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The Man Who Went Too Far

Scary Books: The Best Ghost Stories

The little village of St. Faith's nestles in a hollow of wooded hill up

on the north bank of the river Fawn in the county of Hampshire, huddling

close round its gray Norman church as if for spiritual protection

against the fays and fairies, the trolls and "little people," who might

be supposed still to linger in the vast empty spaces of the New Forest,

and to come after dusk and do their doubtful businesses. Once outside

> the hamlet you may walk in any direction (so long as you avoid the high

road which leads to Brockenhurst) for the length of a summer afternoon

without seeing sign of human habitation, or possibly even catching sight

of another human being. Shaggy wild ponies may stop their feeding for a

moment as you pass, the white scuts of rabbits will vanish into their

burrows, a brown viper perhaps will glide from your path into a clump of

heather, and unseen birds will chuckle in the bushes, but it may easily

happen that for a long day you will see nothing human. But you will not

feel in the least lonely; in summer, at any rate, the sunlight will be

gay with butterflies, and the air thick with all those woodland sounds

which like instruments in an orchestra combine to play the great

symphony of the yearly festival of June. Winds whisper in the birches,

and sigh among the firs; bees are busy with their redolent labor among

the heather, a myriad birds chirp in the green temples of the forest

trees, and the voice of the river prattling over stony places, bubbling

into pools, chuckling and gulping round corners, gives you the sense

that many presences and companions are near at hand.

Yet, oddly enough, though one would have thought that these benign and

cheerful influences of wholesome air and spaciousness of forest were

very healthful comrades for a man, in so far as nature can really

influence this wonderful human genus which has in these centuries

learned to defy her most violent storms in its well-established houses,

to bridle her torrents and make them light its streets, to tunnel her

mountains and plow her seas, the inhabitants of St. Faith's will not

willingly venture into the forest after dark. For in spite of the

silence and loneliness of the hooded night it seems that a man is not

sure in what company he may suddenly find himself, and though it is

difficult to get from these villagers any very clear story of occult

appearances, the feeling is widespread. One story indeed I have heard

with some definiteness, the tale of a monstrous goat that has been seen

to skip with hellish glee about the woods and shady places, and this

perhaps is connected with the story which I have here attempted to piece

together. It too is well-known to them; for all remember the young

artist who died here not long ago, a young man, or so he struck the

beholder, of great personal beauty, with something about him that made

men's faces to smile and brighten when they looked on him. His ghost

they will tell you "walks" constantly by the stream and through the

woods which he loved so, and in especial it haunts a certain house, the

last of the village, where he lived, and its garden in which he was done

to death. For my part I am inclined to think that the terror of the

Forest dates chiefly from that day. So, such as the story is, I have set

it forth in connected form. It is based partly on the accounts of the

villagers, but mainly on that of Darcy, a friend of mine and a friend of

the man with whom these events were chiefly concerned.

The day had been one of untarnished midsummer splendor, and as the sun

drew near to its setting, the glory of the evening grew every moment

more crystalline, more miraculous. Westward from St. Faith's the

beechwood which stretched for some miles toward the heathery upland

beyond already cast its veil of clear shadow over the red roofs of the

village, but the spire of the gray church, over-topping all, still

pointed a flaming orange finger into the sky. The river Fawn, which runs

below, lay in sheets of sky-reflected blue, and wound its dreamy devious

course round the edge of this wood, where a rough two-planked bridge

crossed from the bottom of the garden of the last house in the village,

and communicated by means of a little wicker gate with the wood itself.

Then once out of the shadow of the wood the stream lay in flaming pools

of the molten crimson of the sunset, and lost itself in the haze of

woodland distances.

This house at the end of the village stood outside the shadow, and the

lawn which sloped down to the river was still flecked with sunlight.

Garden-beds of dazzling color lined its gravel walks, and down the

middle of it ran a brick pergola, half-hidden in clusters of

rambler-rose and purple with starry clematis. At the bottom end of it,

between two of its pillars, was slung a hammock containing a

shirt-sleeved figure.

The house itself lay somewhat remote from the rest of the village, and a

footpath leading across two fields, now tall and fragrant with hay, was

its only communication with the high road. It was low-built, only two

stories in height, and like the garden, its walls were a mass of

flowering roses. A narrow stone terrace ran along the garden front, over

which was stretched an awning, and on the terrace a young silent-footed

man-servant was busied with the laying of the table for dinner. He was

neat-handed and quick with his job, and having finished it he went back

into the house, and reappeared again with a large rough bath-towel on

his arm. With this he went to the hammock in the pergola.

"Nearly eight, sir," he said.

"Has Mr. Darcy come yet?" asked a voice from the hammock.

"No, sir."

"If I'm not back when he comes, tell him that I'm just having a bathe

before dinner."

The servant went back to the house, and after a moment or two Frank

Halton struggled to a sitting posture, and slipped out on to the grass.

He was of medium height and rather slender in build, but the supple ease

and grace of his movements gave the impression of great physical

strength: even his descent from the hammock was not an awkward

performance. His face and hands were of very dark complexion, either

from constant exposure to wind and sun, or, as his black hair and dark

eyes tended to show, from some strain of southern blood. His head was

small, his face of an exquisite beauty of modeling, while the smoothness

of its contour would have led you to believe that he was a beardless lad

still in his teens. But something, some look which living and experience

alone can give, seemed to contradict that, and finding yourself

completely puzzled as to his age, you would next moment probably cease

to think about that, and only look at this glorious specimen of young

manhood with wondering satisfaction.

He was dressed as became the season and the heat, and wore only a shirt

open at the neck, and a pair of flannel trousers. His head, covered very

thickly with a somewhat rebellious crop of short curly hair, was bare as

he strolled across the lawn to the bathing-place that lay below. Then

for a moment there was silence, then the sound of splashed and divided

waters, and presently after, a great shout of ecstatic joy, as he swam

up-stream with the foamed water standing in a frill round his neck. Then

after some five minutes of limb-stretching struggle with the flood, he

turned over on his back, and with arms thrown wide, floated down-stream,

ripple-cradled and inert. His eyes were shut, and between half-parted

lips he talked gently to himself.

"I am one with it," he said to himself, "the river and I, I and the

river. The coolness and splash of it is I, and the water-herbs that wave

in it are I also. And my strength and my limbs are not mine but the

river's. It is all one, all one, dear Fawn."