Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
III HORSES AND THE UNKNOWN
I am not particularly fond of music--certainly not of village music, however well trained it may be; but I can honestly affirm that, at that moment, no sounds could have been more welcome to me than those old folk-songs piped by the rustics, for the instant they commenced the spell that so closely held me prisoner was broken, my faculties returned, and reeling back out of the clutches of the hateful Thing, I joyfully turned and fled.
I related my adventure to the Colonel, and he told me that the cave was generally deemed to be the most haunted spot in the grounds, that no one cared to venture there alone after dark.
"I have myself many times visited the cave at night--in the company of others," he said, "and we have invariably experienced sensations of the utmost horror and repulsion, though we have seen nothing. It must be a devil."
I thought so, too, and exclaimed with some vehemence that the proper course for him to pursue was to have the cave filled in or blasted. That night I awoke at about one o'clock with the feeling very strong on me that something was prowling about under my window. For some time I fought against the impulse to get out of bed and look, but at last I yielded. It was bright moonlight--every obstacle in the grounds stood out with wonderful clearness--and directly beneath the window, peering up at me, were the eyes--red, lurid, satanical. A dog barked, and they vanished. I did not sleep again that night, not until the daylight broke, when I had barely shut my eyes before I was aroused by decidedly material bangings on the doors and hyper-boisterous Easter greetings.
After breakfast a few of the party went to church, a few into the nursery to romp with the children, whilst the rest dispersed in different directions. At luncheon all met again, and there was much merry-making over the tansy cakes--very foolish, no doubt, but to me at least very delightful, and perhaps a wise practice, at times, even for the most prosaic. In the afternoon the Colonel took me for a drive to a charmingly picturesque village in the Chilterns, whence we did not set out on our way back till it was twilight.
The Colonel was a good whip, and the horse, though young and rather high-spirited, was, he said, very dependable on the whole, and had never caused him any trouble. We spun along at a brisk trot--the last village separating us from the Hall was past, and we were on a high eminence, almost within sight of home, when a startling change in the atmosphere suddenly became apparent--it turned icy cold. I made some sort of comment to the Colonel, and as I did so the horse shied.
"Hulloa!" I exclaimed. "Does she often do this?"
"No, not often, only when we are on this road about this time," was the grim rejoinder. "Keep your eyes open and sit tight."
We were now amid scenery of the same desolate type that had so impressed me the day of my arrival. Gaunt, barren hills, wild, uncultivated levels, sombre valleys, inhabited only by grotesque enigmatical shadows that came from Heaven knows where, and hemmed us in on all sides.
A large quarry, half full of water and partly overgrown with brambles, riveted my attention, and as I gazed fixedly at it I saw, or fancied I saw, the shape of something large and white--vividly white--rise from the bottom.
The glimpse I caught of it was, however, only momentary, for we were moving along at a great pace, and I had hardly seen the last of it before the quarry was left behind and we were descending a long and gradual declivity. There was but little wind, but the cold was benumbing; neither of us spoke, and the silence was unbroken save by the monotonous patter, patter of the horse's hoofs on the hard road.
We were, I should say, about half-way down the hill, when away in our rear, from the direction of the quarry, came a loud protracted neigh. I at once looked round, and saw standing on the crest of the eminence we had just quitted, and most vividly outlined against the enveloping darkness, a gigantic horse, white and luminous.
At that moment our own mare took fright; we were abruptly swung forward, and, had I not--mindful of the Colonel's warning--been "sitting tight," I should undoubtedly have been thrown out. We dashed downhill at a terrific rate, our mare mad with terror, and on peering over my shoulder I saw, to my horror, the white steed tearing along not fifty yards behind us. I was now able to get a vivid impression of the monstrous beast. Although the night was dark, a strong, lurid glow, which seemed to emanate from all over it, enabled me to see distinctly its broad, muscular breast; its panting, steaming flanks; its long, graceful legs with their hairy fetlocks and shoeless, shining hoofs; its powerful but arched back; its lofty, colossal head with waving forelock and broad, massive forehead; its snorting nostrils; its distended, foaming jaws; its huge, glistening teeth; and its lips, wreathed in a savage grin. On and on it raced, its strides prodigious, its mighty mane rising and falling, and blowing all around it in unrestrained confusion.