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The Best Ghost Stories

The Man Who Went Too Far
By E.F. Benson
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.
 
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