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Friday, 23 December 2011

Black and White: Or The Phantom Steed! Or: A Typical Ghost Story for Christmas, by a Witness of the Truth:

I WAS walking in one of the slums in the neighbourhood of Oxford Street, some years ago, and always fond of horse-flesh (I had driven – as a boy – a bathing machine for my pleasure along the wild coastline of the great Congo Continent) was greatly attracted by a hack standing within the shafts of a cart belonging to a funeral furnisher. Like many of its class, the horse was jet black, with a long flowing tail and a mane to match. As I gazed upon the creature the driver came out of the shop (to which doleful establishment the equipage belonged) and drove slowly away. I felt forced to follow, and soon found myself outside a knacker's yard. Guessing the intention of the driver to treat his steed as only fit for canine food, I offered to purchase the seemingly doomed animal.

To my surprise, the man expressed his willingness to treat with me, and suggested that I might have the carcase at the rate of 4s 11¾d. a pound. Considering the price not excessive, I agreed, and, having weighed the horse at an automatic weighing machine, I handed over £100 in notes. Then the first strange thing happened. Before I could replace my pocket book in its receptable in my coat, the driver had absolutely vanished! I could not see him anywhere. I was the more annoyed at this, as I found that (by mistake) I had given him notes on the Bank of Elegance, which everyone knows are of less value than notes on the Bank of England. However, it was too late to search for the vendor, and I walked away as I could, leading by the bridle the steed I had so recently acquired.

It was now necessary to get quarters for the night, but I found, at that advanced hour, that many of the leading hotels were either full or unwilling to supply me with a bedroom and stable combined until the morning. I was refused firmly but civilly at the Grand, the Metropole, the Grosvenor, and the Pig and Whistle Tavern, South East Hackney. At the latter caravanserai, the night-porter (who was busying himself cleaning the pewter pots) suggested that I should go to Bath.

Adopting this idea, I mounted my steed (which answered, after a little practice, to the name of Cats'-meat), and took the Old Kent Road until I reached St. Albans. It was now morning, and the old abbey stood out in grand outline against the glorious scarlet of the setting sun. Entering an inn, I called for refreshment for man and beast, and, having authority for considering myself qualified to act as representative of both, consumed the double portion. Thinking about the whiskey I had just discussed, as I rode along, I came to a milestone, standing on its head, and a sign post in the last stage of hopeless intoxication. It was here that a police constable turned his lantern upon me with a pertinacity that apparently was calculated to challenge observation. Annoyed, but not altogether surprised, I declared my opinion that it was "all right," and fell asleep. When I awoke, I found that I had travelled some hundreds of miles, and, strange to say, my horse was as good as when it had started. From what I could gather from the signs on the road (I have been accustomed to Forestry from my earliest childhood), it seemed to me that, while I was slumbering, I must have passed Macclesfield, Ramsgate, Richmond (both in Surrey and in Yorkshire), and was now close to the weirdest spot in all phantom-populated Wiltshire – a place in its rugged desolation suggestive of the Boundless Prairies and BUFFALO BILL – Wild Westbury!

Greatly fatigued, I entered a second inn, and enjoyed a hearty meal, which was also a simple one. I am a liquidarian, and take no animal or vegetable food, and have not tasted fish for nearly a quarter of a century. When I wished to continue my journey to Bath, I found Cats'-meat so disinclined to move, that I thought the best thing to do in the interest of progress, was to carry him myself. He was very light – so light that I imagined the automatic weighing machine must have been out of order when I tested it. Almost in a trance I walked along, until, stumbling, I fell, and dropped Cats'-meat into a well. And then another strange thing happened. The horse with its jet-black tail and mane, emerged from the water as white as snow! Apparently annoyed at the treatment to which it had been accidentally subjected, it fled away, and I lost sight of it amongst the hills that overlook Wild Westbury.

And then the strangest thing of all happened, and has been happening ever since!

In clear weather, on the side of one of these hills, Cats'-meat, in the habit as he stood when he left the well on that fatal day, may be seen patiently waiting until the time shall arrive when he shall receive a coat of blacking, a companion steed to share with him his labours, and a hearse! I am not the only person who has seen him thus. The spectre (if it be a spectre) is known for miles around, and has been watched by thousands. Nay, more. On occasions of great rejoicing, when merry-making has been, the order of the day or night several Cats'-meats have appeared to the carousing watchers strangely blended together.

Speaking for myself, if I have seen one I have seen half a dozen – nay, more – with hills to match! And those who do not believe me can continue the journey I once commenced, and (after I have wished them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year) proceed to Bath…
                                                                                                    - Punch, Christmas 1890


  1. great story and I love the horse's name.

  2. Thank goodness the horse couldn't understand English, the poor creature, otherwise it would have bolted sooner!

    Plenty of whimsical Christmas tales to choose from in Punch, I had difficulty choosing only a couple.