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!





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