Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
III HORSES AND THE UNKNOWN
"I was now in the sorriest of plights--enveloped on all sides in Stygian darkness I was unable to discover my lantern, and was thus totally at the mercy of the ruthless elements. There were only two courses before me--either I must remain where I was and be frozen to death, or, making a guess at the route, I must push on ahead and run the risk of ending my life at the bottom of a ravine. I chose the latter. Groping about with my feet, until I at length discovered what I thought must be the right track, I pushed ahead, and, staggering and stumbling forward, managed to make some sort of progress, terribly slow though it was. The blinding darkness of the snowy night, the intense silence and utter solitude of the place, combined with the knowledge that on all sides of me lay holes and chasms, dampened my spirits and raised strange phantoms in my imagination. The wind now rose, and the dismal sighing of the trees speedily grew into a series of the most perturbing screeches, as the branches and trunks swayed to and fro like reeds before the violence of the hurricane.
"At this juncture I gave myself up for lost, and, coming to a standstill up to my knees in snow, was preparing to lie down and die, when, to my great joy, a light suddenly appeared ahead of me, and the next moment a man, mounted on a big white horse, rode noiselessly up to me. He was wrapped in a shaggy great-coat, and a slouch hat worn low over his eyes completely hid his face from me. In his disengaged hand he carried a lantern.
"'By Jove!' I exclaimed, 'I am glad to see you, for I've lost the track to Liffre. Can you tell me, or, better still, show me, the way to some house where I can put up for the remainder of the night?'
"The stranger made no reply, but bidding me follow with a wave of his hand, rode silently in front of me, and although I tried to keep up with him, I could not; and the odd thing was, that without apparently increasing his pace, he always maintained his distance. After proceeding in this manner for possibly ten minutes, we suddenly turned to the left, and I found myself in a big clearing in the wood, with a long, low-built house opposite me.
"My guide then paused, and indicating the front door of the house with an emphatic gesture of his hand, seemed suddenly to melt away into thin air, for although I peered about me on all sides to try to find some indications of him, neither he nor his horse was anywhere to be seen. Thinking this was rather queer, but quite ready to attribute it to natural causes, I approached the building, and, making use of my knuckles in lieu of a knocker, beat a loud tattoo on the woodwork. There was no response. Again I rapped, and the door slowly opening revealed a pair of gleaming, dark eyes. 'What do you want?' enquired a harsh voice in barbarous accents. 'A night's lodging,' I replied; 'and I'm willing to pay a good price for it, for I'm more than half frozen.'
"At this the door opened wider, and I found myself confronted by a woman with a candle. She had not the most prepossessing of expressions, though her hair, eyes and features were decidedly good. She was dressed with tawdry smartness--earrings, necklace, and rings, and very high-heeled buckle shoes. Indeed, her costume was so out of keeping with the rusticity of her surroundings as to be quite extraordinary. This fact struck me at once, as did her fingers, which, though spatulate and ugly, had been manicured, and of course very much over-manicured, for effect. Had this not been the case, I probably should not have noticed them. But the unnatural gloss on them, exaggerated by the candlelight, made me look, and I was at once impressed with the criminal formation of the fingers--the club-shaped ends denoted something very bad--something homicidal--and as my eyes wandered from the hands to the face, I saw with a thrill of horror that the ears were set low down and far back on the head, and that the eyes gleamed with the sinister glitter of the wolf.
"Still, I must take my chance--the woman or the wood--it had to be one of the two. 'If you'll step inside, monsieur,' she said, 'I'll see what can be done for you. We have only recently come here, and the house is anyhow at present. Still, if you don't mind roughing it a little, we can let you have a bed, and you can rely upon me that it is clean and well-aired.' I followed her eagerly, and she led me down a narrow passage into a big room with a low ceiling, traversed with a ponderous oak beam, blackened with the smoke of endless peat fires.