This that I am going to tell you now, the old woman went on, happened when my great grandfather was a little boy. My grandfather used to tell it to my father before he left his native place to marry my mother; for my mother had no brothers, so my father came to live in her country. When my great grandfather was quite young, all the children used to be called in from the streets at sundown, lest they should be frightened by the black horse and his rider who for some time tormented that part of the country. This is the story of the ghost:—
THERE was in that village a man named Pomo, who was so lazy that he did not like to work; so he said:—
“I’ll go for a doctor.”
So he went into other districts where no one knew him, and said that he could heal people. But instead he only made them die all the more; and at last he died too. One evening soon after his death, his relations were sitting quietly in their house when they heard a great noise, and looking out, saw all the air full of crows. This went on for several evenings; the house was surrounded by these birds, which flew hither and thither cawing loudly, and then vanished.
At last one evening there were no crows, but they suddenly heard a great clattering of hoofs in the street. They went to the window and looked out and saw a terrible black horse with a man riding on him. The horse came to the doorsteps, put his nose down to the ground, and stood there some time, while the man looked imploringly at the terrified people, but did not speak.
The next evening the horse came again. This time he stood on the threshold, with his nose against the door, but the man did not speak. In the morning the people went to tell the parroco and beg him to save them from the devil, for they were sure the black horse could be no other. The parroco lived some way off, but he said:—
“If the horse comes to-night, call me at once, and I will see if I can help you.”
That night as soon as the hoofs were heard someone ran off to the parroco, and the rest huddled into the kitchen so that they might not see the dreadful sight.
But the horse came upstairs, and stood there close by the fire with his nose on the ground and the man hid his face on the horse.
As soon as they heard him coming up the people were so frightened that they jumped out of window, all but one very old woman who feared the fall more than the horse.
Just then the priest came and asked the man, in the name of God, what he wanted. The man answered:—
“I want mass said for me, that I may have rest in the lowest part of hell.”
“Well,” said the priest, “I will say it to-morrow.”
“You must say it at midnight, with your back to the altar,” answered the man, “and if you make a single mistake you will have to go to hell along with me.”
“I’ll do it for you,” said the priest, for he was a brave man; and with that the horse and man went away. But when they got among the chestnut trees there was a great noise, and flames of fire; and so the horse and rider vanished. Well, the next day the parroco tried to get someone to serve the mass, but he had great difficulty, as everyone was afraid of making a mistake and getting carried off to hell; but at last he persuaded a priest to help him, and towards midnight the two went to the church. The horse and rider stood in the entrance of the west door, and the two priests read mass, with their backs to the altar. They got through without mistake and the devil and the condemned soul disappeared and were never seen again; but the priest who had served the mass was taken up stiff and dumb with terror, and it was many weeks before he could speak again. The parroco was less affected; but there was a strange glitter in his eyes for some days; and it was long before he could trust himself to talk of that night.
These stories of demon-steeds are not uncommon in the South. A notable one is that of the terrible “Belludo” of The Alhambra, which Washington Irving uses with such grim effect in his book on the old Moorish pile.