This story was written by General Barter on the 28th of April, 1888, for the S. P. R. It was corroborated by Mrs. Barter and Mr. Stewart, to whom General Barter told his adventure at the time. The facts that the dead man had changed considerably since Mr. Barter saw him in life, and that the pony also had never before been seen by him, add greatly to its interest and value.
From General Barter, C.B., of Careystown, Whitegate, Co. Cork.
April 28th, 1888.
In the year 1854, I, then a subaltern in the 75th Regiment, was doing duty at the hill station of Murree in the Punjab. The sanatorium had not been long in being, and our men were in temporary huts perched on the crest of a hill some 7,000 feet above sea level, and the officers were living in tents pitched in sheltered spots on the hillside, except three or four who had been fortunate enough to rent houses, such as they were, which had been built by their predecessors. I rented a house built a year or two before by a Lieutenant B., who had died the previous year at Peshawur. [We learn from the War Office that Lieutenant B. died at Peshawur, January 2nd, 1854.] This house was built on a spur jutting out from the side of the mountain, and about 200 or 300 yards under the Mall, as the only road then made which ran around the hill was called. A bridle-path led to my house from the Mall, and this was scooped out of the hillside, the earth, &c., being shovelled over the side next my house. The bridle-path ended at a precipice, but a few yards from there a footpath led to my hut.
Shortly after I had occupied my hut an officer named D. came down one evening with his wife and stayed with us until near 11 p.m. It was a lovely night, with the moon at the full, and I walked with them to where my path joined the bridle-road, and remained standing there while they toiled up the zig-zag footpath to the Mall, from which they called down to me good-night. I had two dogs with me, and remained on the spot while I finished the cigar which I was smoking, the dogs meanwhile hunting about in the brushwood jungle which covered the hill. I had just turned to return home when I heard the ring of a horse’s hoof as the shoe struck the stones coming along the bridle-path before it takes the sharp bend [marked in a plan which General Barter encloses], and presently I could see a tall hat appear, evidently worn by the rider of the animal. The steps came nearer, and in a few seconds round the corner appeared a man mounted on a pony with two syces or grooms. At this time the two dogs came, and, crouching at my side, gave low, frightened whimpers. The moon was at the full, a tropical moon, so bright that you could see to read a newspaper by its light, and I saw the party before me advance as plainly as it were noon-day; they were above me some eight or ten feet on the bridle road, the earth thrown down from which sloped to within a pace or two of my feet. On the party came, until almost in front of me, and now I had better describe them. The rider was in full dinner dress, with white waistcoat, and wearing a tall chimney-pot hat, and he sat a powerful hill pony (dark brown, with mane and tail) in a listless sort of way, the reins hanging loosely from both hands. A syce led the pony on each side, but their faces I could not see, the one next to me having his back to me and the one farthest off being hidden by the pony’s head. Each held the bridle close by the bit, the man next me with his right and the other with his left hand and the other hands were on the thighs of the rider, as if to steady him in his seat. As they approached, I, knowing they could not get to any place other than my own, called out in Hindustani “Quon hai ?”(who is it?) There was no answer, and on they came until right in front of me, when I said, in English, “Hallo, what the d—1 do you want here?” Instantly the group came to a halt, the rider gathering the bridle reins up in both hands, turned his face, which had hitherto been looking away from me, towards me, and looked down upon me. The group was still as in a tableau, with the bright moon shining upon it, and I at once recognised the rider as Lieutenant B., whom I had formerly known. The face, however, was different from what it used to be; in the place of being clean shaven, as when I used to know it, it was now surrounded by a fringe (what used to be known as a Newgate fringe), and it was the face of a dead man, the ghastly waxen pallor of it brought out more distinctly in the moonlight by the dark fringe of hair by which it was encircled; the body, too, was much stouter than when I had known it in life.
I marked this in a moment, and then resolved to lay hold of the thing, whatever it might be. I dashed up the bank, and the earth which had been thrown on the side giving under my feet, I fell forward up the bank on my hands; recovering myself instantly, I gained the road, and stood in the exact spot where the group had been, but which was now vacant, there was not a trace of anything; it was impossible for them to go on, the road stopped at a precipice about twenty yards further on, and it was impossible to turn and go back in a second. All this flashed through my mind, and I then ran along the road for about 100 yards, along which they had come, until I had to stop for want of breath, but there was no trace of anything, and not a sound to be heard. I then returned home, where I found my dogs, who on all other occasions my most faithful companions, had not come with me along the road.
Next morning I went up to D. who belonged to the same regiment as B., and gradually induced him to talk of him. I said, “How very stout he had become lately, and what possessed him to allow his beard to grow into that horrid fringe?” D. replied, “Yes, he became very bloated before his death. You know he led a very fast life, and while on the sick list he allowed the fringe to grow in spite of all that we could say to him, and I believe he was buried with it:” I asked him where he got the pony I had seen, describing it minutely. “Why,” said D., “how do you know anything about all this? You hadn’t seen B. for two or three years, and the pony you never saw. He bought him at Peshawur, and killed him one day riding in his reckless fashion down the hill to Trete.”
I then told him what I had seen the night before.
R. Barter, Major-General, C.B.
[General Barter then relates how he and his wife repeatedly heard the sound of a man riding rapidly down the path to the house.]
Once, when the galloping sound was very distinct, I rushed to the door of my house. There I found my Hindoo bearer, standing with a tattie [rattan cane] in his hand. I asked him what he was there for. He said that there came a sound of riding down the hill, and “passed him like a typhoon,” and went round the corner of the house, and he was determined to waylay it, whatever it was. He added: “Thitan ka ghur hai,” (It is a devil’s house).
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. V., 18 March, 1889: pp. 469-473.
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The ghastly image of the dead man halting abruptly to look down at Barter is enough to give anyone a frisson of horror. But horrors were not proof enough for the Society for Psychical Research. In their usual methodical way, the SPR, printed correspondence from General Barter, General Barter’s wife, and Mr Adam Steuart (whom Barter had told of the ghost the next morning) clarifying details and offering corroborative testimony.
The SPR editor adds:
The group and the action which General Barter saw was like a scene reproduced or prolonged from the fevered fancies of the man who had now been some months in the grave… the dogs’ behaviour is noticeable. In every case which I can recall where a dog or other animal is stated to have been in a position to see or hear phantasmal sights or sounds, it has been alarmed thereby.
It has been suggested that some “ghosts” are merely a sort of “recording” on the aether; that repetition creates a ghostly pattern that can sometimes be glimpsed by mortals. Perhaps the ride of the dissipated Lieutenant in his odious fringe, so intoxicated that he had to be held in his seat by attendants, had been repeated so often that it had impressed itself on the bridle-path.
One wonders why the late Lieutenant B. was in such a hurry to return to his old home. As the leader of a “fast” life, surely a less rural, domestic setting would have been more to his liking in the Afterlife.
To be Relentlessly Informative, the “Newgate Fringe,” also called the “Newgate Frill,” was named for its resemblance to a hangman’s noose around the neck. This horror can be seen here as worn by the American writer Henry David Thoreau.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.