The Mysterious Hunter

A strange tale of a mysterious hunter is given in the Letters of Lord Lyttelton, the truth of which, it is said, was attested by gentlemen whose veracity was beyond question.

We give an abridged version of the tale:

In the early part of ————’s life he attended a hunting club at their sports, when a stranger of genteel appearance, and well mounted, joined the chase, and was observed to ride with a degree of courage and address that called forth the utmost astonishment of every one present. The beast he rode was of amazing power; nothing stopped them; the hounds could never escape them; and the huntsman, who was left far behind, swore that the man and his horse were devils from hell. When the sport was over, the company invited this extraordinary person to dinner: he accepted the invitation, and astonished the company as much by the powers of his conversation, and by his elegance of manners, as by his equestrian prowess. He was an orator, a poet, a painter, a musician, a lawyer, and a divine; in short, he was everything, and the magic of his discourse kept the drowsy sportsman awake long after his usual hour. At length, however, wearied nature could be charmed no more, and the company began to steal away by degrees to their repose. On his observing the society diminish, he discovered manifest signs of uneasiness; he therefore gave new force to his spirits, and new charms to his conversation, in order to detain the remaining few some time longer. This had some little effect; but the period could not be long delayed when he was to be conducted to his chamber. The remains of the company retired also; but they had scarce closed their eyes, when the house was alarmed by the most terrible shrieks that were ever heard; several persons were awakened by the noise; but, its continuance being short, they concluded it to proceed from a dog which might be accidentally confined in some part of the house; they very soon, therefore, composed themselves to sleep, but were again soon awakened by shrieks and cries of still greater terror than the former. Alarmed at what they heard, several of them rang their bells, and when the servants came, they declared that the horrid sounds proceeded from the stranger’s chamber. Some of the gentlemen immediately arose to inquire into this extraordinary disturbance; and while they were dressing themselves for that purpose, deeper groans of despair, and shriller shrieks of agony, again astonished and terrified them. After knocking some time at the stranger’s chamber door, he answered them as one awakened from sleep, declared he had heard no noise, and, rather in an angry tone, desired he might not be again disturbed. Upon this, they returned to their chambers, and had scarce began to communicate their sentiments to each other, when their conversation was interrupted by a renewal of yells, screams, and shrieks, which, from the horror of them, seemed to issue from the throats of damned and tortured spirits. The gentlemen listened attentively, and traced the sounds to the stranger’s room, the door of which they instantly burst open, and found him upon his knees in bed, in the act of scourging himself with the most unrelenting severity, his body streaming with blood. On their seizing his hands to stop the strokes, he begged them, in the most ringing tone of voice, as an act of mercy, that they would retire, assuring them that the cause of their disturbance was over, and that in the morning he would acquaint them with the reasons of the terrible cries they had heard, and the melancholy sight they saw. After a repetition of his entreaties, they retired; and in the morning two of them went to his chamber, but he was not there, and, on examining the bed, they found it to be one gore of blood. Upon further inquiry, the groom said that, as soon as it was light, the gentleman came to the stable, booted and spurred, and desired his horse might be immediately saddled, and appeared to be extremely impatient till it was done, when he vaulted into his saddle, and rode out of the yard at full speed. Servants were immediately sent into every part of the surrounding country, but not a single trace of him could be found; such a person had not been seen by any one, nor has he since been heard of.

Tales are related in the Scotch Highlands of witches being mortally worried by dogs while they (the witches) appeared in the likeness of a hare. They are so similar in all essential particulars, that one is inclined to think that they are different versions of the same story. Here, at all events, is one version:—A hunter, one early morning, observed an old woman prowling about a glen in a suspicious manner. Wishing to know what she was about, he watched her movements, and succeeded in getting so near her that he was able to recognise her features. She was a near neighbour of his own, held in good repute by all in the district. Observing him approaching, the old woman walked away quickly, to avoid him recognising her; but, as the hunter was likely to overtake her, she transformed herself into the likeness of a hare, and darted away at great speed. The hunter’s dog gave chase, and, after a long run, seized her. At that instant a shriek arose that made the hills echo and re-echo. Hurrying forward to call off his dogs, the hunter came within a few paces of the spot where the struggle was going on, when a raven rose from the ground and flew away, croaking angrily. A pool of blood marked the place, and his two dogs lay dead. On returning home, he learned that the old woman whom he had seen transformed into a hare lay dangerously ill in her house. At night she died. The same night another neighbour of the woman was returning home, whistling to keep up his courage, for he had to pass the old parish church and burying-ground, and walk through a wood, the favourite resort of witches and evil spirits. As the deep shadows of the forest were beginning to conceal the moon from view, he was startled by the appearance of a woman running in the direction of the church. She asked if she could reach it by twelve o’clock. He answered that he thought she could if she ran fast. His impression was that the voice, face, and figure were those of the woman the hunter had surprised in the morning. A little farther on he met two hounds coursing along at great speed. In a few minutes he met a black man riding on a black horse. The horseman inquired whether the traveller had seen a woman, and two dogs pursuing her. On replying in the affirmative, the horseman asked a second question, whether he thought the dogs would overtake her before she went the length of the old church? With a faltering voice he said it was likely they would. The frightened traveller, more dead than alive, observed that the black man had eyes like balls of fire, and that his horse breathed smoke and flame. As swift as his feet could carry him, the pedestrian hastened homeward, trusting that the terrors of the night were past, yet fearing and trembling exceedingly. Having to pass the old woman’s house, and seeing a light, he went in, and then learned that she was dead. He had no doubt that the human-like figure he saw running on foot towards the church was the spirit of the departed witch, and that the pursuers were demons. After condoling with the bereaved relations, he took his departure from an abode cursed with the presence of a witch’s remains. Scarcely had he crossed the threshold before he observed the black horseman riding swiftly towards the house, with the woman lying across the saddle-bow, and the two dogs following close behind. In an instant, man, woman, horse, and dogs sank into the ground.


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