GHOSTLY HOUNDS! From the 1911 "BYWAYS OF GHOST LAND" by Elliot O'Donnell.
"The most popular animal form amongst spirits—the form assumed by them more often than any other—is undoubtedly the dog. I hear of the occult dog more often than of any other occult beast, and in many places there is yet a firm belief that the souls of the wicked are chained to this earth in the shape of monstrous dogs. According to Mr Dyer, in hisGhost World, a man who hanged himself at Broomfield, near Salisbury, manifested himself in the guise of a huge black dog; whilst the Lady Howard of James I.'s reign, for her many misdeeds, not the least of which was getting rid of her husbands, was, on her death, transformed into a hound and compelled to run every night, between midnight and cock-crow, from the gateway of Fitzford, her former residence, to Oakhampton Park, and bring back to the place, from whence she started, a blade of grass in her mouth; and this penance she is doomed to continue till every blade of grass is removed from the park, which feat she will not be able to effect till the end of the world. Mr Dyer also goes on to say that in the hamlet of Dean Combe, Devon, there once lived a weaver of great fame and skill, who the day after his death was seen sitting working away at the loom as usual. A parson was promptly fetched, and the following conversation took place.
"Knowles!" the parson commanded (not without, I shrewdly suspect, some fear), "come down! This is no place for thee!" "I will!" said the weaver, "as soon as I have worked out my quill." "Nay," said the vicar, "thou hast been long enough at thy work; come down at once." The spirit then descended, and, on being pelted with earth and thrown on the ground by the parson, was converted into a black hound, which apparently was its ultimate shape.
Some years ago, Mr Dyer says, there was an accident in a Cornish mine whereby several men lost their lives, and, rather than that their relatives should be shocked at the sight of their mangled remains, some bystander, with all the best intentions in the world, threw the bodies into a fire, with the result that the mine has ever since been haunted by a troop of little black dogs.
According to the Book of Days, ii. p. 433, there is a widespread belief in most parts of England in a spectral dog, "large, shaggy, and black," but not confined to any one particular species. This phantasm is believed to haunt localities that have witnessed crimes, and also to foretell catastrophes. The Lancashire people, according to Harland and Wilkinson in their Lancashire Folk-lore, call it the "stuker" and "trash": the latter name being given it on account of its heavy, slopping walk; and the former appellation from its curious screech, which is a sure indication of some approaching death or calamity. To the peasantry of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire it is known as "the shuck," an apparition that haunts churchyards and other lonely places. In the Isle of Man a similar kind of phantasm, called "the Mauthe dog," was said to walk Peel Castle; whilst many of the Welsh lanes—particularly that leading from Mowsiad to Lisworney Crossways—are, according to Wirt Sikes'British Goblins, haunted by the gwyllgi, a big black dog of the most terrifying aspect.
Cases of hauntings by packs of spectral hounds have from time to time been reported from all parts of the United Kingdom; but mostly from Northumberland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Wales, Devon, and Cornwall. In the northern districts they are designated "Gabriel's hounds"; in Devon, "the Wisk, Yesk, or Heath hounds"; in Wales, "the Cwn Annwn or Cwn y Wybr" (see Dyer's Ghost World); and in Cornwall, "the devil and his dandy dogs." My own experiences fully coincide with the traditional belief that the dog is a very common form of spirit phenomena; but I can only repeat (the same remark applying to other animal manifestations), that it is impossible to decide with any degree of certainty to what category of phantasms, in addition to the general order of occult bestialities, the dog belongs. It seems quite permissible to think that the spirits of ladies, with an absorbing mania for canine pets, should be eventually earth-bound in the form of dogs—a fate which many of the fair sex have assured me would be "absolutely divine," and far preferable to the orthodox heaven.
I cannot see why the shape of a dog should be appropriated by the less desirable denizens of the occult world. But, that it is so, there is no room to doubt, as the following illustration shows. As soon as the trial of the infamous slaughterer X—— was over, and the verdict of death generally known, a deep sigh of relief was heaved by the whole of civilisation—saving, of course, those pseudo-humanitarians who always pity murderers and women-beaters, and who, if the law was at all sensible and just, should be hanged with their bestial protégés. From all classes of men, I repeat, with the exception of those pernicious cranks, were heard the ejaculations: "Well! he's settled. What a good thing! I am glad! The world will be well rid of him!"
Then I smiled. The world well rid of him! Would it be rid of him? Not if I knew anything about occult phenomena. Indeed, the career on earth for such an epicure in murder as X—— had only just begun; in fact, it could hardly be said to begin till physical dissolution. The last drop—that six feet or so plunge between grim scaffolding—might in the case of some criminals, mere tyros at the trade, terminate for good their connection with this material plane; but not, decidedly not, in the case of this bosom comrade of vice elementals.
From both a psychological and superphysical point of view the case had interested me from the first. I had been anxious to see the man, for I felt sure, even if he did not display any of the ordinary physiognomical danger signals observable in many bestial criminals, there would nevertheless be a something about or around him, that would immediately warn as keen a student of the occult as myself of his close association with the lowest order of phantasms. I was not, however, permitted an interview, and so had to base my deductions upon the descriptions of him given me, first hand, by two experts in psychology, and upon photographs. In the latter I recognised—though not with the readiness I should have done in the photo's living prototype—the presence of the unknown brain, the grey, silent, stealthy, ever-watchful, ever-lurking occult brain. As I gazed at his picture, as in a crystal, it faded away, and I saw the material man sitting alone in his study before a glowing fire. From out of him there crept a shadow, the shadow of something big, bloated, and crawling. I could distinguish nothing further. On reaching the door it paused, and I felt it was eyeing him—or rather his material body—anxiously. Perhaps it feared lest some other shadow, equally baleful, equally sly and subtle, would usurp its home. Its hesitation was, however, but momentary, and, passing through the door, it glided across the dimly lighted hall and out into the freedom of the open air. Picture succeeding picture with great rapidity, I followed it as it curled and fawned over the tombstones in more than one churchyard; moved with a peculiar waddling motion through foul alleys, halting wherever the garbage lay thickest, rubbed itself caressingly on the gory floors of slaughter-houses, and finally entered a dark, empty house in a road that, if not the Euston Road, was a road in every way resembling it.
The atmosphere of the place was so suggestive of murder that my soul sickened within me; and so much so, in fact, that when I saw several grisly forms gliding down the gloomy staircases and along the sombre, narrow passages, where X——'s immaterial personality was halting, apparently to greet it, I could look no longer, but shut my eyes. For some seconds I kept them closed, and, on re-opening them, found the tableau had changed—the material body before the fire was re-animated, and in the depths of the bleared, protruding eyes I saw the creeping, crawling, waddling, enigmatical shadow vibrating with murder. Again the scene changed, and I saw the physical man standing in the middle of a bedroom, listening—listening with blanched face and slightly open mouth, a steely glimmer of the superphysical, of the malignant, devilish superphysical, in his dilated pupils. What he is anticipating I cannot say, I dare not think—unless—unless the repetition of a scream; and it comes—I cannot hear it, but I can feel it, feel the reverberation through the crime-kissed walls and vicious, tainted atmosphere.
Something is at the door—it presses against it; I can catch a glimpse of its head, its face; my blood freezes—it is horrible. It enters the room, grey and silent—it lays one hand on the man's sleeve and drags him forward. He ascends to the room above, and, with all the brutality of those accustomed to the dead and dying, drags the—— But I will not go on. The grey unknown, the occult something, sternly issues its directions, and the merely physical obeys them. It is all over; the plot of the vice elementals has triumphed, and as they gleefully step away, one by one, patting their material comrade on the shoulder, the darkness, the hellish darkness of that infamous night lightens, and in through the windows steal the cold grey beams of early morning. I am assured; I have had enough; I pitch the photograph into the grate. The evening comes—the evening after the execution. A feeling of the greatest, the most unenviable curiosity urges me to go, to see if what I surmise, will actually happen. I leave Gipsy Hill by an early afternoon train, I spend a few hours at a literary club, I dine at a quiet—an eminently quiet—restaurant in Oxford Street, and at eleven o'clock I am standing near a spot which I believe—I have no positive proof—I merely believe, was frequented by X——. It is more than twelve hours since he was executed; will anything—will the shape, the personality, I anticipate—come? The night air grows colder; I shrink deeper and deeper into the folds of my overcoat, and wish—devoutly wish—myself back again by my fireside.
The minutes glide by slowly. The streets are very silent now. With the exception of an occasional toot-toot from a taxi and the shrill whistle of a goods train, no other sounds are to be heard. It is the hour when nearly all material London sleeps and the streets are monopolised by shadows, interspersed with something rather more substantial—namely, policemen. A few yards away from me there slips by a man in a blue serge suit; and then, tip-toeing surreptitiously behind him, with one hand in his trousers-pocket and the other carrying a suspicious-looking black bag, comes a white-faced young man, dressed in shabby imitation of a West End swell; an ill-fitting frock-coat, which, even in the uncertain flicker of the gas-lamps, pronounces itself to be ready made, and the typical shopwalker's silk hat worn slightly on one side. Whether this night bird goes through life on tiptoe, as many people do, or whether he only adopts that fashion on this particular occasion, is a conundrum, not without interest to students of character to whom a man's walk denotes much.
For a long time the street is deserted, and then a bedraggled figure in a shawl, with a big paper parcel under her arm, shuffles noiselessly by and disappears down an adjacent turning. Then there is another long interval, interrupted by a pretentious clock sonorously sounding two. A feeling of drowsiness creeps over me; my eyelids droop. I begin to lose cognisance of my surroundings and to imagine myself in some far-away place, when I am recalled sharply to myself by an intensely cold current of air. Intuitively I recognise the superphysical; it is the same species of cold which invariably heralds its approach. I have been right in my surmises after all; this spot is destined to be haunted. My eyes are wide enough open now, and every nerve in my body tingles with the keenest expectation. Something is coming, and, if that something is not the phantasm of him whom I believe is earthbound, whose phantasm is it? There is a slight noise of scratching from somewhere close beside me. It might have been the wind rustling the leaves against the masonry, or it might have been—I look round and see nothing. The sound is repeated and with the same result—Nothing! A third time I heard it, and then from the dark road on one side of me there waddles—I recognise the waddling at once—a shadow that, gradually becoming a little more distinct, develops into the rather blurry form of a dog—a gaunt, hungry-looking mongrel. In a few seconds it stops short and looks at me with big swollen eyes that glitter with a something that is not actually bestial or savage, something strange yet not altogether strange, something enigmatic yet not entirely enigmatic. I am nonplussed; it was, and yet it was not, what I expected. With restless, ambling steps it slinks past me, disappearing through the closed gate by my side. Then satisfied, yet vaguely puzzled, I come away, wondering, wondering—wondering why on earth dogs should thus be desecrated."