WHICH TELLS HOW AND IN WHAT MANNER I SAW THE GHOST
Now, as I went, my mind was greatly exercised as to a feasible explanation of what I had just heard. That a man so old as the Ancient should “see things” I could readily believe, by reason of his years, for great age is often subject to such hallucinations, but with Simon, a man in the prime of his life, it was a different matter altogether. That he had been absolutely sincere in his story I had read in his dilating eye and the involuntary shiver that had passed over him while he spoke. Here indeed, though I scouted all idea of supernatural agency, there lay a mystery that piqued my curiosity not a little.
Ghosts!—pshaw! What being, endowed with a reasoning mind, could allow himself to think, let alone believe in such folly? Ghosts —fiddle-de-dee, Sir!
Yet here, and all at once, like an enemy from the dark, old stories leaped at and seized me by the throat: old tales of spectres grim and bloody, of goblins, and haunted houses from whose dim desolation strange sounds would come; tales long since heard, and forgot—till now.
Ghosts! Why, the road was full of them; they crowded upon my heels, they peered over my shoulders; I felt them brush my elbows, and heard them gibbering at me from the shadows.
And the sun was setting already!
Ghosts! And why not? “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”
Involuntarily I hastened my steps, but the sun had set ere I reached the Hollow. Yes, the sun had set, and the great basin below me was already brimful of shadows which, as I watched, seemed to assume shapes—vast, nebulous, and constantly changing —down there amid the purple gloom of the trees. Indeed, it looked an unholy place in the half light, a pit framed for murders, and the safe hiding of tell-tale corpses, the very haunt of horrid goblins and spectres, grim and ghastly.
So evilly did the place impress me that it needed an effort of will ere I could bring myself to descend the precipitous slope. Bats flitted to and fro across my path, now and then, emitting their sharp, needlelike note, while, from somewhere in the dimness beyond, an owl hooted.
By the time I reached the cottage, it had fallen quite dark, here in the Hollow, though the light still lingered in the world above. So I took out my tinder-box, and one of the candles, which, after several failures, I succeeded in lighting, and, stepping into the cottage, began to look about me.