Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
V WILD ANIMALS AND THE UNKNOWN
The night being cold, he closed the door carefully, and crossing the room to where I sat by the fire, threw himself in an easy chair, and gazed meditatively at me.
My rooms in Bloomsbury were not lonely. They had more than their share of "brawling brats" on either side; there were no gloomy recesses or ghost-suggestive cupboards, and I never once experienced in them the slightest apprehension of sudden superphysical manifestations, yet I cannot help saying that as I met that glance from the pseudo-Tristram's eyes I felt my flesh begin to creep.
He sat for so long in silence that I began to wonder if he ever meant to speak.
"The secret of success in seeing certain classes of apparitions," he said at length, "to a very great extent lies in sympathy. Sympathy! And now for my story. I will tell it to you in the 'third person.'"
I looked at Tristram's face in dismay. "The third person!"
"Yes, the third person," he gravely rejoined, "and under the circumstances the only person. You see it is now close on midnight."
I looked at the clock. Great heavens! What he said was correct. A whole evening had slipped by without my knowledge. He would, of course, have to stay the night. I suggested it to him.
"My dear fellow," he replied, with an odd smile, "don't worry about me. I am not dependent on any trains. I shall be home by two o'clock."
I shivered--a draught of cold air had in all probability stolen through the cracks of the ill-fitting window-frames.
"You have on one of your queer moods, Martin," I expostulated. "To be home by two o'clock you must fly! But proceed--at all costs, the story."
Tristram raised an eyebrow, a true sign that something of special interest would follow.
"You know Bruges?" he began.
"Very well, then," he went on. "Exactly a week ago Martin Tristram arrived there from Antwerp. The hour was late, the weather boisterous, Tristram was tired, and any lodging was better than none.
"Hailing a four-wheeler, he asked the Jehu to drive him to some decent hostel where the sheets were clean and the tariff moderate; and the fellow, gathering up the reins, took him at a snail's pace to a mediŠval-looking tavern in La Rue Croissante. You remember that street? Perhaps not! It is quite a back street, extremely narrow, very tortuous, and miserably lighted with a few gas-lamps of the usual antique Belgian order.
"Tristram was too tired, however, to be fastidious; he felt he could lie down and go to sleep anywhere, and what scruples he might have had were entirely dissipated by the appearance of the charming girl who answered the door.
"It is not expedient to dwell upon her--she plays a very minor part, if, indeed, any, in the story. Martin Tristram merely thought her pretty, and that, as I have said, fully reconciled him to taking up his quarters in the house.
"He has, as you are doubtless aware, a weakness for vivid colouring, and her bright yellow hair, carmine lips, and scarlet stockings struck him impressively as she led the way to his bed-chamber, where she somewhat reluctantly parted from him with a subtly attractive smile.
"Left to himself, Martin sleepily examined his surroundings. The room, oak-panelled throughout, was long, low, and gloomy; an enormous, old-fashioned, empty fireplace occupied the centre of one of the walls; on the one side of it was an oak settee, on the other an equally ponderous black oak chest.
"Heavy oaken beams traversed the ceiling, and the sombre, funereal character of the room was further increased by a colossal and antique four-poster which, placed in the exact middle of the chamber, faced a gigantic mirror attached to grotesquely carved and excessively lofty sable supports.
"Viewed in the feeble, fluctuating candlelight, the latter seemed endowed with some peculiar and emphatically weird life--their glistening, polished surfaces threw a dozen and one fantastic but oddly human shadows on the boards, as at the same time they appeared in bewildering alternation to increase and diminish in stature.
"Tristram hastily undressed, and stretching himself between the blankets, prepared to go to sleep. Like yourself, and for a similar reason, he never sleeps on his left side. Accordingly he occupied the right portion only of the enormous bed.
"Why he did not fall asleep at once he could not explain; he fancied that it might be because he was overtired. This undoubtedly had something to do with it, as also had the remarkable noises--footfalls, creaks, and sighs--that came from every corner of the apartment the moment the light was out.