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The Hypochondriac Gentleman And The Jack-ass






A sober gentleman of very great respectability, who was low-spirited and
hypochondriac to a degree, was at times so fanciful, that almost every
rustling noise he heard was taken for an apparition or hobgoblin.

It happened that he was abroad at a friend's house later than ordinary
one night; but, it being moon-light, and having a servant with him, he
seemed to be easy, and was observed to be cheerful, and even merry, with
a great deal more of good-humour than had been observed in him for some
time before.

He knew his way perfectly well, for it was within three miles of the
town where he lived, and he was very well mounted: but, though the moon
was up, an accident, which a little disordered him, was, that a very
thick black cloud appeared to him to come suddenly over his head, which
made it very dark; and, to add to his discomfort, it began to rain
violently.

Upon this he resolved to ride for it, having not above two miles to the
town; so, clapping spurs to his horse, he galloped away. His man (whose
name was Jervais), not being so well mounted, was a considerable way
behind. The darkness of the night, and the rain together, put him a
little out of humour, and made him ride rather harder than his usual
pace.

In his way home, there was a small river for him to pass; but there was
a good bridge over it, well walled on both sides, so that there was no
more danger than in any other place. The gentleman kept on at a good
pace, and was rather more than half over the bridge, when his horse
stopped all on a sudden, and would not go on. He saw nothing at first,
and was therefore not much discomposed at it, but spurred his horse to
go forward. The horse then went two or three steps; then stopped again,
snorted, and started; then attempted to turn short back. The gentleman,
in endeavouring to see what frightened the horse, saw two broad staring
eyes looking him full in the face.

He was now most heartily frightened; but, by this time, he heard his man
Jervais coming up. When he came near, the first thing he heard his
master say, was, "Bless me, it is the devil!" at which exclamation the
man was almost as much frightened as his master. However, the gentleman,
a little encouraged to hear his man so near him, pressed his horse once
more to go forward, and called aloud to his servant to follow; but
Jervais, being much frightened, made no haste. At length, with great
difficulty, he got over the bridge, and passed by the creature with the
broad staring eyes, which he positively affirmed was the devil.

Though Jervais was near enough, yet fearing his master would order him
to go before, he kept as far off as he possibly could. When his master
called, he answered, but proceeded very slowly, till he observed his
master had gone past; when, being obliged to follow, he went on very
softly till he came to the bridge, where he plainly saw what it was his
master's horse snorted at, which the reader will be made acquainted with
presently.

The gentleman, having now past the difficulty, galloped home as fast as
possible, and got into the house long before Jervais could get up with
him. As soon as he alighted, he swooned away, such an effect the fright
had on him; and with much difficulty they brought him to himself. When
he recovered, he told the family a formal story, that at such a bridge
he met with the devil, who was standing at the left-hand corner of the
wall, and stared him full in the face; and he so fully expatiated on
this subject, that all believed, at least, he had met with an
apparition.

Jervais soon after came home, and went directly to the stable to take
care of the horses; where he told his story in the following manner to
his fellow-servants: "Finding," says he, "that my master was in danger
of being thrown over the bridge, I fearlessly rode near him; when, to my
very great surprise, I found that my master's horse (which was young and
skittish) was frightened at an ass, which stood grazing near the corner
of the wall." "Are you sure it was an ass, Jervais?" asked the servants,
staring one at another, half frightened themselves. "Are you quite sure
of it?" "Yes," replied the man; "for, as soon as my master had got by, I
rode up to it; and, on discovering the cause of our fear, I thrashed it
with my stick, on which it fell a braying; and I rode home after my
master." "Why, Jervais," said the servants, "your master believes it was
the devil." "I am sorry," said the man, "my master should have been so
much deceived; but, really, it was nothing more nor less than an ass."

The story now got vent; and the first part of it flew all over the town,
that Mr. ---- (mentioning his name) had seen the devil, and was almost
frightened to death.

Shortly after, the man's tale was circulated, that Mr. ----'s strange
and wonderful apparition of the devil was nothing more than an ass;
which raised the laugh sufficiently against the master.

However, poor Jervais lost his place for gossiping; and his master
insists upon it to this day, that it was the devil, and that he knew him
by his broad eyes and cloven feet. Such is the power of imagination over
the weak and credulous!





Next: The Castle Apparition

Previous: The Cock-lane Ghost



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