs and the wheels.

"Who? what?" Mr. Baldwin shouted in return.

"Why, the man walking along with us!"

"Man! I can see no man!" Mr. Baldwin growled.

I looked at him curiously. It may, of course, have been due to the terrific speed we were going, to the difficulty of holding in the horse, but his cheeks were ashy pale, and his teeth chattered.

"Do you mean to say," I cried, "that you can see no figure walking on my side of the horse and actually keeping pace with it?"

"Of course I can't," Mr. Baldwin snapped. "No more can you. It's an hallucination caused by the moonlight through the branches overhead. I've experienced it more than once."

"Then why don't you have it now?" I queried.

"Don't ask so many questions, please," Mr. Baldwin shouted. "Don't you see it is as much as I can do to hold the brute in? Heaven preserve us, we were nearly over that time."

The trap rose high in the air as he spoke, and then dropped with such a jolt that I was nearly thrown off, and only saved myself by the skin of my teeth. A few yards more the spinney ceased, and we were away out in the open country, plunging and galloping as if our very souls depended on it. From all sides queer and fantastic shadows of objects, which certainly had no material counterparts in the moon-kissed sward of the rich, ripe meadows, rose to greet us, and filled the lane with their black-and-white wavering, ethereal forms. The evening was one of wonders for which I had no name--wonders associated with an iciness that was far from agreeable. I was not at all sure which I liked best--the black, Stygian, tree-lined part of the road we had just left, or the wide ocean of brilliant moonbeams and streaked suggestions.