Wednesday, September 13, 2017
The Phantom Dachshund by Elliott O'Donnell 1913
The Phantom Dachshund by Elliott O'Donnell 1913
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In letter No. 1 my correspondent writes:—
"Though I am by no means over-indulgent to dogs, the latter generally greet me very effusively, and it would seem that there is something in my individuality that is peculiarly attractive to them. This being so, I was not greatly surprised one day, when in the immediate neighbourhood of X——Street, to find myself persistently followed by a rough-haired dachshund wearing a gaudy yellow collar. I tried to scare it away by shaking my sunshade at it, but all to no purpose—it came resolutely on; and I was beginning to despair of getting rid of it, when I came to X—— Street, where my husband once practised as an oculist. There it suddenly altered its tactics, and instead of keeping at my heels, became my conductor, forging slowly ahead with a gliding motion that both puzzled and fascinated me. I furthermore observed that notwithstanding the temperature—it was not a whit less than ninety degrees in the shade—the legs and stomach of the dachshund were covered with mud and dripping with water. When it came to No. 90 it halted, and veering swiftly round, eyed me in the strangest manner, just as if it had some secret it was bursting to disclose. It remained in this attitude until I was within two or three feet of it—certainly not more—when, to my unlimited amazement, it absolutely vanished—melted away into thin air.
"The iron gate leading to the area was closed, so that there was nowhere for it to have hidden, and, besides, I was almost bending over it at the time, as I wanted to read the name on its collar. There being no one near at hand, I could not obtain a second opinion, and so came away wondering whether what I had seen was actually a phantasm or a mere hallucination. No. 90, I might add, judging by the brass plate on the door, was inhabited by a doctor with an unpronounceable foreign name," etc. etc.
I think one cannot help attaching a great deal of importance to what this lady says, as her language is strictly moderate throughout, and because she does not seem to have been biassed by any special views on the subject of animal futurity.
Correspondent No. 2 (who, by the way, is a total stranger to the writer whose letter I have just quoted) is candidly devoted to dogs, regarding them as in every way on a par with, if not actually superior to, most human beings. Still, notwithstanding this partiality, and consequent profusion of terms of endearment, which will doubtless prove somewhat nauseating to many, her letter is, in my opinion, valuable, because it not only refers to the phenomenon I have mentioned, but to a certain extent furnishes a reason for its occurrence. The lady writes as follows:—
"I once had a rough-haired dachshund, Robert, whom I loved devotedly. We were living at the time near H—— Street, which always had a peculiar attraction for dear Robert, who, I am now obliged to confess, had rather too much liberty—more, indeed, than eventually proved good for him. The servants complained that Robert ruled the house, and I believe what they said was true, for my sister and I idolized him, giving him the very best of everything and never having the heart to refuse him anything he wanted. You will probably scarcely credit it, but I have sat up all night nursing him when he had a cold and was otherwise indisposed. Can you therefore imagine my feelings when my darling was absent one day from dinner? Such a thing had never happened before, for, fond of morning 'constitutionals' as poor Robert was, he was always the soul of punctuality at meal times.
"Neither my sister nor I would hear of eating anything. Whilst he was missing, not a morsel did we touch, but slipping on our hats, and bidding the servants do the same, we scoured the neighbourhood instead. The afternoon passed without any sign of Robert, and when bedtime came (he always slept in our room) and still no signs of our pet, I thought we should both have gone mad. Of course, we advertised, selecting the most popular and, accordingly, the most likely papers, and we resorted to other mediums, too, but, alas! it was hopeless. Our darling little Robert was irrevocably, irredeemably lost. For days we were utterly inconsolable, doing nothing but mope morning, noon, and night. I cannot tell you how forlorn we felt, nor how long we should have remained in that state but for an incident which, although revealing the terrible manner of his death, gave us every reason to feel sure we were not parted from him for all time, but would meet again in the great hereafter. It happened in this wise: I was walking along W—— Street one evening when, to my intense joy and surprise, I suddenly saw my darling standing on the pavement a few feet ahead of me, regarding me intently from out of his pathetic brown eyes. A sensation of extreme coldness now stole over me, and I noticed with something akin to a shock that, in spite of the hot, dry weather, Robert looked as if he had been in the rain for hours. He wore the bright yellow collar I had bought him shortly before his disappearance, so that had there been any doubt as to his identity that would have removed it instantly. On my calling to him, he turned quickly round and, with a slight gesture of the head as if bidding me to follow, he glided forward. My natural impulse was to run after him, pick him up and smother him with kisses; but try as hard as I could, I could not diminish the distance between us, although he never appeared to alter his pace. I was quite out of breath by the time we reached H—— Street, where, to my surprise, he stopped at No. 90 and, turning round again, gazed at me in the most beseeching manner. I can't describe that look; suffice it to say that no human eyes could have been more expressive, but of what beyond the most profound love and sorrow I cannot, I dare not, attempt to state. I have pondered upon it through the whole of a mid-summer night, but not even the severest of my mental efforts have enabled me to solve it to my satisfaction. Could I but do that, I feel I should have fathomed the greatest of all mysteries—the mystery of life and death.
"I do not know for how long we stood there looking at one another, it may have been minutes or hours, or, again, but a few paltry seconds. He took the initiative from me, for, as I leaped forward to raise him in my arms, he glided through the stone steps into the area.
"Convinced now that what I beheld was Robert's apparition, I determined to see the strange affair through to the bitter end, and entering the gate, I also went down into the area. The phantom had come to an abrupt halt by the side of a low wooden box, and as I foolishly made an abortive attempt to reach it with my hand, it vanished instantaneously. I searched the area thoroughly, and was assured that there was no outlet, save by the steps I had just descended, and no hole, nor nook, nor cranny where anything the size of Robert could be completely hidden from sight. What did it all mean? Ah! I knew Robert had always had a weakness for exploring areas, especially in H—— Street, and in the box where his wraith disappeared I espied a piece of raw meat!
"Now there are ways in which a piece of raw meat may lie without arousing suspicion, but the position of this morsel strangely suggested that it had been placed there carefully, and for assuredly no other purpose than to entice stray animals. Resolving to interrogate the owner of the house on the subject, I rapped at the front door, but was informed by the manservant, obviously a German, that his master never saw anyone without an appointment. I then did a very unwise thing—I explained the purpose of my visit to this man, who not only denied any knowledge of my dog, but declared the meat must have been thrown into the area by some passer-by.
"'No one in dis house trow away gut meat like dat,' he explained, 'we eat all we can git here, we have nutting for de animals. Please go away at once, or de master will be very angry. He stand no nonsense from anyone.'
"And as I had no alternative—for, after all, who would regard a ghost in the light of evidence?—I had to obey. I found out, however, from a medical friend that No. 90 was tenanted by Mr. K——, an Anglo-German who was deemed a very clever fellow at a certain London hospital, where he was often occupied in vivisection.
"'I dare say,' my friend went on to remark, 'K—— does a little vivisecting in his private surgery, by way of practice, and—well, you see, these foreign chaps are not so squeamish in some respects as we are.'
"'But can't he be stopped?' I asked. 'It is horrible, monstrous that he should be allowed to murder our pets.'
"'You don't know for certain that he has,' was the reply, 'you only suppose so from what you say you saw, and evidence of that immaterial nature is no evidence at all. No, you can do nothing except to be extra careful in future, and if you have another dog make him steer clear of No. 90 H—— Street.'
"I was sensible enough to see that he was right, and the matter dropped. I soon noticed one thing, however, namely, that there were no more pieces of meat temptingly displayed in the box, so it is just possible K—— got wind of my enquiries, and thought it policy to desist from his nefarious practices.
"Poor Robert! To think of him suffering such a cruel and ignominious death, and my being powerless to avenge it. Surely if vivisection is really necessary, and the welfare of mankind cannot be advanced by any less barbarous system, why not operate on creatures less deserving of our love and pity than dogs? On creatures which whilst being nearer allied to man in physiology and anatomy, are at the same time far below the level of brute creation in character and disposition.
"For example, why not experiment on wife-beaters and cowardly street ruffians, and, one might reasonably add, on all those pseudo-humanitarians who, by their constant petitions to Parliament for the abolition of the lash, encourage every form of blackguardism and bestiality?"
This concludes the letter of correspondent No. 2, and with the sentiment in the closing paragraphs I must say I heartily agree—only I should like to add a few more people to the list.
One other case of haunting of this type is taken from my same work.
"One All Hallow E'en," wrote a Mrs. Sebuim, "I was staying with some friends in Hampstead, and we amused ourselves by working spells, to commemorate the night. There is one spell in which one walks alone down a path sowing hempseed, and repeating some fantastic words; when one is supposed to see those that are destined to come into one's life in the near future. Eager to put this spell to the test, I went into the garden by myself and, walking boldly along a path, bordered on each side by evergreens, sprinkled hempseed lavishly.
"Nothing happening, I was about to desist, when suddenly I heard a pattering on the gravel, and turning round I beheld an ugly little black-and-tan mongrel running towards me, wagging its stumpy tail. Not at all prepossessed with the creature, for my own dogs are pure-bred, and thinking it must have strayed into the grounds, I was about to drive it out, and had put down my hand to prevent it jumping on my dress, when, to my astonishment, it had vanished. It literally melted away into fine air beneath my very eyes. Not knowing what to make of the incident, but feeling inclined to attribute it to a trick of the imagination, I rejoined my friends. I did not tell them what had happened, although I made a memorandum of it in one of my innumerable notebooks. Within six months of this incident I was greatly astonished to find a dog, corresponding with the one I have just described, running about on the lawn of my house in Bath. How the animal got there was a complete mystery, and, what is stranger still, it seemed to recognize me, for it rushed towards me, frantically wagging its diminutive tail. I had not the heart to turn it away, as it seemed quite homeless, and so the forlorn little mongrel was permitted to make its home in my house—and a very happy home it proved to be. For three years all went well, and then the end came swiftly and unexpectedly. I was in Blackheath at the time, and the mongrel was in Bath. It was All Hallow E'en, but there was no hempseed sowing, for no one in the house but myself took the slightest interest in anything appertaining to the superphysical or mystic. Eleven o'clock came, and I retired to rest; my bed being one of those antique four-posters, hung with curtains that shine crimson in the ruddy glow of a cheerful fire. All my preparations complete, I had pulled back the hangings, and was about to slip in between the sheets, when, to my unbounded amazement, what should I see sitting on the counterpane but the black-and-tan mongrel. It was he right enough, there could not be another such ugly dog, though, unlike his usual self, he evinced no demonstrations of joy. On the contrary, he appeared downright miserable. His ears hung, his mouth dropped, and his bleared little eyes were watery and sad.
"Greatly perplexed, if not alarmed, at so extraordinary a phenomenon, I nevertheless felt constrained to put out my hand to comfort him—when, as I had half anticipated, he immediately vanished. Two days later I received a letter from Bath, and in a postscript I read that 'the mongrel' (we never called it by any other name) 'had been run over and killed by a motor, the accident occurring on All Hallow E'en, about eleven o'clock.' 'Of course,' my sister wrote, 'you won't mind very much—it was so extremely ugly, and—well—we were only too glad it was none of the other dogs.' But my sister was wrong, for notwithstanding its unsightly appearance and hopeless lack of breed, I had grown to like that little black-and-tan more than any of my rare and choice pets."