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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

"The towers, half included in the building, were completely circular within, and contained the winding stair of the mansion; and whoso ascended them, when the winter wind was blowing, seemed rising by a tornado to the clouds. Midway between the towers was a heavy stone porch, with a Gothic gateway, surmounted by a battlemented parapet, made gable fashion, the apex of which was garnished by a pair of dolphins, rampant and antagonistic, whose corkscrew tails seemed contorted by the last agonies of rage convulsed.

"The porch doors thrown open to receive me, led into a hall, wide, vaulted and lofty, and decorated here and there with remnants of tapestry and grim portraits of the Wimpoles. One picture in particular riveted my attention. Hung in an obscure corner, where the light rarely penetrated, it represented the head and shoulders of a young man with a strikingly beautiful face--the features small and regular like those of a woman--the hair yellow and curly. It was the eyes that struck me most--they followed me everywhere I went with a persistency that was positively alarming. There was something in them I had never seen in canvas eyes before, something deeper and infinitely more intricate than could be produced by mere paint--something human and yet not human, friendly and yet not friendly; something baffling, enigmatical, haunting. I enquired of my deceased relative's aged housekeeper, Mrs. Grimstone--whom I had retained--whose portrait it was, and she replied with a scared look, 'Horace, youngest son of Sir Algernon Wimpole, who died here in 1745.'

"'The face fascinates me,' I said. 'Is there any history attached to it?'

"'Why, yes, sir!' she responded, her eyes fixed on the floor, 'but the late master never liked referring to it.'

"'Is it as bad as that?' I said, laughing. 'Tell me!'

"'Well, sir,' she began, 'they do say as how Sir Algernon, who was a thorough country squire--very fond of hunting and shooting and all sorts of manly exercises--never liked Mr. Horace, who was delicate and dandified--what the folk in those days used to style a macaroni. The climax came when Mr. Horace took up with the Jacobites. Sir Algernon would have nothing more to do with him then and turned him adrift. One day there was a great commotion in the neighbourhood, the Government troops were hunting the place in search of rebels, and who should come galloping up the avenue with a couple of troopers in hot pursuit but Mr. Horace. The noise brought out Sir Algernon, and he was so infuriated to think that his son was the cause of the disturbance, a "disgraceful young cub," he called him, that despite Mr. Horace's entreaties for protection, he ran him through with his sword. It was a dreadful thing for a father to do, and Sir Algernon bitterly repented it. His wife, who had been devoted to Mr. Horace, left him, and at last, in a fit of despondency, he hanged himself--out there, on one of the elms lining the avenue. It is still standing. Ever since then they do say that the wood is haunted, and that before the death of any member of the family Mr. Horace is seen galloping along the old carriage drive.'

"'Pleasant,' I grunted. 'And how about the house--is it haunted too?'

"'I daresn't say,' she murmured. 'Some will tell you it is, and some will tell you it isn't.'

"'In which category are you included?' I asked.

"'Well!' she said 'I have lived here happy and comfortable forty-five years the day after to-morrow, and that speaks for itself, don't it?' And with that she hobbled off and showed me the way to the dining-room.

"What a house it was! From the hall proceeded doorways and passages, more than the ordinary memory could retain. Of these portals, one at each end conducted to the tower stairs, others, to the reception-rooms and domestic offices. In the right wing, besides bedrooms galore, was a lofty and spacious picture gallery; in the left--a chapel; for the Wimpoles were, formerly, Roman Catholics. The general fittings and furniture, both of the hall and house in general, were substantial, venerable and strongly corroborative of what Mrs. Grimstone hinted at--they suggested ghosts.

"The walls, lined with black oak panels, or dark hangings that fluttered mysteriously each time the wind blew, were funereal indeed; and so high and narrow were the windows, that little was to be discerned through them but cross-barred portions of the sky. One spot in particular appealed to my nerves--and that, a long, vaulted stone passage leading from a morning room to the foot of the back staircase. Here the voice and even the footsteps echoed with a hollow, low response, and often when I have been hurrying along it--I never dared walk slowly--I have fancied--and maybe it was more than fancy--I have been pursued.