Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Or Persons Unknown"

"Or Persons Unknown"
from They Return at Evening
by H.R. Wakefield

They Return at Evening is a collection of ghost stories by H.R. Wakefield.  It's his first such collection, published in 1928.  I'll be posting reactions to stories individually.


A butler tells a tale of the ghostly terror he witnessed at his last place of employment, where his master was haunted by the spirit of a gypsy-poacher's dog.

My Reaction:
...It was ok.  I didn't feel very sympathetic toward the hauntee, though... (Not to say that I liked "Black Jack", either.) I just didn't feel much of a response to this story, period, except for at one point-- to be detailed below.

--  "He spent some time in America, Millin.  The United States have much to be said for them, but they're not good for British butlers.  Have you been abroad?"  Ha!  I guess visiting the U.S. gave the old butler "ideas" and weakened his allegiance to the old ways, feudalism, etc.

--  The dog is described as "a big mongrel, a mixture of collie and lurcher".  Apparently a "lurcher" is a type of dog, but not one I remember hearing about before.  It sounds kind of scary... Lurcher...

--  This was the most disturbing part of the story, in my opinion:
The hauntee (whose name I cannot remember) has just hit the dog with his car.  Purposely hit it after failing to hit the dog's owner.  Black Jack picks up the dead animal and holds him by the back of his neck.  ("'Its face was all bloody and dusty and smashed up.'")  The two men exchange threats-- and this happens:
"'Then suddenly his face went hard and fierce and there were tears in his eyes.  He shoved the dog's muzzle right into the Guv'nor's face and gave a funny little sharp whistle which seemed to scream in one's head, and he muttered something in some foreign language, gipsy, I guess, and I got the idea that the dog was listening as if it was alive again..."

--  When the butler finds his master dead, he notices something strange about his eyes:  "'There was something sort of photographed in them. ...  It might have been the head of a dog smashed up and bleeding.'"   ...That's something I have heard of before.  In the past (or maybe even still), some people believed that the eyes of the dead captured and revealed (temporarily?) the last image the person saw before dying.  In the case of the murdered, this might leave a clue to the identity of the murderer. It's a creepy thought.

--  At the very end, there's a reference to "an account of a very, very similar happening in the year 1795 in this country, not ten miles away", which is supposedly called "A True Account of the Curious Events connected with the death of Mr Arthur Pitts".  A quick Internet search reveals nothing about it, so I'm not sure whether or not it exists...