Human Animals Part 28

She haunted the spot, it was said, in the shape of a colt, and the guilty clerk, meeting the phantom animal late one night in a narrow lane, went down on his knees, and said earnestly, "Abide, Satan, abide. I am a righteous man and a psalm-singer." The clerk was called Obitch or Holbeach, from which the ghost is supposed to have taken the name of Obrick's Colt. An old woman in the village declared that "Obitch used to say that he saw the colt as natural as any Christian, and he used to get up against the stile for him to get up on top of his back, and at last the colt grew so bold that folks saw him in the daytime." Holbeach, if that was his real name, never again knew peace of mind on this earth.

On the 21st of January, 1879, a labourer had taken some luggage from one Shropshire village to another, and on the return journey, his horse being tired, he reached a canal bridge some way from home about ten o'clock at night. To his horror a huge black creature with gleaming white eyes jumped out of the hedge and settled on the horse's back. He beat at the phantom with his whip, which, to his astonishment, instead of meeting with resistance went through the apparition. The terrified horse broke into a canter and tore home with the strange creature clinging to his back.

The adventure was much discussed in the neighbouring villages, and some days later the labourer's master was called upon by a policeman who had somehow got knowledge of an account that he had been robbed when crossing the canal bridge in question late one evening. The policeman was told there had been no robbery, and a version of the tale as it had happened was given him.

"Was that all?" he cried in disappointed tones. "I know what that was.

It was the man-monkey, sir, as _does_ come at that bridge ever since a man was drowned in the canal at that spot."[160]

The following story was told to Berenger-Feraud[161] and happened at a country house on the plateau of the Garde near to Toulon. One evening a woman was sitting by the side of her father who had been lying dangerously ill in bed for some days with a disease which the doctors could not identify. The neighbours came in to offer their services, to keep watch over the sick man so that his daughter, who had spent several nights without any sleep, could go and lie down to rest. She thanked them but refused to do so.

Nevertheless they insisted on remaining, and as it was cold she invited them to sit round the fire in the kitchen to warm themselves.

As her father seemed to be asleep for a little while she went into the kitchen to speak to her visitors.

Of a sudden they heard the sick man give a terrible cry of pain and fright. They all hurried into his room to see what was the matter, and there, just above the old man's bed, was a huge stinging-fly which hovered round and round him, buzzing in a horrible manner.

They tried to catch the dangerous insect, but this was not an easy matter, for it buzzed so loudly that it positively menaced those who came near it. From time to time it hurled itself at the limbs of the sick man, and every time it touched him he gave vent to a shriek of pain. Those who were near him could see large black blisters rising at the spots where the stinging-fly attacked him.

At last one of the men who had more courage than the others beat down the gigantic insect with his hat. They picked up its body with a pair of tongs and threw it out of the house, shutting the door tightly so that it could not return to its attack.

The deed accomplished, they looked at one another terrified at what had taken place, and to their horror they could plainly hear the buzz of the insect outside. The noise was so loud that the windows positively rattled. Then a howl arose outside, a cry so strange that no one present had ever heard the like, and after that all was silent.

They went back to the bedside of the sick man, who had suffered severely, and who told them that he had been suddenly awakened by this horrible stinging-fly, which had hummed in his ears and struck at his body, in such a terrifying manner that he felt sure it must be an evil spirit.

Now that the insect had been captured and put out of the house he felt better, but none of the visitors dared to leave the cottage, feeling sure that a sorcerer was mixed up in the affair. They passed the night sitting round the fire, carefully avoiding all mention of the matter, as they were afraid that the noise of buzzing and humming would begin afresh.

The next morning at sunrise, they decided to open the door, and then they saw the huge insect lying on the ground just outside. But the mysterious part of it was that those who were courageous enough to look at it closely, stated that it was not the real insect that was lying there but merely its outer shell or covering, just like the skin sloughed by a grasshopper and left behind when it changes its shape.

This then was taken to be proof positive that the stinging-fly was not what it had pretended to be, but was a wizard in disguise, which had intended to do harm to the old invalid, and the horrible cry which had been heard when the insect had been thrown out of doors was only the howl of rage uttered by the wizard at the failure of his wicked designs.

A woman at Toulon told the following story in 1888, saying it had happened in her presence when she was a little girl. Her father, whose name was Isidore, was an omnibus driver and for many years had lived with his own sister in peace and friendliness. One day, however, they fell into an argument and had such a violent quarrel that they decided that they could no longer live together. Isidore, however, felt grieved to think that matters had come to such a pass between himself and the sister he had always loved, and he told a friend about the affair. The friend answered, "You have quarrelled with your sister, because one of your neighbours, who is a sorcerer, has cast a spell over you. To end the enchantment you must give your horses a jolly good hiding to-morrow morning, and then you will see the result. The person who has bewitched you will be taken ill and will bear about his or her body the traces of the blows you give to your horses." Next day Isidore whipped up his horses, as he had been told to do, and he went on slashing them all day long. In the evening he went to bed feeling as though he had done a praiseworthy deed. The next day his sister came to see him and spoke to him quite affectionately, and they decided to bury the hatchet just as though no quarrel had taken place.

Then Isidore, to his surprise, heard that a neighbour, of whom he had been very fond until then, and whom he had not in the least suspected of witchcraft, had been taken ill. He hastened to visit her, and found she was in bed, and that she showed traces of having been beaten. As soon as he entered the room to condole with her she said to him bitterly, "Why on earth did you strike your horses so violently? What harm had the poor beasts done to you?"

This was taken as proof that the neighbour was a witch, and that the weals on her body were the stigmata of the blows which Isidore had given his horses, and he was convinced that this woman had tried to separate him from his sister through sheer jealousy.

The well-known ghost of Tedworth, Wiltshire, called the "Drummer of Tedworth," sometimes took the form of an animal, or at least was heard making animal sounds. The following description is taken from Joseph Glanvill's "Sadducismus Triumphatus."

On one occasion the village blacksmith stayed in the house sleeping with the footman, hoping he might hear the supernatural noises and be cured of his incredulity when "there came a noise in the room as if one had been shoeing a horse, and somewhat came, as it were, with a pair of pincers," snipping away at the sceptical smith. Next day the ghost came panting like a dog out of breath, and a woman who was present, taking up a stick to strike at it, the weapon "was caught suddenly out of her hand and thrown away: and company coming up, the room was presently filled with a bloody noisome smell," and was very hot, though there was no fire, and the winter was severe. "It continued scratching for an hour and a half and then went into the next room, when it knocked a little and seemed to rattle a chain."

Sometimes the phantom purred like a cat and it was described by a servant as "a great body with two red and glaring eyes."

The Rev. Joseph Glanvill himself went to the haunted house in January, 1662, and was convinced that the noises were made by a demon or spirit. He heard a strange scratching, as he went upstairs, which appeared to come from behind the bolster of the children's bed. It was loud scratching, and when he thrust his hand behind the bolster at the point from which the noise seemed to come it ceased but began in another place. When he removed his hand, however, it began again in the same place as before. "I had been told that it would imitate noises," says Glanvill, "and made trial by scratching several times upon the sheet, as five, and seven and ten, which it followed, and still stopped at my number. I searched under and behind the bed, turned up the clothes to the bed cords, grasped the bolster, sounded the wall behind, and made all the search I possibly could." But all his endeavours were fruitless; he could discover nothing. There was neither cat nor dog in the room. After scratching for more than half an hour, the phantom went into the midst of the bed, under the children, "and then seemed to pant very loudly, like a dog out of breath. I put my hand upon the place and felt the bed bearing up against it, as if something within had thrust it up." The motion it caused by this panting was so strong that it shook the walls and made the windows rattle; yet this strange animal ghost was never explained.

At Epworth parsonage, Lincolnshire, when the Rev. Samuel Wesley, father of John Wesley, was rector, there is a well-known story of the haunting of the parsonage. Robert Brown the servant heard, among other phenomena, "as it were the gobbling of a turkey-cock close to the bedside."

The dog, a large mastiff, showed enormous fear of the strange incidents and apparitions. "When the disturbances continued he used to bark and leap and snap on one side and the other, and that frequently before any person in the room heard any noise at all. But after two or three days he used to tremble and creep away before the noise began.

And by that the family knew it was at hand."

Ewshott House, in Crondall, Hampshire, was haunted by a ghost that made a noise exactly as though a flock of sheep from the paddock had rushed by the windows on the gravel drive. In the morning, however, there were no signs of sheep having passed that way.

Willington Mill was haunted by several spectres in the shape of animals. The mill stood on a tidal stream which ran into the Tyne near to Wallsend. The account of strange happenings there was published by the "Newcastle Weekly Leader" many years ago. One of the servants once saw a lady in a lavender-coloured dress pass the kitchen door, go upstairs, and vanish into one of the bedrooms, but little notice was taken of this apparition; indeed it was almost forgotten when something else happened which drew attention to it. A certain Thomas Davidson was courting this servant and was waiting for her to come out of the mill and join him in a moonlight ramble, when, looking towards the building, he distinctly saw a whitish cat run out and presently it came close to his feet.

Thinking the strange puss was very forward, he gave her a kick, but encountered no solid matter and puss continued her walk, disappearing from his sight a moment later. Returning to the window, and looking in the same direction, Davidson again saw the animal. This time it came hopping like a rabbit, coming quite as close to his feet as before. He determined to have a good rap at it, and took deliberate aim: but, as before, his foot went through it and he felt nothing. Again he followed it, and it disappeared at the same spot as its predecessor. The third time he went to the window and in a few moments it made another appearance, not like a cat or rabbit now but as large as a sheep and brightly luminous. On it came and Davidson stood rooted to the spot as though paralysed, but the animal moved on and vanished as before.

Mr. Proctor, who lived at the mill, on hearing Davidson's account, said that he had seen the animal on various occasions.

After this experience ghosts were frequently seen and heard of at the mill. The noises were dreadful, sometimes sounding like a galloping donkey, at others like falling fire-irons. Doors creaked and sticks crackled as though burning, and the rapping became almost incessant.

Sometimes the lavender-gowned lady appeared, and at another time several of the inmates of the mill saw a bald-headed old man in a flowing robe like a surplice. Spectral animals always formed an important feature of the haunting.

In November, 1841, a gentleman paid a visit to the place and was confronted by the figure of an animal about two feet high, which appeared in a window. After careful search nothing was found, though the animal was seen in the window by others from the grounds for half an hour, after which it slowly faded away. A two-year-old child saw a ghost kitten, while Davidson's aunt thought the spectre looked like a white pocket handkerchief, knotted at four corners, which danced up and down, leaping as high as the first floor window. This lady was one day standing by the kitchen table when she was startled by the bark of a dog, and two paws were laid heavily on her shoulders, so that she had to lean against the table for support. No dog, however, was found in the house. On several occasions the children, though nothing had been said to them about ghosts, found amusement in chasing up and down the stairs some animal they described either as a "funny cat or a bonny monkey."

In 1853, an attempt was made to discover the secret of the mystery of the mill by a clairvoyante, who in her trance distinctly saw, the "lady like a shadow, with eyes but no sight in them," as she described her, as well as a number of animals. When questioned about these, she answered, "One is like a monkey and another like a dog. Had the lady dogs and monkeys? They all go about the house. What is that other one?

It is not a pussy, it runs very fast and gets amongst feet. It is a rabbit but a very quick one." When asked whether the animals were real, the medium replied in her quaint way, "We don't touch them to see, we would not like a bite."

Beyond this there appears to have been no solution as to the mystery of the haunted mill, although the medium declared that the trouble "came from the cellar."[162]

A writer in "Notes and Queries,"[163] H. Wedgewood by name, visited Mr. Proctor in 1873-4 to ask him the truth about the Willington Mill ghost, and he told her that he had seen a tabby cat in the furnace room. There was nothing unusual in the animal's appearance, and it would not have caught his attention particularly had it not begun to move. But then instead of walking like an ordinary cat it wriggled along like a snake. He went close to it and followed it across the room, holding his hand about a foot above it, until it passed straight into the solid wall.

The well-known Cornish tradition says that if a young woman dies neglected after being betrayed by her lover, she haunts him after her death in the form of a white hare. The false lover is continuously pursued by the phantom. At times it may rescue him from danger, but in the end it is the cause of his death.

The following story of a phantom hare pursuing a false lover to his death is told by Robert Hunt in "Popular Romances of the West of England."[164]

A young farmer settled at a fine new farmhouse and a peasant's daughter was placed there in charge of the dairy. The young farmer fell deeply in love with her and she with him, and he betrayed her under a promise of marriage, but his family refused to agree to the alliance taking place, and provided a bride for him suitable to his station. The dairymaid was sent away ignominiously when it was known she was about to become a mother. One morning the corpse of a newly-born infant was found in the farmer's field and the dairymaid was accused of strangling her child, and was finally convicted of murder and executed.

But ever after that day ill-fortune pursued the young farmer who had behaved in such a cowardly way, and though he removed to another part of the country, none of his projects prospered. Gradually he took to drink to drown his secret sorrows. He generally went out at dusk and it was noticed that a white hare constantly crossed his path. The animal was seen by many of the villagers to dart under the hoofs of his horse, and the terrified steed rushed madly forward whenever this phantom appeared.

A day came when the young farmer was found drowned in a pool at the bottom of a forsaken mine, and the frightened horse was still grazing near the mouth of the pit into which his master had fallen.

The woman he had betrayed and left to die a shameful death, having assumed the shape of a white hare, had haunted the perjured and false-hearted farmer to his death.

It is said that fatal accidents in mines are often foreshadowed by the appearance of a white hare or rabbit. At Wheal Vor, writes Mr. Hunt, in "Popular Romances of the West of England," it has always been and is now believed that a white rabbit appears in one of the engine houses when an accident may be looked for in the mine. The men say that they have chased the phantom animals without being able to catch them, and on one occasion the rabbit ran into a "windbore" which lay on the ground and escaped. Similarly in a French mine one of the miners saw a white object run into an iron pipe and hide there. He hastened forward and stopped up both ends of the tube, calling to a companion to examine the pipe. But the animal ghost had disappeared and nothing remained to explain what had taken place.

The devil appeared in the form of a hare at the hanging of two men on Warminster Down in 1813, it was said. At Longbridge the devil appeared in the form of a dog one Palm Sunday, according to the account of a labourer, who when questioned as to how this was proved, exclaimed, "_Sum'at_ was there anyhow, and we all fled!"

A farmer in South Wilts who died about 1860, threatened to revisit his farm on a lonely moor and run about in the shape of a rat. The story does not say what he expected to gain by choosing this particular animal for transformation purposes.

Superstition gives to white birds a particular power of conveying omens.

A small white bird plays a part in warning an old harper in Wales of the destruction of a prince's palace, whither the bard had been invited to perform at festivities held on the occasion of the birth of an heir.

Tradition relates that Bala Lake was formed as a means of submerging a palace where lived a cruel and wicked prince, who practised oppression and injustice upon poor farmers of the district. The tyrant often heard a ghostly voice urging him to desist from his evil ways and saying, "Vengeance will come," but he treated the warning with contempt.

On the occasion of his son's birth, there was great rejoicing at the palace, and the poor harper was called in to play to the guests. Mirth, wine, feasting, and dancing continued till a late hour, and during the interval in which the harper was allowed to rest, he retired into a quiet corner, where, to his astonishment, he heard a whisper in his ear, "Vengeance, vengeance!" Turning to discover whence the sound came, he observed a tiny white bird hovering about him, urging him, as it were, to follow. He fell in with the creature's wishes without stopping to fetch his harp, and the bird led him beyond the palace walls, still singing in a plaintive note the word "Vengeance, vengeance!" Over marshland, through thickets, across streams and up ravines this strange pair wandered, the bird seemingly choosing the safest path for her companion, and growing ever more insistent in her cries of "Vengeance, vengeance!" At last they came to the summit of a hill some distance from the palace. Utterly weary the harper ventured to stop and rest, and the bird's voice was heard no more, but as he listened he could distinguish the loud murmur of a brook.

Suddenly he awoke to the fact that he had allowed himself to be led away foolishly, and he attempted to retrace his steps. In the dark, however, he missed his way and was forced to await daylight. Then to his surprise he turned his eyes upon the valley in which the palace had stood and discovered that it was no longer to be seen, for the waters had flooded the face of the land, and on the placid lake that lay in the valley his harp was floating.

Another story of birds that foreshadowed a calamity is told about Yorkshire. A writer in "Notes and Queries"[165] passed through the district of Kettering on September 6, and noticed an immense flock of birds which flew round and round, uttering dismal cries. He spoke of the matter to his servant, who told him the birds were called the "Seven Whistlers," and that whenever they were heard a great calamity might be expected. The last time he had heard them was the night before the great Hartley Colliery explosion. Curiously enough the writer, on taking up the newspaper the following morning, saw an announcement of a terrible colliery explosion at Wigan.

On the Bosphorus the boatmen say, with reference to certain flocks of birds which fly ceaselessly up and down the channel, never resting on land or water, that they are the souls of the damned, doomed to perpetual motion.

Chapter end

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