Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
III HORSES AND THE UNKNOWN
"Something beside me rustles--rustles angrily, and I know, I can feel, it is the bundle on the branch--the ghastly, groaning, creaking, croaking caricature of Sir Algernon. The horseman comes up to me--our eyes meet--I am looking in those of a dead--of a long since dead man--my blood freezes.
"He flashes past me--thud, thud, thud! A bend in the road, and he vanishes from sight. But I can still hear him, still hear the mad patter of his horse's hoofs as they bear him onward, lifeless, fleshless, weightless, to his ancient home. God pity the souls that know no rest.
"How I got back to the house I hardly know. I believe it was with my eyes shut, and I am certain I ran all the way.
"About four o'clock the following afternoon I received a cablegram from Malta. Intuition warned me to prepare for the worst. Its contents were unpleasantly short and pithy--'Hal drowned at two o'clock this morning.--Dick.'
"Two years passed--again an August night, hot and oppressive as before, and again--though surely against my will, my better judgment, if you like--I visited the wood. Horse's hoofs just the same as before. The same galloping, the same figure, the same EYES! the same mad, panic-stricken flight home, and, early in the succeeding afternoon, a similar cablegram--this time from Sicily. 'Dick died at midnight. Dysentery.--Andrews.'
"Jack Andrews was Dick's pal--his bosom friend. So once again the phantom rider had brought its grisly message--played its ghoulish rôle. My brothers were both dead now, and only Beryl remained. Another year sped by and the last night in October--a Monday--saw me, impelled by a fascination I could not resist, once again in the wood. Up to a point everything happened as before. As the monotonous church clock struck twelve, from afar came the sound of hoofs. Nearer, nearer, nearer, and then with startling abruptness the rider shot into view. And now, mixed with the awful, indescribable terror the figure always conveyed with it, came a feeling of intense rage and indignation. Should Beryl--Beryl whom I loved next best to my wife--be torn from me even as Dick and Hal had been? No! Ten thousand times no! Sooner than that I would risk anything. A sudden inspiration, coming maybe from the whispering leaves, or from the elm, or from the mysterious flickering moonbeams, flashed through me. Could I not intercept the figures, drive them back? By doing so something told me Beryl might be saved. A terrible struggle at once took place within me, and it was only after the most desperate efforts that I at length succeeded in fighting back my terror and flung myself out into the middle of the drive. No words of mine can describe all I went through as I stood there anticipating the arrival of the phantoms. At length they came, right up to me; and as, with frantic resolution, I screwed up courage to plant myself directly in their path, and stared up into the rider's eyes, the huge steed halted, gave one shrill neigh, and turning round, galloped back again, disappearing whither it had emerged.
"Two days afterwards I received a letter from my brother-in-law.
"'I have been having an awful time,' he wrote. 'My darling Beryl has been frightfully ill. On Monday night we gave up all hope of her recovery, but at twelve o'clock, when the doctor bid us prepare for the end, the most extraordinary thing happened. Turning over in bed, she distinctly called out your name, and rallied. And now, thank God, she is completely out of danger. The doctor says it is the most astonishing recovery he has ever known.'
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"That is twenty years ago, and I've not seen the phantom rider since. Nor do I fancy he will appear again, for when I look into the eyes of the picture in the hall, they are no longer wandering, but at rest."
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Perhaps, one of the most interesting accounts of the phantasm of a horse in my possession is that recorded by C.E. G----, a friend of my boyhood. Writing to me from the United States some months ago, he says:
"Knowing how interested you are in all cases of hauntings, and in those relating to animal ghosts especially, I am sending you an account of an 'experience' that happened to my uncle, Mr. John Dale, about six months ago. He was returning to his home in Bishopstone, near Helena, Montana, shortly after dark, and had arrived at a particularly lonely part of the road where the trees almost meet overhead, when his horse showed signs of restlessness. It slackened down, halted, shivered, whinnied, and kept up such a series of antics, that my uncle descended from the trap to see if anything was wrong with it. He thought that, perhaps, it was going to have some kind of fit, or an attack of ague, which is not an uncommon complaint among animals in his part of the country, and he was preparing to give it a dose of quinine, when suddenly it reared up violently, and before he could stop it, was careering along the road at lightning speed. My uncle was now in a pretty mess. He was stranded in a forest without a lantern, ten miles, at least, from home. Feeling too depressed to do anything, he sat down by the roadside, and seriously thought of remaining there till daybreak. A twinge of rheumatism, however, reminded him the ground was little warmer than ice, and made him realize that lying on it would be courting death. Consequently, he got up, and setting his lips grimly, struck out in the direction of Bishopstone. At every step he took the track grew darker. Shadows of trees and countless other things, for which he could see no counterpart, crept out and rendered it almost impossible for him to tell where to tread. A peculiar, indefinable dread also began to make itself felt, and the darkness seemed to him to assume an entirely new character. He plodded on, breaking into a jog-trot every now and then, and whistling by way of companionship. The stillness was sepulchral--he strained his ears, but could not even catch the sound of those tiny animals that are usually heard in the thickets and furze-bushes at night; and all his movements were exaggerated, until their echoes seemed to reverberate through the whole forest. A turn of the road brought him into view of something that made his heart throb with delight. Standing by the wayside was an enormous coach with four huge horses pawing the ground impatiently. My uncle rushed up to the driver, who was so enveloped in wraps, he could not see his face, and in a voice trembling with emotion begged for the favour of a lift--if not to Helena itself, as far in that direction as the coach was going. The driver made no reply, but with his hand motioned my uncle to get in. The latter did not need a second bidding, and the moment he was seated, the vehicle started off. It was a large, roomy conveyance, but had a stifling atmosphere about it that struck my uncle as most unpleasant; and although he could see no one, he intuitively felt he was not alone, and that more than one pair of eyes were watching him.